It’s common knowledge that humans’ conscious minds “reside” in the frontal cortex. Or is it?
Recent discoveries have led to an intriguing alternate theory: that consciousness, as a process, arises in and around the interaction of various brain regions.
A team of belgian researchers used EEG (electroenchephalography) technology to scan the brains of patients with brain damage who were listening to a variety of tones. The patients varied in terms of cognitive abilities, due to differences in neurological injury. The team made algorithmic models based on participants’ responses, finding that the bulk of “aware” activity coincided with exchanges between cortex and lower-level sensory machinery. These results were consistent with similar data from healthy humans and chimpanzees.
Another study with interesting findings –– more relevant to the subconscious’s role –– took place in Paris; Simon van Gaal, a neuroscientist at the Neurospin Institute, investigated the brain activity of participants given a simple button pushing task. Subjects were told to push a button every time they saw a simple symbol, unless they also saw an icon meaning “stop.” On some trials, van Gaal and his team flashed the stop symbol quickly enough to escape top-level conscious notice; yet subjects still hesitated. According to MRI and EEG data, it appeared that some of the unconscious’s inhibitory signaling actually made it all the way into the cortical regions, despite the subject’s lack of awareness of them. Van Gaal posits that it is the exchange of information between regions that thus correlates with conscious intent.