Asklepia Foundation
“Journey to the Healing Heart of Your Dreams”


ABSTRACT:  Antonio Damasio’s identification of neuronal circuitry for the core-self and proto-self dovetails exactly with Graywolf’s independently developed notion of the dynamic primal existential sensory self-image, (PESSI), the most fundamental experience of self/not-self.  It is the existential hologram which shapes our reality, our perceptions of self, world, and cosmos, our perceptions of our sensory input and self-generated information.  Attractors work at the edge of complexity to form the existential hologram or PESSI.  The points of agreement between the sensorial proto-self and PESSI are presented and discussed in this paper, drawing heavily from Damasio’s anatomical descriptors and characterizations. Damasio covers nuances too numerous to include in this synopsis.  They are extremely important to neurological comprehension of restructuring in the CRP Journeys, and thorough understanding of these neural pathways will amply reward the CRP mentor.


The mysteries of consciousness are rooted in our basic life regulation processes.  The basic emotions function as basic regulatory mechanisms.  Primary universal emotions include happiness, sadness, fear, anger, surprise, or disgust.  Secondary social “emotions” include embarassment, jealousy, guilt or pride, while background emotions include well-being or malaise, calm or tension--essentially degrees of arousal of either the sympathetic or parasympathetic systems.  The name emotion has also been attached to drives and motivations and states of pain and pleasure.

In THE FEELING OF WHAT HAPPENS: BODY AND EMOTION IN THE MAKING OF CONSCIOUSNESS (1999), Antonio Damasio outlines the shared biological core which underlies all these phenomena as follows:

1.  Emotions are complicated collections of chemical and neural responses, forming a pattern; all emotions have some kind of regulatory role to play, leading in one way or another to the creation of circumstances advantageous to the organism exhibiting the phenomenon; emotions are about the life of an organism, its body to be precise, and their role is to assist the organism in maintaining life.

2.  Notwithstanding the reality that learning and culture alter the expression of emotions and give emotions new meanings, emotions are biologically determined processes, depending on innately set brain devices, laid down by a long evolutionary history.

3.  The devices which produce emotions occupy a fairly restricted ensemble of subcortical regions, beginning at the level of the brain stem and moving up to the higher brain; the devices are part of a set of structures that both regulate and represent body states.

4.  All the devices can be engaged automatically, without conscious deliberation; the considerable amount of individual variation and the fact that culture plays a role in shaping some inducers does not deny the fundamental stereotypicality, automaticity, and regulatory purpose of emotions.

5.  All emotions use the body as their theater (internal milieu, visceral, vestibular and musculoskeletal systems), but emotions also affect the mode of operation of numerous brain circuits: the variety of the emotional responses is responsible for profound changes in both the body landscape and the brain landscape.  The collection of these changes constitute the substrate for the neural patterns which eventually become feelings of emotion.

Background Emotions

When we sense that a person is “tense” or “edgy,” “discouraged” or “enthusiastic,” “down” or “cheerful,” without a single word having been spoken, we are detecting background emotions.  We detect them through subtle details of body posture, speed and contour of movements, minimal changes in the amount and speed of eye movements, and in the degree of contraction of facial muscles.

The inducers of background emotions are usually internal.  The processes of regulating life itself can cause background emotions but so can continued processes of mental conflict, overt or covert, as they lead to sustained satisfaction or inhibitation of drives and motivations.  Background emotions allows us to experience background feelings of tension or relaxation, of fatigue or energy, of well-being or malaise, of anticipation of dread.

These responses are closer to the inner core of life, and their target is more internal than external.  Profiles of the internal milieu and viscera play the lead part in background emotions.  They are richly expressed in musculoskeletal changes such as subtle body posture and overall shaping of body movement.

The biological “purpose” of emotions is clear, and they are not a dispensable luxury.  They are adaptations which help us regulate metabolism or homeostasis and survive.  They underlie our autobiographical experience.  They are inseparable from the ideas of reward/punishment, pleasure/pain, approach/withdrawal, personal advantage/disadvantage, even the idea of good/evil.

