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The Controversial Correlates of Consciousness

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The Controversial Correlates of Consciousness

New data suggest that the prefrontal cortex ignites networks supporting consciousness.


5 min read
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Neuroscientists still don’t understand the neural correlates of consciousness.

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You’re exposed to a deluge of sensory signals all day. You have some level of pure “phenomenal consciousness” of all the things you see, hear, smell, taste or feel. But you can’t attend to all of them. So how does the brain decide which signals to acknowledge and which to relegate to the subliminal realm of phenomenal consciousness? George A. Mashour’s Science article can’t solve what philosophers and scientists have been arguing about for millennia, but the article will engage anyone fascinated by the mechanisms that govern consciousness.


Scientists are exploring the mechanisms of consciousness by observing the brains of monkeys when exposed to visual stimuli.

Van Vugt et al. presented monkeys with visual stimuli, then observed two outcomes: eye movements and neuronal activity. The monkey either made a specific eye movement, implying that its brain had acknowledged and amplified the signal for further processing, or the monkey made no eye movement at all, indicating that the signal had languished along its journey to the prefrontal cortex, relegating it to the realm of phenomenal consciousness.

Eye movements were marked by robust activity in the prefrontal cortex. Lack of eye movement was associated with only...

About the Author

George A. Mashour is the Director of the Center for Consciousness Science and a professor in the department of Neurosurgery at the University of Michigan.

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