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Prog Neurobiol. 2001 May;64(1):1-33.

Cooperation of the basal ganglia, cerebellum, sensory cerebrum and hippocampus: possible implications for cognition, consciousness, intelligence and creativity.

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Biophysics, Danish Technical University, DK-2800 Lyngby, Denmark.


It is suggested that the anatomical structures which mediate consciousness evolved as decisive embellishments to a (non-conscious) design strategy present even in the simplest unicellular organisms. Consciousness is thus not the pinnacle of a hierarchy whose base is the primitive reflex, because reflexes require a nervous system, which the single-celled creature does not possess. By postulating that consciousness is intimately connected to self-paced probing of the environment, also prominent in prokaryotic behavior, one can make mammalian neuroanatomy amenable to dramatically straightforward rationalization. Muscular contraction is the nervous system's only externally directed product, and the signaling routes which pass through the various brain components must ultimately converge on the motor areas. The function of several components is still debatable, so it might seem premature to analyze the global operation of the circuit these routes constitute. But such analysis produces a remarkably simple picture, and it sheds new light on the roles of the individual components. The underlying principle is conditionally permitted movement, some components being able to veto muscular contraction by denying the motor areas sufficient activation. This is true of the basal ganglia (BG) and the cerebellum (Cb), which act in tandem with the sensory cerebrum, and which can prevent the latter's signals to the motor areas from exceeding the threshold for overt movement. It is also true of the anterior cingulate, which appears to play a major role in directing attention. In mammals, the result can be mere thought, provided that a second lower threshold is exceeded. The veto functions of the BG and the Cb stem from inhibition, but the countermanding disinhibition develops at markedly different rates in those two key components. It develops rapidly in the BG, control being exercised by the amygdala, which itself is governed by various other brain regions. It develops over time in the Cb, thereby permitting previously executed movements that have proved advantageous. If cognition is linked to overt or covert movement, intelligence becomes the ability to consolidate individual motor elements into more complex patterns, and creativity is the outcome of a race-to-threshold process which centers on the motor areas. Amongst the ramifications of these ideas are aspects of cortical oscillations, phantom limb sensations, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) the difficulty of self-tickling and mirror neurons.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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