The Emergence of Consciousness: A top-down, social phenomenon?
  • ISSN 0929-0907
  • E-ISSN: 1569-9943
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Phenomenal awareness, the ability to be aware of one’s sensations and feelings, emerges from the capacity of evolved brains to represent their own cognitive processes by iterating and self-reapplying the cortical operations that generate representations of the outer world. Search for the neuronal substrate of awareness therefore converges with the search for the neuronal code through which brains represent their environment. The hypothesis is put forward that the mammalian brain uses two complementary representational strategies. One consists of the generation of neurons responding selectively to particular constellations of features, and is based on selective recombination of inputs in hierarchically structured feed-forward architectures. The other relies on the dynamic association of large numbers of distributed neurons into functionally coherent cell assemblies which as a whole represent a content of cognition. Arguments and data are presented in favor of the second strategy as the one according to which meta-representations that support awareness are established. My hypothesis is that such distributed representations self-organize through transient synchronization of the oscillatory activity. Evidence showing that similar brain states are required both for the occurrence of these synchronization phenomena and for awareness is provided.


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