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consciousness as state

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CONSCIOUSNESS AND BRAIN MEMORY

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general brain memory mechanism

memory components vs consciousness (biochemical, awareness, conscious thinking, attention, emotional state, electrical image, working memory state)

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normal vs heightened levels

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consciousness as state

modular flow

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definition difficulties

CONSCIOUSNESS AND BRAIN MEMORY

comparison

general brain memory mechanism

memory components vs consciousness (biochemical, awareness, conscious thinking, attention, emotional state, electrical image, working memory state)

CONCLUSIONS

as mental ´state`

normal vs heightened levels

individuality 

concluding statements

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basic definitions

consciousness as state

modular flow

modular global

definition difficulties

CONSCIOUSNESS AND BRAIN MEMORY

comparison

general brain memory mechanism

memory components vs consciousness (biochemical, awareness, conscious thinking, attention, emotional state, electrical image, working memory state)

CONCLUSIONS

as mental ´state`

normal vs heightened levels

individuality 

concluding statements

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basic definitions

consciousness as state

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modular global

definition difficulties

CONSCIOUSNESS AND BRAIN MEMORY

comparison

general brain memory mechanism

memory components vs consciousness (biochemical, awareness, conscious thinking, attention, emotional state, electrical image, working memory state)

CONCLUSIONS

as mental ´state`

normal vs heightened levels

individuality 

concluding statements

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basic definitions

consciousness as state

modular flow

modular global

definition difficulties

CONSCIOUSNESS AND BRAIN MEMORY

comparison

general brain memory mechanism

memory components vs consciousness (biochemical, awareness, conscious thinking, attention, emotional state, electrical image, working memory state)

CONCLUSIONS

as mental ´state`

normal vs heightened levels

individuality 

concluding statements

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basic definitions

consciousness as state

modular flow

modular global

definition difficulties

CONSCIOUSNESS AND BRAIN MEMORY

comparison

general brain memory mechanism

memory components vs consciousness (biochemical, awareness, conscious thinking, attention, emotional state, electrical image, working memory state)

CONCLUSIONS

as mental ´state`

normal vs heightened levels

individuality 

concluding statements

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basic definitions

consciousness as state

modular flow

modular global

definition difficulties

CONSCIOUSNESS AND BRAIN MEMORY

comparison

general brain memory mechanism

memory components vs consciousness (biochemical, awareness, conscious thinking, attention, emotional state, electrical image, working memory state)

CONCLUSIONS

as mental ´state`

normal vs heightened levels

individuality 

concluding statements

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basic definitions

consciousness as state

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definition difficulties

CONSCIOUSNESS AND BRAIN MEMORY

comparison

general brain memory mechanism

memory components vs consciousness (biochemical, awareness, conscious thinking, attention, emotional state, electrical image, working memory state)

CONCLUSIONS

as mental ´state`

normal vs heightened levels

individuality 

concluding statements

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basic definitions

consciousness as state

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CONSCIOUSNESS AND BRAIN MEMORY

comparison

general brain memory mechanism

memory components vs consciousness (biochemical, awareness, conscious thinking, attention, emotional state, electrical image, working memory state)

CONCLUSIONS

as mental ´state`

normal vs heightened levels

individuality 

concluding statements

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basic definitions

consciousness as state

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CONSCIOUSNESS AND BRAIN MEMORY

comparison

general brain memory mechanism

memory components vs consciousness (biochemical, awareness, conscious thinking, attention, emotional state, electrical image, working memory state)

CONCLUSIONS

as mental ´state`

normal vs heightened levels

individuality 

concluding statements

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basic definitions

consciousness as state

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CONSCIOUSNESS AND BRAIN MEMORY

comparison

general brain memory mechanism

memory components vs consciousness (biochemical, awareness, conscious thinking, attention, emotional state, electrical image, working memory state)

CONCLUSIONS

as mental ´state`

normal vs heightened levels

individuality  

concluding statements

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basic definitions

consciousness as state

modular flow

modular global

definition difficulties

CONSCIOUSNESS AND BRAIN MEMORY

comparison

general brain memory mechanism

memory components vs consciousness (biochemical, awareness, conscious thinking, attention, emotional state, electrical image, working memory state)

CONCLUSIONS

as mental ´state`

normal vs heightened levels

individuality 

concluding statements 

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basic definitions

consciousness as state

modular flow

modular global

definition difficulties

CONSCIOUSNESS AND BRAIN MEMORY

comparison

general brain memory mechanism

memory components vs consciousness (biochemical, awareness, conscious thinking, attention, emotional state, electrical image, working memory state)

CONCLUSIONS

as mental ´state`

normal vs heightened levels

individuality 

concluding statements

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basic definitions

consciousness as state

modular flow

modular global

definition difficulties

CONSCIOUSNESS AND BRAIN MEMORY

comparison

general brain memory mechanism

memory components vs consciousness (biochemical, awareness, conscious thinking, attention, emotional state, electrical image, working memory state)

CONCLUSIONS

as mental ´state`

normal vs heightened levels

individuality 

concluding statements

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basic definitions

consciousness as state

modular flow

modular global

definition difficulties

CONSCIOUSNESS AND BRAIN MEMORY

comparison

general brain memory mechanism

memory components vs consciousness (biochemical, awareness, conscious thinking, attention, emotional state, electrical image, working memory state)

CONCLUSIONS

as mental ´state`

normal vs heightened levels

individuality 

concluding statements

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CURRENT THINKING

basic definitions

consciousness as state

modular flow

modular global

definition difficulties

CONSCIOUSNESS AND BRAIN MEMORY

comparison

general brain memory mechanism

memory components vs consciousness (biochemical, awareness, conscious thinking, attention, emotional state, electrical image, working memory state)

CONCLUSIONS

as mental ´state`

normal vs heightened levels

individuality 

concluding statements

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CURRENT THINKING

basic definitions

consciousness as state

modular flow

modular global

definition difficulties

CONSCIOUSNESS AND BRAIN MEMORY

comparison

general brain memory mechanism

memory components vs consciousness (biochemical, awareness, conscious thinking, attention, emotional state, electrical image, working memory state)

CONCLUSIONS

as mental ´state`

normal vs heightened levels

individuality 

concluding statements

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CURRENT THINKING

basic definitions

consciousness as state

modular flow

modular global

definition difficulties

CONSCIOUSNESS AND BRAIN MEMORY

comparison

general brain memory mechanism

memory components vs consciousness (biochemical, awareness, conscious thinking, attention, emotional state, electrical image, working memory state)

CONCLUSIONS

as mental ´state`

normal vs heightened levels

individuality 

concluding statements

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Basic definitions

 

Trying to define what consciousness is has frustrated and occupied scientists for many years. Basic definitions can begin with Velman`s view (2000) that a person is conscious if they experience something, with experience defined as phenomenal content leading to the division of consciousness into more than one state with Reber`s (1993) two levels (consciousness I allowing self and non-self awareness and consciousness II encapsulating cognitive functions and individual knowledge), or Oakley`s (1985) three levels of awareness (Level I, instinct and reflexes; level II, learning and consciousness attributed to the cortex and limbic system and finally level III, self-awareness relating to the neocortex).

