The anatomical localization of consciousness

In * The Hard Problem of Consciousness and the Free Energy Principle, Dr Solms suggests that the brain stem, not the frontal lobes. is responsible for consciousness. I agree, for all the reasons he lists in his essay. The brainstem conveys sensory and motor inputs between the spinal cord and the brain, and contains nuclei of the cranial nerves. It controls the sleep-wake cycle and the vital functions of the body. It orchestrates the chemical and electrical conditions responsible for generating mind.

I am not so sure about his free energy principle, though. I think that consciousness, emotion and mind depend on the body’s handling of acid base balance. If you have every taken a chemistry class then you will know how difficult it is to understand the the regulation of acids and bases. You can imagine the amount of nervous system communication is needed to run such a complex task inside the body, under all and any conditions. The chemistry of acid base levels is, in my opinion, responsible for life and for the function of mind in the brain. The brain stem monitors the partial pressure of carbon dioxide produced by cells in order to control thermoregulation and metabolism.

Acid base imbalance is common, apparently. There are many physical causes and many different presentations. The underlying problem must be corrected in order to restore proper chemical balance and it is not easy to figure out where the problem lies.

Since respiratory rate changes in response to stable carbon dioxide levels in the air and in response to stable changes inside the body, it is clear that respiratory rate is an important clue in any illness state. Paula’s too slow baseline breathing at rest tells us that acid base co-ordination in the blood will require more work and more reliance on the other organ systems of the body. It also tells us that broken breathing will result in syndromes that different from acid base problems due to heart failure or kidney failure or loss of blood. The body is very experienced at handling carbon dioxide and will have a lot of evolutionary strategies to deal with this normal product of cellular metabolism.

Any and all acid base problems can cause confused states, altered mental states and delirium. Acid base regulation is clearly important to the function of mind.

In a person like Paula, the most likely acid base imbalance involves not being able to flush out carbon dioxide sufficiently. because breathing is too slow and does not become faster in response to increased carbon dioxide retention. Hypercapnia produces unpleasant sensations and emotions. Hypercapnia also produces disorganized production of mind.

I think that disabling depressed mood always occurs because of injuries to the nervous system or to the organs that make the job of regulating the body’s chemistry more difficult. I think that mind and reversible loss of mind happens when the body cannot easily restore the level of acid base balance necessary for the mind to function. This is why heart failure, kidney failure, and respiratory failure [including hypercapnia] can result in difficulties circulating and clearing the body and brain of acids, acids produced by the very act of being alive.


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