The Neural Correlate of Consciousness (NCC)

We have a complex experience of time. We have experiences with different co- conscious elements (or parts). We experience things happening now, including changes. We also have other kinds of temporal experiences, such as episodic memory of particular events in our lives. At least, this is how it appears to us. This is our phenomenology.

We are creatures with phenomenology; we are also creatures with physical bodies. At the very least, through us, phenomenology has some relationship to the physical world. In some theories, some of the phenomenology represents the physical world and some of it does not; the part that does not is intrinsic phenomenal character. In other theories, all phenomenology represents the world. It is transparent or diaphanous (Crane 2011). As we are aware of a garden through a transparent window, or a lecture through the intricate technology behind a webcam, we are aware of the world through the phenomenology; we are not aware of the phenomenology itself.

Some parts of the physical world are more directly or intimately related to the phenomenology than are other parts. These are the parts of the physical world immediately correlated with it. Consciousness supervenes on it or is even identical to it. And this is not necessarily the part that is the content, that the phenomenology represents. It is the part of the physical world that is composed of the neural correlates of phenomenology—or, as they are usually known, the neural correlates of consciousness (NCCs).

NCCs are the neurological structures most linked to experience in the physical world. They are correlated with experience in a way other physical events are not: “A fundamental assumption is that for every mental state there is an associated neural state” write Portas et al., “We also assume that mental states are completely determined by neural states. In other words, it is impossible for there to be a change of mental state without a corresponding change in neural state” (Portas et al. 2004, 270). NCCs are “the minimal neuronal mechanisms jointly sufficient for any one specific conscious percept” (Mormann and Koch 2007).

For many physicalists, NCCs are important to understanding how consciousness is possible in a physical world. And, in most physical theories of consciousness, NCCs are enough for experience: if you have NCCs, then you have consciousness. For humans, some theories also consider them necessary for consciousness; if you lack NCCs, then you lack consciousness.

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