 

Consciousness is considered to be either present or absent. In fact Freud defined three ´states` for the individual relating to information: conscious, what we are aware of in real-time; preconscious, information that we are at the time not aware of, but holds the potential to be so; and lastly, unconscious, in Freud`s opinion mainly anxiety-related information that is under no circumstances accessible to awareness. This topic of presence or absence has led to later theorists defining consciousness so that it may be experimentally studied. Baars (1988 and later works) suggests that consciousness should be considered a ´variable` so that conscious events could be compared to unconscious events (contrastive analyses). Such analyses have resulted in a number of capability differences and a list of functions associated with each type of event. However, the criteria defining whether something is considered conscious includes individual report, mainly language-based, and therefore whether consciousness reflects this ability has to be asked.

 

Psychologist theories about consciousness can be divided into three types:

1)      theories relating to consciousness being considered as a ´state` depending on physiological processes and general activity;

2)      theories relating to consciousness being considered as involving modular functionality with ´flow` activity patterns;

3)      theories relating to consciousness being considered as involving modular functionality with ´global` activity patterns.

 

Consciousness as ´state`

 

Three groups of theories can be said to be associated with the view of consciousness as a ´state` and these are:

1)      Dual-aspect theories.

This group probably originated from work by Spinoza (1677) who stated that the mind and body are different aspects of the same reality, an idea supported by Velmans (2000) with consciousness and brain activity being two sides of one process. A more esoteric view, pan psychism, could be included here since this hypothesis states that the brain is a physical entity, which is conscious, i.e. mind and body.

2)      Reductionist theories.

This group reduces mental activity to brain functioning and physiology dictated by genes and memes (Dawkins, 1986; Pinker, 1999; Blackmore, 2003). In these theories there is no ´self` and consciousness has no function except to indicate what it is like to exist in ´real-time`.

3)      Network theories.

This group describes consciousness as system-wide activity and it includes Pribam´s Holonomic theory (1971) based on wave patterns, Edelman and Tononi´s dynamic core hypothesis (2000) involving thalamus and cortex connectivity (a view supported by some other theories for example Crick and Koch, ;Ilinus, ; and the extended reticulo-thalamic activating system supported by Baars and Newman) and Walter Freeman´s dynamic systems approach (2004) where scalp activity is investigated. 

 

Consciousness involving modular functionality with ´flow` activity

 

Five theories fall into this grouping where consciousness is said to occur between modular processes and areas associated with sensory reception and transmission. Recognised theories include:

1)      Johnson-Lairds operating system model of consciousness (1988) – information is passed up the hierarchy to an operating system, which Johnson-Laird considers consciousness (´working memory`).

2)      Schachter`s model of dissociable interactions and conscious experience (1990) – consciousness exists between the executive system and modular systems controlling the perception.

3)      Shallice`s supervisory model of conscious processing (1988) – consciousness occurs between the flow of information and the supervisory system.

4)      Baddeley´s working memory models (1974-2000) – consciousness occurs in the activity between the central executive and the episodic buffer.

5)      Schneider and Pimm-Smith`s message aware control mechanism (1997) – this theory requires the attentional system to modulate informational flow between the sensory systems and the message aware controller which is said to be the centre of consciousness.

 

Consciousness involving modular functionality with global activity

 

This is by far the biggest and strongest group of theories relating to consciousness from the point of view of research and support. The strongest champion is Baars global workplace theory (1988, 1998, 2001), which is based on the hypothesis that consciousness occurs through the workings of three components: unconscious specialised processes (such as sensory systems); a conscious global workplace which can access, modulate, exchange information and exercises global control and co-ordination; and thirdly, unconscious contexts which can modulate the global message without change to itself. The global workplace was compared to Baddeley`s central executive (1996) and supports other views, which divide consciousness into two parts: an unconscious stage (Reber`s 1993 level I – sensory experience) and the following stage where self-awareness is evident. The differences between conscious and unconscious events have led to a series of functions and capabilities being established for consciousness (Baars, 1988, 1998, 2001 and others). 

 

In 2001, Dehaene and Naccache developed the global neuronal network theory stating that attention was required for consciousness. Although many processes are unconscious, specific functions require conscious awareness and top-down control with attentional participation and therefore, it was concluded that consciousness is associated with attention. Although Baars also sees a role for attention in the global workplace theory, the two theories differ in its use: Baar`s theory envisages a role for attention in leading access to long-term goals whereas Dehaene and Naccache see attention leading to information being made available to the global workplace.

 

Although having considerable support, the global workplace theory does have its critics. Not only the role of attention evokes questions, but also there has been questions over the unity of consciousness (Marcel, 1993; Dennett´s multiple drafts theory, 1991 and Zeki, 2003) and the observations that actions do not follow just from conscious thinking, they can occur before (Libet, 1996; Frith, Perry and Lumer, 1999).

 

Why is it so hard to define consciousness?

 

Current thinking by psychologists shows how difficult it is to define what consciousness is. Essentially, we know that it exists and the differences between when it exists and when not, but attributing it exactly to actual mechanisms or particular brain areas appears to be beyond our research capabilities at this time.

 

Two problems come to mind why we have such difficulty. The first relates to our need to exult the human species above all others. We are extremely protective of our ´superior` cognitive status and are adamant that no species or artificial form will ever possess our capacity to think and emote. Our ´hold` over consciousness means that consciousness must be defined in such a way that only the human species has it, which obviously leads to difficulties.

 

The second problem is how we use the word ´conscious`. Conscious thinking, conscious action is linked with awareness, which Baars uses to define consciousness in his global workplace theory (1988 and later). Awareness needs verbal report and hence, consciousness is linked with verbal report. If we know something is conscious and can report it, then it must be. The trouble with this association is that language automatically restricts experience (try watching a film on quick speed and giving a verbal report on everything happening on the screen, impossible), and hence restricts conscious experience. Therefore, the measure by which we ascertain consciousness must be more than just the individual reporting it.

 

CONSCIOUSNESS AND BRAIN MEMORY

 

Why define consciousness using brain memory?

 

If we look at current thinking on consciousness and brain memory we can see that the two are linked – without conscious thinking there can be no higher level problem-solving for example, and without brain memory we can have no conscious thinking since this requires the reactivation of previously stored memories. The two ´real-time` features of the human brain show a considerable number of similarities which justify why brain memory should be investigated with the intention of defining consciousness. Some of these similarities are:

 

1)      both encompass a phenomenal level and a self-awareness level.

Consciousness according to Reber (1993) and global theories consists of activation of a lower level unconscious sensory system leading to higher level conscious activity, including self-awareness. The brain memory mechanism advocated here shows input from sensory systems and emotional systems leading to a self-awareness level in some cases in the other stages of storage and recall, e.g. variable storage and recall with further processing.

