Sleep & Consciousness - Info



Pre-discussion working notes

What are the questions?

  1. Sleep

  1. Defining sleep - defining abnormal sleep?
  2. Is sleep a unitary state?
  3. If sleep is not a unitary state how is it divided?
  4. Are sleep stages really sleep stages or are they brain states which are revealed during sleep?
  5. When did sleep evolve?
  6. What is the function of sleep?
  7. Where is sleep located in the brain?
  8. What brain systems control sleep, and particular aspects of sleep?
  9. What psychological processes control sleep?
  1. Consciousness

  1. Defining consciousness, defining abnormal consciousness?
  2. Is consciousness a simple state?
  3. Is consciousness an object or a condition or something else?
  4. When did consciousness evolve?
  5. What is the function of consciousness?
  6. Distinguish between consciousness, self-awareness, reactivity, etc
  7. Where is consciousness located?
  8. Is consciousness located in the brain?
  9. What brain systems control consciousness, etc?
  10. What psychological process control sleep?
  11. Can machines possess consciousness, etc?
  12. Does level of consciousness vary?
  13. Defining consciousness
  1. Sleep & Consciousness

  1. Where does consciousness go during sleep? Are there multiple pathways?
  2. Did consciousness and sleep evolve together?
  3. Have consciousness and sleep evolved more than once?
  4. Sleep may have varied across history and does vary across cultures - does this influence our questions?
  5. Is everyone's consciousness the same?
  6. Where do altered states of consciousness fit in?
  1. Epistemological domains

What disciplines and specialties should be included: Biology, pre-clinical medical sciences, psychology, artificial intelligence, anthropology, history, divinity, neurology, psychiatry, clinical neurophysiology, anaesthesia, etc, etc. Should medical systems other than Western be included?

  1. WEB discussion

  1. Should the discussion be open or closed?
  2. Who should the participants be?
  3. How long should it run for?

WEB discussion

Should be located here.


This symposium starts on a discursive note. I was and still am planning a symposium to consider the history, cross-cultural anthropology and comparative biological aspects of sleep. Work in these areas is limited but the implications are very interesting - not the least being that most of our research in the past 20 years has been focussed on one possibly extreme variant of sleep. As a programme came together I was very struck how sleep research and sleep disorders had also failed to engage with consciousness research (and vice versa). So, I have proposed to run a symposium in a couple of years time on this topic.  However, time is short and given the various discussions that have occurred on the WEB in the past, and to help the RSM Sleep & its disorders Forum steering committee devise an appropriate symposium, I thought it reasonable to start a discussion on the WEB.

I am looking for help with inviting contributors both to discuss the questions posed and to pose better questions.

Possible Strands & Threads


Defining the terms
Exploring the research

Applied - Clinical

Defining abnormalities - cross-cultural anthropology, history, comparative behaviour

Applied - Non-clinical

Accidents - driving without awareness, etc
Forensic - interrogation, behaviours during sleep

Defining Consciousness

Easy Consciousness Problems (Chalmers)
the ability to discriminate, categorize, and react to environmental stimuli;
the integration of information by a cognitive system;
the reportability of mental states;
the ability of a system to access its own internal states;
the focus of attention;
the deliberate control of behavior;
the difference between wakefulness and sleep

Neural Correlates of consciousness (from Chalmers)
40-hertz oscillations in the cerebral cortex (Crick and Koch 1990)
Intralaminar nuclei in the thalamus (Bogen 1995)
Re-entrant loops in thalamocortical systems (Edelman 1989)
40-hertz rhythmic activity in thalamocortical systems (Llinas et al 1994)
Extended reticular-thalamic activation system (Newman and Baars 1993)
Neural assemblies bound by NMDA (Flohr 1995)
Certain neurochemical levels of activation (Hobson 1997)
Certain neurons in inferior temporal cortex (Sheinberg and Logothetis 1997)
Neurons in extrastriate visual cortex projecting to prefrontal areas (Crick and Koch 1995)
Visual processing within the ventral stream (Milner and Goodale 1995)

The Hard Problem of Consciousness (Chalmers)
"The really hard problem of consciousness is the problem of experience. When we think and perceive, there is a whir of information-processing, but there is also a subjective aspect. As Nagel (1974) has put it, there is something it is like to be a conscious organism. This subjective aspect is experience. When we see, for example, we experience visual sensations: the felt quality of redness, the experience of dark and light, the quality of depth in a visual field. Other experiences go along with perception in different modalities: the sound of a clarinet, the smell of mothballs. Then there are bodily sensations, from pains to orgasms; mental images that are conjured up internally; the felt quality of emotion, and the experience of a stream of conscious thought. What unites all of these states is that there is something it is like to be in them. All of them are states of experience. ...

If any problem qualifies as the problem of consciousness, it is this one. In this central sense of "consciousness", an organism is conscious if there is something it is like to be that organism, and a mental state is conscious if there is something it is like to be in that state. Sometimes terms such as "phenomenal consciousness" and "qualia" are also used here ..."
Nagel, T. 1974. What is it like to be a bat? Philosophical Review 4:435-50.

Chalmers (1995)

Francis Crick & Christof Kock
"We assume that when people talk about "consciousness," there is something to be explained. While most neuroscientists acknowledge that consciousness exists, and that at present it is something of a mystery, most of them do not attempt to study it, mainly for one of two reasons:

(1) They consider it to be a philosophical problem, and so best left to philosophers.

(2) They concede that it is a scientific problem, but think it is premature to study it now.

We have taken exactly the opposite point of view. We think that most of the philosophical aspects of the problem should, for the moment, be left on one side, and that the time to start the scientific attack is now.

We can state bluntly the major question that neuroscience must first answer: It is probable that at any moment some active neuronal processes in your head correlate with consciousness, while others do not; what is the difference between them? In particular, are the neurons involved of any particular neuronal type? What is special (if anything) about their connections? And what is special (if anything)about their way of firing? The neuronal correlate of consciousness if often referred to as the NCC. Whenever some information is represented in the NCC it is represented in consciousness."

Crick & Kock (1998)

Discussion (CLOSED)

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