Thus, the spectrum of life regulation includes a level of basic life regulation, emotions, feelings, and high reason.  From the bioregulatory level of reflections comes pain and pleasure, drives, and motivations.  Emotions are the complex, stereotyped patterns of response including primary, secondary and background emotions.  Feelings are sensory patterns signaling pain, pleasure, and emotions as images.

The substrate for representation of emotions and feelings is a collection of  neural dispositions in a number of brain regions located largely in subcortical nuclei of the brain stem, hypothalamus, basal forebrain, and amygdala.  In keeping with their dispositional status, these representations are implicit, dormant, and not available to conscious awareness.

They exist, rather as potential patterns of activity arising within neuronal assemblies, and when activated have a variety of cascading consequences creating an emotional state.  The internal state is composed both of the emotional as neural object (the activation pattern at the induction sites) and the sensing of the consequences of the activation, a feeling, provided the resulting collection of neural patterns becomes images in mind.

They lead to two mechanisms: 1) the “body-loop” of chemical messenger and neural signals which change the somatosensory structures of the CNS, and 2) the “as if body loop” which also changes the body landscape and sensory body maps under the control of other neural sites.  It is “as if” the body had really been changed but it has not.  The cognitive state can also change or alter one’s state, affecting filtering of information, cognitive processing, focus and imagery.  Consciousness is required for us to actually know we are experiencing an emotional or feeling state.

Core Consciousness

Consciousness happens in our interiors, but it manifests outwardly.  A three-way linkage between inner and outer operates.  1) Certain external manifestations, e.g. wakefulness, background emotions, attentions, specific behaviors; 2) the corresponding internal manifestations of the human being having those behaviors as reported by another human being; and 3) the internal manifestation that we, as observers, can verify in ourselves.

Absence of emotion is a reliable correlate of defective core consciousness.  Deep sleep is not accompanied by emotional expressions, but in dream sleep, during which consciousness returns in its odd way, emotional expressions are easily detectable in humans and animals.  Emotions and core consciousness tend to go together, in the literal sense, by being present together or absent together.

Emotions can be triggered nonconsciously, from unattended thoughts or unknown dispositions, as well as from unperceivable aspects of our body states.  Both emotions and core consciousness require, in part, the same neural substrates, and strategically placed dysfunction compromises both kinds of processing.

The shared substrates include the ensemble of neural structures which support the proto-self, the structures which both regulate and represent the body’s internal states.  Lack of emotion, from background emotion on up to higher levels of emotion are a sign that important mechanisms of body regulation have been compromised.

Core consciousness is functionally close to the disrupted mechanisms, interwoven with them, and thus compromised along with them.  There is no such close functional relationship between emotional processing and extended consciousness.  Thus, impairments of extended consciousness are not accompanied by a breakdown of emotion.  Neurological examples of disrupted core consciousness include epilepsy, coma or vegetative states, and deep dreamless sleep.

Damasio’s basic hypothesis is that:  core consciousness occurs when the brain’s representation devices generate an imaged, nonverbal account of how the organism’s own state is affected by the organism’s processing of an object, and when this process enhances the image of the causative object, thus placing it saliently in a spatial and temporal context.

The sense-of-self component is grounded in the following premises:

1.  Consciousness depends on the internal construction and exhibition of new knowledge concerning an interaction between that organism and an object.

2.  The organism, as a unit, is mapped in the organism’s brain, within structures that regulate the organism’s life and signal its internal states continuously; the object is also mapped within the brain, in the sensory and motor structures activated by the interaction of the organism with the object; both organism and object are mapped as neural patterns, in first-order maps; all of these neural patterns can become images.

3.  The sensorimotor maps pertaining to the object causes changes in the maps pertaining to the organism.

4.  The changes described in 3 can be represented in yet other maps (second-order maps) which thus represent the relationship of object and organism.

5.  The neural pattern transiently formed in second-order maps can become mental images, no less so than the neural patterns in first-order maps.

