Academic journal article Indian Journal of Psychiatry

The Conscious Access Hypothesis: Explaining the Consciousness

Academic journal article Indian Journal of Psychiatry

The Conscious Access Hypothesis: Explaining the Consciousness

Article excerpt

Byline: Ravi. Prakash

The phenomenon of conscious awareness or consciousness is complicated but fascinating. Although this concept has intrigued the mankind since antiquity, exploration of consciousness from scientific perspectives is not very old. Among myriad of theories regarding nature, functions and mechanism of consciousness, off late, cognitive theories have received wider acceptance. One of the most exciting hypotheses in recent times has been the "conscious access hypotheses" based on the "global workspace model of consciousness". It underscores an important property of consciousness, the global access of information in cerebral cortex. Present article reviews the "conscious access hypothesis" in terms of its theoretical underpinnings as well as experimental supports it has received.

Consciousness represents one of the most complicated issues of nature, which has puzzled philosophers, scientists, mathematicians and the layman alike. Theorists have even gone to the extent saying that, this issue is analogous to other pertinent questions of nature, like origin of the four basic forces of nature and the origin of universe itself. [sup] [1],[2],[3],[4] No wonder analysts have converged from different fields to apply their ideas to find a clue to this enigma, curiosity being their major driving force. Thanks to the convergence which made the mystery emerge from the fields of abstractness and empiricism and made it an objective scientific topic in spite of its apparent intangibility.

Gravitation and Consciousness : Is the History of Science Repeating Itself ?

I find the issue very similar to the intractable problem of origin of the gravitational force. The mysterious force of gravitation is likely to resist a complete scientific description in near future. But its journey from the classical Newtonian mechanics to Einstein's space-time curvature, to Hawking's Instanton theories, has definitely been spectacular. It is exciting to see how Einstein's view of gravitation as a space-time curvature got through the scientific community and how "M" theory describes it as an interaction between dimensions of universe.[sup] [5],[6] With every new theory, newer mystic aspects came into limelight. But the approach remained that of science, involving hypothesis, testing, and implication. Looking back at the history of development of concept of consciousness, we can find a similar evolution, although at a very early stage of course. To start with, earliest records of a description of consciousness as a force (or more accurately as a field phenomenon) can be found in Indian sacred texts. Although the details of ancient concepts are out of the scope of this article, but simply speaking, they were the first to propose a non-material nature of consciousness. The words Chetna and Aatma clearly implied something very close to the entity for which we use consciousness.[sup] [7],[8],[9] Perhaps that was the origin of the dualistic approach latter echoed in the sacred writings of Bible and Quran and finally in the Descartean dualistic descriptions. Since that time, philosophical approaches ruled the arena, perhaps because of absence of proper investigational tools and sophisticated branches of science such as cognitive neuroscience and quantum mechanics. Thus, it is quite understandable that the inquisitive minds had to wait till 1940s (when interestingly both events happened simultaneously, i.e., the births of cognitive sciences and quantum mechanics and inventions of PET, SPECT, and fMRI) to begin a true scientific movement. No wonder that the following time was a period of upsurge of interest for using a rational way of studying consciousness. This interest grew exponentially, leading to proposal of new theories, carrying out of novel studies and finally establishment of new departments for consciousness in existing neuroscientific labs and of new centers for consciousness studies in 1980s. The impact of this proliferation of ideas about consciousness can be easily understood by having a look at the magnitude of the number of theories and the amount of work done on the subject, in hardly a decade of this indulgence. …

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