The NT perspective is that neuron is a species and each of us is a neural colony of the larger Neural Tribe (NT) that inhabits a variety of body-forms.
This perspective implies a question: is any given neuron conscious?
My own take on this is – yes. The sum total of your collective neural consciousness is the equivalent of a TV screen that is made up of consciousness-pixels (neural mini-minds that watch and interpret reality). But this particular TV screen, this particular “magic mirror” of reality – unlike the TV screen in your living room – is self-aware. The neurons that you collectively are, are just as self-aware as the collective neural you that you are.
This doesn’t have to be all that surprising. Self-awareness isn’t really that lofty of a concept, it’s just am-ness, just the basic conceptual or non-conceptual sense of being. As I see it, you have it, a tree has it, anything that is alive has it. We are more familiar with this as a reactivity to stimuli. But reactivity to stimuli – a property of any life-form – is self-awareness. Indeed, self-awareness – in its basic form – is a basic prerequisite for existence. After all, life runs on a self/non-self software of adaptive duality. Now, when I say “neuron is self-aware” I do not mean to suggest that any given neuron is as richly self-aware as the entire neural colony that you are. No: neuronal self-awareness is proportionate to its informational complexity.
Following are some thoughts from Steven Sevush who originated the Single Neuron Theory of Consciousness.
“The proposed theory makes the following assumptions:
a) Each neuron in the nervous system is independently conscious, the electrical activity in each neuron’s dendritic tree serving as the neural correlate of consciousness (NCC) for that neuron.
b) For most neurons, such as those in the hypothalamus or those in the posterior sensory cortices, or for cortical interneurons, the conscious activity of the neuron would be expected to be simple and would additionally be unable to directly affect the organism’s macroscopic behavior. Such neurons would not, therefore, contribute to what is usually taken as a persons conscious behavior.
c) For a subpopulation of neurons in the lateral prefrontal cortices, however, the arrangement is such that: i) the conscious activities of the individual neurons are of a complexity and diversity sufficient to match that usually ascribed to the much of the brain as a whole; and ii) a large number of such neurons having more or less the same conscious activity at any given time summate their outputs to achieve amplification of the message emitted by any one of them.
d) As a result of this arrangement, the conscious content of an organism’s macroscopic behavior is seen to derive from the summated action of an ensemble of independently conscious neurons. Consequently, single neurons in the model serve independently as separate NCC’s; there is no combining of the individual consciousnesses into a superordinate whole-brain consciousness.”
The NT perspective posits: a neuron is a neuron is a neuron (regardless of the body that it inhabits). I don’t know about Steven Sevush, but if his theory is correct, it should then apply across various body-types – meaning, the single-neuron theory of consciousness is not just a theory of human consciousness but a theory of consciousness that applies for the entire Neural Tribe (which consists of any body-form inhabited by neurons – mammals, birds, fish, cnidarians, insects).
So, what do you think, Neuron?
Notice Steven’s language in point c) “subpopulation of neurons” – exactly! As I have written previously brain is not an organ but an organization, a neural colony/population with various brain circuits being in effect sub-populations of any given neural colony that you are.
I realize that Sevush would likely tell me that I totally missed his point, that my “pixels of consciousness” metaphor is exactly the opposite of what he is offering, that there is no overall mind that is combination of mind-pixels, that, on the contrary, the entire conscious experience you or I have right now is actually the experience of a single well-dendritically-connected neuron… Perhaps, perhaps. I love the idea, have been a fan of it for a while… but that is not the point of my post. The point of my post is to shift the understanding of what we are from the whole to the individual, from thinking that we are brain-organs to thinking of ourselves as neural organizations, and in this context Steven’s ideas serve as good theoretical back up for some of my positions. Sevush, in my reading of his thoughts, is willing to recognize a neuron as a conscious, sentient being. Same here, with the NT meme.
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Last reviewed: 15 Nov 2012