Studies in Music

Aesthetics - Ars Inveniendi - the Farben Project

by Wim van den Dungen


Neurophilosophy of Sensation

Aesthetics of Music

Ars Inveniendi

The Farben Project



OMNIA STANT HARMONIA. Anarmonia cadunt omnia. Nec erigitur, reficitur, restituitur quidquam, nisi ad Harmoniam relatum atque redactum.

All exists through Harmony. Disharmony destroys all. Nothing can be built, nothing created, nothing restored that is not related to and based on Harmony.

Tout existe à travers l'Harmonie. La disharmonie détruit tout. Rien ne peut être construit, ni créé, ni restauré qui n'est pas lié à et basé sur l'Harmonie.

Georg Philipp Telemann (1681 - 1767)

Neurophilosophy of Sensation



I : The Organs of Perception.

01. Smell : the nose feels the air.
2. Taste : tongue and water.
03. Touch : bending & stretching from top to toe.
04. Audition : the pressures of air.
05. Sight : the eye as the space of photons.
06. Naked perception : stimuli & preliminary codation.
07. Natural perception : space, time, integration & projection.

II : The Sensuous Cortex :

08. The sensory areas : perception & its cortical processing.
09. The association areas : to the final integration of perception.
10. The angular gyrus : symbol tools.
11. The prefrontal cortex & empirico-formal concepts.
12. Sensations in epistemology, ethics and esthetics.
13. The argument of illusion.



To understand how audition happens, musicology -based on the cycle of communication, and rooted in critical epistemology & process ontology- integrates the neurology of sensation, in particular audition. Of course, besides hearing, visual & kinesthetic objects of sense also play a role (the visual is intimately part of Opera and the more subtle kinesthetic input is related to the sensatons related to physical structure of the locus of the actual musical production, causing temperature changes). Of course, when considering music, the two prime senses involved are audition and sight (in Opera). In particular, the receiver is at hand, more precisely the symbol-receptor and integrator. Especially nowadays, when "inner hearing" is complemented by the possibility of sampled playback, is the sender also involved, and composition itself makes use hearing (playback) and sight (score).

When the neurological properties of hearing & seeing are understood, one may wonder how this information is processed at the level of the sensitive surfaces of the sense organs in question. Moreover, what happens when this informatie travels to the brain and gets connected with thalamic & post-thalamic (neocortical) neurological processes. This may help to explain the difference between naked perception and natural perception, between perception & sensation, as well as the fact of interpretation of sensate objects by different human brains. These also point to the phenomenon of filtering or the play of foreground (accentuation) & background (neglection).

The composer aware of this play of illusion may take this into consideration when writing & producing music, anticipating interpretation and making use of the art of auditive suggestion ... This begs the question of the possibility of a "total artwork", i.e. one involving all the senses. This may seem farfetched, especially when considering smell & taste (cf. a musical score indicating what kind of odor and food one should partake of during audition !).

Also consult my neurophilosophical inquiries.

I : The Organs of Perception.

"Each of us believes himself to live directly within the world that surrounds him, to sense its objects and events precisely, to live in real and current time. I assert that these are perceptual illusions, for each of us confronts the world from a brain linked to what is 'out there' by a few million fragile sensory nerve fibres. These are our only information channels, our lifelines to reality. These sensory nerve fibres are not high-fidelity recorders, for they accentuate certain stimulus features, neglect others. The central neuron is a story-teller with regard to the afferent nerve fibres ; and he is never completely trustworthy, allowing distortions of quality and measure, within a stained but isomorphic spatial relation between 'outside' and 'inside'. Sensation is an abstraction, not a replication, of the real world."
Mountcastle, 1975, cited in Popper & Eccles, 1981, p.253.

the preliminary codification

The neurophilosophy of the
transport of information from the PNS (Peripheral Nervous System) to the CNS (Central Nervous System), studies the afferent, sensoric, incoming impulses from the five senses, crucial to distinguish perception from sensation.

The efficient neurological cause of perception is called "transduction" ("to lead across"). This is the logic by which a receptor cell, exposed to an environmental stimulus, causes an electrical response. On a deeper level, the overall functioning of the brain is thus underpinned by complex flows of electric charge (from the Greek "electron" or "amber"), which, together with magnetism, shapes the fundamental interaction known as electromagnetism (next to universal gravity and the subatomic strong & weak forces). E
lectromagnetism implies the simultaneity of electrical & magnetic forces. The magnetic field is caused by the electric current or motion of electric charges. The electromagnetic field is the space which exerts a force on particles possessing electric charge, in turn affected by these particles and their motion. All sensate information gathered by the senses is transducted into electromagnatic impulses transported to the CNS.

Traditionally, "sensation" is defined as the faculty through which the external world is perceived. Hence, the sensory system is two-tiered : on the one hand perception, the raw, naked immediacy of the receptor organs for smell, taste, touch, audition & sight, the "doors of perception" (Huxley) at the periphery of the olfactory, gustative, soma-esthetic (or somato-sensory), visual & auditory systems of the CNS. On the other hand sensation, the end result of an array of central neural systems committed to process the coded form of the impulse perceived by the receptors, like the secondary & tertiary sensory areas, the spatial association area situated in the posterior parietal cortex (of both hemispheres), the angular gyrus in the inferior parietal lobe, sitting at the juncture of the tactile, visual & auditory areas, the limbic system (for emotional coloring) and the Ascending Reticular Activation System in the brainstem for the general arousal-level of the CNS.

Human Brain
Peripheral Nervous
System (PNS)
Central Nervous
System (CNS)
receptor organs
afferent pathways
synaptic relays
primary to tertiary areas, gyri, the limbic etc.
experience appearance

The transmission of afferent impulses is never direct, but by synaptic relays, changing the massage into a "code". In every neuronal relay station, this coded impulse is modified. Although each sense has its primary receiving area laid out as a cortical "map" (cf. the Brodmann areas), the neuronal relays from the PNS to the CNS cause the preliminary "codification" of the raw impulse hitting the reception surface of nose, tongue, skin, ears and/or eyes. So when the impulses in some sensory pathway reach the primary sensory areas in the CNS, preliminary codification has already taken place (cf. Kant's distinction between experience, "Empfindung" versus appearance, or "Erscheinung").

"In general it can be stated that the intensity of the stimulus is encoded as frequency of discharge of impulses."
Popper & Eccles, 1981, p.252.

from perception to sensation

Mental states are either based on sensation or are non-sensational. In the latter case they are mental objects. Indeed, the cognitive system (cognition) only processes two types of objects : sensate objects & mental objects. The latter can be classified as volitional, affective, cognitive and sentient (consciousness). The sensate objects define the body, mental objects define the mind.

Sensations have a clear bodily location and possess "raw feels" or qualia, defined by the five-tiered sensory input of the five physical organs of sense (smell, taste, touch, audition and sight). More or less spatially defined, sensations are always the experience of a conscious subject. Without this conscious experience, sensations are not. So they are a higher-order kind of empirical data.

The distinction between sensation and perception is important. Sensations occur to a subject of experience, and manifest as nose-consciousness (smelling), tongue-consciousness (tasting), skin-consciousness (touching), ear-consciousness (hearing), eye-consciousness (seeing) & the concert of these. They represent the final, "constructive" result of a process starting with naked, "unconstructed" perception. Perceptions are raw & simple, sensation are always processed & complex. Sensations happen to an empirical ego (largely processed by the prefrontal lobes of the neocortex, the so-called "fourth brain" next to the reptilian, mammalian and human brains) with a unique perspective on the ongoing, sensational & non-sensational stream of functional differences or "energies" within consciousness.

Perception is three-fold. The root of perception is the impulse affecting the receptor. Next, the afferent relay to the CNS is coded, finally projecting the coded impulse in the primary sensory area. Because these perceptional data are introduced through sensory pathways to which consciousness has normally no direct access, perception is, paradoxically, non-sensational. To clarify this idea, the neurophilosophy of the primary, secondary & ternary sensory areas will be helpful.

Non-sensational mental states have no distinct, outer events associated with them. These mental states, also emerging without one being conscious of them, may be classified as :

quasi-perceptional states : hallucinating, dreaming, imagining, trance-visioning ;
emotions, feelings : the complete range from utter disgust to sublime bliss, from violence to peace ;
conative states : wishing, wanting, intending, trying, acting ;
cognitions : thinking, reasoning, knowing, conceiving, understanding, intuiting.

In a general way, mental states are defined as volitional, affective, cognitive and sentient. The so-called Mind/Body-problem is investigated in an separate paper : A Philosophy of the Mind and Its Brain, 2009.

01. Smell : the nose feels the air.

The earliest organism abided in chemical substances signaling food, poison or sex. In humans, externally located neuronal cell bodies are concentrated within the nose. These nasal-located neurons, like those of other, more ancient creatures, analyze the pheromonal, olfactory and chemical nature of the environment for data concerning food, sex, the weather and the like. Over the course of evolution, only two groups of primal sensory cells formed like-minded cells : the olfactory lobe and the optic lobe. With the expansion and axonal-dendritic interconnection of these lobes the modern brain emerged.

the olfactory bulbs & optic vesicles of the neural tube
from Bear, Connors & Paradiso, 2001, figure 7.10 p.182.

