Monday, March 22, 2010

Where Consciousness Comes From

Stanislas Dehaene of the French National Institute of Health and Medical Research (INSERM) in Gif sur Yvette and Jean-Pierre Changeux of the Pasteur Institute in Paris have updated the 1983 theory of Bernard Baars of The Neuroscience Institute in San Diego, California, with the latest findings on the brain's wiring.

According to this theory, we only become conscious of an information if signals coming from separate regions of the brain, like the visual cortex, are broadcast to an assembly of neurons distributed across many different regions of the brain - the "global workspace" - which then reverberates in a flash of coordinated activity. The result is a mental interpretation of the world that has integrated all the senses into a single picture, while filtering out conflicting pieces of information. Dehaene's group had already shown that distant areas of the brain are connected to each other and, importantly, that these connections are especially dense in the prefrontal, cingulate and parietal regions of the cortex, which are involved in processes like planning and reasoning.

An intriguing paper published today in New Scientist.

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