Scientific Understanding of Consciousness
Consciousness as an Emergent Property of Thalamocortical Activity

Gestalts and Consciousness

Consciousness is an emergent property arising from the self-organization of concurrently active but spatially distributed regions of the brain; there is no central organizer and no unique location where it comes into existence. (Johnston; Why We Feel, 124)

Consciousness is an emergent property of nonspecialized and divergent groups of neurons that is continuously variable with respect to, and always entailing, a stimulus epicenter. (Greenfield; Centers of Mind, 104)

Brain supplies the missing information.  (Pinker; How the Mind Works, 28)

The figurative smoothing out of memory    is strikingly similar to a literal smoothing out    that Gestalt psychologists in the 1920s    had noticed in studies of people's memory for geometric shapes. (Mlodinow; Subliminal, 69)

The ability of autoassociative systems to reconstruct missing or noisy parts of the learned patterns. (Anderson; Associative Networks, 105)























Research study — Hippocampus Association Memory for Decisionshippocampus can complete the pattern and automatically reactivate the neural representation of other items, allowing the integration of old memories with new ones.


At the cognitive level, features that co-occur in space and covary in time are recognized as constituting the same object. (Posner; Cognitive Neuroscience of Attention, 160)

Consciousness is spatially multiple yet effectively single at any one time. It is an emergent property of non-specialized and divergent groups of neurons (gestalts) that is continuously variable. (Johnston; Why We Feel, 124)

Not all neurons and connections are used all the time. The dynamically changing functional or effective connectivity gives rise to short-lived oscillations that are perpetually created and destroyed by the brain's internal dynamics. (Buzsáki; Rhythms of the Brain, 111)

The predictions involved in building sentence comprehension may be "educated" assumptions due to quite explicit noticing of a telling feature, local priming that makes one possibility appear more likely than another, or they may be due to a subliminally learned statistical regularity that suggests the likelihood of one meaning rather than another. (Hurley, Dennett, Adams; Inside Jokes, 99)

Initial semantic contents are activated by sensation in working memory mental spaces, and the process of perception and any deeper thought ensue from the diffuse triggering of related semantic contents and interference patterns therein. (Hurley, Dennett, Adams; Inside Jokes, 101)


Link to — Neuronal Gestalts for the Dynamic Core of ConsciousnessSome visual patterns are too ambiguous for the brain’s gestalts to recognize one unique interpretation.



Gestalts form around epicenters arising from a sensory input, an unconscious process, or the output of an earlier gestalt. (Johnston; Why We Feel, 124)

Neuronal gestalt -- a highly variable aggregation of neurons which is temporarily recruited around a triggering epicenter. (Greenfield; Centers of Mind, 99)

Size of the gestalt, and hence the depth of prevailing consciousness, is the product of the interaction between the recruiting strength of the epicenter and the degree of arousal. (Greenfield; Centers of Mind, 104)

Neuronal gestalts are a type of neuronal assembly. (Greenfield; Centers of Mind, 112)

Not all neuronal assemblies are gestalts, but all gestalts are neuronal assemblies. (Greenfield; Centers of Mind, 112)

Donald Hebb's "assembly of neurons" as a network of connections between neurons where communication is made easier or strengthened by experience. (Greenfield; Centers of Mind, 111)

Only the lateral prefrontal cortex can provide the "temporal gestalt" with the coherence and coordination of actions that are essential for the organism to reach its goal. (Fuster; Prefrontal Cortex, 3)

What gives cohesion to the gestalt of action is not only a temporal proximity of the individual acts that constitute it, but also their goal. (Fuster; Prefrontal Cortex, 345)

Perceptual and motor acts are intertwined in the perception--behavior cycle to form together the gestalt of action. (Fuster; Prefrontal Cortex, 345)

Central representation of gestalt of action is the equivalent of what many researchers call the "schema." (Fuster; Prefrontal Cortex, 345)

