Concept: Unconscious mind
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.
A foundational issue in the study of unconscious processing concerns whether the stimuli of interest are truly out of awareness. Objective methods employing forced choice are typically championed as the gold standard and widely thought to be conservative. Here, however, as a case study, we demonstrate an underestimation of awareness in a collection of studies on unconscious cognitive control. Specifically, we found that (a) in addition to genuine unawareness, chance performance could be due to a failure to perform the task; (b) visual awareness for low-visibility trials was elevated when mixed with high-visibility trials compared with when presented alone as demonstrated in both objective awareness (forced-choice performance) and subjective awareness (rating based on a perceptual awareness scale); and © the elevation effect was partly due to a shape-specific template enhancement at both the block and intertrial levels. We term the awareness elevation effect priming of awareness: Visual priming fundamentally alters awareness, boosting otherwise invisible objects into consciousness. These results implicate two key requirements for measuring awareness: (a) verify that participants are truly performing the awareness task and (b) use all types of trials in the awareness test as in the main experiment. Priming of awareness is consistent with an expanded model of awareness and top-down attention in which awareness is determined by (a) retinal stimulus strength and (b) both goal-dependent and goal-independent extra-retinal modulation.
When subjects become unconscious, there is a characteristic change in the way the cerebral cortex responds to perturbations, as can be assessed using transcranial magnetic stimulation and electroencephalography (TMS-EEG). For instance, compared to wakefulness, during non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep TMS elicits a larger positive-negative wave, fewer phase-locked oscillations, and an overall simpler response. However, many physiological variables also change when subjects go from wake to sleep, anesthesia, or coma. To avoid these confounding factors, we focused on NREM sleep only and measured TMS-evoked EEG responses before awakening the subjects and asking them if they had been conscious (dreaming) or not. As shown here, when subjects reported no conscious experience upon awakening, TMS evoked a larger negative deflection and a shorter phase-locked response compared to when they reported a dream. Moreover, the amplitude of the negative deflection-a hallmark of neuronal bistability according to intracranial studies-was inversely correlated with the length of the dream report (i.e., total word count). These findings suggest that variations in the level of consciousness within the same physiological state are associated with changes in the underlying bistability in cortical circuits.
We experience the world as a seamless stream of percepts. However, intriguing illusions and recent experiments suggest that the world is not continuously translated into conscious perception. Instead, perception seems to operate in a discrete manner, just like movies appear continuous although they consist of discrete images. To explain how the temporal resolution of human vision can be fast compared to sluggish conscious perception, we propose a novel conceptual framework in which features of objects, such as their color, are quasi-continuously and unconsciously analyzed with high temporal resolution. Like other features, temporal features, such as duration, are coded as quantitative labels. When unconscious processing is “completed,” all features are simultaneously rendered conscious at discrete moments in time, sometimes even hundreds of milliseconds after stimuli were presented.
- Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
- Published over 5 years ago
Unconsciousness is a fundamental component of general anesthesia (GA), but anesthesiologists have no reliable ways to be certain that a patient is unconscious. To develop EEG signatures that track loss and recovery of consciousness under GA, we recorded high-density EEGs in humans during gradual induction of and emergence from unconsciousness with propofol. The subjects executed an auditory task at 4-s intervals consisting of interleaved verbal and click stimuli to identify loss and recovery of consciousness. During induction, subjects lost responsiveness to the less salient clicks before losing responsiveness to the more salient verbal stimuli; during emergence they recovered responsiveness to the verbal stimuli before recovering responsiveness to the clicks. The median frequency and bandwidth of the frontal EEG power tracked the probability of response to the verbal stimuli during the transitions in consciousness. Loss of consciousness was marked simultaneously by an increase in low-frequency EEG power (<1 Hz), the loss of spatially coherent occipital alpha oscillations (8-12 Hz), and the appearance of spatially coherent frontal alpha oscillations. These dynamics reversed with recovery of consciousness. The low-frequency phase modulated alpha amplitude in two distinct patterns. During profound unconsciousness, alpha amplitudes were maximal at low-frequency peaks, whereas during the transition into and out of unconsciousness, alpha amplitudes were maximal at low-frequency nadirs. This latter phase-amplitude relationship predicted recovery of consciousness. Our results provide insights into the mechanisms of propofol-induced unconsciousness, establish EEG signatures of this brain state that track transitions in consciousness precisely, and suggest strategies for monitoring the brain activity of patients receiving GA.
Consciousness never fades during waking. However, when awakened from sleep, we sometimes recall dreams and sometimes recall no experiences. Traditionally, dreaming has been identified with rapid eye-movement (REM) sleep, characterized by wake-like, globally ‘activated’, high-frequency electroencephalographic activity. However, dreaming also occurs in non-REM (NREM) sleep, characterized by prominent low-frequency activity. This challenges our understanding of the neural correlates of conscious experiences in sleep. Using high-density electroencephalography, we contrasted the presence and absence of dreaming in NREM and REM sleep. In both NREM and REM sleep, reports of dream experience were associated with local decreases in low-frequency activity in posterior cortical regions. High-frequency activity in these regions correlated with specific dream contents. Monitoring this posterior ‘hot zone’ in real time predicted whether an individual reported dreaming or the absence of dream experiences during NREM sleep, suggesting that it may constitute a core correlate of conscious experiences in sleep.
- Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
- Published over 3 years ago
The controversial idea that information can be processed and evaluated unconsciously to change behavior has had a particularly impactful history. Here, we extend a simple model of conscious decision-making to explain both conscious and unconscious accumulation of decisional evidence. Using a novel dichoptic suppression paradigm to titrate conscious and unconscious evidence, we show that unconscious information can be accumulated over time and integrated with conscious elements presented either before or after to boost or diminish decision accuracy. The unconscious information could only be used when some conscious decision-relevant information was also present. These data are fit well by a simple diffusion model in which the rate and variability of evidence accumulation is reduced but not eliminated by the removal of conscious awareness. Surprisingly, the unconscious boost in accuracy was not accompanied by corresponding increases in confidence, suggesting that we have poor metacognition for unconscious decisional evidence.
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.
This article is about the Freud-Frink-Brill relationship, certain events in the history of psychoanalysis in the United States in the years 1919 to 1925, and some speculative explanations for these events. It is not a critique of psychoanalytic theory or practice.
Consciousness remains a mystery-“a phenomenon that people do not know how to think about-yet” (Dennett, , p. 21). Here, I consider how the connectionist perspective on information processing may help us progress toward the goal of understanding the computational principles through which conscious and unconscious processing differ. I begin by delineating the conceptual challenges associated with classical approaches to cognition insofar as understanding unconscious information processing is concerned, and to highlight several contrasting computational principles that are constitutive of the connectionist approach. This leads me to suggest that conscious and unconscious processing are fundamentally connected, that is, rooted in the very same computational principles. I further develop a perspective according to which the brain continuously and unconsciously learns to redescribe its own activity itself based on constant interaction with itself, with the world, and with other minds. The outcome of such interactions is the emergence of internal models that are metacognitive in nature and that function so as to make it possible for an agent to develop a (limited, implicit, practical) understanding of itself. In this light, plasticity and learning are constitutive of what makes us conscious, for it is in virtue of our own experiences with ourselves and with other people that our mental life acquires its subjective character. The connectionist framework continues to be uniquely positioned in the Cognitive Sciences to address the challenge of identifying what one could call the “computational correlates of consciousness” (Mathis & Mozer, ) because it makes it possible to focus on the mechanisms through which information processing takes place.