Concept: 8-Circuit Model of Consciousness
What is the level of consciousness of the psychedelic state? Empirically, measures of neural signal diversity such as entropy and Lempel-Ziv (LZ) complexity score higher for wakeful rest than for states with lower conscious level like propofol-induced anesthesia. Here we compute these measures for spontaneous magnetoencephalographic (MEG) signals from humans during altered states of consciousness induced by three psychedelic substances: psilocybin, ketamine and LSD. For all three, we find reliably higher spontaneous signal diversity, even when controlling for spectral changes. This increase is most pronounced for the single-channel LZ complexity measure, and hence for temporal, as opposed to spatial, signal diversity. We also uncover selective correlations between changes in signal diversity and phenomenological reports of the intensity of psychedelic experience. This is the first time that these measures have been applied to the psychedelic state and, crucially, that they have yielded values exceeding those of normal waking consciousness. These findings suggest that the sustained occurrence of psychedelic phenomenology constitutes an elevated level of consciousness - as measured by neural signal diversity.
The notion of a level of consciousness is a key construct in the science of consciousness. Not only is the term employed to describe the global states of consciousness that are associated with post-comatose disorders, epileptic absence seizures, anaesthesia, and sleep, it plays an increasingly influential role in theoretical and methodological contexts. However, it is far from clear what precisely a level of consciousness is supposed to be. This paper argues that the levels-based framework for conceptualizing global states of consciousness is untenable and develops in its place a multidimensional account of global states.
Our knowledge grows as we integrate events experienced at different points in time. We may or may not become aware of events, their integration, and their impact on our knowledge and decisions. But can we mentally integrate two events, if they are experienced at different time points and at different levels of consciousness? In this study, an event consisted of the presentation of two unrelated words. In the stream of events, half of events shared one component (“tree desk” … “desk fish”) to facilitate event integration. We manipulated the amount of time and trials that separated two corresponding events. The contents of one event were presented subliminally (invisible) and the contents of the corresponding overlapping event supraliminally (visible). Hence, event integration required the binding of contents between consciousness levels and between time points. At the final test of integration, participants judged whether two supraliminal test words (“tree fish”) fit together semantically or not. Unbeknown to participants, half of test words were episodically related through an overlap (“desk”; experimental condition) and half were not (control condition). Participants judged episodically related test words to be closer semantically than unrelated test words. This subjective decrease in the semantic distance between test words was both independent of whether the invisible event was encoded first or second in order and independent of the number of trials and the time that separated two corresponding events. Hence, conscious and unconscious memories were mentally integrated into a linked mnemonic representation.
Neurophysiological and neuroimaging studies including both patients with disorders of consciousness and healthy subjects with modified states of consciousness suggest a crucial role of the medial posteroparietal cortex in conscious information processing. However no direct neuropsychological evidence supports this hypothesis and studies including patients with restricted lesions of this brain region are almost non-existent. Using direct intraoperative electrostimulations, we showed in a rare patient that disrupting the subcortical connectivity of the left posterior cingulate cortex (PCC) reliably induced a breakdown in conscious experience. This acute phenomenon was mainly characterized by a transient behavioral unresponsiveness with loss of external connectedness. In all cases, when he regained consciousness, the patient described himself as in dream, outside the operating room. This finding suggests that functional integrity of the PPC connectivity is necessary for maintaining consciousness of external environment.
Understanding the neuronal basis of disorders of consciousness can help improve the accuracy of their diagnosis, indicate potential targets for therapeutic interventions, and provide insights into the organization of normal conscious information processing. Measurements of brain activity have been used to find associations of the levels of consciousness with brain complexity, topological features of functional connectomes, and disruption of resting-state networks. However, obtainment of a detailed picture of activity patterns underlying the vegetative state/unresponsive wakefulness syndrome and the minimally conscious state remains a work in progress. We here aimed at finding the aspects of fMRI-based functional connectivity that differentiate these states from each other and from the normal condition. A group of 22 patients was studied (9 minimally conscious state and 13 vegetative state/unresponsive wakefulness syndrome). Patients were shown to have reduced connectivity in most resting-state networks and disrupted patterns of relative connection strengths as compared to healthy subjects. Differences between the unresponsive wakefulness syndrome and the minimally conscious state were found in the patterns formed by a relatively small number of strongest positive correlations selected by thresholding. These differences were captured by measures of functional connectivity disruption that integrate area-specific abnormalities over the whole brain. The results suggest that the strong positive correlations between the functional activities of specific brain areas observed in healthy individuals may be critical for consciousness and be an important target of disruption in disorders of consciousness.
Brain functional connectivity undergoes dynamic changes from the awake to unconscious states. However, how the dynamics of functional connectivity patterns are linked to consciousness at the behavioral level remains elusive. Here we acquired resting-state functional magnetic resonance imaging (rsfMRI) data during wakefulness and graded levels of consciousness in rats. Data were analyzed using a dynamic approach combining the sliding-window method and k-means clustering. Our results demonstrate that whole-brain networks contain several quasi-stable patterns that dynamically recurred from the awake state into anesthetized states. Remarkably, two brain connectivity states with distinct spatial similarity to the structure of anatomical connectivity were strongly biased toward high and low consciousness levels, respectively. These results provide compelling neuroimaging evidence linking the dynamics of whole-brain functional connectivity patterns and states of consciousness at the behavioral level.
Alternative views of the nature of consciousness posit that awareness of an object is either an all-or-none phenomenon or that awareness can be partial, occurring independently for different levels of representation. The all-or-none hypothesis predicts that when one feature of an object is identified, all other features should be consciously accessible. The partial awareness hypothesis predicts that one feature may reach consciousness while others do not. These competing predictions were tested in two experiments that presented two targets within a central stream of letters. We used the attentional blink evoked by the first target to assess consciousness for two different features of the second target. The results provide evidence that there can be a severe impairment in conscious access to one feature even when another feature is accurately reported. This behavioral evidence supports the partial awareness hypothesis, showing that consciousness of different features of the same object can be dissociated.
Healing rituals can be understood in terms of configurations of two states of consciousness - a culturally elaborated everyday waking consciousness, and an enhanced and culturally elaborated state of consciousness. Two healing rituals performed by the ethnic Kachin in Southwest China differentiate these two states of consciousness in their theories of life and death. The first ritual, animal sacrifice, employs the ordinary consciousness, including will and expectation, of participants through the enhanced state of consciousness of the ritual officiant. The second, Christian prayer, utilizes the enhanced consciousness of Christian Congregation to achieve psychic transformation. These two rituals maneuver different configurations of the two states of consciousness in achieving healing efficacy.
Although it is well accepted that working memory (WM) is intimately related to consciousness, little research has illuminated the liaison between the two phenomena. To investigate this under-explored nexus, we used an imagery monitoring task to investigate the subjective aspects of WM performance. Specifically, in two experiments, we examined the effects on consciousness of (a) holding in mind information having a low versus high memory load, and (b) holding memoranda in mind during the presentation of distractors (e.g., visual stimuli associated with a response incompatible with that of the memoranda). Higher rates of rehearsal (conscious imagery) occurred in the high load and distractor conditions than in comparable control conditions. Examination of the temporal properties of the rehearsal-based imagery revealed that, across subjects, imagery events occurred evenly throughout the delay. We hope that future variants of this new imagery monitoring task will reveal additional insights about WM, consciousness, and action control.