Not mechanism. If Global Workspace Theory (GWT) is a good approach to consciousness, there is no “consciousness spot” in the brain:
Oxford neuroscientist Morten L Kringelbach is the author of Emotion: Pain and Pleasure in the Brain (2014), co-authored with Helen Phillips. Gustavo Deco, director of the Center of Brain and Cognition in Barcelona, is the author of The Noisy Brain (2010), co-authored with Edmund T Rolls. Together, Kringelbach and Deco published an open-access paper this year in Nature Human Behaviour, in which they identified the brain regions of 1000 participants that they hypothesize are a “global workspace” (the “functional rich club”) of conductors…News, “GWT: A leading consciousness theory depends on information theory” at Mind Matters News
At a high level, the brain’s conductors fuse information from the senses with memories, in their model and the processing “is further influenced by reward and expectations and by any surprising deviations from previous experiences.” Much progress has been made in understand the brain’s anatomical wiring. But here’s a puzzle:
This research has provided important insights into the brain’s anatomical hierarchy. At the same time, each brain region has different and specific local dynamics, which gives rise to the unconstrained nature of functional information flow, which is thus shaped but not fully determined by the underlying anatomy. What ultimately matters for determining the orchestration of brain function is the dynamic changes in functional information flow.Morten L Kringelbach and Gustavo Deco, “The brain has a team of conductors orchestrating consciousness” at Psyche (October 6, 2021)
A moment earlier, the authors had stressed,
The information flow within this hierarchy is highly dynamic; not just bottom-up but also top-down. In fact, recurrent interactions shape the functional processing underlying cognition and behaviour. Much of this information flow follows the underlying anatomy in the structural connections between brain regions but, equally, the information flow is largely unconstrained by this anatomical wiring.Morten L Kringelbach and Gustavo Deco, “The brain has a team of conductors orchestrating consciousness” at Psyche (October 6, 2021)
Well then, if information flow in the brain is “largely unconstrained” by anatomical wiring, it’s easy to understand why we sense that we have “minds” apart from our brains. More.
Takehome: If information flow in the brain is “largely unconstrained” by anatomical wiring, it’s no wonder that we sense that we have “minds” apart from our brains.
You may also wish to read: Quick facts on IIT, the leading theory of consciousness (if not tied with Global Workspace Theory). IIT may be part of a trend in science in which emergence and panpsychist theories are slowly replacing materialist and physicalist ones. Note that GWT is not very firmly tied to mechanism or materialism either.
Also: A theoretical physicist grapples with the math of consciousness. Sabine Hossenfelder is not very happy with what she sees. Even for the brain of a worm, the best theory on offer would, she says, take several billion years to calculate. That can’t be the right answer.