Consciousness is known to be limited in processing capacity and often described in terms of a unique processing stream across a single dimension: time. In this paper, we discuss a purely temporal pattern code, functionally decoupled from spatial signals, for conscious state generation in the brain. Arguments in favour of such a code include Dehaene et al.’s long-distance reverberation postulate, Ramachandran’s remapping hypothesis, evidence for a temporal coherence index and coincidence detectors, and Grossberg’s Adaptive Resonance Theory. A time-bin (...) resonance model is developed, where temporal signatures of conscious states are generated on the basis of signal reverberation across large distances in highly plastic neural circuits. The temporal signatures are delivered by neural activity patterns which, beyond a certain statistical threshold, activate, maintain, and terminate a conscious brainstate like a bar code would activate, maintain, or inactivate the electronic locks of a safe. Such temporal resonance would reflect a higher level of neural processing, one that is independent from sensorial or perceptual brain mechanisms. (shrink)
Philosophers have been talking about brain states for almost 50 years and as of yet no one has articulated a theoretical account of what one is. In fact this issue has received almost no attention and cognitive scientists still use meaningless phrases like 'C-fiber firing' and 'neuronal activity' when theorizing about the relation of the mind to the brain. To date when theorists do discuss brain states they usually do so in the context of making some other (...) argument with the result being that any discussion of what brain states are has a distinct en passant flavor. In light of this it is a goal of mine to make brain states the center of attention by providing some general discussion of them. I briefly look at the argument of Bechtel and Mundale, as I think that they expose a common misconception philosophers had about brain states early on. I then turn to briefly examining Polger's argument, as I think he offers an intuitive account of what we expect brain states to be as well as a convincing argument against a common candidate for knowledge about brain states that is currently "on the scene." I then introduce a distinction between brain states and states of the brain: Particular brain states occur against background states of the brain. I argue that brain states are patterns of synchronous neural firing, which reflects the electrical face of the brain; states of the brain are the gating and modulating of neural activity and reflect the chemical face of the brain. (shrink)
It has been argued that complex subjective sense of self is linked to the brain default-mode network (DMN). Recent discovery of heterogeneity between distinct subnets (or operational modules - OMs) of the DMN leads to a reconceptualization of its role for the experiential sense of self. Considering the recent proposition that the frontal DMN OM is responsible for the first-person perspective and the sense of agency, while the posterior DMN OMs are linked to the continuity of ‘I’ experience (including (...) autobiographical memories) through embodiment and localization within bodily space, we have tested in this study the hypothesis that heterogeneity in the operational synchrony strength within the frontal DMN OM among patients who are in a vegetative state (VS) could inform about a stable self-consciousness recovery later in the course of disease (up to six years post-injury). Using EEG operational synchrony analysis we have demonstrated that among the three OMs of the DMN only the frontal OM showed important heterogeneity in VS patients as a function of later stable clinical outcome. We also found that the frontal DMN OM was characterized by the process of active uncoupling (stronger in persistent VS) of operations performed by the involved neuronal assemblies. (shrink)
Discrediting 'mystical' or 'psychical' interpretations of out-of-body and near-death experiences, Michael Marsh demonstrates how these phenomena are explicable in terms of brain neurophysiology and its neuropathological disturbances, and discusses the theological and philosophical implications of his hypotheses.
Recent neuroscientific evidence brings into question the conclusion that all aspects of consciousness are gone in patients who have descended into a persistent vegetative state (PVS). Here we summarize the evidence from human brain imaging as well as neurological damage in animals and humans suggesting that some form of consciousness can survive brain damage that commonly causes PVS. We also raise the issue that neuroscientific evidence indicates that raw emotional feelings (primary-process affects) can exist without any cognitive (...) awareness of those feelings. Likewise, the basic brain mechanisms for thirst and hunger exist in brain regions typically not damaged by PVS. If affective feelings can exist without cognitive awareness of those feelings, then it is possible that the instinctual emotional actions and pain "reflexes" often exhibited by PVS patients may indicate some level of mentality remaining in PVS patients. Indeed, it is possible such raw affective feelings are intensified when PVS patients are removed from life-supports. They may still experience a variety of primary-process affective states that could constitute forms of suffering. If so, withdrawal of life-support may violate the principle of nonmaleficence and be tantamount to inflicting inadvertent "cruel and unusual punishment" on patients whose potential distress, during the process of dying, needs to be considered in ethical decision-making about how such individuals should be treated, especially when their lives are ended by termination of life-supports. Medical wisdom may dictate the use of more rapid pharmacological forms of euthanasia that minimize distress than the de facto euthanasia of life-support termination that may lead to excruciating feelings of pure thirst and other negative affective feelings in the absence of any reflective awareness. (shrink)
Schizophrenia is a disturbance of the self, of which the attribution of agency is a major component. In this article, we review current theories of the Sense of Agency, their relevance to schizophrenia, and propose a novel framework for future research. We explore some of the models of agency, in which both bottom-up and top-down processes are implicated in the genesis of agency. We further this line of inquiry by suggesting that ongoing neurological activity (the brain’s resting state) (...) in self-referential regions of the brain can provide a deeper level of influence beyond what the current models capture. Based on neuroimaging studies, we suggest that aberrant activity in regions such as the default mode network of individuals with schizophrenia can lead to a misattribution of internally/externally generated stimuli. This can result in symptoms such as thought insertion and delusions of control. Consequently, neuroimaging can contribute to a more comprehensive conceptualization and measurement of agency and potential treatment implications. (shrink)
The continuous ongoing mentation is experienced as dreams in some functional states. Mentation occurs with high speed, is driven by individual memory, and uses state-dependent processing strategies, context material, storage options, and retrieval access. Retrieval deserves more attention. Multiple state-shifts owing to individual meaning as extracted also during sleep concatenate dream narratives and define access to segments for awake recall. [Hobson et al.; Nielson; Solms].
