The nested hierarchy of consciousness: A neurobiological solution to the problem of mental unity

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Abstract

In spite of a resurgence in interest regarding the nature of consciousness, some puzzling aspects of the relationship between the mind and the brain remain unexplained. One particularly mysterious feature of consciousness is known in philosophy as the 'grain problem': how does the divisible and heterogeneous brain produce the subjectively unified and seamless mind? Some models of the brain-mind relationship, such as the one offered by Sperry, assume that the brain functions hierarchically like a pyramid, with consciousness mysteriously 'emerging' unified at the summit of the hierarchy. This model fails to account for the manner in which both lower and higher hierarchical levels of the brain contribute to consciousness. In this paper, I propose an alternative model of the brain-mind relationship in which the brain functions, like all living things, as a nested hierarchy. While the specific neurophysiological mechanisms behind cerebral integration require further elucidation, the difficult philosophical problem of the difference between the grain of the brain and the mind has a neurobiological explanation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)75-81
Number of pages7
JournalNeurocase
Volume6
Issue number2
DOIs
StatePublished - 2000
Externally publishedYes

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