Thursday, August 28, 2014

Claustrum? Consciousness?

The claustrum is being associated with conscious-"ness".

A decade ago, Christof Koch and Francis Crick (before he died) wondered, What is the function of the claustrum? (pdf).

Here is a new news story about this part of the brain: What the Claustrum Does—How One Makes Up One’s Mind

The claustrum consists of a thin yet broad sheet of neurons buried in the depths of the brain. Until recently its function has been obscure. Because it is directly connected to nearly every other region of the brain – especially the cortex – Francis Crick and Christof Koch suggested a decade ago that it might have something to do with consciousness...perhaps the claustrum gets it all together and acts, as Crick and Koch suggested, as the conductor of the brain’s orchestra... Recently, my colleagues (Smythies and Ramachandran) and I have suggested that the claustrum operates by strengthening the synchronized gamma frequency oscillations in the cortex that play a key role in coordinating the brain’s input and output. For example, two different sensory inputs will activate and set-up synchronized oscillations in two particular zones within the claustrum. These will be subject to further modulation by saliency mechanisms that signal the importance (i.e., significance and reward value) of what is going on. These two groups of cortico-claustro-cortical oscillations then compete on a “winner-takes-all” basis. The winner gets to activate the motor cortex (in essence, to “make it so!”) and a particular behavior results.
We should probably not get too excited though. As Robert Burton points out in BrainSciencePodcast 96, and in his book, "A Skeptic's Guide to the Mind: What Neuroscience Can and Cannot Tell Us About Ourselves", using the mind to study the brain is one thing, but using the mind to try to study the mind is an exercise in futile circularity, and there is simply no way out of the trap. 
Not that people aren't going to keep on trying. 
And telling stories.

Also, meanwhile, there are other bits involved that surely have something to do with something, e.g. the dorsal medial habenula (a part that is likely somewhat dysfunctional in me), that manages mood, motivation, desire to exercise.

Maybe everything influences everything.
Maybe, as soon as one wakes up in the morning, everything is a repeatable/repetitive neurotag.
Maybe everything is a verb, not a noun.

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