We do not smell with the nose, but with a small, thin sheet of cells high up in the nasal cavity. This olfactory epithelium, about 10 cm², has three main cell types : (a) olfactory receptor cells, or neurons with axons of their own penetrating into the CNS, (b) supporting cells, similar to glia, helping to produce mucus and (c) basal cells which are the source of new receptor cells. Indeed, the receptor cells continually grow, die and regenerate in a cycle lasting ca. 4 to 8 weeks. The olfactory epithelium and the retina of the eye are both literal extensions of the brain.

The olfactory system gave rise to the evolution of the primitive amygdala and rudimentary hippocampus ca. 500 million years ago. Because odors are inherently slow stimuli, rapid timing of action potentials is unnecessary to encode the timing of odors. Rather, temporal coding, based on the timing of spikes, is supposed to encode the quality of odors, and transduce the chemical stimulus into an electric charge. Temporal patterns of spiking would then be the logic behind the olfactory coding.

In lower mammals, olfaction is the dominant sensory input, but in humans it became subordinate to sight, hearing and somaesthesis. Humans are relatively weak smellers. A smell is detected when about 10 trillion molecules of one of the ca. 30.000 or so available odor molecules enter the nose and stimulate its 50 million primary sensory receptor cells. Humans are able to detect and remember ca. 10.000 odors. Each of these cells express only one of the 1000 types of odorant receptor genes. Dogs have more than 100 times more receptors in each square centimeter of the olfactory epithelium, which may be over 170 cm².

Olfactory receptor neurons send axons into two olfactory bulbs, full of neural circuits with complex dendritic arrangements, reciprocal synapses and high levels of various neurotransmitters. Olfactory information is modified by inhibitory & excitatory interactions within the structures of the bulbs and between them. Neurons in the bulbs are also subject to modulation from systems of axons descending from higher areas in the brain. The output axons of the olfactory bulbs run through the olfactory tracts and have a complex distribution, the principal termination being in the piriform cortex (or olfactory cortex), the primary sensory area of olfaction, thus making various direct connections to many structures of the limbic system, the "nose brain". From there, the axons go to the thalamus on to the neocortex, were conscious recognition of smell occurs in the orbito-frontal cortex right behind the eyes.

This anatomical feature makes olfaction unique, for all other sensory systems first pass through the thalamus before projecting into the neocortex. Only olfactory connects with a primary sensory area directly related to temporal lobe structures & the limbic system.

The limbic system has been referred to as the "nose brain". The afferent axons stimulate this system directly, without the thalamus or "universal gateway" of the CNS. Indeed, the spinothalamic pathway is the major route by which afferents (registering for example pain or temperature) ascent to the neocortex. The thalamus is thus the gate through which information carried by sensoric axons enters the CNS. Here, these afferents are pre-processed to branch out to the relevant cortical areas & the limbic system.

The unicity of olfaction is clear. Like all sensory systems, it makes use of a method of preliminary codation to relay information to the CNS, but unlike any other system, it branches out in the limbic system before being pre-processed in the thalamus and relayed to the neocortex and its primary sensory area in the forebrain.

Olfaction directly connects with emotion and the latter evolved from feeding, fighting, fleeing and sex. Smell is the first sense, and some neurologist claim the brain as a whole evolved from it. Our first contact with the outer world is therefore based on odors.

02. Taste : tongue & water.

The olfactory system is related to eating and assists the gustatory system. Flavor can only be detected if both nose & tongue are used together. Although completely independent of the taste buds localized along the tongue, both system may have started out as one chemoreceptive system becoming distinct over the course of evolution. In reptiles and many other animals, an auxiliary olfactory organ is located within the roof of the mouth. But, in this case too, the two systems are separate. Indeed, some food, although smelling good, may taste terrible and have no nutritive value. The taste test allowed for additional differentiation, although some stuff smells & tastes great while still being poisonous.

Both smell & taste are chemical senses using a variety of transduction mechanisms to recognize the large amount of chemicals encountered. For an omnivore, a sensitive and versatile system of taste was essential to survive. Some taste preferences, like sweetness, is innate, but experience strongly modifies these instincts. The body has the capacity to recognize a deficiency and adjust this by causing cravings for particular food. We recognize four basic tastes : sweetness, saltiness, sourness & bitterness.

Although we mainly taste with our tongue, the palate, pharynx and epiglottis also participate, as well as the olfactory system. Scattered about the surface of the tongue are small projections called papillae (or bumps), shaped like ridges, pimples or mushrooms. Each papilla has hundreds of taste buds, composed of ca. 50 - 150 taste receptor cells, only about 1% of the tongue epithelium. Taste buds have also basal cells surrounding the receptors and a set of gustatory afferent axons. A person has ca. 2000 - 5000 taste buds, while exceptional people have as few as 500 or as many as 20.000.

As is the case for the other sensory receptors, papillae tend to be sensitive to only one basic taste and only at some critical concentrations just above threshold is a stimulus evoked. This does not mean sweetness is only tasted with the tip of the tongue. The tongue map implies certain areas of the tongue are more sensitive to the basic tastes than are other regions, while most of the tongue is sensitive to all basic tastes. Single receptors show small differences in response, and subtle distinctions are made in the brain. When a taste receptor cell is stimulated by an appropriate chemical, its membrane potential changes, either depolarizing or hyperpolarizing. This voltage shift, or receptor potential, causes the cell to fire action potentials.

The neuronal coding of taste is not based on specific receptor types, axons and neurons. Taste buds are broadly tuned to stimuli and this is the case all the way into the CNS. Receptor cell inputs converge onto afferent axons, and each receptor synapses into a primary taste axon also receiving input from several other receptors. One axon may combine taste data from several papillae. This is called population coding, used throughout the sensory and motor systems of the brain. This seems to be an architecture already at work at the level of the action potential of the neuron, making a combined decision based on all stimulating (yes) and inhibiting (no) nerve impulses influencing it (cf. the "democratic neuron").

The main flow of taste data is from the taste buds to the afferent gustatory axons, into the brain stem (medulla), up to the thalamus and finally to the neocortex. In the brain stem, the axons synapse with the gustatory nucleus and diverge from there. The thalamus sends axons to the primary gustatory area, the cortical area in the anterior insula of the cortex (in the parietal lobe).

In a general sense, smell & taste are not used in musical perception. Even in Wagner's "Gesamtkunstwerk", no specific odors or tastes are integrated. Given the importance of smell, putting olfactory preferences in a score, is possible and even practically feasible. Taste, being too transient, seems however farfetched (and is intimately related to smell).

03. Touch : bending & stretching from top to toe.

The experience of touch starts at the skin. Most sensory receptors in the somatic sensory system, are mechanoreceptors, sensitive to physical distortions such as bending or stretching, enabling the body to feel, to ache & to chill (in the context of this paper, the term "somatic sensation" is avoided). Present throughout the body, they monitor all contact with the skin as well as pressure in the heart & blood vessels, stretching of the digestive system, urinary bladder and force against the teeth. The axons branches characterizing each mechanoreceptor have mechano-sensitive ion channels, not well understood.

As the largest organ of the body, the skin is richly innervated by axons part of the vast network of peripheral nerves. In the visceral system, primary afferent axons bring information from the somatic sensory receptors up the spinal cord, only synapsing in the dorsal root ganglia (or cuneate nucleus at the base of the head). Information about touch or vibration of the skin takes a route to the CNS entirely distinct from pain and temperature stimuli. Indeed, some of the axons terminating in the root ganglia start at the skin of the big toe. At this point, the information is still represented ipsilaterally (right side body, right dorsal nuclei). But axons from these cells arch and decussate. From this point onwards, the somatic system of one side is concerned with sensoric data deriving from the other side of the body.

After only one synapse, the afferent impulse travels to the thalamus & the cerebral cortex. At each of two relays (root ganglia & thalamus), the opportunity for an inhibitory action is given, sharpening the neuronal signals by eliminating the weaker excitatory stimuli. By this inhibition, a precise localization of touch stimuli becomes possible.

Somaesthetic or somatosensory processing occurs in the cerebral cortex, namely the parietal lobe. The primary somatosensory cortex occupies an exposed cortical strip, the postcentral gyrus. The somatotopy of this gyrus has been called a homunculus (or "little man"), a mapping of the body's surface sensations.

The temperature of the space where music is performed impacts our sense of touch, causing bending & stretching (of the skin). Like smell, this is very subtle, and works in the background. In terms of musical performance it cannot be said to be of primary importance, but should not be neglected. Indeed, also musical instruments are influenced by temperature. All extreme temperatures need to be avoided.

he spatial characteristics or ambience of music is not part of the score, but depends on where the music is represents is produced and the actual distribution of vocalists & instruments during playback. This ambience impacts our experience of space and this it intimately related to hearing. Indeed, whereas the ear is the receptor organ for fine air pressure transduction, the physical body as a whole acts as a soundboard. In this way touch is an integral part of the musical experience.

