Consciousness is a final integrative process, it represents a very small fraction of the neurological brain work. If it takes a percentage of neurons, I would say that over 90% work for the subconscious processes. Note that during sleep, while the usual consciousness is absent, the neuronal firing remains also active on functional MRI. A percentage is however arbitrary since there is no clear boundary between conscious and unconscious processes. More the work of a neural group is separated from consciousness by a large number of successive levels of integration, the less it is present.
Many might also think that this percentage is variable because our states of consciousness largely change during the day, the night, the self-performed improvement of consciousness. Does meditation widens the field of consciousness, and therefore the part of the mind involved? If you pay attention to the sensations from your big toe, do you expand the field of your consciousness to the sensory neurons involved in this part of your anatomy?
In reality what is changing is the attention, that is to say how the retro-control of the conscious network throughout the mind is exercised. It can be focused or not. It can affect certain mental functions over others. If set on pleasant feelings, love, collectivism, you will feel part of a Great Whole, and experience better sensitivity with respect to certain sensory afferents usually in the background. This does not mean that your consciousness will be extended to more neurons. You probably use some of integrating neurons over others in this situation, which creates this different consciousness, capping a set of specific mental functions.
If, on the contrary, you focus your attention on passing a thread through the eye of a needle, you evacuate from your consciousness a large amount of other perceptions, which are always potentially present, but do not have the same “celebrity” to this time in the integrator network.
We could restore the importance of consciousness by saying that qualitatively, it makes 99% of our evolutionary success as humans. But this is not true. The sophistication of the human mind comes neither from the number of neurons (we are not champions in the field) nor the percentage of them involved in consciousness. It comes from the considerable stratification of neural organization in human, allowing him to learn sophisticated concepts. The consciousness of a bird may be using the same number of neurons than that of Homo sapiens, but they don’t oversee the same neural levels height, organizing data in extremely rich and varied concepts. Our consciousness held in balance on top of a conceptual tower of Babel. Perhaps is it also why more often it goes mad ?
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