 

2)      ´state` can be involved in both.

In dual-aspect theories, consciousness is described as the physical body and a mind, two aspects of the same thing. The ´mind` is considered as a ´state`. In the brain memory mechanism, ´states` can occur as a result of firing, e.g. the working memory state occurs as a result of real-time firing of cells representing the current input and reactivated cells representing previously stored experiences. 

 

3)      both occur in  real-time.

Both occur in real-time, but whereas brain memory is based on past experiences and can project forward (uses memory, patterns of past behaviour to plan future), consciousness exists only in the current time frame. 

 

4)      control for both can be top-down and bottom-up.

Bottom-up control for consciousness involves phenomenal input (thalamic-cortical activity of modular theories like Crick or Edelman and Tonini for example) and top-down is the result of attentional systems (Dehaene and Naccache) and self-awareness with thinking, processing and decision-making. In the case of brain memory, bottom-up control is similar to consciousness with sensory input from sensory organ to thalamus to appropriate cortical areas and top-down is promoted through higher cortical areas including the prefrontal cortex as well as areas involved in attentional systems, decision-making systems etc. 

 

5)      both are dependent on the internal and external environments and hence can be manipulated by both.

The internal environment represents brain activity, neuronal firing, electron transfer etc. Manipulation of both consciousness and brain memory can occur through alteration of the internal environment via the use of drugs, different sleep-states or injury for example. Manipulation of the external environment can affect both consciousness and brain memory since both are based on sensory system experiences.

 

6)      both a mix of conscious and unconscious (subconscious) processes.

According to global workplace theories, unconscious processes and conscious processes are involved in the experience of consciousness and the differences between the two have led to a list of functions associated with them. Brain memory also demonstrates both conscious and unconscious processes with the latter seen in the form of unattended information and automatic processing for example, and conscious processes seen in the form of top-down control of the focusing of sensory organs as well as being vital components of some recall processes, e.g. recall with further processing involving decision-making.

 

7)      both demonstrate individuality.

In the case of consciousness, although the same general ´states` are shared by all, there are individual variations on when, where etc. conscious and unconscious events take place. In fact, Velman in 2000 pointed out the problem with consciousness since for the individual consciousness is necessary for certain types of processing, but it cannot be experienced from a third person perspective. The only way the experience of consciousness is transferred is through verbal report and this is actually one of the ways of determining a conscious experience as defined by Baars (1997). Brain memory is easier to verify from a third person perspective and it too shows high levels of individuality not only via physiological differences (e.g. brain area functioning, sensory organ condition), but also through information selection and processing differences.

 

      8) both rely on multiple brain area activation.

In the case of consciousness, ´state` theories describe it involving the activation of multiple brain areas conferring the conscious state. Modular activity theories agree with global coordination and control of multiple brain areas eliciting the conscious experience.  Multiple brain area activation also plays an important role in the brain memory mechanism with distributed control, interrelating areas, hierarchical models for example involved in sensory pathways, processing and control stages of the mechanism.  

      9) both involve the attentional system.

Dehaene and Naccache (2001) described amongst others the importance of the attentional system in consciousness. In brain memory, linked to the emotional system, the attentional system is suggested as playing three roles, that of focus, monitoring conflict as well as imposing time constraints on the cognitive processes.

 

10)  both constantly changing.

Conscious thinking, unconscious state, subconscious processing are all examples of the changing human condition relating to this topic. In the states of consciousness described, e.g. conscious, subconscious, unconscious, preconscious then there are changing functions, altered levels of activity and different experiences. The same can be said about brain memory. Events of yesterday may not be perceived in the same way tomorrow.

 

However, although there are numerous similarities between the two features there is one important difference and it can be compared to a type of ´chicken and the egg` type situation. In this version, brain memory (the chicken) is a mental tool required for the survival of the individual by which the external and internal environments of the individual are dealt with. Conscious thinking and consciousness (the egg) can be a part of this tool in some circumstances, e.g. decision-making. Does the egg therefore exist without the chicken? Dehaene and Naccache (2001) stated that the neuronal workplace attributed to consciousness allowed more sources of knowledge to partake in the handling of the task. Hence, a greater complexity of task could be successfully resolved. Humphrey (1993) stated that the function of consciousness was social with the development of social groups leading to more sophisticated methods of dealing with the external environment. In both cases therefore, the egg appears not to exist without the chicken (brain memory) – brain memory required for complex processing and understanding of more complicated environments, consciousness a result of activation of that cognitive function. Therefore, brain memory is an ideal system to study consciousness.

 

General brain memory mechanism

 

In the book ´Brain Memory: Outside the Box` I describe a personalised view of how the brain memory mechanism works. The mechanism is based on recognised research and can be divided into three stages: input, storage and recall. To investigate the role of consciousness in the mechanism it is probably best to look at a particular memory scenario and I have chosen one here which requires the most sophisticated recall process, i.e. one involving decision-making (the ´outside the box` recall with further processing). The scenario, trying out a new fruit juice beverage (mango and apple flavoured) and then at a later encounter having to make a choice between that and a cup of coffee requires all stages of the brain memory mechanism and the changing face of consciousness can be seen in all stages.  

 

  Brain memory mechanism                                                                 Notes on consciousness

 

Incoming visual information of the fruit juice in a glass before the individual. Flitting of sensory organs calm down to bring attention to the juice in front. Picking up the glass and tasting leads to further visual sensory input plus stimulation of the taste and olfactory sensory systems. Attentional systems are focused on the glass and the juice, but can be divided if other information in the external environment is important (e.g. listening to a conversation), or perceptual load capacity is not taken completely up by the drink and the drinking action itself. Therefore, there is likely to be attended and unattended information.

Temporary sensory stores are formed from the incoming information. Further stimulation of the sensory organs by the beverage leads to short-term sensory stores being formed (the iNCA). The emotional system is also active at this time – if the juice is pleasant, the dopamine-neurotransmitter based brain system is dominant: if considered unpleasant then the noradrenaline system is activated (amygdala action so that the basal ganglia inhibition of the thalamus is removed) leading to changes in quality and quantity of incoming information.

Conscious of the novelty of the juice. Not only bottom-up control through the novel sensory input, but also top-down in that the exploration of the juice is required to satisfy the human demand of curiosity. A dislike for the juice would lead to heightened awareness of it. Therefore, at this stage, what is consciousness? What would I describe? I would give a verbal report of the juice since attention would be focused on it. I probably would not give a verbal report of any other events in the external environment unless my attention were drawn to them, e.g. a loud bang. Therefore, unattended information would be ignored by the consciousness state.

