Psychology & Psychotherapy

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The Predictive Brain

Consciousness, Decision and Embodied Action

Mauro Maldonato is an italian psychiatrist, professor at Università degli Studi della Basilicata of Matera. His academic formation includes studies at the La Sapienza University (Rome), Federico II (Naples), London School of Economics, and the École des hautes études (Paris). He has been a recurrent visiting professor at the Universidade de São Paulo (USP), Pontifícia Universidade Católica (PUC) di São Paulo and at Duke University. He is an author and curator of volumes and scientific articles published in numerous languages. He is also the scientific director of the International Research Week.

During the lengthy and complex process of human evolution our ancestors had to adapt to testing situations in which survival depended on making rapid choices that subjected muscles and body to extreme tension. In order to seize a prey travelling at 36 km per hour Homo sapiens had just thousandths of a second in which to prepare the appropriate gesture. While we are no longer faced with such an environment, our brain continues to use the adaptive mechanisms, enabling us to avoid danger and sense interlocutor intentions. This book sets out to show that our brain is not only a reactive mechanism, reacting to external stimuli, but is pro-active – allowing us to make hypotheses, anticipate consequences, and formulate expectations: in short, to wrong foot an adversary.

The body and its movements are at the origin of all abstract modes of behaviour, starting from language. The evolution of motor modes of behaviour (e.g the ability to construct and manipulate instruments) has given rise to an “embodied logic” underpinning not only action and prediction but also gestures and syllable sequences that are the basis of human communication. Some motor experiences have progressively moulded the nervous infrastructures and led to the development of symbols/metaphors used in language, coming to serve as classes of perceptions, behavioural patterns and universal linguistic conventions. Whether shaking someone’s hand or writing a letter, each executive function – controlled by nervous structures and mental procedures that process the information – requires behaviours that are oriented to a specific end. The executive functions imply planning/selecting an action; the process is linked to an embodied cognition supported by consciousness. If consciousness is caused by specific neuronal processes and, therefore, conscious states are causally reducible to neurobiological processes, it is also true that conscious states exist at a higher level than neuron activity. For this reason it is necessary to go beyond a hierarchical idea of levels of consciousness, and to refute the idea according to which the ‘mental’ sphere is qualitative, subjective, and in the ‘first person’, while the physical’ sphere is quantitative, objective and in the ‘third person’.

Paperback ISBN: 978-1-84519-639-4
Paperback Price: £17.95 / $24.95
Release Date: May 2014
Page Extent / Format: 112 pp. / 229 x 152 mm
Illustrated: No


The birth of self: The origin of temporality and the sense of consciousness

The ascending reticular activating system and the root of attention

Rethinking consciousness

CHAPTER 4 Naturalizing consciousness

CHAPTER 5 The decision of consciousness

CHAPTER 6 The predictive brain

CHAPTER 7 The natural logic of action

Intuition, decision and ecological rationality: The toolbox of evolution



Reviewed by Hugo Critchley in the The British Journal of Psychiatry, June 2015

Maldonato presents this exploration of consciousness and decision-making with a blend of philosophical and scientific prose. The first few chapters compare and contrast neuroscientific evidence on the source of consciousness with philosophical and literary writings on its conceptualization. A multilevel framework for understanding consciousness is presented with elucidation of conscious and unconscious processes and discussion of neural hierarchies, especially as expressed through near-instantaneous adjustments to motor activity. The example of quick movement is used to introduce questions of decision, intuition, and causal consciousness, which are thoroughly explored in the last chapter contrasting usual decision-making processes with so-called rational choice. The author stresses the point of view that there is a gradient between conscious and nonconscious operations, and the evolutionary speed/accuracy value of decisions made by heuristics.

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