6.  Because of the body-related nature of both organism maps and second-order maps, the mental images that describe the relationship are feelings.

The swift, second-order nonverbal account narrates a story: that of the organism caught in the act of representing its own changing state as it goes about representing something else.  The knowable entity of the catcher is created in the narrative of the catching process.  This plot is incessantly repeated for every object that the brain represents, whether the object is present or brought back from a past memory.  Also it makes no differenence what the object really is.

This neural narrative is based on neural patterns which become images, the same fundamental currency in which the description of the consciousness-causing object is also carried out.  The images that constitute this narrative are incorporated in the stream of thoughts.  The images in the consciousness narrative flow like shadows along with the images of the object for which they are providing an unwritten, unsolicited comment.  They are within the movie in the brain.  There is no external spectator.

Thus, our subtle image of knowing, the feeling essence of our sense of self, and the enhancement of the image of the causative object dominates core consciousness.  Attention is driven to focus on an object and the result is saliency of the images of that object in mind.  It becomes fact, following the preceding events which lead to its becoming, and it is part of a relationship with the organism to which all this is happening.

It is a direct influence on the transient core self and the autobiographical self.  Unlike the core self, which inheres as a protagonist of the primordial account, and unlike the proto-self, which is a current representation of the state of the organism, the autobiographical self is based on a concept in the true cognitive and neurobiological sense of the term.

The core self inheres in the second-order nonverbal account that occurs whenever an object modifies the proto-self.  The core self can be triggered by any object.  The mechanism of production of core self undergoes minimal changes across a lifetime.  We are conscious of the core self.

The proto-self is an interconnected and temporarily coherent collection of neural patterns which represent the state of the organism, moment by moment, at multiple levels of the brain.  We are not conscious of the proto-self.  The mechanism of core self requires the presence of proto-self.  The biological essence of the core self is the representation of the core self is the representation in a second-order map of the proto-self being modified.

Regardless of how well autobiographical memory grows and how robust the autobiological self becomes, it should be clear that they require a continued supply of core consciousness for them to be of any consequence to their owner organism.  Autobiographical self can only be known when there is a fresh construction of  core self and knowing for each of those contents to be known.

Anatomy of the Proto-Self

Damasio outlines the brain structures required to impliment the proto-self:

1.  Several brain-stem nuclei which map body states and map body signals.  Along the chains of signaling that begin in the body and terminate in the highest and most distal structures of the brain, this region is the first in which an aggregate of nuclei signal the overall current body state, as mediated by the spinal cord pathways, the trigeminal nerve, the vagus complex, and the area postreme.  Included in this region are classical reticular nuclei as well as monoamine and acetylcholine nuclei.

2.. The hypothalamus, which is located near the structures named in 1 and closely interconnected with them, and the basal forebrain, which is located in the vicinity of the hypothalamus, is interconnected with both hypothalamus and brain stem, and constitutes an extension of those lower structures intot he forebrain.  The hypothalamus contributes to the current representation of the body by maintaining its current register of the state of the internal milieu along several dimensions, e.g. level of circulating nutrients such as glucose, concentration of varied ions, relative concentration of water, pH, concentration of varied circulating hormones, and so on.  The hypothalamus helps regulate the internal milieu by acting on the basis of such maps.

3.  The insular cortex, the cortcies known as S2, and the medial parietal contices located behind the splenium of the corpus callosum, all of which are part of the somatosensory cortices.  In humans the functions of these cortices is asymmetric.   Domasio thinks the ensemble of these cortices in the right hemisphere holds the most ingrated representation of the current internal state of the organism at the level of the cerebral hemispheres, along with representations of the invariant design of the musculoskeletal frame.  Jaak Panksepp also links body and self, by means of an innate representation of the body in brain stem.

Mechanisms for core consciousness and extended conscious are undergird by anatomical structures necessary to support the proto-self and the second-order map requird by those mechanisms.  Domasio puts forth this evidence:

1.  Bilateral damage to maps of somatosensory information, which form the neural basis for the proto-self, should disrupt consciousness.  The disruption of consciousness should be maximal following damage at the level of the upper brain stem and hypothalamus, where proto-self structures are tightly packed together, and less severe at higher levels (the cortices of insula, S2, S1; related parietal association cortices), whereas processing chains are spatially more separated.

