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A major part of the modern scientific literature on consciousness consists of studies that examine the relationship between the experiences reported by subjects and the activity that simultaneously takes place in their brains—that is, studies of the neural correlates of consciousness.
The hope is to find activity in a particular part of the brain, or a particular pattern of global brain activity, that will be strongly predictive of conscious awareness. The neural correlates of consciousness NCC refer to the relationship between the experiences reported by subjects and the activity that simultaneously takes place in their brains.
Consciousness is the awareness of the self, the environment, and the relationship between these two distinct worlds. From ancient philosophers to modern-day scientists, many people have struggled to understand, research, and document the processes involved in human consciousness. Thanks in large part to advances in medicine, science, and psychology, we have learned much about how states of consciousness are created. Current research studies the neural correlates of consciousness by examining experiences reported by subjects and recording the simultaneous activity that takes place in their brains.
Researchers continue to search for brain activity or global brain patterns that can be predictive of conscious awareness. The physical world is perceived by human consciousness through the senses, which funnel stimuli and information into the central nervous system, and eventually the brain. The brain is the major organ implicated in turning physical stimuli into thoughts and actions, Threshold Consciousness - Satori (2) - Live At The Cave / Salzburg 10.10.2008 (CD). The study of NCC seeks to link objective, observable, neural activity to subjective, unobservable, conscious phenomena.
While discovering and characterizing neural correlates cannot offer its own theory of consciousness, the data and findings may one day lead to such a discovery. Neural correlates of consciousness : The study of neural correlates of consciousness seeks to link activity within the brain to subjective human experiences in the physical world. Neural networks have been found to have a large amount of redundancy and parallelism, such that activity in one set of neurons cannot necessarily be said to correlate with the same perception over time.
Scientists believe it may be the case that every phenomenal, subjective state has its own neural correlate. Continued advances in the ability to stimulate or induce activity in certain brain regions or sets of neural networks will help scientists answer ever more complicated questions about the characteristics and commonalities among neural correlates.
The science of consciousness sets out to explain the precise relationship between subjective mental states and brain states, the relationship between the conscious mind and the electro-chemical interactions in the body. Progress in this arena has come from focusing on the body rather than the mind. In this context, the neuronal correlates of consciousness may be Threshold Consciousness - Satori (2) - Live At The Cave / Salzburg 10.10.2008 (CD) as its causes, and consciousness may be thought of as a state-dependent property of some complex, adaptive, and highly interconnected biological system.
Most neurobiologists assume that the variables giving rise to consciousness are to be found at the neuronal level, governed by classical physics. More than ever before, neuroscientists are able to manipulate neurons using methods from molecular biology combined with state-of-the-art optical tools e.
Neuronal analysis and brain imaging techniques have become so fine-grained that a rational understanding of consciousness is within reach. In order for the Threshold Consciousness - Satori (2) - Live At The Cave / Salzburg 10.10.2008 (CD) to be conscious of any type of content, it must be in a high state of arousal.
While awake and dreaming states are fundamentally different states of consciousness, they are both high-arousal, and thus allow for perception. Sleep is just one of the many types of consciousness we can experience and comprises several states of consciousness itself. Consciousness can also be phenomenal, such as our experiences in real time, or access, such as recalling a state of being or feeling.
Another idea that has drawn attention for several decades is that consciousness is associated with high-frequency gamma band oscillations in brain activity. This idea arose from proposals in the s, by Christof von der Malsburg and Wolf Singer, that gamma oscillations may link information represented in different parts of the brain into a unified experience. Several studies have demonstrated that activity Threshold Consciousness - Satori (2) - Live At The Cave / Salzburg 10.10.2008 (CD) primary sensory areas of the brain is not sufficient to produce consciousness: it is possible for subjects to report a lack of awareness even when areas such as the primary visual cortex show clear electrical responses to a stimulus.
Higher brain areas are seen as more promising, especially the prefrontal cortex, which is involved in a range of executive higher-order functions. The prefrontal cortex is not the only candidate area, however: studies have shown that visually responsive neurons in parts of the temporal lobe reflect the visual perception in the situation when conflicting visual images are presented to different eyes.
One popular theory implicates different patterns of brain waves in producing different states of consciousness. Researchers can record brain waves, or tracings of electrical activity within the brain, using an electroencephalograph EEG and placing electrodes on the scalp. The four types of brain waves alpha, beta, theta, and delta each correspond with one mental state relaxed, alert, lightly asleep, Threshold Consciousness - Satori (2) - Live At The Cave / Salzburg 10.10.2008 (CD) deeply asleep, respectively.
Functional magnetic resonance imaging fMRI scans, can also be used to measure physical activity in the brain that correlates with different conscious states and perceptions.
The ease in which visual perceptions can be manipulated in time and space has made visual studies, such as the Necker cube, one of the most preferred modalities for studying the neural correlates of consciousness. These studies take a seemingly simple and unambiguous visual stimulus and record differences in its subjective perception by a study participant.
The cube, for instance, is 12 basic lines that can be interpreted in two different depths, creating a visual illusion. Scientists are interested in locating which neural correlates lead to differing mental interpretations.
The Necker cube : The Necker cube is a popular visual stimulus used to study differences in human visual perception. It is possible to perceive the front of the cube at two different angles.
The study of consciousness helps scientists shed light on the inner workings of psychology and neuroscience. Scientists who study consciousness examine the relationship between stated perception and neural activity.