Prolonged activation of the same pathways because of continual ´interest` in the drink leads to formation of the long-term stores (storage stage). The format of the information stored is dependent on the individual and the event. For example, in its purest form (formation of the ´as is` memories) there may be just information stored about the drink (e.g. colour, taste, smell, name) or information about the drink and drinking event (includes e.g. location, external noises, people). However, in other circumstances or in other individuals some form of processing may take place with reference to previously stored relevant information. This processing can take the form of, for example, the categorisation of the drink perhaps with reference to other cold beverages or establishment for another use of the mango fruit. It is less likely to lead to the extension of the generic version of a refreshing drink, another processing option, but it is still possible. The addition of the processing stage leads to the so-called variable memories being formed and takes the event from one which has a ´time`/specific event label to one which can be considered independently. The processing can be done without the individual`s awareness (automatic recall of previously stored information due to strength of firing within those long-term stores) or with it (thinking of associations with previous events strengthen the connections to that material and can lead to recall of that specific material).

In addition to the real-time drink`s and drink event`s information, the emotional state at that time is also included in the formed long-term store. This is the  emotional tag which gives an indication of the ´worth` of the drink to the individual through the graded prefrontal cortex sliding switch mechanism for events considered pleasant and the on-off type switch indicating noradrenaline system activation in the case of unpleasant ones.

In the formation of long-term stores then if consciousness is defined only by the admission of it verbally, then the individual reports his prolonged interest in the drink. He does not report of the actual mechanism taking place since he is unaware of it happening. If processing takes place via categorisation and the linking of the event/drink to other previous occasions then the individual will report spontaneous associations to previous events (occurring through the reactivation of previously stored information through similar event features) or will report on more complicated processing if he has to search for them. The use of language for verbal report actually brings two advantages to the memory process; it focuses attention on the event itself, thus leading to fuller attention on the event in question, rather than on irrelevant material; and also lends more information to the event which can then end up in the long-term store.

Assume now that the information about the mango-apple drink, including a personal opinion about it is stored in long-term memory. 

 

Now imagine, an event at a later date when placed on a table are two beverages, a glass of the mango-apple drink and a cup of coffee. The individual has to choose between the two. We assume in this case that all factors like preparation, cost, etc are equal.

The question is what happens now?  

 

The recall stage begins with the acknowledgement that there are two options. This means that visual and other sensory systems locate two objects within their accepted sensory fields, which through sensory pathway activations lead to stored long-term memories being reactivated. The individual is then aware that before him stands two known beverages and with associated personal values. The sensory fields may be adjusted with head turning or eye swiveling so that the each option is dealt with separately, but the outcome is the same. The individual is then aware that he has to make a choice - he has two options and to quench his thirst he has to pick up just one.  

 

If consciousness is defined by verbal report, then the first awareness of the individual is that his future has more than one path – sensory information has led to the awareness that two credible options are standing before him. There is conflict and probably a ´consciousness alert` (heart leap, intake of breath) or a heightened status equivalent to the awareness that a further path will have to be undertaken.

The quickest and easiest solution to the situation is what is termed non-active decision-making – where no effort is expended in a decision-making process and one of the two options is taken essentially at will, e.g. could be nearest, could be the same as last time or could be the same as everyone else.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The individual consciously takes one option without further consideration of any type. Verbal report is probably quite relaxed, perhaps with admittance that this option has been taken without expending any effort and as soon as the first sip is taken, then conscious thinking can drift to something else if the option is considered pleasant or if considered unpleasant there is probably a tinge of anger and retribution. 

In this case the most likely decision-making strategy is ´heart` based on personal opinion rather than on basic needs, drive and fact.  Why? The drinking of juice or coffee is normally given a low priority, i.e. it is not important to the individual`s view of the world, behaviour etc. if one drink is chosen above the other; it may be inconvenient, not the best from a pleasure perspective, but not survival-threatening. (This is where some people place an inordinate sense of value to what others would call ´little things` and where personal perspective is apparent.) Decision-making can also be carried out based on the emotional values of the two options, i.e. which beverage is liked more. This involves the running through of the sNCA for both options and a comparison of the two emotional tags. The one with the higher graded sliding switch value in the prefrontal cortex is the one chosen. The conflict situation is then relaxed and the individual picks the drink up and partakes.

The examination of the emotional tag is not so simple as implied. One has an overall feeling about an object, but further examination can divide this into separate facets of ´like` or ´hate`. For example the overall ´pleasure vs hate` emotional status attached to each object as indicated by the recall of the sliding switch position may give a simple ´like juice, hate coffee` answer. Further investigation of the sNCA associated with fruit juice may indicate more pleasurable memories associated with drinking juice than coffee that justify this overall rating, e.g. favourite glass, time of day or company. Therefore, the decision is made according to the emotional tags stored in the relevant sNCA.

 

The individual is instantly aware and can verbally report it which of the two options is the best under these conditions. He may not be able to define his preference for one above other in detail, but he can report his emotional feelings for it. Decisions based on ´head` type logic have essentially the same levels of consciousness, except the in-between stages require more effort and more thinking. For example, if the decision is to be made on how quick the beverage is available then an awareness of preparation time and effort required comes into the calculation, but consciousness and levels of awareness remain as before at ´alert`. Only the decision will lead to a relaxation of emotional state and a shift from awareness/thinking of the situation to something else.

 

This is a fairly simple scenario showing how consciousness and conscious awareness as defined by verbal report follows the brain memory mechanism. From it, we can conclude that consciousness is a ´state` associated with no particular brain memory stage or reaction, but does require brain activity and cellular firing. Further investigation of individual components of the mechanism may be able to define consciousness more precisely. 

 

Can consciousness be defined as any distinctive biochemical mechanism in the brain memory process?

   

It can be said that there are no differences between the general biochemical firing mechanisms relating to brain memory and consciousness. We assume that the depolarisation mechanism does not change per se and that the standard fundamental biochemical processes are the same whether from top-down control, bottom-up control, in a sleep state, or unconscious state since essentially the mechanisms are genetically controlled (forms the basis of reductionist theories of consciousness and genetic modulation theories for brain memory). Changes seen are indirect and observed when processes are initiated or by external influence, e.g. drugs.  

Brain memory relies heavily on connectivity between firing and fired neuronal cells and this connectivity has been described as being of two types: physical and hypothetical. Physical connectivity is responsible for firing pathways and is genetically formed and maintained. It exists between brain areas (activity in the suprachiasmatic nucleus, thalamus and hippocampus considered important) and within brain areas and brain memory formation is likely to involve connections between firing cells being formed or pre-existing ones strengthened. As far as consciousness goes, physical connectivity between cells and areas is assumed conforming to reductionist theories that most physical connections are genetically dictated and therefore, unlikely to show individual variations.

Hypothetical connections are also described in the brain memory mechanism and these depend on the individual, e.g. within the stored memory neuronal cell assembly (NCA) groupings. Connections that link the characteristics of an event together are specific to an individual. Hypothetical connections in consciousness could be said to be more ´fluid` and less reliant on ´real-time` or past events. Evidence for this is that conscious thinking and information observed in unconscious states such as the dream state or in coma, appear to involve transient connectivity of information not normally encountered.

