David Bourget (Western Ontario)
David Chalmers (ANU, NYU)
Rafael De Clercq
Jack Alan Reynolds
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By most accounts, the mind arises from the integrated activity of large populations of neurons distributed across multiple brain regions. A contrasting model is presented in the present paper that places the mind/brain interface not at the whole brain level but at the level of single neurons. Specifically, it is proposed that each neuron in the nervous system is independently conscious, with conscious content corresponding to the spatial pattern of a portion of that neuron's dendritic electrical activity. For most neurons, such as those in the hypothalamus or posterior sensory cortices, the conscious activity would be assumed to be simple and unable to directly affect the organism's macroscopic conscious behavior. For a subpopulation of layer 5 pyramidal neurons in the lateral prefrontal cortices, however, an arrangement is proposed to be present such that, at any given moment: i) the spatial pattern of electrical activity in a portion of the dendritic tree of each neuron in the subpopulation individually manifests a complexity and diversity sufficient to account for the complexity and diversity of conscious experience; ii) the dendritic trees of the neurons in the subpopulation all contain similar spatial electrical patterns; iii) the spatial electrical pattern in the dendritic tree of each neuron interacts nonlinearly with the remaining ambient dendritic electrical activity to determine the neuron's overall axonal response; iv) the dendritic spatial pattern is reexpressed at the population level by the spatial pattern exhibited by a synchronously firing subgroup of the conscious neurons, thereby providing a mechanism by which conscious activity at the neuronal level can influence overall behavior. The resulting scheme is one in which conscious behavior appears to be the product of a single macroscopic mind, but is actually the integrated output of a chorus of minds, each associated with a different neuron.
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