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Neuronal Correlates of Consciousness (NCC)

The whole brain can be considered an NCC because it generates experience continually.

  • When parts of the cerebellum, the "little brain" underneath the back of the brain, are lost to a stroke or otherwise, patients may lose the ability to play the piano, for example.  But they never lose any aspect of their consciousness. This is because the cerebellum is almost wholly a feed-forward circuit. There are no complex feedback loops.
  • The spinal cord and the cerebellum are not enough to create consciousness. Available evidence suggests neocortical tissue in generating feelings.
  • The next stages of processing are the broad set of cortical regions, collectively known as the posterior hot zone, that gives rise to conscious perception. In clinical sources of causal evidence, stimulating the posterior hot zone can trigger a diversity of distinct sensations and feelings.
  • It appears that almost all conscious experiences have their origin in the posterior cortex. But it does not explain the crucial difference between the posterior regions and much of the prefrontal cortex, which does not directly contribute to subjective content.

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About Consciousness

Consciousness is everything you experience - taste, pain, love, feeling. Where these experiences come from is a mystery.

Many modern analytic philosophers of mind either deny the existence of consciousness, or they argue that they can never be meaningfully studied by science.

What is it about brain matter that gives rise to consciousness? In particular, the neuronal correlates of consciousness (NCC) - the minimal neuronal mechanisms jointly sufficient for any conscious experience.

Consider this question: What must happen in your brain for you to experience a toothache?

We need a scientific theory of consciousness that can predict under which conditions any particular physical system has experiences. Any speculation about machine consciousness is based solely on our intuition, which is not a reliable scientific guide.

Two of the most popular theories of consciousness is the global neuronal workspace (GNW), and the Integrated information theory (IIT).

  • GNW argues that consciousness arises from a specific type of information processing, known from the beginnings of AI, when specialized programs would access a small, shared repository of information.
  • According to GNW, consciousness is when incoming sensory information is broadcast to multiple cognitive systems, which process these data to speak, store, or call up memory.
  • The network of neurons that broadcast these messages is thought to be located in the frontal and parietal lobes.
  • When the data is broadcast on this network, the subject becomes conscious.
  • GNW proposes that computers of the future will be conscious.

The starting point of this theory is that each experience has specific essential properties. It is necessary, structured, and distinct. It is unified and definite. An experience of sitting on a park bench on a warm, sunny day, watching children play, cannot be separated into parts. Doing so will alter the experience.

  • The hypothesis is that any complex and interconnected mechanism whose structure encodes a set of cause-and-effect relationships will have these properties and some level of consciousness.
  • IIT predicts that programming for consciousness will never create a conscious computer as it cannot be computed. It must be built into the structure of the system.

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Many neurologists have noted similarities between NDEs and the effects of complex partial seizures. These seizures are localized to specific brain regions in one hemisphere and are accompanied by unusual tastes, smells, or bodily feelings as well as feelings of déjà vu, depersonalization, or ecstatic feelings.

Neurosurgeons are able to induce such ecstatic feelings by electrically stimulating part of the cortex in epileptic patients who have electrodes implanted in their brains. Patients report enhanced well-being and a heightened perception of the external world.

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These are brain cells that are thought to enables a mirroring or internalization of others’ thoughts and actions.

They manage movement and respond to the sight of it, giving rise to the notion that their activity during passive observation is a silent rehearsal for when they become engaged in active movement.

Recent studies suggest we employ the same neurophysiological mechanisms while dreaming that we use to construct and recall memories while we are awake.

Studies also found that vivid, bizarre and emotionally intense dreams are linked to parts of the amygdala and hippocampus. The amygdala plays a key role in processing and memory of emotional reactions. The hippocampus is implicated in important memory functions, such as the consolidation of information from short-term to long-term memory.