04. Audition : the pressure of air.

Sounds are audible variations in air pressure caused by moving air molecules producing sound waves. A source of sounds causes these variations to disperse in all directions. When an object moves away, air is made less dense (rarefied). Many sounds produce periodic variations in air pressure. The frequency of sound is the number of compressed patches of air passing by our ears each second. One cycle is the distance between two successive patches. Sound frequency is expressed in Hertz, or the number of cycles per second. The auditory system responds to pressure waves over the range of 20 - 20.000 Hz, decreasing with age & exposure to noise of the high-frequency end (a low organ tone is about 20 Hz, while a high note on a piccolo is about 10.000 Hz). Intensity of sound is difference in pressure between compressed patches of air, and determines the loudness we perceive. The higher the intensity, the louder the sound. The intensity range is remarkable, for the loudest sound leaving our ears undamaged is about a trillion times greater than the intensity of the faintest sound heard.

The ear has three main divisions. The structures from the funnel (pinna) to the eardrum is called the "outer ear". The tympanic membrane and the ossicles constitute the middle ear and what lies behind the oval window is the inner ear. These structures of the auditory pathway play the following roles :

pinna (or funnel) : helps collecting and localizing sounds ;
auditory canal : extending ca.2.5cm inside the skull ending at the tympanic membrane ;
tympanic membrane : the eardrum ;
ossicles ("little bones") : a series of three bones or transferring movements of the tympanic membrane into movements of a second membrane covering a whole in the bone of the skull called the oval window ;
cochlea ("snail") : behind the oval window, this is a fluid-filled space containing the apparatus transforming physical motion of the oval window membrane into neuronal responses. This involves a frequency analysis of the patterns of sound waves and their conversion into the electromagnetic discharges of neurons. The auditory receptors converge mechanical energy into a change in membrane polarization (cf. the organ of Corti, consisting of hair cells, the rods of Corti and various supporting cells).

Once the inner ear generates the neural response to sound, the signal is transferred to and processed in nuclei in the brainstem, and sent to a relay in the thalamus, finally projecting to the primary auditory cortex in the temporal lobe (Heschl's gyrus). Both audition & sight start with sensory receptors connecting to early integration stages (retina for sight and brain stem for audition), relay to the thalamus and then to the sensory cortex. Nevertheless, given there are more synapses at nuclei intermediate between the sensory organ and the cortex, the auditory pathway appears more complex than the visual pathway. However, the cells and synapses of the auditory system in the brain stem are analogous to the interactions in the layers of the retina. All ascending (afferent) auditory pathways converge onto the inferior colliculus of the midbrain. The right cochlea projects mostly to the left primary auditory area, and vice versa for the left cochlea. So just as taste & smell work together, so do sight & sound. Touch is clearly an all-encompassing sense, gerally diffuse, but when called for very specific.

Neurons processing sound information are timing devices. They are designed to preserve & analyze very rapid neural signals encoding small but meaningful variation in sound signals. A trained pianist can distinguish between two tones of 1000 Hz and 1001 Hz, or the detection of a difference of only 1 μsec in the wavelengths ! A single action potential lasts about 1000 times longer. The detection of a sound source in the horizontal plane with a precision of 2° is possible, demanding the discrimination of 11 μsec difference between the time it takes a sound to reach their two ears. Many auditory neurons in the brain stem have an architecture & physiology optimized for speed and electrical conduction. This extremely precise localization is also necessary to report position and movement of the head (the vestibular system). Indeed, both the auditory and vestibular systems use hair cells to transduce movements.

Music depends on hearing. And the six attributes of sound, namely pitch, dynamics, rhythm, counterpoint (horizontal), harmony (vertical) & color, depend upon the physicalm properties of the sound wave : frequency, amplitude, duration and form. Concerning sound waves, they are air waves stimulating the tympanic membrane, the bony system, the oval membrane, the liquid of the inner ear and the complex receiving mechanism of the afferent nerves, all the way up to the thalamus and from there to the sensory areas of the neocortex, transforming the perceived impulse into conscious sensation.

05. Sight : the eye as the space of photons.


The majority of the light hitting the surface of the Earth comes from the Sun, and this is only a fraction of what our star disperses into outer space in all directions. Light, electricity & magnetism are all electromagnetic radiation. The electric and magnetic fields oscillate at right angles to each other, while the combined wave moves in a direction perpendicular to both of these two field oscillations.

Light, of constant speed in empty space, may be conceived as moving packages of energy called photons. Paradoxically, a photon is a particle of electromagnetic radiation with no mass. Light is both particle-like & wave-like. Whether light moves like a wave or as a particle depends on how it is observed (cf. the importance of the experimental setup in the two-slit experiment).

In a digital camera, both aspects of light are addressed. The lens of the camera refracts (bends & focuses) incoming waves of light. These waves are made to hit a charge-coupled device (CCD). This is a light-sensitive integrated circuit storing & displaying image-data. Each picture element (pixel) is converted into an electrical charge related, by intensity, to a color in the color spectrum. Subatomically, this intensity is measured by light photons kicking electrons out of the silicon contained in the bombarded surface. These electrons are finally detected by electronics interpreting the number of electrons released and their position of release from the silicon to create an image.

The length of a light wave λ is the distance between successive peaks or troughs, its frequency ν is the number of waves per second, and its amplitude is the difference between peak and trough, related to the intensity or brightness of a wave relative to other light waves of the same wavelength. Light features a simple relation between its speed (c), wavelength (λ) and frequency (ν), namely (1) ν = c/λ. Since λ, the wavelength in Ångstroms (1 Ångstrom = 10-10 meter), bottoms the fraction, frequency is inversely proportional to the wavelength. Light with a smaller wavelength has a higher (larger) frequency and vice versa.

White light is made of different colors or wavelengths. When passed through a prism, it spreads out in different colors (cf. the rainbow of the visible spectrum). This phenomenon shows how all possible wavelengths become manifest. "Hot" colors such as red or orange consist of light with a longer wavelength, and these have less energy than "cool" colors such as blue or violet.

Color λ
(*1014 Hz)
 (*10-19 J)
violet 4000 - 4600 7.5 - 6.5 5.0 - 4.3
indigo 4600 - 4750 6.5 - 6.3 4.3 - 4.2
blue 4750 - 4900 6.3 - 6.1 4.2 - 4.1
green 4900 - 5650 6.1 - 5.3 4.1 - 3.5
yellow 5650 - 5750 5.3 - 5.2 3.5 - 3.45
orange 5750 - 6000 5.2 - 5.0 3.45 - 3.3
red 6000 - 8000 5.0 - 3.7 3.3 - 2.5

In physics, a quantum (plural : quanta) is an indivisible entity of energy. For instance, the photon, being the unit of light, is a "light quantum". In empty space, a photon moves at a constant speed, has no rest mass and no charge. Einstein (1879 - 1955) found the relationship between the energy of light E and its frequency ν to be : (2) E = h × ν, h being Planck's constant, or 6.626 × 10-34 J·sec, used in the quantization of energy. The energy of electromagnetic radiation is proportional to its frequency. Emitted at high frequency (or short wavelengths) it has the highest energy. (1) & (2) give E = h.c/λ, with c = 299.800 km/s (the speed of light in empty space).

Light rays travel in straight lines until interacting with the atoms & molecules of the atmosphere and objects. These interactions include reflection, absorption & refraction.

Reflection is the bouncing of light rays off a surface. Most light we see is reflected off objects. Striking a mirror perpendicularly will reflect light 180° back upon itself, at 45° a reflection of 90° occurs, etc.

Absorption is the transfer of light energy to a particle or a surface of molecules. Black surfaces absorb the energy of all visible wavelengths, while some compounds absorb a limited range of them and reflect the remaining. "Violet" absorbs long wavelengths, but reflect a range of short ones centered on 430 nm (4300 Å), perceived as "violet".

Refraction is the bending of light rays traveling from one transparant medium to another. Striking a surface at an angle will bend the light toward a line perpendicular to it. This bending occurs because the speed of light differs in the two media, passing through air more rapidly than through water (cf. resistance). The greater the difference between the speed of light in the two media, the greater the angle of refraction.

the visual system

A large part of the cerebral cortex is involved with analyzing the visual world captured as the electromagnetic radiation visible to our eyes. In the electromagnetic spectrum, ranging from Gamma rays to AC circuits, the visible spectrum of rainbow colors lies between wavelengths of 400 & 800 nm (1 nanometer = 10-9 meter = 10 Ångstroms), in other words, light visible to our eyes has wavelengths between 4000 - 8000 Ångstroms.

The structures involved in all steps of the visual pathways are complex. The eye is an organ specialized for the detection, localization and analysis of light. The gross anatomy of the eye is as follows :

pupil : the opening allowing light to enter the eye and reach the retina ;
iris : surrounds the pupil, pigmented to provide the color of the eyes. It contains two muscles varying the size of the pupil (one makes it smaller when it contracts, the other larger) ;
cornea : pupil & iris are covered by a glassy transparant external surface, lacking blood vessels and nourished by the fluid behind it, the aqueous humor. It is continuous with the sclera, the "white of the eye", forming the tough wall of the eyeballs ;
extraocular muscles : inserted into the sclera, they move the eyeball in the bony orbits of the skull ;
conjunctiva : membrane folding back from the inside of the eyelids & attached to the sclera ;
retina : a sheet of closely packed visual receptors (ca. 107 cones and 108 rods) at the back of the eyeball, on which an image is formed ;
optic nerve : carries axons from the retina and exits the eye at the back, passes through the orbit and reaches the brain at its base, near the pituitary gland.