This article critically interrogates contemporary forms of addiction medicine that are portrayed by policy-makers as providing a ‘rational’ or politically neutral approach to dealing with drug use and related social problems. In particular, it examines the historical origins of the biological facts that are today understood to provide a foundation for contemporary understandings of addiction as a ‘disease of the brain’. Drawing upon classic and contemporary work on ‘styles of thought’, it documents how, in the period between the mid-1960s (...) and the mid-1970s, such facts emerged in relation to new neurobiological styles of explaining and managing social problems associated with drug abuse, and an alliance between a relatively marginal group of researchers and American policy-makers who were launching the ‘War on Drugs’. Beyond illustrating the political and material conditions necessary for the rise of addiction neuroscience, the article highlights the productivity of neurobiological thought styles, by focusing on the new biological objects, treatments and hopes that have emerged within the field of addiction studies over the last several decades. (shrink)
The paper reviews the current situation regarding a new theory of brain dynamics put forward by the authors in an earlier publication. Motivation for the theory is discussed in terms of two issues: the long-standing problem of accounting for the stability and nonlocal properties of memory, and the experimental and theoretical evidence against the classical theory of brain action. It is shown that the new theory provides an explanation and a conceptually unifying framework for phenomena of brain (...) action that resist classical explanation. Further independent experiments provide strong additional support for the theory. The fact that this theory incorporates quantum mechanisms in an essential way is considered to be of wide scientific interest in view of the unique status of the brain in relation to the physical, biological, and mental orders in nature. (shrink)
Reflective waking mentation is supported by cortical activating and inhibitory processes. The thought-like mental content of slow wave sleep appears with lower levels of both kinds of influence. During REM sleep, the equation: activation + disinhibition + dopamine may explain the often psychotic-like mode of psychological functioning. [Hobson et al.; Nielsen; Revonsuo; Solms; Vertes & Eastman].
In 1968, the Harvard criteria equated irreversible coma and apnea with human death and later, the Uniform Determination of Death Act was enacted permitting organ procurement from heart-beating donors. Since then, clinical studies have defined a spectrum of states of impaired consciousness in human beings: coma, akinetic mutism, minimally conscious state, vegetative state and brain death. In this article, we argue against the validity of the Harvard criteria for equating brain death with human death. Brain (...) death does not disrupt somatic integrative unity and coordinated biological functioning of a living organism. Neurological criteria of human death fail to determine the precise moment of an organism’s death when death is established by circulatory criterion in other states of impaired consciousness for organ procurement with non-heart-beating donation protocols. The criterion of circulatory arrest 75 s to 5 min is too short for irreversible cessation of whole brain functions and respiration controlled by the brain stem. Brain -based criteria for determining death with a beating heart exclude relevant anthropologic, psychosocial, cultural, and religious aspects of death and dying in society. Clinical guidelines for determining brain death are not consistently validated by the presence of irreversible brain stem ischemic injury or necrosis on autopsy; therefore, they do not completely exclude reversible loss of integrated neurological functions in donors. The questionable reliability and varying compliance with these guidelines among institutions amplify the risk of determining reversible states of impaired consciousness as irreversible brain death. The scientific uncertainty of defining and determining states of impaired consciousness including brain death have been neither disclosed to the general public nor broadly debated by the medical community or by legal and religious scholars. Heart-beating or non-heart-beating organ procurement from patients with impaired consciousness is de facto a concealed practice of physician-assisted death, and therefore, violates both criminal law and the central tenet of medicine not to do harm to patients. Society must decide if physician-assisted death is permissible and desirable to resolve the conflict about procuring organs from patients with impaired consciousness within the context of the perceived need to enhance the supply of transplantable organs. (shrink)
Our ethical obligations to another being depend at least in part on that being’s capacity for a mental life. Our usual approach to inferring the mental state of another is to reason by analogy: If another being behaves as I do in a circumstance that engenders a certain mental state in me, I conclude that it has engendered the same mental state in him or her. Unfortunately, as philosophers have long noted, this analogy is fallible because behavior (...) and mental states are only contingently related. If the other person is acting, for example, we could draw the wrong conclusion about his or her mental state. In this article I consider another type of analogy that can be drawn between oneself and another to infer the mental state of the other, substituting brain activity for behavior. According to most current views of the mind–body problem, mental states and brain states are non-contingently related, and hence inferences drawn with the new analogy are not susceptible to the alternative interpretations that plague the behavioral analogy. The implications of this approach are explored in two cases for which behavior is particularly unhelpful as a guide to mental status: severely brain–damaged patients who are incapable of intentional communicative behavior, and nonhuman animals whose behavioral repertoires are different from ours and who lack language. (shrink)