2.  Bilateral damage to the structures presumed to participate in constructing the second-order imaged account of the organism-object relationship should disrupt core consciousness partially or completely.  Examples of such structures are certain nuclei of the thalamus and the cingulate cortices.

3. Bilateral damage to temporal cortices, including the inferotemporal region known as IT and the temporal pole known as TP, should not impair core consciousness, since in those circumstances the structures required to represent the proto-self, to process most objects to be known, and to create the imaged account of the organism-object relationship are all intact.  However, damage to the temporal cortices will impair the activation of autobiographical memory records and thus reduce the scope of extended consciousness.  The same applies to bilateral damage in some higher-order cortices within the vast prefrontal regions, which also support the records from which the autobiographical self can be activated.

4.  Bilateral damage to the hippocampus will not impair core consciousness.  However, because new learning of facts will be precluded, it will halt the growth of autobiographical memory, affect its maintenance, and, consequently, alter the quality of extended consciousness in the future.

5.  Bilateral damage to early sensory cortices concerned with external sensory information (e.g. vision, hearing) should not impair core consciousness except by precluding the respresentation of the aspects of a given object which depend on that particular cortex.  The situation of somatosensory cortices is exceptional since they provide part of  the basis for the proto-self.  Their damage is referred to in statement 1 above.

6.  Bilateral damage to prefrontal cortices, even if extensive, should not alter core consciousness.

The Primal Existential Self-Image in CRP

Damasio's description shares much in common with what is termed the Primal Existential Sensory Self Image (PESSI) in the Consciousness Restructuring Process.  It has many implications in terms of the nature of consciousness, disease, healing, and dreams.

Each symptom, illness or disease we manifest, whether physical or mental, is based in or reflects a deep self-image or dynamic consciousness structure.  It is a very primal image and exists on a sensory-level.  It defines our existential world-view, which simply means how we experience self, the world, and the relationship between the two.  Graywolf refers to this Primal Existential Sensory Self-Image as the PESSI.  It represents the deepest level of self and at the same time is one of a limited number of images (archetypal images) about which the self organizes.  It is the subjective experiencing of the existential hologram that shapes our perceived reality.

As Jung suggests, these images arise from even more fundamental principles of reality, which Graywolf calls "Archetypal Strange Attractors."  These are the principles by which reality organizes itself from the field of infinite possibilities, (implicate order or chaos) into the structure of reality.  These structures also organize both our somatic and personality presentation.  They also hold in them the patterns of our physiological, mental and emotional diseases as well as our strengths and wellness.

In early attempts to describe the CRP, we noticed that when we reached the primal self-image (hologram) that held the dis-ease structure during journeys, it led inevitably into an archetypal imagery that seemed to transcend the personal self, yet there was still an experience of beingness.  These images were experienced on the edges or periphery of sensation but also seemed to go far beyond ordinary sensation.  They led to a deeper state of self/not-self from which a healing transformation seemed to rise out of chaos to produce a new flowing and easeful primal self-image, from which attitudes, behavior and somatic presentation change from within, very fundamentally.

As the journey process was further explored, it became apparent that this sensory/pre-sensory imagery appeared regularly just beyond the dynamics/imagery of the illness and just beyond the primal existential sensory self-image.  At first they all seemed chaotic or without any apparent structure, but on deeper observation resemble fractal images in both form and dynamics.  They are the principles about which universal reality seems to form.

In our earliest formative conditions, while the structures of body and mind are still forming and flexible and while we are in our "initial conditions," these archetypal attractors are operating to form our existential hologram.  They shape our perceptions of reality, create our personal structures of self and reality out of unbound consciousness field.  The attractors work at the edge of complexity to form the existential hologram or PESSI.  Incorporated into it are the experiences that shaped it.  In turn this shapes our perceptions.