The conversion of light energy into neuronal activity happens in the retina. The basic flow of light in the retina is from the photoreceptors to bipolar cells to ganglion cells. The only light-sensitive cells in the retina are the photoreceptors, while all other cells are influenced by light via direct or indirect synaptic interactions with these. The ganglion cells are the only source of output from the retina. They alone form action potentials. The actual conversion of electromagnetic radiation into neural signals occurs in the 125 million photoreceptors at the back of the retina. They convert light energy into changes in membrane potential, using biochemical cascade. The retina could be seen as an integral part of the brain !

influence of light/dark contrast with identical gray

Each cell has four regions : an outer segment, an inner segment, a cell body and a synaptic terminal. Light-sensitive photopigments absorb light and trigger changes in the membrane potential of the photoreceptor. Rod photoreceptors have a long, cylindrical outer segment, while cone photoreceptors have a shorter segment. Rods are 1000 times more sensitive to light, while there are three types of cones, each containing a different pigment, making them sensitive to different wavelenghts of light. Only the cones are responsible for our ability to see color.

The axons of the ca. million ganglion cells travel in the optic nerve. About 10% of this retinofugal projection courses from each eye to the midbrain (the superior colliculus), while most of them innervate the thalamus, and from there go to the primary visual cortex or striate cortex in the occipital lobe (the nonthalamic targets of the optic tract involves about 150.000 neurons). The optic nerves exit the left and right eyes and travel through the fatty tissues behind the eyes and pass through holes in the floor of the skull. These nerves from both eyes form the optic chiasm, which lies at the base of the brain, anterior to where the pituitary gland dangles down.  In this chiasm, optic nerve fibers cross from one side to the other (decussation). Hence, the left visual field is viewed by the right hemisphere and the right visual field is viewed by the left hemisphere. The actual viewing happens in the primary visual (striate) cortex.

From the striate cortex, a ventral stream of information projects into the inferior temporal cortex, where the highest integration of visual function & analysis occurs. This is the end station of a system of recognition of specific and particular shapes and objects of interest, both cognitively as well as emotionally, for interconnected with the amygdala, hippocampus, limbic system and the autonomous nervous system.

Composers often speak of the "paper value" of a score, meaning the way it looks. Sometimes the mere visual absence or presence of some score element pops out, suggesting ways to esthetically alter the score and so the corresponding music (for example, two woodwinds ending a 16th note apart may be "corrected" to end together). In the XXth century, composers experimented with new kinds of scores, heavily depending on special visual marks and suggestions, introducing stochastic factors depending on mere visual stimuli (special score elements). To write & read a score, the visual system is important, although this can also be replaced by touch (cf. braille music).

During an actual performance (score playback), the activities of the instrumentalists, the vocalists & the conductor offer a wide spectrum of interesting psychological & emotional information, but this has hardly anything to do with music (although in some cases, the movements of the conductor may assist a better understanding of the auditive data). However, in the grand art of Opera, the visual element can be said to be as important as the vocal & instrumental parts (as in Richard Wagner's "Gesamtkunstwerk"). Indeed, the interaction between what happens on stage and the motifs played by the orchestra is decisive to grasp the intent of the composer regarding the action at hand.

In a general way, we may conclude music may relate to all senses except taste, although smell has not yet been really integrated (but offers, given the possibility of the timed release of pheromones) interesting new perspectives ... But of the five senses, hearing, sight (in Opera) & touch (as ambience) are central.

06. Naked perception : stimuli & preliminary codation.

"If the doors of perception were cleansed,
every thing will appear to man as it is, infinite.
For man has closed himself up,
till he sees all things thru' narrow chinks of his cavern."

Blake, 1790/2, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell.

The receptor organs of the sensory system are fed by impulses based on chemical substances, collisions & frictions, air pressures and electromagnetic radiation. These impulses are the first cause of perception, nothing else. Stimuli are the direct, external changes caused by a narrow band of material objects on the surface of the receptor organs of the sensory system.

Molecules alter the chemistry of nose & tongue. The mechanics of stretching & bending triggers somatosensoric responses. Each second, compressed patches of air pass by our ears. Variations in electromagnetic energy stimulates the retina. Take away these stimuli or disable the receptor organs, and perception is either absent, partial or impossible. The receptor organs are the "doors of perception" ...

Without perception, no interpretation of perception and hence no sensation. To be physically in touch with our environment, evolution provided five doors. Although more may be available (cf. imagination & mind), sense perception is the primary fact of physical experience shared by all humans at birth. It is nominal and the cause of sensate objects.

Literary or scientific, liberal or specialist, all our education is predominantly verbal and therefore fails to accomplish what it is supposed to do. Instead of transforming children into fully developed adults, it turns out students of the natural sciences who are completely unaware of Nature as the primary fact of experience, it inflicts upon the world students of the Humanities who know nothing of humanity, their own or anyone else's."
Huxley, 1957, p.59, my italics.

We first smell, taste, touch, hear and/or see (perceive) and then consciously experience odor, taste, feels, sound & light (sense). Throughout the sensory system population coding is used, implementing a threshold for combined action-potentials. This procedure enables broad responses.

Between the moment the receptor organ changes (stimulus - perception) and the actual conscious sensation (response - sensation), two levels of interpretation exist : automatic & processed.

automatic interpretation from receptor organ to thalamus : evolutionary, biological software integrated in the hardware of the brain, involving transduction, coded relays & the reception by thalamus, it involves no conscious interpretation ;
processed interpretation from thalamus, primary sensory cortex to prefrontal cortex  : evolutionary software plus userware (volitional & processed), able to change software & influence hardware, calling for the secondary sensory cortex, the association areas, the angular gyrus & the prefrontal cortex. This involves interpretation.

In each receptor organ, a particular transduction is operational  from, on the one hand, chemical (smell, taste, touch), mechanical (touch, audition) or electromagnetic energy (sight) to, on the other hand, encoded sequences of electric voltages running through neurons and their axons and dendrites.

smell : transduction of chemical stimuli (odorants) by temporal coding (the timing of spikes) ;
taste  : transduction of chemical stimuli by membrane potential changes, either depolarizing or hyperpolarizing (voltage shift) ;
touch : transduction of mechanical and chemical stimuli by membrane potential changes & mechanoreceptors (with mechano-sensitive ion channels ?) ;
audition : transduction of mechanical energy by a change in membrane polarization ;
sight : transduction of electromagnetic radiation by a change in membrane polarization.

The axons of the olfactory bulbs run through the olfactory tracts and project directly into the olfactory cortex. This happens without passing through the thalamus first, as is the case for taste (gustatory afferent axons), touch (somatosensoric axons), audition (auditory nerve) & sight (optic nerves), projecting into the neocortex by thalamic relay.

Smell is an exceptional sense, able to swiftly trigger massive limbic responses. Indeed, its primary sensory cortex belongs to the primitive cortex, which is part of the limbic brain, the nose brain. Olfactory afferent input and its projection into the primitive regions of the cortex (piriform cortex) is nonthalamic, making smell unique among the senses. This cortex has three layers, the neocortex six. From this old piriform cortex, many connections to many structures in the limbic brain are made.  Many parallel pathways mediate the olfactory functions, such as odor discrimination, emotions, motivation & behaviours from reproduction, feeding to imprinting and memorizing.

The role between odorants and emotional memory (hippocampus) is pertinent. The olfactory system is the outer organ of the play of emotional tensions between inhibiting and exciting. It heralds danger, sexual activity & a feeling of well-being (cf. the role of pheromonal communication between animals). Conscious smelling is mediated by pathways between the medial dorsal nucleus of the thalamus and the prefrontal cortex.

brain stem and cerebellum removed
adapted from Bear, Connors & Paradiso, 2001, p.211.

Both transduction & the axonal relay (by way of synapses), as well as the thalamic relay, are important "automatic" interpretations (innate software), each altering the code, upgrading it from (1) receptor (from receptor neurons to thalamus) to (2) integrator (thalamus). These are the first level of the "innate software", given at birth, and the result of millions of years of evolution. The second level of this "evolutionary software" involves the integration of the relayed data and its projection on the neocortex by the thalamus (cf. infra).

It took millions of years for receptor neurons to be able to receive & transduce. This "automatic" level of perception is called "naked" because it touches, so must we think, the absolute (or "Ding-an-sich"). Reality-as-such & ideality-as-such, the Real-Ideal, is onefold and crucial in logic, epistemology, ethics, esthetics & ontology. Naked perception is the truth-core of realism. The latter is methodological ("as if"), not ontological. This means it does not operate as ground, foundation or hypokeimenon of thought, knowledge, goodness & beauty (cf. Clearings, 2006). By way of method, we accept certain physical stimuli out there cause changes in the receptor organs, effectuating a chain of events relayed, in a coded format, to the thalamus.

Insofar as stimuli cause material changes, transduction causes neuronal information to be relayed to the thalamus.

07. Natural perception :
time, space, integration & projection.

To reach the neocortex and become conscious sensation, all afferent sensory inputs directly (taste, touch, audition, sight) or indirectly (smell) enter the thalamus. The thalamus is the gate, integrator and translator of various inputs processed into a form readable by the neocortex. As a projector, the thalamus relays selectively to various parts of the neocortex, and one thalamic point may reach more than one area of the cerebral cortex.

