Evolution of human brain functions: The functional structure of human consciousness

C. Robert Cloninger

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    46 Scopus citations


    The functional structure of self-aware consciousness in human beings is described based on the evolution of human brain functions. Prior work on heritable temperament and character traits is extended to account for the quantum-like and holographic properties (i.e. parts elicit wholes) of self-aware consciousness. Cladistic analysis is used to identify the succession of ancestors leading to human beings. The functional capacities that emerge along this lineage of ancestors are described. The ecological context in which each cladogenesis occurred is described to illustrate the shifting balance of evolution as a complex adaptive system. Comparative neuroanatomy is reviewed to identify the brain structures and networks that emerged coincident with the emergent brain functions. Individual differences in human temperament traits were well developed in the common ancestor shared by reptiles and humans. Neocortical development in mammals proceeded in five major transitions: from early reptiles to early mammals, early primates, simians, early Homo, and modern Homo sapiens. These transitions provide the foundation for human self-awareness related to sexuality, materiality, emotionality, intellectuality, and spirituality, respectively. The functional structure of human self-aware consciousness is concerned with the regulation of five planes of being: sexuality, materiality, emotionality, intellectuality, and spirituality. Each plane elaborates neocortical functions organized around one of the five special senses. The interactions among these five planes gives rise to a 5 5 matrix of subplanes, which are functions that coarsely describe the focus of neocortical regulation. Each of these 25 neocortical functions regulates each of five basic motives or drives that can be measured as temperaments or basic emotions related to fear, anger, disgust, surprise, and happiness/sadness. The resulting 5 5 5 matrix of human characteristics provides a general and testable model of the functional structure of human consciousness that includes personality, physicality, emotionality, cognition, and spirituality in a unified developmental framework.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)994-1006
    Number of pages13
    JournalAustralian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry
    Issue number11
    StatePublished - Nov 1 2009


    • Cognition
    • Emotionality
    • Human characteristics
    • Personality
    • Thinking


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