The PESSI image creates our model of reality and that defines self and universe to us; it in turn shapes our perceptions from the input of our senses.  Rooted in this dynamic existential sensory self image or hologram are the dis-easeful dynamic consciousness patterns that shape the more superficial levels of somatic and psychic structures.  This is the level at which we encounter the interference patterns that underlie our personal existential hologram, (Personal Mythology), and it is experienced as shifting energy patterns of sensations and sub-sensations.  When the sojourner is invited to identify with these patterns or to yield to them, they inevitably are led into chaotic or unformed consciousness wherein the quantum shift to healing process seems to occur.

The part is the whole.  The belief system rests on the shoulders of this system that in turn supports the emotion-thinking interplay, that in turn supports and shapes the behavior-somatic symptoms.  It becomes realized as outer reality.  One's beliefs conform to this dynamic image and by and large these dynamics of the PESSI also limit our sensory input.  They are a deeply ingrained sensory neural pattern.  We ultimately reproduce and confirm this pattern at the behavioral and symtomatic levels.

The Primal Existential Sensory Self Image (PESSI) underlies and conditions all perceptions of self, other, and world.  The PESSI represents the focal point of the self.  The PESSI is the deepest level of consciousness dynamics in which there is a defined self and not-self.  What we sense is processed into our perceptions of reality by the dynamics of this consciousness structure.  The most fundamental consciousness dynamics form the physical-psychic self of the mindbody.  It is in these structures and dynamics that quantum shifts from diseased to healthy consciousness process seems to be initiated.  The deepest processes of natural healing must then occur there.  Holographic theory about the nature of reality and our perceptions enriches our understanding about how natural healing might work at this creative level.

In the perceptual hologram (interference pattern), resides the fundamental basis of our structure and our sense of self and external environment, including our health and illness in both our physiological and psychological being.  It is here, at this level of our being where fundamental psychophysical restructuring occurs.  This hologram is what Graywolf has termed the Primal Existential Sensory Self-Image (PESSI) or existential hologram (existential meaning, sense of self, the world and the relationship between them).  He suggests that this inteference pattern of interacting and dancing waves may be one of the ways that we experience consciousness itself.  Even a small change in one synaptic wave emission can change this entire hologram or perception of self and universe.

Chaos Theory holds that the more complex a system, the more stable and self-correcting it is.  Disruption to a linear system throws it off course, but only affects portion of a complex system, which soon adjusts to "fill in the gap." Chaotic, unstructured or complex consciousness is the dynamics required for consciousness restructuring.  The restructuring of the PESSI in turn affects neural patterns (the existential hologram).  It is necessary to be at the initial conditions of the system for this restructuring to have maximum effect.  REM consciousness seem to be necessary to this process.

A dream starts as chaotic, unbound consciousness (consciousness field).  As it first enters into space-time its initial shaping (form/structure) is influenced by the primal frozen or bound consciousness structures at the deepest levels of our consciousness or memory (strange attractor).  The (attractor-memory-subconscious structures) are deep sensory patterns of our past experiences that themselves were formed in REM at earlier times.  These are what I refer to as the Primal Existential Sensory Self Image or PESSI.

Forming and reforming the PESSI takes place in REM.  Established consciousness patterns act as strange attractors to shape random neural firings into a specific neural firing pattern in the brain.  During REM the event may be relived in symbolic or actual form and re-enforced in holographic memory.  REM is the most complex brain activity measured and is associated with the formation of new neural pathways.  Thus, the event becomes recorded in the brain as a synaptic firing pattern.  A "neural organ" is formed, a relatively fixed part or function of the brain itself.  The firing pattern or sequence, not the locale, is the important factor.  It is associated with sensory stimuli which can activate the patterns.  This becomes a defining part of the PESSI.  The patterns also form the basis of organic dysfunctions.

These neural firing patterns (PESSI) influence the structuring of the chaotic energy consciousness as it enters into the (REM) sleeping organism.  PESSIs also underlie our behavior, (see the six zones model) and in fact every aspect of our physical-mental self.  REM is a creative state and also one associated with forming new neural circuits.  So in this creative-learning way the dream is processing data from the day, comparing it with data from the past and creating new neural connections.

