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

Sense-of-Self and Consciousness

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.

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)

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.

 Core consciousness is created in pulses, each pulse triggered by an object we interact with or that we recall. Each new object triggers the process of changing the proto-self. Proto-self modified by the first object becomes the inaugural proto-self for the new object. Continuity of consciousness is based on the steady generation of consciousness pulses, which correspond to the endless processing of myriad objects, whose interaction, actual or recalled, constantly modifies the proto-self. (Damasio; Feeling of What Happens, 176)

The plasticity of synaptic connections permit unique patterns of strengths in the dendritic trees of hundreds of millions of neurons. The ingrained pattern of synaptic strengths has been molded and remolded, starting prenatally in the embryo and continuing throughout a person's lifetime. Consciousness is based upon the interaction of (1) thalamocortical activity representing a mental object (thought) together with (2) thalamocortical and other neural activity representing the self.  Edelman calls this convolution of a mental object with neural activity representing the self the ‘remembered present.’


Normal waking conscious state; aware of where we are, the date and approximate time, who is present in our surroundings, goal or direction of our behavior. (Hobson; Consciousness, 135)

 Synaptic representation of the self

Joseph LeDoux has emphasized the significance of the synaptic representations of the self in his book by the title Synaptic Self.