Another biochemical mechanism involved in brain memory is synchronicity of firing. On a large scale, synchronicity can be observed through brain waves. Faster waves are associated with cognitive function and consciousness (conscious thinking, verbal report), whereas sleep states and unconscious states are associated with the slower waves. Synchronicity introduces the concept of time and time frames to the brain memory mechanism. Firing of groups of cells are synchronised together to represent an event. Synchronisation of another group of cells signifies another event at another time and therefore time and time frames are introduced into the mechanism. Although time is observed by external means, the brain memory mechanisms have their own internal clock and timing mechanisms so that time constraint can be placed on cognitive tasks as well as order imposed on sequences. External time and internal time appears to be desynchronised in memory learning in fear situations. As far as consciousness is concerned, there appears to be a dissociation between external time and conscious thinking as well as in the unconscious/sleep states.

Therefore, although there are some differences between the biochemical mechanisms of brain memory and consciousness, there are many similarities. On a broader scale, both are associated with specific brain area functioning shown by brain imaging techniques. As far as brain memory goes, area activity is dependent on the sensory stimulus of the external environment, the sensory pathways and appropriate cortical areas as well as areas relating to movement, attention and emotional systems for example. Recognised theories of function linked to brain area apply to both brain memory and consciousness, e.g. location of function, distributed control and plasticity, mass action and equipotentiality. In the case of conscious thinking, top-down control is associated with brain areas necessary for the task at hand as well as or including the prefrontal cortex and anterior cingulated cortex (Posner, 1980 visual control networks; Corbetta and Shulman, 2002). Sleep and other non-awake states can lead to an absence of visual input leading to differences in brain area activity. However, stimuli are not just confined to the internal environment since the individual can still hear, smell etc, which implies that the sensory systems are not shut down, although they may be reduced (i.e. only loud noises, or smell of smoke instigates immediate responses as olfactory bulb stimulation leads straight to fear actions).

Therefore, it can be said that no distinctive biochemical mechanism associated with brain memory can be the cause of consciousness. It appears to ´piggy-back` the biochemical mechanisms required, but there are some differences in that consciousness appears to be time and order independent.

Is consciousness the same as awareness?

Although there are similarities between consciousness and awareness (e.g. both have no registration of storage mechanisms or emotional systems), the vast majority of evidence from brain memory research is that consciousness is different. Consciousness appears to be a single entity with two levels, normal and heightened, both of which are indicators of the processes taking place, but having no definitive function. However, awareness definitely exists in several levels, e.g. heightened, normal, low attached to specific mechanisms relative to the task at hand. This can be demonstrated ably by the sensory input stage where consciousness does not register changes in sensory input due to attentional selectivity or focus, whereas awareness can lead to selectivity of features. A change in consciousness may only be observed when fear or conflict are registered.

This differences between the two can also be applied to the variable storage process and more generally the contents of the sNCA in storage. In the variable storage stage there is awareness of the heightened attentional state brought about by the conflict signals between the incoming information and the reactivated stored information, and awareness of the shift to processing as well as the processing mechanism itself (dominance of strong features). In contrast, consciousness only can be described as registering the heightened status. This is followed by awareness not only of the informational content in a storage grouping representing a single time frame, but also of sequential information and the value of the emotional tag. This can be compared to consciousness, which registers only information relating to a fear emotional tag.

These differences relating to non-recognition by consciousness of processing stretches to the brain memory recall methods. Although the processes themselves are not thought of by the individual, the start (attended information) and the result (´electrical image`) could be and hence the individual may be aware of the beginning and the end of even the simplest recall method, recall without processing. In recall with processing, consciousness registers the conflict observed at the beginning of the process and registers the shift down from the heightened state as the ´magic answer` or ´accepted magic answer` is found. These can be described as ´blanket-type` changes in comparison to awareness where it reflects detailed changes associated with the search for the solution as well the beginning conflict and successful ending. This difference is even more apparent with the recall process with the highest level of complexity, recall with further processing. Consciousness again registers the blanket conflict and shifts down for the successful conclusion, whereas awareness follows each minute change during the appointment of points of access, search for options and decision-making stage.

Therefore, it can be concluded from using the brain memory mechanism that consciousness is not commensurate to awareness. Awareness is a more detailed capability than consciousness. Verbal report of conscious thinking may provide this level of detail, but this covers only a small part of awareness.

Is consciousness the same as conscious thinking?

A comparison of consciousness and conscious thinking in the brain memory mechanism results in the overwhelming conclusion that they are separate entities. Although conscious thinking is described as required before action takes place in the definitions of consciousness proposed by psychologists and verbal report is used as a gauge for consciousness, a study of the role of conscious thinking in brain memory shows that conscious thinking is not required for all information in the brain memory mechanism and other cognitive tasks.

Just like in the case of awareness, consciousness in the sensory input and storage stages of the brain memory mechanism is ´just there`, whereas conscious thinking can guide focus/selectivity of features/repetition of events and so on in order that learning takes place. During these stages, consciousness registers emotional and attentional state, but conscious thinking can guide, monitor and cause changes in them. Consciousness has no influence on input or storage and only recognises a fear situation responding with a heightened status. The blanket role of consciousness is even more apparent in variable storage where extra processing can take place to counteract the conflict signals initiated by the incoming information and re-activated stored information. In this case, conscious thinking can guide the necessary changes in focus, or lead the processing of the information for the categorisation or generic version functions. Consciousness can register the heightened status, but has no method to deal with it, unlike conscious thinking.

This is even more apparent in the recall methods. Consciousness in the simplest recall method, recall without processing, reflects the result, the ´electrical image`, but has no influence on the process whereas conscious thinking can focus on certain characteristics so the recall process is made easier as well as noting errors or discrepancies between incoming and recalled material. In recall with processing, consciousness reacts to the conflict signals with a heightened status and at the successful conclusion following the extra processing will respond with a downward shift. However, conscious thinking can play a leading role in the successful outcome of the process. It can guide the sensory fields and select features and this role is expanded in the final recall method, that of recall with further processing, where conscious thinking plays a detailed and important role, e.g. problem acknowledgement, search for solutions, comparison of options, and decision-making. The complicated role of conscious thinking in this process is mirrored by a much lesser extent by consciousness, which acknowledges the problem with a heightened status, but cannot counteract it.

Therefore, just like awareness, a study of the brain memory mechanism in detail shows that consciousness and conscious thinking are not the same.

Is consciousness the same as attention?

Out of all the components of the brain memory mechanism that are possible mechanisms for consciousness, attention is the one that appears to be the most plausible. Certain psychologist theories indicate the importance of attention in consciousness (e.g. Dahaene and Nacacche, 2001) and an investigation of the role of attention in the brain memory mechanism shows categorically that consciousness and attention are not the same. The evidence for this is in a similar vein to the comparisons made previously in that consciousness appears to be a ´blanket-type` entity with little system subtlety, whereas the brain memory components have complicated actions and reactions that can be adapted by external and internal influences.