Principles governing and regulating gestalt formation include rapid and sensitive global changes where new formations of neurons can occur as a result of competing systems -- hence the genesis of new states of consciousness, of original ideas, of insights and imagination. (Greenfield; Centers of Mind, 160)

Gestalt proponents claimed that elements of a pattern are grouped together that are most proximal spatially; most proximal temporally; most similar geometrically; part of the most continuous pattern; part of the most closed pattern; arranged in uniform density; evolving with common fate; most symmetric; exhibiting a common orientation; or optimizing an intuitive measure of "figural goodness" or pragnanz. (Zucker; Perceptual Grouping, 725)

Global Self-Organization of Local Interactions

The process of network self-organization is fundamental to the organization of the brain. (von der Malsburg; Self-Organization, 840)

Organization takes place in systems consisting of a large number of interacting elements. (von der Malsburg; Self-Organization, 841)

A fundamental and very important characteristic about organizing systems is the global order that can arise from local interactions. (von der Malsburg; Self-Organization, 841)


New Gestalts form, Consciousness shifts

Transient aggregations of neurons are forming, operating, and reforming all the time in multiple areas of the brain, such that at any moment one sparse and distributed assembly generates consciousness. (Greenfield; Centers of Mind, 111)

"Ripples" on one gestalt spread out to ever more remote associations, so a new epicenter starts to recruit neurons into a gestalt. This supplants the original, and our consciousness subtly shifts. (Greenfield; Centers of Mind, 105)

Humor is what happens when an assumption is epistemically committed to in a mental space and then discovered to have been a mistake. (Hurley, Dennett, Adams; Inside Jokes, 121)

Synchronization should reflect Gestalt criteria for Perceptual Grouping

The probability for intra- and interareal response synchronization should reflect some of the Gestalt criteria for perceptual grouping. (Baars; Essential Sources, Wolf Singer & Charles Gray, 1090)

The probability that distributed cells join an assembly should reflect the Gestalt criteria, i.e., features in images tend to group together to form objects. (Baars; Essential Sources, Wolf Singer & Charles Gray, 1099)

As the features in an image change, the relationships among the activity patterns of the cells responding to those features should change in a way that reflects of the Gestalt properties of the image. (Baars; Essential Sources, Wolf Singer & Charles Gray, 1100)

Consciousness an Emergent Property of Large Neural Gestalts

Consciousness is an emergent property that depends upon activity within large neural gestalts (dynamic core), whose size is regulated by arousal. (Johnston; Why We Feel, 124)

Output from the limbic system provides the major source of arousal responsible for the formation of large neural gestalts. (Johnston; Why We Feel, 125)

Each conscious experience is a consequence of the widespread and almost infinitely numerous potential resonant circuits that can be generated by binding together the many spatially distributed and otherwise isolated parallel processes of the nervous system. (Johnston; Why We Feel, 125)

The number of conscious experiences that can be derived from combinations of multimodal sensory elements is virtually infinite, and conscious organisms benefit from the ability to distinguish between these different states.  The ability to make this discrimination is the essential (functional) role of consciousness. (Johnston; Why We Feel, 126)

Each momentary experience is merely a virtual representation that amplifies and discriminates between those aspects of the physical or social world that are biologically relevant. (Johnston; Why We Feel, 126)

Conscious experiences, like sensations and feelings, evolved because they dictated a dynamic organization of the nervous system that could prioritize experiences and distinguish between environmental events or circumstances that had a real influence on biological survival. (Johnston; Why We Feel, 127)

Brain Compensates by Filling in the Gaps

Our visuospatial brains constantly compensate for a lack of information, mostly by making up what is needed to fill in the gaps. (Ratey; User's Guide to Brain, 207)

Auditory system has its own version of perceptual completion.  (Levitin; Your Brain on Music, 99)

Facilitation by music at the phonemic ("sounding out") stage of learning to read. (Ratey; User's Guide to Brain, 273)


Link to — Gestalt Laws

Link to — Gestalt Perception Examples



Return to — Dynamic Core

Link to — Consciousness Subject Outline

Further discussion — Covington Theory of Consciousness