At the level of the thalamus, reptilian & mammalian (innate) software takes over. Before entry into the neocortex, this "inner room" or "storeroom" (of a Greek or Roman house) receives the neuronal messages of the five senses. This sensory information is spatio-temporalized, integrated and finally projected into the primary sensory cortex, while the intensity of the flow to and fro the neocortex is monitored and if necessary inhibited. Recent studies suggest signals are also relayed from the thalamus to deeper layers of the brain at the same time ...

Through this inhibition, the thalamus rules the flow of sensory (and other neuronal) information to the cerebral (neo)cortex and acts as a highly state-dependent "reducing valve" or central sensory gate (filter). This is done by the reticular nucleus, a sheet of acetylcholine inhibiting neurons, covering the whole of the dorsal thalamus. This sheet contains nerve cells gathering information from dendrites draping the outer surface of the thalamus, sampling the activity between thalamus and neocortex. Cortical excitatory states descend and excite the reticular nucleus, blocking perception. Brain stem excitatory states ascend and inhibit the nucleus, allowing more sensate messages to flow to through the thalamus into the neocortex.

Higher mammals have a larger pulvinar ("cushion"), the back of the thalamus. In humans, it occupies one quarter of the thalamus and is the essential thalamic counterpart of the sensate association cortex covering the back of the neocortex. Functionally, it seems to make the initial contribution to the process of automatically grasping & holding items in our visual & auditory space or salience. This allows them to become of meaningful interest. So the thalamus also computes our initial level of attention. And there is more : the medial dorsal nucleus assists frontal scenario's, the anterior nucleus brings in sensual gratification, the intralaminar nuclei stimulate, the lateral genicular nucleus "sees", and the reticular nucleus is a shield (Austin, 1998, pp.263 - 274). What an incredible storehouse !

This "automatic" level of perception is called "natural" because our brain shares it with all higher mammals. In humans, the thalamus acts not only as a receptor and an integrator-projector, but also as the initiator of a series of higher cortical functions. It is the second level of the "innate software" we inherited from our mineral, vegetal & animal ancestors ...

The neocortex is never directly informed about the afferent data provided by both naked & natural perception. Conscious sensation is a posthalamic process. This is important to realize. When we sensate an object, it is already filtered, or, mutatis mutandis, our unconscious perception is vaster than our conscious sensation ...

II : The Sensuous Cortex.

The cerebrum (measuring about 11 m²) is divided into four lobes, situated underneath the corresponding bone of the skull :

• the frontal bone of the forehead covers the frontal lobe ;
• the temporal bone (temple) defines the temporal lobe ;
• the parietal bone (caudal of the central sulcus making the posterior border of the frontal lobe) covers the parietal lobe ;
• caudal to the parietal lobe, under the occipital bone lies the occipital lobe.

the cerebral lobes
from Bear, Connors & Paradiso, 2001, p.207.

Gray cortical matter is found in the cerebral neocortex, a thin layered sheet of ca. 209 neurons lying just underneath the surface of the cerebrum.

Parameter Value
number of neurons ca.1009
number of cortical neurons ca.209 (*)
surface of neocortex ca.11 m²
connections per neuron ca.1000
cortical synapses ca.240 trillion (*)

(*) Koch, C : Biophysics of Computation, Oxford University Press - New York, 1999, p.87.

In the human, the neocortex is the set of neurons of the cerebrum where sensations, voluntary movement, learning, speech & cognition converge. Here consciousness & the sense of "I-ness" are mediated. It shares several common features with all vertebrate animals :

• neurons are arranged in layers or sheet, mostly parallel to the surface (the human neocortex has 6 layers) ;
• the layer closest to the surface is separated from the rest by a zone lacking neurons ;
• at least one cell layer contains pyramidal cells with large, apical dendrites extending upwards & forming multiple branches ;
• the cerebral neocortex has a cytoarchitecture distinguishing it from the basal telencephalon. The latter has neuronal structures directly underneath the neocortex. The subcortical networks of this "deep" telencephalon interconnect the neocortex with the diencephalon (differentiates into thalamus & hypothalamus), the limbic system.

Computing all higher order operations is the "nominal" mode of working of the human cerebrum or neocortex and its specific, bi-modal approach : two hemispheres processing one integrated cerebral activity from two different angles. Abstract thoughts can be thoroughly mediated after the axonal bridge between both, the corpus callosum has been completed (cf. Piaget's "formal-operatoric phase" after the age of 10).

Contrary to the reptilian, mammalian and all other cortical brains on Earth, the neocortex of Homo sapiens sapiens is exceptional in size, wiring & function. Of all mammals, humans have the most "uncommitted cortex" at birth (Penfield, 1975), i.e. fewer neurons with, in their hardware, instinctual patterns built-in. This implies the human brain is made for organic neuroplasticity (the more difficult a task, the more cells process it) and also has great ability to learn and individualize. Hence, it is ready to acquire "cultural software", the result of socialization, communication and culture. This turns each neocortex into a unique network, defined by unique patterns and hence individuality in interpretation.

The bi-modality of the human
is horizontal & vertical.

unique human hemispheral specialization
after Joseph, 1993, p.44

Horizontally, there is the joint project of the two cerebral hemispheres : cerebral activity is called to be an integration of a duality. This is accepting the difference while opening up as many neuronal alleys between the hemispheres (cf. the "concordia discors" of thought - Clearings, 2006).

Vertically, the neocortex (or upper telencephalon) and the basal telencephalon perform different tasks (note : in left handed people, the directions should be reversed). The basal telencephalon is part of the limbic system. It is essential in the relay of information down from and up to the neocortex and adds "emotional color" to what comes in and goes out. Especially the amygdala play a crucial role in this, while the association of memory & emotion is noteworthy.

left hemisphere - neocortex : higher order verbal operations ;
left hemisphere - basal telencephalon : emotion/word associations, digital memory ;
right hemisphere - neocortex : the higher order visuospatial operations ;
right hemisphere - basal telencephalon : emotion/imaginal sensations, visual memory.

08. Primary & secondary sensory area :
perception & its cortical processing.

The stretching & bending human body (touch) is constantly afloat in a pool of chemicals (smell & taste), air pressures (hearing) and electromagnetic radiation (sight). The chemical senses (smell & taste) produce odors & tastes, the mechanical senses (touch & audition) feels & sounds and the visual sense transforms radiation into pictures of the world around & outside us. Through them, an experience of the immediate environment becomes possible.

The relay from stimulus to perception seems rather "automatic". Although the inputs of the sensory organs are transduced, then relayed to the thalamus to be finally projected into the neocortex, what enters the cerebrum at any given moment is very likely the coded effect of the state-altering stimuli received. Perception is based on the S-R (Stimulus - Response) format, whereby the same stimulus, in ceteris paribus, causes the same response. In neo-Darwinian logic, these forms are the outcome of the countless "trials & errors" of evolution, eliminating inadequate paths and keeping the fittest.

Smell is the first sense, bringing in an overall sense of the immediate environment. Together with taste it also helps to provide good food & a proper mate. Like touch, these are senses at work in the immediate context. Hearing is crucial when light is dim and distance needs to be reckoned (mediate context). Sight brings in a panoramic perspective (general context), and informs about details when used nearby. For all of these, an imperative (innate) algorithm or software was implemented and "somehow" stored in the cells. This is like software permanently encoded on the hardware, reacting in tune with biological, chemical, mechanical and electromagnetic laws.

The research of Kaas (1995) et al. suggest the primordial neocortex (existing to some degree in all living species) consists of three types of cortex, called the "primary sensory cortex", the "secondary sensory cortex" & the "motor cortex". These receive input from the thalamic nuclei relaying data from the basal telencephalon & the cerebellum and send outputs to motor control neurons in the brain stem & spinal cord.

primary sensory cortex : receives as first signals from the ascending sensory pathways, relayed by the thalamus and project these into the secondary sensory areas ;
secondary sensory cortex : very interconnected with the primary sensory areas, they as it were assist computation ;
motor areas : concerned with the control of voluntary movement.

09. The association areas : the final integration of perception.

The cortex proceeds by shaping a three stepped "neuronal sensation ladder" :

primary sensory area : processing the thalamic projection and the decodation of its information ;
secondary sensory area : assisting decodation.

In the human brain, even after assigning primary sensory, secondary sensory, primary motor & secondary motor areas to the neocortex, a considerable amount of bark, particularly in the frontal & temporal lobes, remains : the association areas.

association areas : process the recent, human development of the primate cortex, namely the ability to symbolize & interpret in terms of unobservable mental states. Conscious sensation computes here, for sensations are interpreted (reconstructed) perceptions.

In these association areas of the human neocortex, sophisticated processing mediates higher order functions & operators. These areas contain neurons able to "associate" or "gather together" neural states from various parts of the brain, not only the neocortex. Information from the sensory areas, memory systems and the diencephalon (emotional states) is put together and integrated in order to optimalize the possibilities of the nervous system and execute, process, compute, mediate & enhance a conscious sensation of the world. Some of these areas are interconnected with the amygdala, hippocampus, limbic system and the autonomous nervous system. Hence, at this point the more or less "automatic" responses (in various degrees) are replaced by "learned", "acquired" userware, implemented as a result of conscious (sentient) activity.

the functional areas of the human cerebrum
adapted from Bear, Connors & Paradiso, 2001, pp.208 & 642.