If we look at the sensory input stage then attentional state determines the quality and quantity of the incoming information, maintaining focus where required or desired. Direction of attentional state can be top-down (conscious thinking) or bottom-up (dictated by event features or circumstances). In comparison, consciousness leads to registration of events in the external environment, which implies activation of the appropriate sensory organs and pathways, but does not lead to any further involvement. Even in a fear situation, consciousness may be heightened, but actions are reliant on the attentional system response. The same can be said of the emotional component of brain memories. Consciousness leads to awareness of the ´real-time` emotional state, but cannot influence it. This is contrary to the attentional state, which is intimately related to the emotional system functioning, with both altering one another. Distraction or divided attention may coincide with an overall consciousness of the situation in the external environment, but excludes detailed knowledge of individual components of that environment, whereas attention can be focused on one event in one time frame and then inputting other events dependent on perceptual load capacity constraints in other time frames.

The important role of attentional state and the ´blanket-type` nature of consciousness are further compounded when the storage stage of the brain memory mechanism is investigated. Attentional state in this stage has two important roles: it leads to focus on the features of the external environment so that the demand for sustained activation is met in order to shift the temporary iNCA to long-term sNCA (both ´as is` storage and variable storage); and it monitors for conflict between incoming information and re-activated stores (´working memory state` in variable memory, observed for example in sequence learning). The shift in attentional state seen as a result of the conflict signal may be mirrored by a heightening of consciousness (verbal report may indicate a strengthening of focus on particular features as well as physiological symptoms like a quickened pulse), but whereas attention acts to remedy the situation, no such action is undertaken by consciousness.

The differences between attentional state and consciousness are even more apparent when the various recall methods of the brain memory mechanism are considered. Even in the easiest example, recall without processing, attention has three roles: focus, conflict monitoring and imposition of a time constraint, so that time is not spent unnecessarily without a change in processing tactic. The attentional system performs these roles with precision, top-down or bottom-up control, minute-by-minute adjustment and shifts between states to ensure correct and optimal functioning of all systems appropriate to the task at hand. This can be compared to the passive role of consciousness. Verbal report will establish the beginning and end-points of the process, acknowledge stimuli in the external environment and relay shifts to heightened status and back down, all features associated with consciousness, but it cannot and does not aid the recall process to reach its successful conclusion. This is unlike the attentional system, which has specific roles to play in this stage and adjusts according to the demands placed on it at the time.

Therefore, it can be concluded that consciousness is not attention.

Is consciousness emotional state?  

Brain memories contain informational components and an emotional component (the emotional tag), which dictates how this information is dealt with. The exact mechanisms of the emotional system, formation and location of the emotional tag and the system`s mirroring of attentional system functioning are described in more detail in the book ´Brain Memory: Outside the Box`. Emotional state in real-time, the overall working level (OWL), results from a balance of two neurotransmitter systems, dopamine and noradrenaline, involving the basal ganglia, hippocampus, thalamus and prefrontal cortex (the so-called ´hippocampal loop`). The resulting emotional state can be considered a single entity. This is one of the similarities between consciousness and emotional state: one consciousness, only conscious of one thing at any one time and one emotional state, only one emotion displayed at any one time. The ´single entity` in both cases is focused on the event being considered at the time and there is no hidden entity (a subconscious emotional state) unlike for information (unattended information).

The other similarity between the two is there appears to be two ´levels`: a normal one present in most cases (pleasure emotion, dominated by the dopamine based system for emotional state) and a heightened one (fear emotion, dominated by the noradrenaline system). Whereas emotional state mirrors the action of the attentional state and hence systems act appropriately to the task at hand, consciousness has no such affect: verbal report is made about the heightened status, but only directed verbal report will bring about a change.

Therefore, just like the previous comparisons, consciousness appears to be a separate entity to the various modules involved in brain memory including emotional state.  

Is consciousness ´electrical image`?

According to the ´outside the box` version of the brain memory mechanism, the ´electrical image` is formed on recall and represents incoming information and information stored in the sNCA appropriately re-activated for the task. It represents that feeling ´I know what this is` (object recognition) or ´I know what to do now` for example (procedural memory). Considering this function, then it is clear that consciousness cannot be the same as ´electrical image`, since the ´electrical image` is highly specific for the event at hand consisting of information and an emotional component, appears in the recall stage or end stage and does not ´heighten`. In comparison, consciousness is a ´blanket-type` entity independent of event, is involved in all stages of the brain memory mechanism and can appear ´heightened` in fear situations.

Is consciousness ´working memory state`?

´Outside the box` brain memory describes the working memory state as resulting from incoming neuronal firing representing the external event and re-activated cells representing the stored memory in the sNCA. Based on Baddeley and Hitch`s (1974) working memory, the working memory state in this version appears in variable memory storage and in all recall stages and appears to be different to consciousness. Evidence for this comes from its use. Working memory state in variable storage provides conditions where attended and unattended information can be ´worked` in order that the conflict situation observed through the incoming information and the re-activated sNCA can be resolved. Therefore, whereas verbal report indicative of consciousness describes only one ´set` of information, many more ´sets` of information are being simulataneously ´worked` in the working memory state. Some are attended, others unattended and the only limitation is through perceptual load capacity defined by attention.

In the recall methods, working memory state appears more frequently and coincides with heightened emotional state, attentional state and consciousness. However, successful conclusion of the recall methods leads to the working memory state being ´switched off`, whereas consciousness still remains (conscious of results).

Therefore, although both working memory state and consciousness are considered as single entities, the former has much more complicated working and only appears in specific stages of the brain memory mechanism in comparison to consciousness.

 

CONCLUSIONS ABOUT CONSCIOUSNESS FROM APPLYING BRAIN MEMORY THEORY

Several conclusions about consciousness can be made if we consider how it relates to the brain memory mechanism and these are:

Consciousness is a real-time, mental ´state` created by neuronal activity in the cortical brain area.

 

 

Consciousness can be said to purely ´exist` in ´real-time`: a condition, a ´state`. It cannot be directly attributed to any mechanism of the brain memory mechanism. If we consider consciousness as a ´state` then this is equivalent to the psychologist dual-aspect theories, such as Spinoza`s ´mind and body` (two aspects, one entity), or Velman`s, one body, two processes. The idea of states is possible according to this brain memory version with, for example, the working memory state (the result of firing of cells equivalent to the incoming information and firing of cells part of the recorded version of the previous experience) and emotional state (the result of neurotransmitter based system activity) being suggested.

 

 

The word ´mental` applied to consciousness implies that the brain is a necessary requirement for its existence and this organ needs to be functioning in ´real-time`, hence a living organism is implied.

 

  (as ´state` contd.)

The phrase ´created by neuronal activity` indicates that consciousness is linked to the activity of this type of brain cell and applicable nervous system in this organ and is probably not linked directly to the activity of other types of biological system such as the blood circulatory system, although they may be required indirectly as support. Evidence comes from brain imaging studies. There appears to be no specific biochemical mechanism related to consciousness other than cell firing.

 

   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(as ´state` contd.)

