How does a Serial, Integrated and Very Limited Stream of Consciousness Emerge from a Nervous System that is Mostly Unconscious, Distributed, Parallel and of Enormous Capacity?

  1. Gregory R. Bock Organizer and
  2. Joan Marsh
  1. Bernard J. Baars

Published Online: 28 SEP 2007

DOI: 10.1002/9780470514412.ch14

Ciba Foundation Symposium 174 - Experimental and Theoretical Studies of Consciousness

Ciba Foundation Symposium 174 - Experimental and Theoretical Studies of Consciousness

How to Cite

Baars, B. J. (2007) How does a Serial, Integrated and Very Limited Stream of Consciousness Emerge from a Nervous System that is Mostly Unconscious, Distributed, Parallel and of Enormous Capacity?, in Ciba Foundation Symposium 174 - Experimental and Theoretical Studies of Consciousness (eds G. R. Bock and J. Marsh), John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., Chichester, UK. doi: 10.1002/9780470514412.ch14

Author Information

  1. The Wright Institute, 2728 Durant Avenue, Berkeley, CA 94704, USA

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 28 SEP 2007

ISBN Information

Print ISBN: 9780471938668

Online ISBN: 9780470514412

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Keywords:

  • distributed capacity;
  • parallel capacity;
  • consciousness;
  • global workspace theory;
  • brain structures

Summary

Much of the nervous system can be viewed as a massively parallel, distributed system of highly specialized but unconscious processors. Conscious experience on the other hand is traditionally viewed as a serial stream that integrates different sources of information but is limited to only one internally consistent content at any given moment. Global Workspace theory suggests that conscious experience emerges from a nervous system in which multiple input processors compete for access to a broadcasting capability; the winning processor can disseminate its information globally throughout the brain. Global workspace architectures have been widely employed in computer systems to integrate separate modules when they must work together to solve a novel problem or to control a coherent new response. The theory articulates a series of increasingly complex models, able to account for more and more evidence about conscious functioning, from perceptual consciousness to conscious problem-solving, voluntary control of action, and directed attention. Global Workspace theory is consistent with, but not reducible to, other theories of limited-capacity mechanisms. Global workspace architectures must show competition for input to a neural global workspace and global distribution of its output. Brain structures that are demonstrably required for normal conscious experience can carry out these two functions. The theory makes testable predictions, especially for newly emerging, high-speed brain imaging technology.