Four "association areas" have been discovered :

visual association area : inferior temporal cortex : highest integration of visual function & analysis - end station of a system of visual recognition of specific and particular shapes and objects of interest, both cognitively as well as emotionally - interconnected with the amygdala, hippocampus, limbic system (olfactory cortex) and the autonomous nervous system ;
spatial association area : posterior parietal cortex : highest integration of analysis and integration of higher-order visual, auditory and somaesthetic (touch & body position) information - three dimensional image of the body in space - distinction between what is at arm's length (bodily sense) and what is further away (the world) - some neurons motivate and guide hand movements, including the grasping of objects within grasping distance ;
verbal association area : angular gyrus, at the junction of the posterior-superior temporal and the occipital-parietal lobes : area of the highest integration of all sensory input, with rich interconnections with all other association areas - processes abstract thought and their relation to words (Wernicke & Broca in the left hemisphere) - conceptual comparisons, ordering of opposites, naming of objects, higher logical operations ;
volitional association area (also : attention association area) : prefrontal cortex, frontal lobes : receives fibers from all sensory systems (vision, hearing, touch, taste, smell), but has few connections with the primary sensory areas - very interconnected with the limbic system (emotional responses), verbal and spatial association area (conceptual thought and egocentric spatiality) - coordinates highly complex movements and is the "seat of the will" for all goal-oriented behaviors, actions and intentions - able to focus on important tasks through redundancy (screening out superfluous input) - planning, imagining, deciding and attention regulation throughout the cerebrum are computed here, but a complete functional picture is far from clear. This has been called the "fourth brain" (next to the reptilian, mammalian and the rest of the neocortex or "human brain").

The association areas allow us to "experience" in a conscious way, and integrate all higher order functions, such as cognition, affection, volition and consciousness. In the formal & critical modes of thought (cf. Intelligent Wisdom, 2007), circular consciousness circumambulates a sense of personal identity. At best, this empirical ego is present & attentive of itself and its environment in every cogitation, affection and/or volition. This is the "subject of experience" confronted with an "objective" fact and its extra-mentality (resulting from causes seemingly outside the perimeter of the ego).

Although both subject and object of experience seem unconstructed, the neuronal processing enabling their manifestation betrays a modular sequencing. Insofar as the sensory system is concerned, the association areas bring in a wide range of inputs, from emotional coloration to verbal, spatial, volitional, imaginal regulations. This brings to the fore the constructed, fabricated, mediated, derived, conditioned, assembled, mapped nature of sensation. Sensation comes about thanks to userware, culturally acquired software. To express sensation, cognition, affection, volition & consciousness, a wide range of neuronal areas are addressed. Indeed, at the higher levels of the nervous system, neuronal activity is secured by neurons arranged in colonies or modules, making neuronal parsimony highly unlikely.

Eccles (1981, p.361) speaks of "neuronal prodigality", linking the processing of consciousness not with psychoneural identity (as the author, he is an interactionist, cf. A Philosophy of the Mind and Its Brain, 2009), but with "reading out from the multitude of active centres at the highest level of brain activity, namely the liaison areas of the dominant cerebral hemisphere. The self-conscious mind selects from these centres according to attention, and from moment to moment integrates its selection to give unity even to the most transient experiences. Furthermore the self-conscious mind acts upon these neural centres modifying the dynamic spatiotemporal patterns of the neural events. Thus we propose that the self-conscious mind exercises a superior interpretative and controlling role upon the neuronal events. A key component of the hypothesis is that the unity of conscious experience is provided by the self-conscious mind and not by the neuronal machinery of the liaison areas of the cerebral hemisphere." (p.362).

Sensation, the final integration of perception, involves interpretation and construction. Sensation is the result of an active modulation of the perceived inputs. Hence, conscious sensation can not do away or eliminate these interpretations, for consciousness has no direct experience of perceptions, but only of sensations.

An interesting neuronal pathology called "blindsight" makes this very clear. Normally, primary & secondary visual areas are so integrated we are unable to isolate the particular role played by each in our day-to-day visual processing. But when the primary visual cortex is lost, the secondary cortex reveals itself as blindsight.

When patients lack the function of the primary visual cortex on one side of the cerebrum, then their consciousness (mediated by the prefrontal cortex) seems "blind" to events taking place in their visual field on the opposite side. So far nothing special. But this is not the same kind of absolute visual loss as when an eye is gone or the optic nerve is severed. This blindness is relative. For if a moving stimulus is offered to their blind field, then patients point at the target even though unable to consciously see it. In other words, forced to guess about whether a stimulus is present in their blind field, some observers do better than chance. Their secondary visual enables the ability to respond appropriately to visual inputs while lacking the consciousness of having seen them.

This proves unconscious perception, given the senses, the relays & thalamic projections are intact, is always happening ! Moreover, what is perceived at this level is far richer than sensation. The latter is always a filtered outcome ! This also explains why some psychedelic drugs allow us to "sensate" more. Indeed, they reduce the activity of the valve, allowing the neocortex to be "flooded" with information normally staying below conscious threshold. This filter was put in place for evolutionary reasons, for survival without filtering is dangerous, to say the least. Even today, experiments show the abuse of psychedelica leads to loss of motivation and a-social behavior, both crucial when dealing with a hostile environment.

The hierarchy at work in the sensory system makes the distinction between perception & sensation pertinent. Is it possible music manipulates the activity of the perceptive valve ?  Can music transport us "in another world" and open vistas normal conscious states do not ? Does it accommodate a more conscious awareness of the limbic systems and its strong emotions ?

10. The angular gyrus : symbol tools.

In the human cerebrum, the angular gyrus and hemispheric specialization are quite unique. Hominoids and other non-human mammals lack an angular gyrus and their artistic, tool-making & symbolic capacities are limited to hammering rock & throwing or manipulating leaves, sticks & twigs (Fedigan, 1992).

The angular gyrus, at the junction of the posterior-superior temporal and the occipital-parietal lobes, is crucial in all constructional tasks, in the control of sequential hand movements, in the manipulation of external objects and internal impressions, but also in naming (adding a label or putting impressions in "a box"). Joseph (1982, 2000) evidenced how the evolution of this area allowed humans to engage in complex creative, symbolic and artistic activities. Devoid of this gyrus, humans develop apraxia, the inability to perform tasks involving interrelated steps and sequences.

Besides naming, this gyrus is also involved in word finding and grammatical speech organization, "and is in part an extension of and links Wernicke's with Broca's areas" (Joseph, 1993, p.357).

This is the cortical area of the highest neuronal integration of the perceptions of the five senses. Rich in interconnections with all other association areas, the angular gyrus processes abstract thought  (the "form" of identities & relationships) and their relation to words in terms of speech & the coordination of the making of correct acoustic sounds or phonemes (cf. Wernicke & Broca in the left hemisphere). Conceptual comparisons, ordering of opposites, naming of objects, higher logical operations etc. are mediated by this area. As the verbal association area, this gyrus integrates sensation, naming and organizing as well as the production of the spoken word. In humans, sensation is used to categorize and talk.

For Joseph, the angular gyrus evolved over the course of the last two millions years and this in parallel with the evolution of handedness and tool technology. Given the relationships between right handedness, the left hemisphere and language, he conjectures speech production also gradually arose over the same period. This explains the explosion of tool-making by the Cro-Magnon, who possessed an angular gyrus and large frontal lobes.

For the Neanderthals, tools were use-specific. Handedness was not yet that developed (in manipulative tasks, they still helped themselves with their mouth). Vocalization was probably in its infancy.

"... it is with the evolution of the Cro-Magnon, the angular gyrus and expansions in the frontal lobe which provided the neurological foundations for tool design and construction, the ability to sew and even wear clothes, and the capacity to create art, and pictorial language in the form of drawing, painting, sculpting and engraving. It is the evolution of these tissues which enabled human beings to not only create visual symbols but to talk about them and create verbal and visual symbols in the form of written language and religious imagery."
Joseph, 1993, p.360.

During human evolution, hemispheric specialization was probably a response to the unique demands made by language, speech and tool construction, in short, infusing material media with conscious meaning, enabling a lasting "sediment" or "glyph". Symbolization is glyph-making insofar as the sediment or material carrier or calculator is lasting enough to bridge to a new generation of listeners & talkers.

Making & manipulating tools, identifying certain sounds with sensate objects (naming), as well as grammatical order are all processed in this unique cortical area. Talking & listening are the most powerful tool of the Homo sapiens sapiens (cf. the nearness of the auditory cortex).
This highest neural processor of language & speech (directly related to the areas of Wernicke & Broca), is also crucial to all tools related to the artistic sense.

