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Published 1990 | Published
Journal Article Open

Towards a neurobiological theory of consciousness


Visual awareness is a favorable form of consciousness to study neurobiologically. We propose that it takes two forms: a very fast form, linked to iconic memory, that may be difficult to study; and a somewhat slower one involving visual attention and short-term memory. In the slower form an attentional mechanism transiently binds together all those neurons whose activity relates to the relevant features of a single visual object. We suggest this is done by generating coherent semi-synchronous oscillations, probably in the 40-70 Hz range. These oscillations then activate a transient short-term (working) memory. We outfit several lines of experimental work that might advance the understanding of the neural mechanisms involved. The neural basis of very short-term memory especially needs more experimental study.

Additional Information

c1990 by W. B Saunders Company. We thank John Allman, Bernard Baars, Patricia Churchland, Paul Churchland, Antonio Damasio, Charles Gray, BelaJulesz, Dan Kammen, Georg Kreisel, and Leslie Orgel for helpful comments on earlier versions of the manuscript and thank Jennifer Altman especially for extensive improvements to the sumitted manuscript. F.C. is supported by the J. W. Kieckhefer Foundation. C.K. is supported by the Air Force Office of Scientific Research, a Presidential Young Investigator Award from NSF and by the James S. McDonnell Foundation.

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September 15, 2023
October 23, 2023