The neural hierarchy of consciousness: A theoretical model and review on neurophysiology and NCCs

Neuropsychologia. 2022 May 3;169:108202. doi: 10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2022.108202. Epub 2022 Mar 8.


The chief undertaking in the studies of consciousness is that of unravelling the neural correlates of consciousness. To this day, this crusade remains at an impasse, with a clash of two main theoretical stances: the Global Neuronal Workspace and the Recurrent Processing. Yet, cellular and neurophysiological studies of consciousness have been mostly dissociated from the two. Herein, a theoretical review will be put forth with the aim to change that. In its first half, I will cover the hard available evidence on the neurophysiology of consciousness, and in its second half, I will weave a theoretical model that reconciles the all-or-none cortical ignition (P3b) and graded recurrent processing (VAN) theories on the basis of neurophysiological evidence. As should be made clear, this Neural Hierarchy model substantiates and expands on a novel take on conscious awareness: the levels of processing approach, partitioning the conscious architecture into lower- and higher-order, graded and nonlinear.

Keywords: GNW; NCC; P3b; VAN; all-or-none; apical dendrite; burst firing; consciousness; cortical ignition; graded; levels of processing; nonlinear; recurrent processing.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Consciousness* / physiology
  • Humans
  • Models, Theoretical
  • Neurons* / physiology
  • Neurophysiology