11. The prefrontal cortex & empirico-formal concepts.

sensory areas / frontal lobe schematics
from Gloor (1997)

The exceptional evolution of the human frontal lobes materialized language (symbolization), tool technology & art. Branched to a wide array of modules, they are the "senior executive" of the brain (Passingham, 1993, Fuster, 1989) and are primary in regard to all aspects of imagination, creativity, speech, language (via Broca's area) and symbolic thinking. In the frontal lobes, the executive brain, the coordination and regulation of attention, individuality, memory and cortical activity is at hand. Intellectual, creative, artistic, symbolic and cognitive processes get executed. They subserve the expression of melodic-emotional and vocabulary-rich grammatical (well-formed) speech. Consciousness and the sense of "I-ness" or personal identity (cf. the first person perspective of reality-for-me) also compute in these frontal lobes. Here naming turns into concept-formation.

At this level, conscious sensation, as the experience of a sensate object by the subject, is processed. This sensation is based on what the secondary sensory areas, motor areas, angular gyrus & other areas relay (and not so much on input from the primary sensory areas). Hence, sensation is a highly fabricated phenomenon, sharing characteristics with reptilian and mammalian emotional responses to certain perceptions, i.e. adding interest (brain stem and thalamic valve), emotional coloring (limbic) and, in the case of the human, symbolic interpretation (verbal association area) before conscious experience (prefrontal lobes).

Already in the thalamus, state-sensitive flow-reducing processes are at work, allowing the system to  cancel the "automatic" response of the afferent pathways (from receptor organs to thalamus). These highly complex mechanisms, sensitive to a gentle push, opening & closing major neuronal pathways at a moment's notice, are in number present in the neocortex. Each of these association areas accommodate a particular cortical software, dealing with a modular representation of a set of problem-solving information-items. By constantly interacting (cf. the ongoing, interdependent cortical process) and relaying information to the prefrontal cortex, they allow for a higher order computation of a hierarchy of operations, in casu, of sensory inputs. There too mental objects (volitions, affects, thoughts & sentient awareness) are generated.

Nominal (conscious) sensation (S) of Homo normalis is the neural product of two vectors : perception (P) & interpretation (internal process, I). The conceptual mind cannot experience an object of sensation without interpretation (identifying, naming, associating, etc.). This is normal and nominal in the so-called "waking" state. Maybe consciousness is to be "expanded" or "altered" to include what is today only "unconscious" ? Can the liaison brain be more than the frontal lobe of the dominant cortical hemisphere ? Artistic & spiritual models affirm.

Next to the congenital "innate" codation from receptor organs to thalamus (in accord with the S-R model), highly state-dependent cortical networks or modules invite free will (and volition) to alter ongoing procedures (based on the brain's actual & past functioning). Directly influencing the probability-fields of wide populations of neurons (cf. Popper, 1982), consciousness (via the prefrontal cortex ?) may perhaps alter the fabric of the brain itself, if not at least influence it for the better (userware).

Consciousness superimposing probability fields does not violate the physical conservation laws (for m = 0), but, ex hypothesi, co-determines the final momentum of matter & information and this hand in hand with the deterministic evolution of the physically determined vector, either as material states (particles, forces) or material glyphs (material states infused with meaning). Each nondetermined choice needs many sensitive & state-dependent states to influence, alter, modify, etc. the most likely outcome (the automatic result). In a constructive sense, this calls for many nondetermined choices to alter the determined result so all involved may benefit from it. Sensation, the end result of the sensory system, is therefore not automatic, but very user-specific, implying an "internal process". The latter includes consciousness as well as its executive cortical modules.

perception is S-R : S (stimulus) - R (response) model (without userware or I)
sensation is S-I-R : S - I (internal process) - R model (with userware)

Empirico-formal knowledge is a valid (corroborated & consensual), factual, discursive, conceptual & propositional interpretation of perception (cf. Clearings, 2006). The paradigm of science consists of a system of valid concepts arrived at through theory-formation (argumentation) and testing (experimentation). At the core of the scientific paradigm (a system of valid empirico-formal or scientific statements), a series of axioms are articulated. Great tenacity is displayed not to change them. The closer one comes to the periphery, the more accepted verisimilitude diminishes and statements less display the appearance of truth. However, scientific knowledge is always conventional, and therefore relative & historical. It is valid but mistaken, while ultimate knowledge is unmistaken (cf. my A Critique of a Metaphysics of Process, 2012).

Ideally (Quid Juris ?), scientific truth (a dyad) cannot be absolute truth (a monad), but only the best of relative truth, arrived at by the interplay of experimentation & argumentation (testing & arguing). Scientific knowledge is not eternal, but an interdependent, dynamical display of differences (energies). It is a provisional, conventional, fallible, conforming knowledge, a system of synthetical judgments a posteriori, but the best available today to conceive, grasp, hold, posit, conceptualize, categorize, etc. as true, at least for today. A scientific paradigm is an object of the world of information, the creative sum, mandala or "Gestalt" of material glyphs concerning both the integration of perception (thalamus, angular gyrus), conscious sensation and individual consciousness, the subject of experience (prefrontal lobes). The way of the conceptual mind is in all cases a "concordia discors", an armed truce of sorts.

Every observation, experience or sensation is theory-dependent. Science, bound to a logic of finitude, cannot step outside itself and eliminate the limitations of its own frame of reference (the heuristic task of metaphysics). In a chaotic situation, fixation, petrification or fossilization are hazardous. The best we can do, as conceptual rationalists, is to let object & subject, testing & arguing go about and at some point judge by way of proposition.

Although sensate experience is a "stream" and not a sequence of static frames, direct observation hic et nunc is ephemeral & anecdotal (individuum est ineffabile). One cannot conceptually hold on to it, it comes, stays a few moments and ceases. By fast repetition, the steady illusion of an identical object is created. In fact, conscious sensation (experience, observation) and its conceptualization (form) are fazbricated. In conscious sensation, conceptual frames and perceptions are simultaneous and fastened (so they cannot be isolated). Conceptualizing sensation, science produces empirico-formal knowledge about sensate objects.

12.  Sensations in epistemology, ethics and esthetics.

Wittgenstein wrote :

"To perceive a complex means to perceive that its constituents are combined in such and such a way. This perhaps explains that the figure can be seen in two ways as a cube ; and all similar phenomena. For we really see two different facts. (If I fix my eyes first on the corners a and only glance at b, a appears in front and b behind, and vice versa.)"
Wittgenstein, L. : Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, 5.5423, my italics.

With "internal process" or "interpretation" (I), both sensation & consciousness are targeted. Sensation is the end result of a hierarchy of codes, beginning with transduction and ending as a clear & sustained conscious awareness of sensate objects. Sensation is the place where consciousness meets the world "out there". Cogitation (mental objects) is the place where consciousness meets itself and the work "in here". Conscious sensation of "this" object as "that" (volitional association area) is mediated by conceptuality (mental objects of volition, affects, thought & sentience) and the abstract order (verbal association area). The sensory system serves the cortex, offering afferent information to be processed. In particular, sensoric input is processed together with handedness, tool-making, symbolization, audition & speech. This verbal software is connected with all association areas of the cortex. The  prefrontal lobes confirm the presence of these pre-sensate objects to a subject of conscious experience, making them sensate. They are the executive area, processing (computing, not causing, generating or producing) awareness of sensate & mental objects, and self-awareness !

In the phrase : "I see You.", the neuronal sequence is reversed. First, there are dynamical visual perceptions of shapes & colors moving from the receptor organs to the thalamus and "named" by way of the angular gyrus ("You"), then this "You" is actually "seen" by a subject of experience ("I"). This seeing and this subject of experience seeing are simultaneous.

"You" "see" "I"
angular gyrus
association area
association area
afferents from receptor organs sensations my

So to consciously observe an object, is to grasp it and hold it before a subject of experience. Sensations are always conscious and they are so because resulting from a complex inner process, involving all association areas.

"All our knowledge begins with the senses, proceeds thence to the understanding, and ends with reason. There is nothing higher than reason for working up the material of intuition & comprehending it under the highest unity of thought."
Kant, I. : Critique of Pure Reason, B355.

In Kantian epistemology, the process of acquiring knowledge runs as follows :

  1. transcendental aesthetic : empirical knowledge : a variety of direct, multiple, unordered, nameless impressions (Hume), called "Empfindungen" (or perceptions) are synthesized by the forms of representation "space" (related to geometry) and "time" (related to arithmetics) and turned into "Erscheinungen" (or phenomena). These representations reflect the structure of our receptive apparatus, and are meant to structure sensations into phenomena ;

  2. transcendental analytic : scientific knowledge : phenomena are only objectified by thought, but do not constitute an object of knowledge, for this is realized in propositions. The phenomena need to be structured by the 12 categories of understanding, corresponding to 12 different types of propositions (quantity, quality, relation and modality, each viewed from three angels). This categorization of phenomena leads to object-knowledge (synthetic propositions a priori). The categories are meant to structure phenomena into object-knowledge ;

  3. transcendental dialectic : metaphysical knowledge : the variety of objects known is brought to a higher unity. A last, sufficient ground is sought and found in the ideas of reason : "ego", "world" and "God" (derived from the category of relation). These words are not things and only serve understanding, nothing more. While stimulating the mind's continuous expansion, these ideas regulate understanding and bring it to a more comprehensive, reasonable unity. They are meant to structure understanding into an immanent metaphysics.