Investigation of the question of which brain areas are directly involved in consciousness is complicated. Consciousness is defined by the psychologists as that experienced and capable of being reported. Hence, many areas are thought to be involved in a conscious experience, some directly and some indirectly. For example, those areas involved in language are active in consciousness studies since they are required for verbal report of the experience. The same could be said of attentional systems (focusing for example), decision-making systems (´shall I report this or shall I report that?`) and emotional systems (e.g. fear response). The psychologists supporting the global workplace theory define these functions as ´modules` necessary for the conscious experience even if they are not consciousness itself. Activity in the lower brain areas is also linked with consciousness since the reception and perception of incoming sensory information appears to be involved in the defined Level I consciousness. The connectivity between the thalamus and cortex is considered by some, for example Crick and Koch (1990), as playing a major role in creating the conditions of the conscious experience. Therefore, many areas are active during consciousness and pinpointing those solely responsible is difficult. 

  Personal opinion about which brain areas are necessary for consciousness is based on the view that consciousness is a ´state` elicited by a certain level of ´real-time` neuronal activity in the cortical brain area dependent on the task undertaken at the time. If we consider the brain memory mechanism, we know that we have awareness/consciousness of the beginning and end of the process (sensory stimuli and ´electrical image`), plus if applicable any conflict situations (as observed for example, in variable storage and the more complicated recall processes). Therefore, brain areas active at these times are appropriate to the task at hand, e.g. the sensory pathways as well as those required for supporting systems such as attention and head movement. This creates in the cortex an overall widespread electrical representation of all events occurring at that time and this is considered as consciousness. Although at any one time multiple stimuli are being perceived (the limit imposed by the attentional perceptual load capacity), processed and action taken as a result, consciousness as defined by verbal report appears to be focused on only one item at any one time. This probably demonstrates the restrictive nature of language itself rather than consciousness. For example, I can report that I hear music, see the drummer play and smell the barbecue, but each item is reported consecutively even though the events are taking place simultaneously and I am conscious of them occurring simultaneously. Action to material considered unattended has shown that the psychologists` restrictive definition for consciousness is incorrect. As the more general cortical ´state` instigated by multiple stimuli rather than associated with specific single stimuli, consciousness is considered more as a result of overall brain area activity and is less likely to be associated to specific areas. Brain imaging experiments support this with multiple area activity associated with the task rather than consciousness itself.

It exists at two levels: normal and heightened: the latter linked to observable heightened emotional and attentional states.

 

   

 

 

 

 

(two levels: normal cont`d.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(two levels: normal cont`d)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The above section has described consciousness as a ´state` elicited through the activation of neuronal cells in the cortical brain area. With relation to the brain memory mechanism, ´normal consciousness` appears to be registered at the beginning (conscious awareness of the stimulus) and the end (formation of the ´electrical image` brings conscious awareness of what it is and what action should be taken) of the process. If we investigate these circumstances, then we may be able to say more about how and why consciousness is present. 

Looking at the input stage of the mechanism, we know that incoming sensory information stimulates the pathways from the receptive organ to the appropriate higher brain areas. Information is either attended or unattended, which according to the psychologists means that we are consciously aware (hence, it can be verbally reported) of its input or not.  Focus of the sensory fields leads to repetitive firing and instigates the mechanism by which input is permanently stored. We assume that consciousness is associated with focus, since this is the stimulus that can be verbally reported. However, it is more likely that consciousness represents all the incoming stimuli since we can ´flit` easily from one to another without recognising anything and only verbal report fixates it to one object or the centre of the event. In this way, focus can be described as being rather like a spotlight shone on a brightly-lit stage, where the brightly-lit stage is consciousness. This idea is probably contrary to other opinion, but this is the difference between hypotheses based on consciousness defined by verbal report and those based on neuronal activation. The difference to psychology theories is that here it is suggested that if the necessary physiological equipment and functioning is present then consciousness of some level will exist even if the individual is incapable of reporting it. The variability comes from the ´report` not from the existence. Evidence for this is the case of smelling smoke whilst sleeping. Although not capable of verbal reporting, the body will act to counteract the danger signal, which means that sensory information must still be inputted and initiates stored memory recall and resulting action according to previous experience without conscious thinking. 

So, under normal circumstances, consciousness represents all the incoming information found in the sensory fields and translated into an electrical representational form in the cortical brain area. When focus brings about sufficient activation that an object is recognised then conscious awareness and hence, verbal report of that object can be made. This leads to a question about what is the minimum amount of activation required so that consciousness is said to occur. The answer is probably the amount of firing capable of leading to distinguishing a single feature. Whereas in brain memory an object is recognised only when sufficient units that make up that object are identified, consciousness is registered when that smallest unit is apparent, whether in the presence or absence of verbal report. It is part of a number of other stimuli which together make up the ´state` even if each are not large enough to be separately identified.

Brain memory activation can also occur from internal stimulus and in this case, conscious awareness is limited to the stimulus itself and the end-result. With incoming sensory input there are many stimuli within a sensory field and so consciousness is considered ´widespread`. This is not the case with internal sourcing, which may be a single stimulus or result and hence, focus lies with this one item alone. Awareness of this one stimulus is therefore much greater than when spread over multiple stimuli. Accordingly, in this case the suggested brightly-lit stage and the spotlight are one. This scenario is not uncommon and can be seen in thinking (conscious awareness of internal thoughts and outside environment simultaneously possible) and dreaming for example (conscious awareness of contents of dream and elements of outside environment simultaneously possible).

Therefore, it can be concluded that ´normal` consciousness is a ´state` elicited by neuronal firing of higher brain areas as a result of either multiple ´real-time` stimuli from the external environment and located in the sensory fields, a single internally sourced stimulus or a mixture of both. Selection of stimuli from its widespread content, whether top-down or bottom-up controlled, constitutes focus, which is necessary for certain brain memory stages. A possible metaphor is a brightly-lit stage (consciousness) with a spotlight (focus).

 

  (two levels: heightened cont`d)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(two levels: heightened cont`d)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the previous sections linking brain memory to consciousness, I have reported circumstances where consciousness or awareness appears to be heightened. This can occur in two sets of circumstances: an externally induced one where for example the fear response is initiated; or by an internal one when for example there is conflict between different cortical neuronal firing groups representing the incoming information and reactivated previously stored memories. 

In the case of a fear situation, whether instigated by reactivation of a fear emotional tag associated with the incoming information or a painful real-time first encounter, both attentional and emotional systems shift to a heightened state. In the brain memory mechanism a heightened attentional system instigated through amygdala activation is thought to bring about two changes. 

The first change is observed in informational quality and quantity of the ´real-time` attended input (essentially more quantity, but of a lower quality, i.e. less detailed).  In this case, the heightened consciousness is considered a result of the increased attended information. The brightly-lit stage representing the cortical neuronal firing cells remains the same, but the spotlight, the focus, becomes wider and probably less bright (reflecting the decrease in informational quality). External or internal influence on the focus, e.g. by the use of language or physiological priority given to certain features counteracts the informational changes caused by the heightened attentional system by bringing the focus back to relevant material, i.e. the spotlight becomes brighter and probably loses the extra width. 

