Brain and Behavioral Functions Supporting the Intentionality of Mental States

  • João de F. Teixeira
  • Alfredo Pereira Jr.


This paper relates intentionality, a central feature of human consciousness, with brain functions controlling adaptive action. Mental intentionality, understood as the “aboutness” of mental states, includes two modalities: semantic intentionality, the attribution of meaning to mental states, and projective intentionality, the projection of conscious content into the world. We claim that both modalities are the evolutionary product of self-organized action, and discuss examples of animal behavior that illustrate some stages of this evolution. The adaptive advantages of self-organized action impacted on brain organization, leading to the formation of mammalian brain circuits that incorporate semantic intentionality in their modus operandi. Following the same line of reasoning, we suggest that projective intentionality could be explained as a result of habituation processes referenced to the dynamical interface of the body with the environment.