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


Sense-of-self is the basis of consciousness.  The self is a neuronal network pattern of memory established by genetics together with embryonic and early childhood environmental experience.

Without a sense of self and without the feelings that integrate it, large-scale mental integration of information (thalamocortical system mediates integration of information) would not be oriented to the problems of life, survival and the achievement of well-being. (Damasio; Looking for Spinoza, 208)

The interaction of the neural network activity of a current mental image together with the neural network activity representing the self constitutes what Edelman calls the “remembered present” of consciousness.

The interaction of this current mental image neural network activity with the self neural network activity occurs in the dynamic core of the thalamocortical system.

What gives the brain a natural means to generate the singular and stable reference we call self? The functionality in the brain representing the self is, biologically speaking, based on a collection of nonconscious neural patterns representing the body proper. (Damasio; Feeling of What Happens, 134)

Right somatosensory cortices -- insula, S2, and S1 regions of the right cerebral hemisphere -- this is the set of regions that accomplish the highest level of integrated mapping of body state. (Damasio; Looking for Spinoza, 117)

Sense of self is represented by (1) each brain’s uniquely individual pattern of synapses, along with (2) the ever-ongoing neural activity of the autonomic nervous system monitoring the momentary state of the body.

·        Hypothalamus and associated connections of the autonomic nervous system monitor and maintain the homeostasis of the body.

·        Autonomic nervous system provides pain signals to alert for any damage to the organism.

·        Amygdala and associated connections express fear alerts and responses for self-preservation protection of the body.

·        VTM, nucleus accumbens and associated connections provide signals for anticipation of pleasure, including the desire for food and sex.

·        Several neurotransmitters including oxytocin are involved in the experience of pleasure by the organism such as the enjoyment of sex and the enjoyment of food.

·        Orientation in time, place, person, etc.. (What year?, What season?, Where am I?, Sexual orientation)

·        A generalized neural sub-network in the parietal cortex represents the integrated sense of self.  This neural sub-network is not fixed but is continually changing as the organism experiences the environment. Declarative memory is continually updated with new memories forming and old memories fading.

·        Consciousness is an emergence property of the (convolution/conflagration) of a momentary mental image with declarative memory and the sense of self.

·        Consciousness is mediated primarily by the dynamic core sub-network of the thalamocortical system.