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The Intrinsic Activity of the Brain and Its Relation to Levels and Disorders of Consciousness

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Science and philosophy still lack an overarching theory of consciousness. We suggest that a further step toward it requires going beyond the view of the brain as input-output machine and focusing on its intrinsic activity, which may express itself in two distinct modalities, i.e. aware and unaware. We specifically investigate the predisposition of the brain to evaluate and to model the world. These intrinsic activities of the brain retain a deep relation with consciousness. In fact the ability of the brain to evaluate and model the world can develop in two modalities, implicit or explicit, that correspond to what we usually refer to as the unconscious and consciousness, and both are multilevel configurations of the brain along a continuous and dynamic line. Starting from an empirical understanding of the brain as intrinsically active and plastic, we here distinguish between higher cognitive functions and basic phenomenal consciousness, suggesting that the latter might characterize the brain's intrinsic activity as such, even if at a very basic level. We proceed to explore possible impacts of the notion of intrinsic cerebral phenomenality on our understanding of consciousness and its disorders, particularly on the diagnosis and management of patients with disorders of consciousness.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: January 1, 2017

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