Wednesday, October 31, 2007

A Consciousness Debate

Christof Koch and Susan Greenfield offer a written version of their Oxford University Debate in the summer of 2006 in the Oct. 2007 issue of Scientific American. While they make a point of contrasting their models of the neuronal correlates of consciousness, I think a blending of the two may most closely approach the real situation.
What happens in your brain when you see a dog, hear a voice, suddenly feel sad or have any other subjective experience?

A coalition of pyramidal neurons linking the back and front of the cortex fires in a unique way. Different coalitions activate to represent different stimuli from the senses (left). In a mouse cortex (right) these pyramidal cells (green) lie in brain layer 5, surrounded by nonneuronal cells (blue).

Neurons across the brain fire in synchrony (green) and prevail until a second stimulus prompts a different assembly to arise (orange). Various assemblies coalesce and disband moment to moment, while incorporating feedback from the body. In a rat brain (bottom), an assembly in the cortex forms (a, b), peaks (c), then decays (d) within 0.35 second after the thalamus is electrically stimulated.

Christof Koch is professor of cognitive and behavioral biology at the California Institute of Technology, where he teaches and has conducted research on the neuronal basis of visual attention and consciousness for more than two decades.

Susan Greenfield is professor of pharmacology at the University of Oxford, director of the Royal Institution of Great Britain and member of the British Parliament's House of Lords. Her research focuses on novel brain mechanisms, including those underlying neurodegenerative diseases.


  1. People seem to disagree about the NCC a lot more than their assertions seem to justify. I think it might be a bad habit picked up from the philosophers.

  2. Anonymous6:02 PM

    You should note that the debate and these illustrations are taken from the October 2007 issue of Scientific American.

  3. An oversight, thanks.