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Consciousness Without a Cortex

Posted Dec. 18, 2013 by dustproduction in Open

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commented on March 28, 2015
by Imagination



Where is consciousness house in the human body, in the cerebral cortex?

“The tacit consensus concerning the cerebral cortex as the ‘organ of consciousness,’ ” writes Swedish neuroscientist named Bjorn Merker, may “have been reached prematurely, and may in fact be seriously in error.”

  • Anonymous Icon

    Imagination Mar 28, 2015

    Partial keys to consciousness: Reticular formation of the brain stem/surrounding areas/12 pairs cranial nerves - midbrain - thalamus - prefrontal cortex; also, there is an aspect of the cerebellum which is a factor too. (Simplified/oversimplified). http://www.neurologynow.com/

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    dustproduction Jan 02, 2014

    The introduction into the conversation of 'fraud in science' suggests to others that one is casting aspersions on the credibility of the scientists being cited or quoted here. The comment is irrelevant to the discussion

  • mrmathew1963 Jan 02, 2014

    G'day Dusty

    Yes I agree, it's worthwhile being sceptical about all sources of info but I wouldn't agree that there is more fraud in business & spirituality especially per populous. For example there are far more people into spirituality so of course there is going to be more fraud but of course there shouldn't be however I suppose you could say the same thing about science as well. I think if anyone did a study they would find there is no more fraud in one area than another as it's all based on simular human characters.

    When people personally accuse others of being a science basher & spiritual basher it's quite a compliment because it just shows you how unbiased these people are.

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    dustproduction Jan 02, 2014

    RE: We must also take into consideration that Neurologists & Psychologists who conducts these studies could be trying to make a name for themselves as has been previously discussed on IONS before about how some scientists commit fraud to big note themselves.

    Yes, I agree, it is always worthwhile to be 'skeptical' but not just of science but of BELIEF as well. There is even more FRAUD in the business of spirituality than in science, which seeks self regulates its institution.
    We do have a responsibility to confirm the reputability of a study or the scientist presenting the research, or even the reliability of the source. But the accumulation of data about particular research does not rely on only one individual. Many many scientists are researching the brain and how it works. There is a larger body of knowledge that build a working understanding that is no longer in dispute. There are are areas where research is inconclusive and still remains theoretical. We all know the differences between the two.

    That said, I trust that others will also ignore the naysayers and anti science comments that cannot or will not discern for themselves which scientific information is useful.

    I welcome any feedback about the sources I provide about its credibility.

  • mrmathew1963 Jan 01, 2014

    To everyone

    Be very careful in continuing to strongly say & insinuate people are delusional when you disagree with them or you personally dislike the way they reason, this has happened numerous times in these discussions. Neurology/psychology are but one avenue of evidence which doesn’t make other evidence null & void especially from actual experiences. You cannot state that people who see ghosts or who experiences other things in relation to spiritual awareness are delusional which does seem to be the case here, at times, in these discussions.

    It makes no logical sense to accuse others of having delusional episodes when they just might not be. We must also take into consideration that Neurologists & Psychologists who conducts these studies could be trying to make a name for themselves as has been previously discussed on IONS before about how some scientists commit fraud to big note themselves. All possibilities should be considered not just the ones we want to personally consider because of our biases!!

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    dustproduction Jan 01, 2014

    These comment was posted previously but it support the statement regarding out of body illusions.

    "There are some interesting experiments demonstrated here in this video. The entire video is a discussion of consciousness but starting at minute 29:00 there is some research specific to the virtual aspects of our conscious experience.


    The experience demonstrates the sensation of an out of body, in fact in an alternative bodily experience. But is is merely an illusion bases in orientation to a self."

  • NoetPoet Jan 01, 2014

    What is it about the brain that makes you think it is a telephonic communication system? Can you point to particular parts or processes in the brain which support this hypothesis? It is all well and good to point to your own subjective (and therefore unverifiable) out-of-body experiences, but if what you say is true then there should be corresponding evidence in objective material reality.

