Jon Hellevig
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Homeostasis, the Gateway to Cognition, and Mental Processing

These considerations led me to conclude that understanding homeostasis is thus the gateway to understanding all human behavior and the connection between natural sciences and social sciences.

The connecting link between the purely physical organic movements and cognitive feelings that ultimately lead to conscious awareness of one's own thoughts is mental processing. The brain readouts that mental processing results in feed into the enhanced homeostatic system of feelings. In the fundamental unity of phenomena 'feelings' are always about the body in relation to the environment, therefore, 'feelings' are both caused by bodily processes and lead to bodily processes as expressions. In my interpretation, I would thus render the idea of somatic markers (Damasio) by telling that cognitive reactions are anchored in the system of correlating environmental conditions (stimuli) with their effect on the body (and its parts) and consequently the whole homeostasis, which develops feelings of higher and higher cognitive value, or complexity, up to conscious recollection of some reflections of them.

Both in an evolutionary sense and in respect to the life of any given organism, all organic and neural processes may be conceived of as processes of movement that are combined in more and more complex processes within the framework of the homeostatic system cumulating in the human higher-order process of cognitive consciousness. I conceive of these processes on a continuum which starts with physical movements, which combine into organic processes and neural processes (some of them characterized as mental processes), which further combine through the homeostasis to feelings, which give rise to cognitive feelings, which may develop to mental images and phenomena that correspond to conceptualization of abstractions, which latter two embedded in the underlying cognitive feelings may develop into thoughts (ideas) when the human in a state of cognitive consciousness applies his experience of language and other social practices to the cognitive feelings. In accordance with this conception, I hold that all phenomena of cognition are results of such neural processes that can be characterized as mental processes yielding cognitive reflections.

The evolutionary value of cognitive consciousness lies in that the organism observes itself similarly as one observes others and in this way the environment is made to include the organism itself, and so more fully integrating the whole environment in the homeostatic system which bears on the well-being of the organism.

Reflecting on these ideas it seems to me that in neuroscience the research paradigm should be amended so as to define the activity as a study of cognition instead of a study of 'consciousness' – whereas 'consciousness' (on the different levels of awareness) represents aspects of cognition. Cognition, cognitive appraisals, happens continuously whereas cognitive consciousness (the being aware of being aware) comes and goes. An important, and perhaps decisive, feature of cognition is conceptualization. Thus the biological method of studying cognition and conceptualization should replace the conceptual method of studying 'consciousness.' - I refer to the evolution of these cognitive abilities by the concept 'mental evolution.' By this concept I mean the evolutionary development of the ability to process stimuli in ever increasing complex ways and the potential possibility to react, to express the necessary reactions in response to the processes.

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