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Arch Ital Biol. 2010 Sep;148(3):299-322.

Information integration: its relevance to brain function and consciousness.

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Department of Psychiatry, University of Wisconsin, Madison, Wisconsin 53719, USA.


A proper understanding of cognitive functions cannot be achieved without an understanding of consciousness, both at the empirical and at the theoretical level. This paper argues that consciousness has to do with a system's capacity for information integration. In this approach, every causal mechanism capable of choosing among alternatives generates information, and information is integrated to the extent that it is generated by a system above and beyond its parts. The set of integrated informational relationships generated by a complex of mechanisms--its quale--specify both the quantity and the quality of experience. As argued below, depending on the causal structure of a system, information integration can reach a maximum value at a particular spatial and temporal grain size. It is also argued that changes in information integration reflect a system's ability to match the causal structure of the world, both on the input and the output side. After a brief review suggesting that this approach is consistent with several experimental and clinical observations, the paper concludes with some prospective remarks about the relevance of understanding information integration for analyzing cognitive function, both normal and pathological.

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