According to the brain drain argument, there are good reasons for states to limit the exit of their skilled workers (more specifically, healthcare workers), because of the negative impacts this type of migration has for other members of the community from which they migrate. Some theorists criticise this argument as illiberal, while others support it and ground a duty to stay of the skilled workers on rather vague concepts like patriotic virtue, or the legitimate expectations of their state (...) and co-citizens. In this article, on the contrary, we suggest that the liberal conception of states’ legitimate political authority demands, and not just permits, that developing states from which migration of skilled workers occurs set up contractual mechanisms. These mechanisms will ensure that state-funded training in the health sector is provided against a commitment on the part of future professionals to reciprocate with their services for the benefits obtained. If one of the conditions for the state to maintain legitimate political authority is to provide basic services such as healthcare to its subjects (while respecting at the same time their autonomy and freedom), then this is what developing states affected by the brain drain ought to do. What we call the authority-based approach to the brain drain also helps to clarify the obligations that other states have not to interfere with these contractual mechanisms when they exist, and not to profit from their absence. Inspired by FIFA’s legal instruments of training compensation and solidarity mechanism for the transfer of players, we conclude by suggesting a plausible global policy to complement this authority-based approach. (shrink)
The article addresses the potential impact of functional brain imaging (functional magnetic resonance imaging and positron-emission tomography) on surrogate end-of-life decision-making in light of varying state-law definitions of consciousness, some of which define awareness behaviorally and others functionally. The article concludes that, in light of admonitions by neuroscientists that functional brain imaging cannot yet replace behavioral evaluation to determine the existence of consciousness, state legislatures, courts and drafters of written advance healthcare directives should consider treating behavior, (...) not function, as the touchstone for end-of-life decision-making. (shrink)
Unresponsive wakefulness syndrome (UWS, previously known as vegetative state) occurs after patients survive a severe brain injury. Patients suffering from UWS have lost awareness of themselves and of the external environment and do not retain any trace of their subjective experience. Current data demonstrate that neuronal functions subtending consciousness are not completely reset in UWS; however, they are reduced below the threshold required to experience consciousness. The critical factor that determines whether patients will recover consciousness is the distance (...) of their neuronal functions from this threshold level. Recovery of consciousness occurs through functional and/or structural changes in the brain, i.e., through neuronal plasticity. Although some of these changes may occur spontaneously, a growing body of evidence indicates that rehabilitative interventions can improve functional outcome by promoting adaptive functional and structural plasticity in the brain, especially if a comprehensive neurophysiological theory of consciousness is followed. In this review we will focus on the pathophysiological mechanisms involved in UWS and on the plastic changes operating on the recovery of consciousness. (shrink)
Patient outcome after serious brain injury is highly variable. Following a period of coma, some patients recover while others progress into a vegetative state (unresponsive wakefulness syndrome) or minimally conscious state. In both cases, assessment is difficult and misdiagnosis may be as high as 43%. Recent advances in neuroimaging suggest a solution. Both functional magnetic resonance imaging and electroencephalography have been used to detect residual cognitive function in vegetative and minimally conscious patients. Neuroimaging may improve diagnosis and (...) prognostication. These techniques are beginning to be applied to comatose patients soon after injury. Evidence of preserved cognitive function may predict recovery, and this information would help families and health providers. Complex ethical issues arise due to the vulnerability of patients and families, difficulties interpreting negative results, restriction of communication to “yes” or “no” answers, and cost. We seek to investigate ethical issues in the use of neuroimaging in behaviorally nonresponsive patients who have suffered serious brain injury. The objectives of this research are to: (1) create an approach to capacity assessment using neuroimaging; (2) develop an ethics of welfare framework to guide considerations of quality of life; (3) explore the impact of neuroimaging on families; and, (4) analyze the ethics of the use of neuroimaging in comatose patients. (shrink)