Sunday, May 29, 2011

conscious states a crosstalk mechanism for a subset of brain processes

Journal of Cosmology There is a consensus that conscious states are associated with only a subset of the many sophisticated processes that have been identified in the human nervous system (Baars, 2002; Crick & Koch, 2003; Dehaene & Naccache, 2001; Gray, 2004; Merker, 2007; Morsella, Krieger, & Bargh, 2010). By 'conscious state' we are referring to the most basic form of consciousness, the kind of consciousness that has fallen under the rubrics of 'basic awareness,' 'sentience,' and 'phenomenal state.' This most basic form of consciousness has been defined best by the philosopher Nagel (1974), who claimed that an organism has phenomenal states if there is something it is like to be that organism--something it is like, for example, to be human and experience pain, love, breathlessness, or yellow afterimages.

The conscious state is 'everything' to us, because it encompasses the totality of our human experience. However, knowledge of nervous function reveals that, normally unbeknownst to us, many of the complicated functions in the nervous system are carried out beneath the horizon of basic consciousness. For example, unconscious processes include (a) low-level perceptual processing, such as the putting together of perceptual features both within and across sensory modalities (e.g., vision and touch), and (b) motor control, as in the control of the impulses that contract some muscle fibers but not others when carrying out an action. Moreover, sophisticated processes such as those constituting that syntax and the parsing of sentences are largely unconscious. Appreciating all that can be achieved unconsciously in the brain leads one to the question, What do conscious states contribute to nervous function? To begin to answer this question, it is helpful as a first step to isolate the cognitive/brain processes that seem to be most intimately associated with conscious states.

We will first present the results of investigations seeking to isolate the cognitive processes that are most associated with consciousness; then we will review data isolating consciousness to a subset of brain processes, and, through this process of elimination, isolate the cognitive mechanisms (and underlying neural mechanisms) that are intimately associated with conscious states. The approach reveals that, consistent with the integration consensus (i.e., that conscious states permit for otherwise independent information processing in the brain to be integrated for adaptive action), conscious states establish a form of intra-brain communication for only a subset of the many kinds of crosstalk within the brain. The form of crosstalk associated with these elusive states seems to be intimately related to the control of voluntary action and the skeletal muscle output system.