The 2 forms of representation, 12 categories (brought to unity by 3 ideas) make the object possible, rather than vice versa. The human mind is the active originator of experience, rather than just a passive recipient of perceptions, as Hume (1711 - 1776) thought. The mind can not be a tabula rasa, a "blank tablet", so Descartes (1596 - 1650) is right. The whole transcendental system is innate. Even on the level of the transcendental aesthetics, sensations, the only source of knowledge acknowledged, as Locke (1632 - 1704) claimed, must always be processed to be recognized, or they would just be "less even than a dream" or "nothing to us". Both sensations, representation and categorization are necessary to constitute an object of knowledge.

This theory of knowledge is in tune with the neurophilosophy of sensation. First there are perceptions ("Empfindungen", "sinnliche Anschauung" or "Sinnlichkeit") relayed to the thalamus, integrating & spatiotemporalizing them as phenomena ("Erscheinungen"). The latter are projected in the primary sensory cortex to be recognized by the verbal association area and the attention association area as object-knowledge. Kant's categorial scheme, although it does have general characteristics (the neuronal structures of the areas), does not yield synthetic propositions a priori (cf. Kant's acceptance of foundationalism), but a series of conceptualization (of sensations), or perceptions molded in an individual cognitive framework a posteriori. The higher order organization of the mind by reason, is executed by the prefrontal lobes.

Although the pair perception/sensation plays a fundamental role in epistemology, it is not without importance in ethics & esthetics. In both, the need to distinguish between the input of the senses (perception) and the irreducible interpretation of the conceptual mind (sensation) is crucial and calls for a critical analysis of sensation. We cannot accept our sensate information at face value, but distinguish between the "raw" sense-data we are bound to affirm and the elaborate appearance of sensate objects in simple to complex conceptual frameworks.  Although the conceptual mind is unable to eliminate interpretation to witness the absolute data, it can introduce elaborate comparisons and try to integrate information from as many subjects of experience as possible. Insofar as an intersubjective consensus is at hand and sensations are repeated over and over again, the subjective margin may be reduced, although never completely eliminated (the scientific language game has no privileged access to naked perception). Moreover, as ultimate analysis shows, the mind may enter nondual, non-conceptual cognition, and prehend objects directly, without conceptualizations. Perhaps at this level, sensation comes closer to perception (as mystics worldwide claim).

13.  The argument of illusion.

For Shankara (788 - 820), the main representative of Advaita-Vedânta and an important renewer of Hinduism after the success of Buddhism in India, "mâyâ" (deception, illusion, enchanting display) is a universal principle inseparably united with Brahman, the absolute.

As universal ignorance or cosmic illusion, "mâyâ" draws a veil over Brahman and so confuses our vision, making us witness diversity rather than unity. Because of illusion, we consider sensate objects to be separate entities with definite characteristics. Here we are in error, and witness illusion rather than true reality. The origin of ignorance is the superimposition of unreal objective conditions on what is truly at hand (adhyâsa). Moroever, the transfer of an object (a sensate not-I) along with its accidents to the subject (the I), is deemed false knowledge ("avidyâ"), mixing up reality with unreality, incapable of distinguishing transient from intransient and real from unreal. In the famous simile, we fear a coiled snake, while it is only a rope. In the Vedanta, the key is always to discriminate (viveka) between the real (Brahman, the absolute) and the unreal (mâyâ, the relative). This eliminates ignorance.

To take away "avidyâ" brings enlightenment (samâdhi), destroying past & future "karma" (or operational causes). Only the "karma" already bearing fruit, sustaining this present life has not yet vanished. The "jîvanmukta" ("one liberated while still alive"), witnesses how he experiences activities caused by "prârabdha karma" (which can not be prevented), but continuously without mixing up reality.

In the Buddhadharma, eliminating the substantial idea of Brahman, illusion is things not appearing as they are. They appear as substances existing from their own side, but when analyzed, they are merely processes, nothing more.

Critical thought (cf. Clearings, 2006) also draws a radical distinction between absolute truth and relative truth, between the Real-Ideal (Kant's "Ding-an-sich") and scientific empirico-formal propositions a posteriori. Avoiding dogmatism (the unchangeable yes) & skepticism (the unbreakable no of dogmatic negation), criticism (the open maybe) also steers away from dogmatism or skepticism regarding absolute reality :

dogmatic affirmation : absolute truth and conceptual rationality overlap (cf. fideism, idealism, spiritualism, realism, materialism, logical positivism, scientism). There is only the conceptual mode of thought to penetrate the absolute ;
skepticism or dogmatic negation :  absolute truth cannot be known (the divide cannot be bridged). There is no mode of thought enabling the recognition of the absolute Real-Ideal.

Universal illusion cannot be identified, for positing "mâyâ" turns it into something particular, contradicting its universality. Neither can we exclude universal illusion by assuming "being" equals "being known in thought", for then we move ad hoc from what we assume to be the case to the affirmation of being as knowable as such (cf. the critique of foundationalism). We assume the mental coincides (represents) the extra-mental and move from this assumption to the affirmation this must be the case. This move is unlogical. Classical metaphysics makes this category mistake (assumptions are not certainties). Metaphysical realism (mind corresponds with reality) and metaphysical idealism (mind makes reality) are extremes to avoid.

Although we must assume facts are the place where conceptual rationality & the absolute coincide, and must think the ultimate consensual correspondence (or Real-Ideal), we cannot eliminate the possibility conceptual rationality is self-deluded and, as an illusion-machine, superimposes its own dual display upon the world it sensates and experiences, living out, as if on stage, its own projections in the "mirror" of the world "out there". In other words, in order for knowledge to be possible, we must suppose the absolute to be knowable, even if this is not the case or only partially so. Indeed, conceptual knowledge could well be illusionary, i.e. altogether different from the Real-Ideal. How can this not humble the true scientist ?

Neurological executants are skilled cortical performers backing this interesting state of affairs. The neurophilosophy of sensation clarifies the difference between perception and sensation. The objects we sensate appear as they do because of our interpretation and, as long as conceptual rationality is at hand, this cannot be put to rest or eliminated. This "interpretation" is not something "added" to perceptions, and, by some method, subtracted. The association areas process the construction in which the sensate objects appear as entities (cluster of events) with accidents (quantity, quality, relation, modality, etc.) and this by a subject of experience. Before they "enter" these areas, they have not been introduced to the overall modular activity of the neocortex, the concert of interpretations with an attention area mediating the will of the conductor. Once this happens, the end relay of perception transforms into sensation, for there is interpretation (fabrication) and a subject of experience facing a sensate object of experience.

S(ensation) = P(erception) . I(nterpretation), with I ≠ 1.

The argument of illusion can be explained in objective & subjective terms :

objective : normally, the subject of experience never faces the totality of changes caused, so we must assume, by particles & forces acting as a constant stream of stimuli on the surface of the receptor organs ; they are unconscious. Only after a series of complex, unconscious alterations (transduction, relays, integration & projection) is the cortex informed (primary sensory area), in its own language, about the perceived states, events, occurrences & objects. But, this thalamic projection, in accord with the language of the cerebrum, into the neocortex is not yet sensation. This it only becomes after the afferent pathways enter the verbal association area, immediately connecting them with the attention association area (while the primary sensory area has few connections with the prefrontal lobes !). Our sensations, because of their irreducible and pertinent interpretative, constructive, conceptual, personal nature, could be a kind of fata morgana or mirage, composed of distorted sensory items. Ambiguity is the least one can say of the direct observation of sensate objects ;
subjective :  the most objectifying operator of consciousness, namely cognition or mind, works in various modes. In the ante-rational mode (with its mythical, pre-rational & proto-rational modes), sensate objects appear in contexts and have no meaning outside these. In rational, conceptual thought, which is formal and critical, the theoretical connotations grasped by the subject of experience make it impossible to witness sensate objects devoid of interpretation. Even if so-called "subjective factors" are reduced or eliminated, it cannot be conceptually known whether a collective mirage is at hand or not. Likewise, in creative thought, the own-Self cannot be designated without its ideas and although a panoramic view is established, at best, observation is but the view of one individual own-Self. Finally, although nondual thought recognizes the nature of mind directly and hence moves beyond interpretation, its wisdom is non-verbal and/or poetical and shows in what is done & not done (cf. Does the Divine Exist ?, 2005, Behaviours, 2006 & Intelligent Wisdom, 2007, Emptiness, 2008).

A last word about unsubstantiality, the lack of inherent existence or "substance", i.e. "sensate objects" existing in and for themselves. If sensation is fabricated perception, then clearly the category of "substance" refers to the mental habit of attributing "eternal" states to sensate objects, for perceptions are a flowing stream of impressions, not fixed objects existing solidly in and of themselves, from their own side. This "nature" of things is therefore the outcome of a false ideation, a conventional halting of the ongoing stream of changes which is totally dependent of a decision ad hoc by some subject of experience or a community of such subjects. Paradigm paralysis is precisely the inablility of the scientific community to reckon the spatiotemporality of perception and sensation. Of course, conceptually, we must assume "something" causes perception, but in fact this is probably only a stream of differential inputs, (vector) products of differences or energies.

© Wim van den Dungen, Antwerp - 2017 - l SiteMap
initiated : 03 IV 2013 - last update : 30 VI 2013 - version n°1