The majority of experimental studies assess consciousness by asking human subjects for a verbal report of their experiences and then comparing their answers with the corresponding neural activity. While primary sensory areas of the brain are often involved in perception, it is the higher brain areas such as the primary cortex that are required for consciousness to occur.
Issues of interest in consciousness research include phenomena such as perception, subliminal perception, blindsight, anosognosia, brainwaves during sleep, and altered states of consciousness produced by psychoactive drugs or spiritual or meditative techniques. Key Terms anosognosia : The inability of a person to recognize his or her own illness or handicap. A History of Theories of Consciousness Theories of consciousness include developmental, cultural, neural, computational, and moral perspectives.
Learning Objectives Critique the major theories about human consciousness. Key Takeaways Key Points First appearing in the historical records of the ancient Mayan and Incan civilizations, various theories of multiple levels of consciousness have pervaded spiritual, psychological, medical, and moral speculations in both Eastern and Western cultures.
Sigmund Freud divided human consciousness into three levels of awareness: the conscious, preconscious, and unconscious. Modern psychological approaches to understanding consciousness include developmental, social, and neuropsychological; each contribute a different understanding of what consciousness might be.
Key Terms consciousness : The state of being aware; awareness to both internal and external stimuli. Sigmund Freud : — An Austrian neurologist who became known as the founding father of psychoanalysis. Neural Underpinnings of Consciousness The neural correlates of consciousness NCC refer to the relationship between the experiences reported by subjects and the activity that simultaneously takes place in their brains. Learning Objectives Analyze the neural mechanisms underpinning conscious awareness.
Many of these processes, like much of psychological behavior, are rooted in our biology. Biological rhythms are internal rhythms of biological activity. One complete menstrual cycle takes about 28 days—a lunar month—but many biological cycles are much shorter. For example, body temperature fluctuates cyclically over a hour period [link]. Alertness is associated with higher body temperatures, and sleepiness with lower body temperatures. This chart illustrates the circadian change in body temperature over 28 hours in a group of eight young men.
Body temperature rises throughout the waking day, peaking in the afternoon, and falls during sleep with the lowest point occurring during the very early morning hours. This pattern of temperature fluctuation, which repeats every day, is one example of a circadian rhythm. A circadian rhythm is a biological rhythm that takes place over a period of about 24 hours.
Some circadian rhythms play a role in changes in our state of consciousness. If we have biological rhythms, then is there some sort of biological clock? In the brain, the hypothalamus, which lies above the pituitary gland, is a main center of homeostasis. Homeostasis is the tendency to maintain a balance, or optimal level, within a biological system. The clock sets itself with light information received through projections from the retina. Generally, and for most people, our circadian cycles are aligned with the outside world.
For example, most people sleep during the night and are awake during the day. One important regulator of sleep-wake cycles is the hormone melatonin. Melatonin release is stimulated by darkness and inhibited by light. There are individual differences with regards to our sleep-wake cycle. For instance, some people would say they are morning people, while others would consider themselves to be night owls.
Watch this brief video describing circadian rhythms and how they affect sleep. One way that this happens involves traveling across multiple time zones. When we do this, we often experience jet lag.
Jet lag is a collection of symptoms that results from the mismatch between our internal circadian cycles and our environment. These symptoms include fatigue, sluggishness, irritability, and insomnia i. Individuals who do rotating shift work are also likely to experience disruptions in circadian cycles. Rotating shift work refers to a work schedule that changes from early to late on a daily or weekly basis.
For example, a person may work from a. This often results in sleeping problems, and it can lead to signs of depression and anxiety. These kinds of schedules are common for individuals working in health care professions and service industries, and they are associated with persistent feelings of exhaustion and agitation that can make someone more prone to making mistakes on the job Gold et al.
Several of the nurses interviewed commented that their work schedules affected their relationships with their family. One of the nurses said. West et al. While disruptions in circadian rhythms can have negative consequences, there are things we can do to help us realign our biological clocks with the external environment.
Some of these approaches, such as using a bright light as shown in [link]have been shown to alleviate some of the problems experienced by individuals suffering from jet lag or from the consequences of rotating shift work.
Devices like this are designed to provide exposure to bright light to help people maintain a regular circadian cycle. They can be helpful for people working night shifts or for people affected by seasonal variations in light. Watch this video to hear tips on how to overcome jet lag. When people have difficulty getting sleep due to their work or the demands of day-to-day life, they accumulate a sleep debt.
A person with a sleep debt does not get sufficient sleep on a chronic basis. The consequences of sleep debt include decreased levels of alertness and mental efficiency. Interestingly, since the advent of electric light, the amount of sleep that people get has declined.
While we certainly welcome the convenience of having the darkness lit up, we also suffer the consequences of reduced amounts of sleep because we are more active during the nighttime hours than our ancestors were. As a result, many of us sleep less than 7—8 hours a night and accrue a sleep debt. If you lie down to take a nap and fall asleep very easily, chances are you may have sleep debt. Sleep debt and sleep deprivation have significant negative psychological and physiological consequences [link].
As mentioned earlier, lack of sleep can result in decreased mental alertness and cognitive function. In addition, sleep deprivation often results in depression-like symptoms.
These effects can occur as a function of accumulated sleep debt or in response to more acute periods of sleep deprivation. Furthermore, individuals suffering from sleep deprivation can also put themselves and others at risk when they put themselves behind the wheel of a car or work with dangerous machinery. This figure illustrates some of the negative consequences of sleep deprivation.
While cognitive deficits may be the most obvious, many body systems are negatively impacted by lack of sleep.
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