The second change with the instigation of a higher attentional state is the desynchronisation of ´real-time` input from higher level activation so that the conditions of long-term memory formation are met without the need for rehearsal or repetition for that information. In this case, there is awareness of a change in ´real-time` input since external time appears to slow. This can be interpreted as the ´holding` of the electrical representation of that event in the higher brain areas and is suggested as occurring through the action of the hippocampus. The ´holding` means that this information can be likened to internally sourced stimuli. Consciousness appears heightened because it not only represents the information ´held` detached from external time (the firing cells representing this information become the focus/spotlight), it also represents other incoming information from the ´real-time` environment (the brightly-lit stage). Not all information may be verbally reported (unattended information), but evidence shows that it still is perceived and processed, e.g. running from a lion, the individual remembers many details only available later voluntarily or under hypnosis. 

In the case of an internally sourced stimulus attached to a fear emotional tag, reactivation leads to the instigation of heightened attentional and emotional states. The question of whether consciousness is heightened in this case is difficult to answer. Certainly, attentional and emotional systems will respond even if briefly and changes in incoming information quality and quantity will occur as described above. The effect on consciousness, however, is difficult to assess. In some cases, a heightened state briefly appears to occur followed by a quick shift back to normal, but in other cases, no such change is observed. It is almost like that the individual is aware that the events are ´all in the mind`, not reflected by the external environment and hence, nothing to be afraid of. Verbal report can support this, since people can talk calmly about events, which if occurring for real would have them running. 

Therefore, it can be summarised that consciousness can appear heightened in circumstances linked to fear. The shift is suggested as being linked to the changes in cortical neuronal firing induced by the fear attentional and emotional states. These states lead to reduced quality and increased quantity of information so that the widespread consciousness ´state` mirrors the widened, but less detailed focus of sensory fields. The ´holding` of information reiterates this effect by simulating the situation of internally sourced stimulus.

 

  (two levels: heightened cont`d)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(two levels: heightened cont`d)

Consciousness also appears to be heightened due to conflict observed in certain circumstances of the brain memory mechanism. Conflict situations exist during the variable storage stage and with the more complicated recall stages that of recall with processing and recall with further processing. In all situations consciousness reflects the real-time neuronal firing activity of the brain cortex.

Probably the most interesting scenarios in terms of consciousness are the recall ones because here the link between consciousness and human cognitive capability can come under discussion. It is suggested that consciousness reflects an individual`s ability to think, plan and act based on previous experience and is often regarded as that which sets humans apart from other species. The simplest recall mechanism, recall without processing, occurs when incoming information mimics previous experience. In this case, consciousness as a ´state` (the ´brightly-lit` stage) is elicited through the ´real-time` firing cortical cells representing both the current and past experience. Focus, i.e. the ´spotlight`, portrays the strongest firing cells, which can be dictated either by external, or internal factors. This type of recall is the backbone of procedural memory and automatic processing, since no conscious awareness is necessary for it to occur.

However, not all ´real-time` situations mimic previous encounters and therefore, the brain memory mechanism copes with differences by adding an extra processing stage (recall with processing). The conflict observed between the incoming information and the firing cells representing the previously stored information leads to the attentional and emotional states being heightened and informational changes occur through widening the scope of the sensory fields as described previously (i.e. quality and quantity changes), or accidental frame change (changing the viewpoint by head movement for example). This processing stage occurs in the working memory state and raises conscious awareness that the brain memory mechanism requires change for a successful conclusion. Initial consciousness changes are caused by the attentional system alterations in incoming information quality and quantity. Hence, the brightly-lit stage remains the same, but the spotlight, the focus, is widened and less bright (lower quality, but higher quantity). Top-down control through thinking or language can steer the process, by changing the focus. Hence, the brightly-lit stage remains the same (the level of information in total, attended or unattended), but the attentional system changes on the spotlight can be counteracted by reducing the focus back to normal (less wide, but brighter).

This counter effect of conscious awareness on attentional system changes to information is even more apparent with the most complicated form of recall, recall with further processing, which requires conscious participation to bring about a successful conclusion. The whole mechanism with the definition of purpose, selection of points of access, construction of options and decision-making is based on a widespread informational base (whether from current or from previous experiences) and requires conscious thinking. In this case, consciousness appears heightened due to the informational changes elicited by the attentional and emotional systems (i.e. the brightly-lit stage and widened, but less bright spotlight), and then the high level of conscious participation, which affects the focus, so that information is more relevant to the task at hand. This interplay between physiological mechanisms and conscious control is why consciousness is thought to define the individual. 

 

Consciousness reflects how, I the individual  impose, when I desire, my ´will´ on the working of real-time events whether internally or externally sourced through the application of personal past experiences, opinions and processing methods of my choice.

 

   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Concluding statements

 

 

As seen above with defining consciousness states, we can see that the individual can impose his will on the processing and learning of events by interjecting his past experiences and sets of values on the information so that cognitive functions proceed in the direction he desires. Consciousness whether under these conditions or not reflects all the information as electrical representations of the firing cortical neuronal cells. It is elicited through firing from external stimuli perceived from sensory pathways or from internal sources. Focus, representing the information relating to the task at hand, is a component of this. Conscious thinking can alter the focus from its natural position dictated by physiology or external characteristics either by steering it to other material or by reducing the level of irrelevancy. Therefore, the will of the individual can be exerted over the natural phenomena. However, the restrictive nature of conscious thinking (speed and quantity) due to its dependence on language limits its involvement and importance in many cognitive functions, including brain memory. Therefore, although it is necessary to have the ability to guide functioning, the capability of being able to process without it is invaluable and this is what is seen with the brain memory mechanism. For example recall without processing proceeds without conscious thinking and frees the brain to handle other material and tasks. Recall with further processing requires a higher level of conscious participation and therefore, concentration is centred on this task alone.  

Consciousness defined here as a state allows simultaneous processing of attended and unattended information according to perceptual load capacity conditions and can occur without the restriction of conscious thinking. Consciousness defined by verbal report and other conscious awareness methods as described by some psychologists restricts processing to only the attended, i.e. that in the focus. Therefore, the view that consciousness is a variable is not agreed with here. The definition of consciousness as a state still supports the idea of phenomenal and introspective processing as suggested by some psychologists since cortical firing relies on firing from lower brain areas and sensory organs. It also agrees in principle with the global workplace theories since the action of modules such as attention, emotion, movement are required for consciousness to exist in the form it does and allows information to be altered as required in the cognitive tasks. However, whereas the psychologist definitions lead to the exultation of the human species, the hypothesis here that consciousness is a state elicited through cortical cell firing means that any species with this type of cellular firing and task requirement can also demonstrate it. Only further investigation without the restrictive factor of language can elucidate what defines consciousness.

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