The efference cascade, consciousness, and its self: Naturalizing the first person pivot of action control

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The 20 billion neurons of the neocortex have a mere hundred thousand motor neurons by which to express cortical contents in overt behavior. Implemented through a staggered cortical "efference cascade" originating in the descending axons of layer five pyramidal cells throughout the neocortical expanse, this steep convergence accomplishes final integration for action of cortical information through a system of interconnected subcortical way stations. Coherent and effective action control requires the inclusion of a continually updated joint "global best estimate" of current sensory, motivational, and motor circumstances in this process. I have previously proposed that this running best estimate is extracted from cortical probabilistic preliminaries by a subcortical neural "reality model" implementing our conscious sensory phenomenology. As such it must exhibit first person perspectival organization, suggested to derive from formating requirements of the brain's subsystem for gaze control, with the superior colliculus at its base. Gaze movements provide the leading edge of behavior by capturing targets of engagement prior to contact. The rotation-based geometry of directional gaze movements places their implicit origin inside the head, a location recoverable by cortical probabilistic source reconstruction from the rampant primary sensory variance generated by the incessant play of collicularly triggered gaze movements. At the interface between cortex and colliculus lies the dorsal pulvinar. Its unique long-range inhibitory circuitry may precipitate the brain's global best estimate of its momentary circumstances through multiple constraint satisfaction across its afferents from numerous cortical areas and colliculus. As phenomenal content of our sensory awareness, such a global best estimate would exhibit perspectival organization centered on a purely implicit first person origin, inherently incapable of appearing as a phenomenal content of the sensory space it serves. © 2013 Merker.




Merker, B. (2013). The efference cascade, consciousness, and its self: Naturalizing the first person pivot of action control. Frontiers in Psychology, 4(AUG).

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