Consciousness is very misleading, it has many theories that can formulate it. This will not be an argument on whether or not the neural correlates of consciousness (NCC) are the most important feature of consciousness. In this essay, I will explain the minimal neuronal mechanisms that are sufficient for one specific conscious percept (Crick & Koch 1990). Whether or not visual and audio awareness characterizes the NCC. I believe the problems that occur with consciousness can be solved through explanations on a neural level. The conscious depends on short term memory and a form of a serial attentional mechanism (associated with central attention). Certain animals have the neurological capacity to generate consciousness. All of these things are possible because consciousness is correlated to neurobiological networks and vice versa. If an organism does not have similar neurological substrates to that of a human, then the (non-human) animal will not be able to generate a consciousness.
There is this general agreement that we are not aware of all of the processes that occur in our head. “We are aware of many of the results of perceptual and memory processes, we have only limited access to the processes that produce this awareness” (Crick & Koch 1990, 263). In order for a being to be conscious, the brain must be in a high state of arousal. Arousal can be measured by the brain and behavioral activity through the Glasgow Coma Scale. (a neurological scale that records the conscious state of a person). “Different levels or states of consciousness are associated with different kinds of conscious experiences” (Mormann & Koch 2013). There are many forms of consciousness, such as sight, emotion, thought, pain, etc. Parts of the brain, such as the midbrain, pons and the thalamus must function in order for brain arousal to experience anything (they enable factors for consciousness). All of these nuclei are associated with the neocortex.
There are altered states of consciousness, such as a person who is intoxicated with alcohol or drugs. When someone is intoxicated, it’s obvious to say that the consciousness of the brain has clouded judgment. One does not say that that their body is intoxicated, it is the brain that is altered. But, a person does not need to be awake in order for a person to be conscious. Comatose patients or patients that have low levels of behavior still display high levels of consciousness. The “minimally conscious state” (MCS) shows different levels of consciousness from absence in coma to a fluctuating conscious sensation (Mormann & Koch 2013). Someone is who is on the breach of brain death shows little to no arousal, which means there is no conscious.
Short-term memory, also known as working memory, has an intimate relationship with consciousness. Long term memory is excluded because patients who suffer from brain damage cannot form new memories, but are still conscious. Consciousness is immediate and does not take too long for someone to be conscious of straightforward things. The visual system has several advantages for investigating the neural basis of consciousness. It is similar to primates, which makes it easier to study than other theories like self-awareness.
It’s hard to tell when an animal is conscious. Phenomenal consciousness is found in some nonhuman species. “Convergent evidence indicates that non-human animals have the neuroanatomical, neurochemical, and neurophysiological substrates of conscious states along with the capacity to exhibit intentional behaviors.” Non-human animals, including birds, all mammals, octopi and other creatures also possess these neurological substrates. Certain species of birds have been found to exhibit neural sleep patterns similar to those of mammals (REM sleep). Magpies have similarities to humans, great apes, dolphins, and elephants in experiments such as the mirror self-recognition. Neurophysiological patterns, were thought to require a mammalian neocortex. Neurons in advanced cortical areas respond to complex features, such as faces and respond to their environment differently. This all corresponds to visual awareness (which is a part of the CNS).
Whales and dolphins pick up new tricks from each other. “In 1980, a humpback whale started to catch fish off Cape Cod in a new way. It would slam its flukes down on the surface of the water— lob tailing, as it is known—then dive and swim round emitting a cloud of bubbles. . .The whale would then surge up through the middle of the bubble cloud with a mouth full of fish. By 1989, just nine years after the first Cape Cod whale started lob tail feeding, almost half the humpbacks in the area were at it” (Animal Minds, 2015). The offspring’s parents were not familiar with this kind of hunting tactic, the offspring mimicked and so on. How the first one thought of this technique is unknown, but I think it’s mental time travel. The aquatic mammal thought of a new way of capturing its prey, when it used this new technique, the mammal was able to catch an abundance of fish. This was a superior way of feeding and stuck with it. Whales and dolphins even have a sophisticated language that they have through singing or sonars. These mammals need a visual and auditory cortex (Broca’s & Wernicke’s area) to process information (located in the left hemisphere).
Visual awareness is very informational, it can switch rapidly from one object to another, but retain a large amount of information in a short amount of time. Purkinje cells ultimately affect some behaviors of eye movement. Some animals don’t have these cells, which makes it hard to test consciousness in animals. But other experiments, such as the mirror test, REM sleep or neural patterns suggest that non-human organisms are conscious just like humans. Mental capacities of animals differ in spectrums, being that one evolved from the other. Humans are not unique, especially since there’s plenty of animals that have similar neural capacities.