30-Second Psychology: The 50 Most Thought-provoking Psychology Theories, Each Explained in Half a Minute - Christian Jarrett 2011
Thoughts & Language
We all know what it means to be conscious, but an adequate definition of consciousness remains elusive. The contents of consciousness consist of a narrow, dynamic stream of everything we are presently aware of - our perceptions of the external world and bodily sensations, together with our thoughts, actions, emotions and memories. The contents of consciousness are commonly studied by using brain scanning to compare the brain’s responses to stimuli that enter awareness with those that do not. A common framework for studying these phenomena is the global workspace theory, proposed by Bernard Baars in 1987, which likens consciousness to a working theatre. The vast majority of neural events are unconscious processes taking place ’behind the scenes’, but some enter into conscious awareness - the ’stage’ - when they become the focus of an attentional spotlight. The spotlight is surrounded by a fringe of vaguely conscious but crucial events, and acts as a hub which both distributes important information globally and is directed by the unconscious processes taking place behind the scenes. Viewed in this way, consciousness can be thought of as a means by which the brain prioritizes, and gives us access to, the information needed for healthy functioning.
A ’spotlight of attention’ shines a bright beam on certain neural processes, which then enter into conscious awareness.
Consciousness has long been the subject of debate among neuroscientists and philosophers. Modern brain research is just beginning to provide some understanding of it, and the global workspace theory is the most useful model for interpreting the available evidence. This approach has already provided valuable insight into disorders of consciousness such as coma and the persistent vegetative state, and some suggest that conditions such as schizophrenia involve a profound alteration of processing in the global workspace.
Although science is beginning to reveal the neural correlates of consciousness, quite how the wet tissue of the brain gives rise to the immaterial mind remains as elusive as ever.