To understand what is happening in the brain in the moment you decide, at will, to summon to consciousness a passage of Mozart's music, or decide to take a deep breath, is like trying to "catch a phantom by the tail". Consciousness remains that most elusive of all human phenomena – one so mysterious, one that even our highly developed knowledge of brain function can only partly explain. The Primordial Emotions is unique in tracing the origins of consciousness. It takes the investigation back many years in an attempt to uncover just how consciousness might have first emerged.
Consciousness did not develop suddenly in humans – it evolved gradually. In The Primordial Emotions, Derek Denton, a world renowned expert on animal instinct and a leader in integrative physiology, investigates the evolution of consciousness. Central to the book is the idea that the primal emotions – elements of instinctive behaviour – were the first dawning of consciousness. Throughout he examines instinctive behaviours, such as hunger for air, hunger for minerals, thirst, and pain, arguing that the emotions elicited from these behaviours and desire for gratification culminated in the first conscious states. To develop the theory he looks at behaviour at different levels of the evolutionary tree, for example of octopuses, fish, snakes, birds, and elephants. Coupled with findings from neuroimaging studies, and the viewpoints on consciousness from some of the key figures in philosophy and neuroscience, the book presents an accessible and groundbreaking new look at the problem of consciousness.
Part I - The Hypothesis
1: Introduction: the idea and context
2: The definition of consciousness and self-awareness
3: What some distinguished scientists have proposed on the nature of consciousness: John Searle, HOmer Smith, Vernon Mountcastle and Roger Sperry
4: Consciousness in animals
5: The appetite for salt and the mind - intention in salt mining elephants
Part II - Experimental Analysis
6: The phylogenetic tree
7: An interoceptor driven theory of origin of primary consciousness
8: The physiology of the primordial emotion of thirst
9: The neuroimaging of thirst by PET (Positron Emission Tomography)
10: Neuroimaging of other primordial emotions and also the second level distance receptor evoked emotions
Part III - Higher Cognition and Emotion
11: Anatomical structure and physiological functions subserving higher order consciousness
12: The biology of emotion
Derek Denton is the world authority on instinctive behaviour regulating apt intake of water and minerals - particularly salt. He was Founding Director of the Howard Florey Institute of Experimental Physiology and Medicine at Melbourne University. His discoveries have been recognized by election to the National Academies of Science of France, Sweden, the United States and Australia and also the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the Royal Society (London). He was First Vice President of the International Union of Physiological Sciences and was a member of the Lasker Jury for 12 years.
"Derek Denton proposes a totally new basis for higher cognitive function in man and animals, and combines this originality with fascinating stories of animal behaviour encountered during his work. The breadth of his scholarship and research is one of the great strengths of this book."
– Denis Noble, Professor of Physiology, University of Oxford
"Where one of the leading biologists of our day (see his The Hunger for Salt, Springer Verlag, Berlin/London, 1982) deals with what, so far, has been the purview of philosophers and offers rather compelling proposals as to the origin of consciousness and even better, self-consciousness. A superb reading experience."
– Roger Guillemin, Nobel Laureate
"[...] this book deseves to influence the discourse on consciousness, making it more physiological (not just neurophysiological) and more focused on the major question – the emergence of feelings. Its explicitly evolutionary approach is important, since without such an approach little progress can be made [...] [it] is also valuable in providing a good review of present-day biological and psychological approaches to consciousness, together with illuminating examples of primordial feelings in animals."
– Journal of Consciousness Studies, Vol 13, No 9