PerspectiveNeuroscience

The controversial correlates of consciousness

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Science  04 May 2018:
Vol. 360, Issue 6388, pp. 493-494
DOI: 10.1126/science.aat5616

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Summary

The mechanism of consciousness is one of the most fundamental, exciting, and challenging pursuits in 21st-century science. Although the field of consciousness studies attracts a diverse array of thinkers who posit myriad physical or metaphysical substrates for experience, consciousness must have a neural basis. But where in the brain is conscious experience generated? It would seem that, given this remarkable era of technical and experimental prowess in the neurosciences, we would be homing in on the specific circuits or precise neuronal subpopulations that generate experience. To the contrary, there is still active debate as to whether the neural correlates of consciousness are, in coarse terms, located in the back or the front of the brain (1, 2). On page 537 of this issue, van Vugt et al. (3) provide evidence that the prefrontal cortex is one of the brain regions that mediates visual consciousness. Additionally, Joglekar et al. (4) provide evidence that the prefrontal cortex is important for igniting neural networks that contribute to visual signal processing. Both studies support a model for consciousness that involves distributed and reciprocal interactions across the cortex.