The Science of Consciousness

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Except maybe a cat, which will just ignore it. – Association of Scientific Studies of Conciousness

Only animals with a developed concept of self-awareness will recognize that the image in the mirror is themselves. But even humans are not born with this ability.

Like many species of animals, human infants will interact with their reflection as if it was another baby. Children typically begin showing signs of self-awareness around The results of self-face identification experiments seem to show that information about oneself is processed mainly by the right prefrontal cortex of the brain.

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This appears to be true not only for recognizing oneself visually. Studies have shown that information about the self is processed from each of the five senses. But little research to date has investigated how information from the different senses is integrated into an image of oneself. It has been suggested previously that multiple points in the brain a distributed self-network are involved in constructing a self image.

However, the present study is the first to suggest that, rather than each sense acting independently, the five senses act together to contribute to the concept of self. This study investigated how information about oneself from multiple senses affects self-face recognition. To examine this, the researchers conducted three experiments. In the first, eleven right-handed students from the State University of New York at Albany were presented a series of images; 20 self-pictures, 20 upside down self pictures, 20 pictures of people known to the participant, 20 upside down pictures of know people, 20 pictures of strangers, and 20 upside down pictures of strangers.

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In the second experiment, a similar series of pictures was shown to nine participants a set of pictures, 30 of each type. The third experiment was much like the second, except instead of participants reading a name, a recording of a name was played for them to hear. Again, all participants were right-handed. In all of the experiments, when the participants were presented pictures of themselves paired with another piece of self sensory information, their reactions times significantly decreased.

However, pairing pictures of friends with their names spoken or printed did not reduce reaction time. These results lend support to the idea that information about the self from different senses is processed in a similar way in the brain. They suggest that there is a sort of central mechanism responsible for perceiving and thinking about oneself.

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Furthermore, there is evidence of nerve cells in the middle of the brain that are dedicated to processing information from multiple senses. And there is other research that supports the idea of an integrated self information network in the brain.

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A number of studies have investigated how information about oneself is processed differently in people showing schizotypal personality traits. A schizotypal trait is one that reflects an abnormal interpretation of reality, but a not complete break from it. People with schizotypal personality disorder typically have distorted perceptions of themselves and the world around them. As noted earlier, it is thought that the right side of the brain controls how we perceive ourselves.

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Accordingly, most people will react quicker in experiments testing self-recognition if they are using their left hand. This may be a result of a disordered neural system for processing the concept of self. The case for an overall network in the brain responsible for understanding ideas about the self is fairly strong. However, further research is needed to verify these results and to explain the self-processing network in greater detail. When we have a better understanding of how the mind and brain are able to think about themselves, our understanding of consciousness in general will be greatly enhanced as well.

A further requirement is that workspace neurons are 1 put into an active state that must be sustained so that 2 the activation generates a recurrent activity between workspace systems. Only when these systems are recurrently activated are they, along with the units that access the information they carry, constituents of the workspace. This activity accounts for the idea of global broadcast in that workspace contents are accessible to further systems.

The global neuronal workspace theory provides an account of access consciousness but what of phenomenal consciousness? There is, however, a potential confound. We track phenomenal consciousness by access in introspective report, so widespread activity during reports of conscious experience correlates with both access and phenomenal consciousness. Correlation cannot tell us whether the observed activity is the basis of phenomenal consciousness or of access consciousness in report Block This remains a live question for as discussed in section 2.

To eliminate the confound, experimenters ensure that performance does not differ between conditions where consciousness is present and where it is not. Still, the absence of observed activity by an imaging technique does not imply the absence of actual activity for the activity might be beyond the limits of detection of that technique. A different explanation ties perceptual consciousness to processing independent of the workspace, with focus on recurrent activity in sensory areas. This approach emphasizes properties of first-order neural representation as explaining consciousness. Victor Lamme , argues that recurrent processing is necessary and sufficient for consciousness.

Recurrent processing occurs where sensory systems are highly interconnected and involve feedforward and feedback connections. For example, forward connections from primary visual area V1, the first cortical visual area, carry information to higher-level processing areas, and the initial registration of visual information involves a forward sweep of processing.

Lamme holds that recurrent processing in Stage 3 is necessary and sufficient for consciousness. Thus, what it is for a visual state to be conscious is for a certain recurrent processing state to hold of the relevant visual circuitry. This identifies the crucial difference between the global neuronal workspace and recurrent processing theory: the former holds that recurrent processing at Stage 4 is necessary for consciousness while the latter holds that recurrent processing at Stage 3 is sufficient.

Thus, recurrent processing theory affirms phenomenal consciousness without access by the global neuronal workspace. In that sense, it is an overflow theory see section 2. Why think that Stage 3 processing is sufficient for consciousness? Given that Stage 3 processing is not accessible to introspective report, we lack introspective evidence for sufficiency. Lamme appeals to experiments with brief presentation of stimuli such as letters where subjects are said to report seeing more than they can identify in report Lamme It is not clear that this is strong motivation for recurrent processing, since the very fact that subjects can report seeing more letters shows that they have some access to them, just not access to letter identity.

Lamme also presents what he calls neuroscience arguments. This strategy compares two neural networks, one taken to be sufficient for consciousness, say the processing at Stage 4 as per Global Workspace theories, and one where sufficiency is in dispute, say recurrent activity in Stage 3. Lamme argues that certain features found in Stage 4 are also found in Stage 3 and given this similarity, it is reasonable to hold that Stage 3 processing suffices for consciousness.

For example, both stages exhibit recurrent processing. Global neuronal workspace theorists can allow that recurrent processing in stage 3 is correlated, even necessary, but deny that this activity is explanatory in the relevant sense of identifying sufficient conditions for consciousness. It is worth reemphasizing the empirical challenge in testing whether access is necessary for phenomenal consciousness sections 2.

The two theories return different answers, one requiring access, the other denying it. As we saw, the methodological challenge in testing for the presence of phenomenal consciousness independently of access remains a hurdle for both theories.

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A long-standing approach to conscious states holds that one is in a conscious state if and only if one relevantly represents oneself as being in such a state. For example, one is in a conscious visual state of seeing a moving object if and only if one suitably represents oneself being in that visual state. The intuitive rationale for such theories is that if one were in a visual state but in no way aware of that state, then the visual state would not be conscious.

Thus, to be in a conscious state, one must be aware of it, i. Higher-order theories merge with empirical work by tying high-order representations with activity in prefrontal cortex which is taken to be the neural substrate of the required higher-order representations. On certain higher-order theories, one can be in a conscious visual state even if there is no visual system activity, so long as one represents oneself as being in that state.

For example, on the higher-order theory, lesions to prefrontal cortex should affect consciousness Kozuch , testing the necessity of prefrontal cortex for consciousness. Against higher-order theories, some reports claim that patients with prefrontal cortex surgically removed maintain preserved perceptual consciousness Boly et al. This would lend support to recurrent processing theories that hold that prefrontal cortical activity is not necessary for consciousness.

Bilateral suppression of prefrontal activity using transcranial magnetic stimulation also seems to selectively impair visibility as evidenced by metacognitive report Rounis et al. IIT defines integrated information in terms of the effective information carried by the parts of the system in light of its causal profile. For example, we can focus on a part of the whole circuit, say two connected nodes, and compute the effective information that can be carried by this microcircuit.

The system carries integrated information if the effective informational content of the whole is greater than the sum of the informational content of the parts. Intuitively, the interaction of the parts adds more to the system than the parts do alone. On IIT, what matters is the presence of appropriate connections and not the number of neurons.