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Brain Res Brain Res Rev. 2002 Jun;39(1):1-28.

The neurophysics of consciousness.

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  • 1Brain Research Laboratories, NYU School of Medicine, 550 First Avenue, New York 10016, USA.


Consciousness combines information about attributes of the present multimodal sensory environment with relevant elements of the past. Information from each modality is continuously fractionated into distinct features, processed locally by different brain regions relatively specialized for extracting these disparate components and globally by interactions among these regions. Information is represented by levels of synchronization within neuronal populations and of coherence among multiple brain regions that deviate from random fluctuations. Significant deviations constitute local and global negative entropy, or information. Local field potentials reflect the degree of synchronization among the neurons of the local ensembles. Large-scale integration, or 'binding', is proposed to involve oscillations of local field potentials that play an important role in facilitating synchronization and coherence, assessed by neuronal coincidence detectors, and parsed into perceptual frames by cortico-thalamo-cortical loops. The most probable baseline levels of local synchrony, coherent interactions among brain regions, and frame durations have been quantitatively described in large studies of their age-appropriate normative distributions and are considered as an approximation to a conscious 'ground state'. The level of consciousness during anesthesia can be accurately predicted by the magnitude and direction of reversible multivariate deviations from this ground state. An invariant set of changes takes place during anesthesia, independent of the particular anesthetic agent. Evidence from a variety of neuroscience areas supporting these propositions, together with the invariant reversible electrophysiological changes observed with loss and return of consciousness, are used to provide a foundation for this theory of consciousness. This paper illustrates the increasingly recognized need to consider global as well as local processes in the search for better explanations of how the brain accomplishes the transformation from synchronous and distributed neuronal discharges to seamless global subjective awareness.

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