Send to

Choose Destination
J Theor Biol. 2001 Aug 21;211(4):377-91.

The sense of consciousness.

Author information

Department of Psychology and Institute for Social Research, The University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI 48109, USA.

Erratum in

  • J Theor Biol 2001 Sep 21;212(2):271.


I propose that consciousness might be understood as the property of a system that functions as a sense in the biological meaning of that term. The theory assumes that, as a complex system, the sense of consciousness is not a fixed structure but implies structure with variations and that it evolved, as many new functions do, through the integration of simpler systems. The recognized exteroceptive and enteroceptive senses provide information about the organism's environment and about the organism itself that are important to adaptation. The sense of consciousness provides information about the brain and thus about the organism and its environment. It senses other senses and processes in the brain, selecting and relating components into a form that "makes sense"-where making sense is defined as being useful to the organism in its adaptation to the environment. The theory argues that this highly adaptive organizing function evolved with the growing complexity of the brain and that it might have helped resolve discrepancies created at earlier stages. Neural energies in the brain that are the input to the sense of consciousness, along with the processing subsystem of which they are a part, constitute the base of consciousness. Consciousness itself is an emergent effect of an organizing process achieved through the sense of consciousness. The sense of consciousness thus serves an organizing function although it is not the only means of organization in the brain. Its uniqueness lies in the character of the organization it creates with consciousness as a property of that organization. The paper relates the theory to several general conceptions-interactionism, epiphenomenalism and identity theory-and illustrates a number of testable hypotheses. Viewing consciousness as a property of a sense provides a degree of conceptual integration. Much of what we know about the evolution and role of the conventionally recognized senses should help us understand the evolution and role of the sense of consciousness, and of consciousness itself.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]
Free full text

Supplemental Content

Full text links

Icon for Elsevier Science Icon for MLibrary (Deep Blue)
Loading ...
Support Center