    Out-of-body experiences have been shown to be products of misperception, more specifically neurological glitches in proprioception. For example, one experiment I’ve read of involved a robot with remote-controlled hands and cameras for eyes, and a person wearing a pair of gloves that could be used to control the robot’s hands plus a pair of electronic goggles which received real-time images from the robot’s camera “eyes”. When the person saw the world through the “eyes” of the robot and moved the robot’s hands by moving their own hands, they had the uncanny sense that their consciousness had been transferred out of their own body and into the robot. But of course all that had happened was that their sensory data had been altered in a way that affected their proprioception.

    It seems likely that out-of-body experiences are really just illusions created by the brain under conditions of unusually altered sensory data, certain drugs, stress and/or self-hypnosis: the sensory data is still being received, but there is a dissociative effect whereby the person is trying to (or being forced to) detach from the situation. Because it is effectively a very sophisticated computer, it is quite easy under such conditions for the brain to “change camera angles” by using available sensory and memory data to make an educated guess at what a scene would look like from a different perspective to everyday eye-perspective.

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    dustproduction Jan 01, 2014

    BTW, a reminder to please stay on topic. There are other discussion that allow for and accommodate metaphysical belief.

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    dustproduction Jan 01, 2014

    Any explanation that doe not account for the physical interface is incomplete.

  • mrmathew1963 Jan 01, 2014

    G'day Theta

    Well said, it's a vessel that's all. It's typical of the ego to try to tell us that our physical self is something more tangible, the brain is only as smart as what we instil in it, if it was so smart why aren’t we all Albert Einstein’s from the beginning or in some time in our lives?

    I don’t myself agree totally that this vessel is an illusion however, it’s not all we are & it is fabricated from consciousness itself but because consciousness isn’t of time everything has always existed in pure conscious form, even our illusions have always existed however not physically. I suppose in this you could say physicality is an illusion because it hasn’t always existed in my mind.

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    dustproduction Jan 01, 2014

    Re: We are our own soul, we are our own spirit.

    "We are" is a rather declarative statement that needs substantiation to turn it into more than a supposition. We are neurons, as well as other biological parts the are all interconnected. This is much confirmed.
    The only way this statement can make sense, linguistically is for it to be qualified, as in, I believe we are our own soul, I believe we are our own spirit. This identifies it as the supposition that it is.
    This issue of language has been address in these discussions before.

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    Theta Jan 01, 2014

    There is no organ of consciousness in the body. We are our own soul, we are our own spirit. The brain is just a telephonic communication system.
    I had several experiences of expanded consciousness out of the body and the source of my awareness was not the brain or any other body part.
    It is not an illusion and one can perceive the whole experience very well.
    Instead of so much talking and speculation just be 5 feet back of your body and find out by yourself.

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    dustproduction Dec 29, 2013

    Yes, this sounds about right. Add to this the idea that the neurons are networked together. Here's a video of a clear zebra fish:


  • NoetPoet Dec 29, 2013

    I think Damasio is correct in saying that the self is a process and that it is a necessary part of consciousness. Certainly it is essential to *self* awareness. From what I can tell, the self emerges gradually over the formative years of a person's life as a result of extensive and continuous memory building and habit formation. Short and long term memory are the stuff of which the self is made, and what we call "self" is really a continuous memory- and stimuli-based feedback process which is continually telling itself how solid and real it is.

    I would also agree that consciousness exists in other animals in portion to their sense of self.

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    dustproduction Dec 26, 2013

    The discussion of the brain stem is intended to develop a better understanding of the cerebral cortex role in consciousness, in that, in its absence there is sometime more than the vegetative state we find in individuals with anencephhaly. With hydranencephely the individuals express limited awareness and are "minded;" ex. able to demonstrate facial emotions like joy in appropriated situations.
    "What is consciousness made of?" asks Damsio, "mind with a twist:" we cannot be conscious without a mind to be conscious of.

