Neural correlates of consciousness reconsidered

Conscious Cogn. 2012 Jun;21(2):681-90. doi: 10.1016/j.concog.2011.03.012. Epub 2011 Apr 13.


It is widely accepted among philosophers that neuroscientists are conducting a search for the neural correlates of consciousness, or NCC. Chalmers (2000) conceptualized this research program as the attempt to correlate the contents of conscious experience with the contents of representations in specific neural populations. A notable claim on behalf of this interpretation is that the neutral language of "correlates" frees us from philosophical disputes over the mind/body relation, allowing the science to move independently. But the experimental paradigms and explanatory canons of neuroscience are not neutral about the mechanical relation between consciousness and the brain. I argue that NCC research is best characterized as an attempt to locate a causally relevant neural mechanism and not as an effort to identify a discrete neural representation, the content of which correlates with some actual experience. It might be said that the first C in "NCC" should stand for "causes" rather than "correlates."

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Awareness
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Consciousness* / physiology
  • Humans
  • Models, Neurological
  • Neurosciences
  • Psychophysics
  • Psychophysiology
  • Visual Perception / physiology