The resurgent science of consciousness has been accompanied by a recent emphasis on the problem of measurement. Having dependable measures of consciousness is essential both for mapping experimental evidence to theory and for designing perspicuous experiments. Here, we review a series of behavioural and brain-based measures, assessing their ability to track graded consciousness and clarifying how they relate to each other by showing what theories are presupposed by each. We identify possible and actual conflicts among measures that can stimulate new (...) experiments, and we conclude that measures must prove themselves by iteratively building knowledge in the context of theoretical frameworks. Advances in measuring consciousness have implications for basic cognitive neuroscience, for comparative studies of consciousness and for clinical applications. (shrink)
This commentary considers Merker's mesodiencephalic proposal in relation to quantitative measures of neural dynamics suggested to be relevant to consciousness. I suggest that even if critical neural mechanisms turn out to be subcortical, the functional utility of consciousness will depend on the rich conscious contents generated by continuous interaction of such mechanisms with a thalamocortical envelope. (Published Online May 1 2007).
Neural Darwinism (ND) is a large scale selectionist theory of brain development and function that has been hypothesized to relate to consciousness. According to ND, consciousness is entailed by reentrant interactions among neuronal populations in the thalamocortical system (the ‘dynamic core’). These interactions, which permit high-order discriminations among possible core states, confer selective advantages on organisms possessing them by linking current perceptual events to a past history of value-dependent learning. Here, we assess the consistency of ND with 16 widely recognized (...) properties of consciousness, both physiological (for example, consciousness is associated with widespread, relatively fast, low amplitude interactions in the thalamocortical system), and phenomenal (for example, consciousness involves the existence of a private flow of events available only to the experiencing subject). While no theory accounts fully for all of these properties at present, we find that ND and its recent extensions fare well. (shrink)
The standard behavioral index for human consciousness is the ability to report events with accuracy. While this method is routinely used for scientific and medical applications in humans, it is not easy to generalize to other species. Brain evidence may lend itself more easily to comparative testing. Human consciousness involves widespread, relatively fast low-amplitude interactions in the thalamocortical core of the brain, driven by current tasks and conditions. These features have also been found in other mammals, which suggests that consciousness (...) is a major biological adaptation in mammals. We suggest more than a dozen additional properties of human consciousness that may be used to test comparative predictions. Such homologies are necessarily more remote in non-mammals, which do not share the thalamocortical complex. However, as we learn more we may be able to make “deeper” predictions that apply to some birds, reptiles, large-brained invertebrates, and perhaps other species. (shrink)
The metacognitive stance of Smith et al. (2003) risks ignoring sensory consciousness. Although Smith et al. rightly caution against the tendency to preserve the uniqueness of the human mind at all costs, their reasoned stance is undermined by a selective association of consciousness with high-level cognitive operations. Neurobiological evidence may offer a more general, and hence more inclusive, basis for the systematic study of animal consciousness.