    By declaring, "I believe conscious minds arise when a self process is added onto a basic mind process," Damasio takes the position that there is indeed a self, that the self is a process and not a thing, and that it is a necessary part of consciousness. The self is an observer, "appreciating a dynamic object," as constituted by certain workings in the mind, and that the self is a knower, "the process that gives a focus to our experience" and additionally allows us to reflect on those experiences.
    Is there disagreement then that consciousness exists in other animals in portion to their sense of self?

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    dustproduction Dec 25, 2013

    An article in the NY Times notes the research of Swedish neuroscientist Bjorn Merker and his paper on the condition is called hydranencephaly. Antonio Demasio point to similar research, and draws the same conclusions, although I do not think he is referencing Merker's research.

    From Damasio's book, "Self Comes to Mind":

    "For a variety of reasons, children can be born with intact brain-stem structures but largely absent telencephalic structures, namely, the cerebral cortex, the thalamus, and the basal ganglia. This unfortunate condition is commonly due to a major stroke, occurring in utero, as a result of which all or most of teh cerebral cortex is damaged and reabsorbed, leaving the skull cavity filled with the cerebrospinal fluid. This is known as hydranencephaly, to distinguish it from developmental defects, generally known an anencephaly, that comproomise other structures beside the cerebral cortex. The affected children can survive for many years, even past adolescence, and are often dismissed as "vegetative." They are commonly institutionalized.

    "These children, however, are anything but vegetative. On the contrary, they are awake and behaving. To a limited but by no means negligible extent,l they can communicate with their caregivers and interact with the world. They are patently minded in a way that patients in a way that patients in a vegetative state or akinetic mutism are not. Their misfortune provides a rate window into the sort of mind that can still be engendered when the cerebral cortex is absent.

    Damasio, Antonio (2010-11-09). Self Comes to Mind: Constructing the Conscious Brain (Kindle Location 1312, apparently in chapter 3). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

    also managed to find the reference. Damasio's mention of hydranencephaly is pages 80-83, 119.

    He cites the research of Alan D. Shewmon, Gregory L. Holmes, and Paul A Byrne, "Consciousness in Congenitally Decorticate Children" for the reference that you quoted. However on page 75, in his initial discussion on the brain stems role in consciousness, Damasio writes, "Among those who have championed the idea with great passion, I single out Jack Panksepp. This idea, and that of early feelings arising in the brain stem, are of a piece." The footnote here says, "Bjorn Merker is another author who has argued for the brain stem as an origin for the mind and even for consciousness in, "Consciousness Without a Cerebral Cortex," Behavioral and Brain Science 30 (2007) 63-81
    Damasio further mentions, on page 83, "A Note On The Superior Colliculus," Panksepp, Merker, and the research of Bernard Strehler as the "notable exceptions" that take these brain areas into account when considering awareness and consciousness.

  • NoetPoet Dec 19, 2013

    The brain stem is definitely a very busy part of the brain performing a wide array of functions, so I would imagine that it is a major contributor to consciousness. Though I suspect that it is the sheer volume and complexity of (inter-)activity occuring within the brain stem which contributes to consciousness, rather than a specific consciousness-producing function within the brain stem.

  • Anonymous Icon

    dustproduction Dec 19, 2013

    Thanks for the reply, and yes, I can subscribe to this thinking as well/

    Merker is suggesting that the brain stem contributes to consciousness, something that is referenced in Damasio's book "Self Comes to Mind."

  • NoetPoet Dec 18, 2013

    My guess is that consciousness is not housed in any one particular part of the body or brain, but that it is a systems process, i.e. an illusion kind of like the illusion of moving pictures on a cinema screen, generated by the extremely rapid and complex interaction between various mental faculties which are traditionally considered to happen "within" consciousness, e.g. sensory perception, recollection, thought formation.

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