Towards an Integrative Theory of Consciousness: Part 1 (Neurobiological and Cognitive Models)

Mens Sana Monogr. 2013 Jan;11(1):100-50. doi: 10.4103/0973-1229.109335.

Abstract

The study of consciousness is poised today at interesting crossroads. There has been a surge of research into various neurobiological underpinnings of consciousness in the past decade. The present article looks at the theories regarding this complex phenomenon, especially the ones that neurobiology, cognitive neuroscience and cognitive psychology have to offer. We will first discuss the origin and etymology of word consciousness and its usage. Neurobiological correlates of consciousness are discussed with structures like the ascending reticular activating system, the amygdala, the cerebellum, the thalamus, the frontoparietal circuits, the prefrontal cortex and the precuneus. The cellular and microlevel theories of consciousness and cerebral activity at the neuronal level contributing to consciousness are highlighted, along with the various theories posited in this area. The role of neuronal assemblies and circuits along with firing patterns and their ramifications for the understanding of consciousness are discussed. A section on the role of anaesthesia and its links to consciousness is presented, along with details of split-brain studies in consciousness and altered states of awareness, including the vegetative states. The article finally discusses the progress cognitive psychology has made in identifying and theorising various perspectives of consciousness, perceptual awareness and conscious processing. Both recent and past researches are highlighted. The importance and salient features of each theory are discussed along with the pitfalls, if present. A need for integration of various theories to understand consciousness from a holistic perspective is stressed, to enable one to reach a theory that explains the ultimate neurobiology of consciousness.

Keywords: Cognitive; Consciousness; Integrative; Neurobiology.