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  • Level: GCSE
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Is there a neural correlate of consciousness?

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South Bank University, BSC Psychology

Is there a neural correlate of consciousness?

The following essay provides an argument addressing a neural correlate of consciousness by presenting Crick and Koch’s (1990) theory of visual experience and Block’s (1995) concepts of consciousness.  

Although consciousness is the most familiar and intimate thing to us, at the same time is the biggest mystery which many attempted to solve but for now it has proven somewhat unsuccessful. As Charmers (1995) puts it: “Consciousness poses the most baffling problems in the science of mind. There is nothing that we know more intimately than conscious experience, but there is nothing that is harder to explain.” (in Blackmore, 2003, p 7).

How does it feel to write this essay at this moment in time? Do my colleagues who chose the same topic feel the same while writing? No one can have exactly the same feeling of writing as I have. Do I know that the colour of this paper that I am writing on (for the sake of argument let’s presume that they write on the same paper with the same pencil) and the colour of the ink of my pencil is experienced the same by my colleagues? I do not know. Consciousness is my private experience. No one else can know how it is like for me to see this paper and this pencil, nor can I exactly tell my colleagues. I can say the paper is white and the pencil is grey, but my experience of white and grey is not the same as the experience of any of my colleagues.

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The cat’s visual cortex study in the 1980s has showed neural firing oscillations in the range of 35 to 75 Hertz (times per seconds) in which a synchronized firing of a large number of neurons occurs (Blackmore, 2003). Crick & Koch, (1990) proposed that the biding occurs when “the neurons in different parts or cortex responding to the currently perceived object fire action potentials at about the same time” (in Young & Block, 1996, p 152). Thus, the brain by some mean co-ordinates activity between and within different regions responsible for visual perception in order to attain a joined percept (Young & Block, 1996). As Crick & Koch, (1990) put it: while “paying attention to friend discussing some points with you, neurons in area MT (respond to the motion of his face), neurons in area V4 (respond to its hue), neurons in auditory cortex (respond to the words he is saying) and perhaps memory traces involved in face recognition”, all bind together in order to “produce” the perception of your friend’s face. (in Young & Block, 1996, p 152). Biding is caused by neural firings in the cerebral cortex which come to be synchronized at 40 to 75 Hertz. ( Crick and Koch, 1990 in Young & Block, 1996). Young and Block (1996) make an objection that the account is only partial, because”binding through synchronized activity is already being incorporated into some computer simulations”, but this is not a proof that computers are conscious (p 153).

Because the most what goes on in the nervous system is unconscious, they reasoned that must be a special place in the brain where conscious experience takes place (Crick & Koch, 1990 in Blackmore, 2003).

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The phenomenal consciousness is considered to be a problem and it seems that neural correlates of consciousness did not solve this problem. It gave us an informational picture of what is going on in the brain when we visually perceive something but the mystery of qualia still needs the answer. “Consciousness is indeed a deep mystery…The reason for this mystery, I maintain, is that our intelligence is wrongly designed for understanding consciousness” (McGinn, 1999 in Blackmore, 2003, p33). Obviously, the solution is not to dismiss a possibility of ever finding the answer, our intelligence is designed to solve or better said to put together the pieces of the puzzle to read how the brain works. Once again, the question is when and what route we should take to achieve that quest.  


Block, N. (1995) Concepts of consciousness. In Block, N., Flanagan, O. & Guzeldere, G. (1997). The nature of Consciousness: Philosophical Debates. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press.

Block, N. (1998). How Not To Find the Neural Correlate of Consciousness. www.nye.edu/gsas/dept/philo/faculty/block/papers/Neural Correlate.html. 04.05.04.

Block, N. (forthcoming). Consciousness, Philosophical issues about. To appear in The Encyclopaedia of Cognitive Science.

Crick, F. & Koch, C. (1998). Consciousness and Neuroscience. In Bechtel et al. (2001) Philosophy and the Neurosciences: A Reader. Oxford: Blackwell.

Crick, F. & Koch, C. (2003). A framework for consciousness. Nature Neuroscience, 6, p119-126.

Kalat, J.W. (2001). Biological Psychology. London: Wadsworth Thomson Learning.

Young, A. & Block, N. (1996). Consciousness. In Bruce, V. (Ed.) Unsolved Mysteries of the Mind: Tutorial Essays in Cognition. Hove, East Sussex: Erlbaum: (UK) Taylor & Francis.

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