This is probably a question for non-materialists.

I think I have heard the opinion that for anything of which we are phenomenally conscious there exists a neural correlate.

For example, If I am phenomenally conscious of a blinking pixel on the screen, then there should be a neural correlate for that blinking pixel in my brain.

But I can also be phenomenally conscious of being phenomenally conscious.

What could possibly be a neural correlate for that?

  • Whatever it is, it causes alpha waves. If it creates measurable radiation patterns, is it truly necessary to trace it all the way back to the neuron? It may simply be an overall 'brain ambiance' that affects neurons to favor one kind of activity over another, so it may not be visible at the micro level. – user9166 Nov 17 '14 at 20:38
  • (For instance, the distinction between alpha and beta waves themselves may not neural, as much as hormonal. But it causes the mechanisms of memory to behave differently, at least on the surface. People attach to details and miss broader patterns in 'beta' state,) – user9166 Nov 17 '14 at 20:47

To be conscious of something, one may need some sort of processing distinct from non-conscious processing. So there could be some specialized centers for conscious processing. (Might not be localized to one spot in the brain, though.)

There are also "afferent copies" of neural activity in many regions--signals not really used for normal processing, but broadcast nonetheless for various reasons (e.g. afferent copies of motor commands seem to function as a predictive signal for where limbs will be).

Some afferent copies of neural activity would then presumably go to centers for conscious processing.

Afferent copies of the computations underlying conscious processing could be detected by centers for conscious processing, giving a conscious sense that, "Yes, I am conscious right now".

This is probably not how it works, but there is no known reason why it couldn't be, so it satisfies "what could possibly be a correlate".

  • The first sentence is not true, to my mind. I think you may in fact use all of the mechanisms ever employed by the conscious mind while dreaming, just not very well. If dreaming is making sense of random neuronal firing as a way of clearing and testing that machinery, every conscious process probably gets cleared and tested in that way, just not all at once. – user9166 Nov 19 '14 at 20:03
  • @jobermark - I overstated the case. The whole answer was supposed to be hypothetical. I've changed the language. – Rex Kerr Nov 19 '14 at 20:04

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