When inactive, neural patterns are in a state of potential, or implicate order, ready to be expressed or activated when any one of the sensory inputs associated with it is experienced.  The sensory cues also act as strange attractors to draw it out of the implicate order to activate the firing pattern.  It is a very primal level of functioning so thinking cannot really alter this structure or prevent its activation, rather thinking and emotional patterns are formed from its activation.

This is one way, in fact, to describe the formation of all structure in the universe.  As the wave front collapses out of the field of infinite probability, and becomes photons, gravitons, electrons or "conscitrons" they are influenced in forming the patterns and interconnections that we know as the space-time reality by the forms already there (attractor).  In this way the formation of a dream is consistent with quantum theory.

But the real point here is that the shape the dream takes is basically also a self image.  It is closer to an impressionistic self portrait, but is none the less a self portrait.  Thus a dream is created on the edge of a complex (chaotic) consciousness field, is given its first shaping by the deep internal subconscious structures (internal strange attractors) stored at the organism's most basic levels and in that sense the dream, like consciousness, is self organizing.

CRP has an important contribution to make with respect to changing our fundamental existential perceptions.  In summary, the PESSI exists at the most fundamental levels of self and shapes the self and is the basis of our perceptions.  It is much deeper than behavior, thoughts and emotions, or even the fundamental belief system.  It contributes to these patterns and is the strange attractor that shapes these levels of consciousness structures.  It was in turn shaped by our experiences.  It defines the self.

CRP is able to access this fundamental consciousness-neural strcutre and free it to transform through self-organization to a more positive self image that affects the entire psychophysical self.  This changing of perception in the PESSI is part of the explanation for spontaneous natural healing.  REM may be the mechanism that directly communicates at the consciousness and pure energy level, the common language that communicates our perceptions directly to our cells and re-enforces these emergent perceptions.


Core consciousness depends most critically on the activity of a restricted number of phylogenetically old brain structures, beginning in the brain stem and ending with the somatosensory and cingulate cortices.  The interaction among the structures in this set supports the creation of the proto-self, ebngeners the second-order neural pattern which describes the relationship between the organism (proto-self) and the object, and modulates the activity of object-processingg regions which are not part of the set.

Damasio's provisional conclusions include the following:

1. Damage to the brain regions presumed to support either the proto-self or the second-order account of the organism-object relationship-disrupts core consciousness.  Extended consciousness is disrupted as well.

2.  The regions which supports either the proto-self or the second-order maps have special anatomical characteristics (a) they are among the phylogenetically older structures of the brain; (b) they are largely located near the midline; (c) none is located on the external surface of the cerbral cortex, and (d) all are involved in some aspect of body regulation or representation.

3.  Proto-self and second order structures constitute a central resource; and their dysfunction causes a general disruption of consciousness for any object.  Early sensory structures are involved in processing separate aspects of objects, and thus the disabling of one of those structures, even if extensive, does not affectgg consciousness in general.

4.  The regions whose damage does not cause a disruption of core consciousness constitute, in the aggregate, a large proportion of the central nervous system than the ensemble of those that do disrupt consciousness.

5.  Those same regions (e.g. early sensory cotices, higher-order cortices) are primarily involved in (a) signaling the objects and the events which come to be known because of core consciousness, (b) hholding recording pertaining to their experience and (c) manipulating those records in reasoning and creative thinking.

6.  The early sensory structures are also involved in the process of making consciousness.  They do so in a different manner--there is only one set of structures to support proto-self and second-order maps, while there are several sets of early sensory structures, one per sensory modality.  The participation of early sensory structures includes (a) initiating the process by influencing the proto-self structures; (b) signaling to second-order structures, and (c) being the recipients of the modulatory influences consequent to the second-order neural patterns.  It is because of the latter influence that the enhjancement of the neural patterns which support the object doess occur and varied components of the object to be known become integrated.