Hierarchical Brain

An explanation of the human brain

First published 1st February 2024. This is version 1.5 published 2nd March 2024.
Three pages are not yet published: sleep, memory and an index.
Copyright © 2024 Email info@hierarchicalbrain.com

Warning - the conclusions of this website may be disturbing for some people without a stable mental disposition or with a religious conviction.


Consciousness is a multi-faceted phenomenon that allows me to be aware of who and what I am, to think about what I am aware of and what I am doing, and to remember what I have done. These functions evolved because they provide a tremendous advantage for survival.

Consciousness is an exclusively personal experience and cannot be independently examined or tested; this makes it very difficult to investigate or explain using conventional scientific methods. Many theories have been put forward: some are unconventional and some do not really explain anything at all; and some people think it is not possible to explain consciousness without resorting to supernatural powers or as-yet-undiscovered laws of physics.

My hierarchical explanation of the workings of the brain using many levels of description, of which consciousness is at the highest at level 7, provides an explanation: my brain builds and maintains many symbol schemas that are representations of concepts and things in the world including of my body and my brain processes; what I call consciousness is the result of my conclusion that I am my self symbol schema, and that my self symbol schema is only aware of itself and other parts of the model of my world.

Contents of this page
My personal experiences of consciousness - five features that I think make up my consciousness.
My explanation of my experiences - my explanation of these five features in the context of this website.
Other theories of consciousness - brief outlines of some theories that other people have proposed and the issues with them.
Final points - some additional points not covered previously.
References - references and footnotes.

My personal experiences of consciousness

My explanation of my experiences

Other theories of consciousness

Final points

References For information on references, see structure of this website - references

  1. ^ Empirical support for higher-order theories of consciousness - Lau and Rosenthal 2011
    doi: 10.1016/j.tics.2011.05.009 downloadable here or see GoogleScholar.
    First paragraph: “Higher-order theories of consciousness argue that conscious awareness crucially depends on higher-order mental representations that represent oneself as being in particular mental states.”
    Second paragraph: “Conscious awareness crucially depends on higher-order representations, specifically mental states that represent oneself as being in the relevant first-order mental states.”
  2. ^ Consciousness Engineered - Graziano 2016
    Journal of Consciousness Studies, Volume 23, Numbers 11-12, 2016, pp. 98-115, downloadable here or see GoogleScholar.
    This interesting paper details how some substantial part of self-awareness could arise through what is called an “attention schema”, with parallels drawn to the “body schema”.
  3. ^ Compressionism: A Theory of Mind Based on Data Compression - Maguire, Mulhall, Maguire and Taylor 2015
    downloadable here or see GoogleScholar.
    This very interesting paper contains a discussion on how compression can lead to intelligence, but goes a lot further in its claims (see self-awareness).
    The following is a quote from an old draft page based on this paper on wikivisually which no longer exists:
    “Compressionism is the idea of representing intelligence and/or consciousness in terms of data compression. ... Compressionism proposes that the awareness of a system is something that can be quantified in terms of the data compression it carries out: conscious systems are those who [sic] data compression is so sophisticated as to be feasibly irreversible, thus forcing observers to adopt the intentional stance to make predictions about behavior.”
  4. ^ Understanding Consciousness as Data Compression - Maguire, Moser and Maguire 2016
    Journal of Cognitive Science 2016 Volume 17, Issue 1, Pages 63-94 downloadable here or see GoogleScholar.
    Despite the misleading title of this paper and some sections that I think are best ignored, section 3 (pages 68-72) has a useful discussion on compression and how it can lead to successful prediction and therefore create intelligence, and section 5.1 (page 85) touches on “self-compression”.
  5. ^ ^ General Anesthesia and Human Brain Connectivity Hudetz - 2012
    doi: 10.1089/brain.2012.0107 downloadable here or see GoogleScholar.
    This article outlines the state of understanding of the action of general anaesthetics, which is, in summary, that we do not know for sure what causes consciousness to be lost when anaesthetics are administered, but the loss of large-scale networks is one possibility.
    Middle of abstract on page 291:
    “At an anesthetic depth characterized by the subjects’ unresponsiveness, a partial, but not complete, reduction in connectivity is generally observed.”
    End of introduction, page 292: “...three aspects of brain activity during anesthesia have been studied with neuroimaging: (1) the degree of baseline activity, as reflected by regional cerebral metabolic rate (CMR) and regional cerebral blood flow (CBF), (2) the responsiveness of neuronal networks to sensory input or task, and (3) the functional connectivity of large-scale networks of the brain. Currently, functional connectivity is in the forefront of interest.”
    Beginning of conclusions on page 299: “The modulation of functional connectivity by general anesthetic agents is an active area of investigation. To date, no consensus has emerged with respect to the common neural mechanism by which anesthetics modulate the state of consciousness. The significance of functional brain connectivity changes during general anesthesia for the loss and return of consciousness remain to be confirmed.”
  6. ^ Preserved feedforward but impaired top-down processes in the vegetative state - Boly, Garrido, Gosseries, Bruno, Boveroux, Schnakers, Massimini, Litvak, Laureys and Friston 2011
    doi: 10.1126/science.1202043 downloadable here or see GoogleScholar.
    End of abstract, page 858: “We measured effective connectivity during a mismatch negativity paradigm and found that the only significant difference between patients in a vegetative state and controls was an impairment of backward connectivity from frontal to temporal cortices. This result emphasizes the importance of top-down projections in recurrent processing that involve high-order associative cortices for conscious perception.”
  7. ^ Theories of consciousness - Seth and Bayne 2022
    doi: 10.1038/s41583-022-00587-4 downloadable here or see GoogleScholar.
    Start of abstract: “Recent years have seen a blossoming of theories about the biological and physical basis of consciousness. Good theories guide empirical research, allowing us to interpret data, develop new experimental techniques and expand our capacity to manipulate the phenomenon of interest. Indeed, it is only when couched in terms of a theory that empirical discoveries can ultimately deliver a satisfying understanding of a phenomenon. However, in the case of consciousness, it is unclear how current theories relate to each other, or whether they can be empirically distinguished.”

Page last uploaded Sat Feb 17 03:10:51 2024 MST