Evolution of the Neural Basis of Consciousness: A Bird-Mammal Comparison.

Bioessays 27 (9):923-936 (2005)
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Abstract

The main objective of this essay is to validate some of the principal, currently competing, mammalian consciousness-brain theories by comparing these theories with data on both cognitive abilities and brain organization in birds. Our argument is that, given that multiple complex cognitive functions are correlated with presumed consciousness in mammals, this correlation holds for birds as well. Thus, the neuroanatomical features of the forebrain common to both birds and mammals may be those that are crucial to the generation of both complex cognition and consciousness. The general conclusion is that most of the consciousness-brain theories appear to be valid for the avian brain. Even though some specific homologies are unresolved, most of the critical structures presumed necessary for consciousness in mammalian brains have clear homologues in avian brains. Furthermore, considering the fact that the reptile-bird brain transition shows more structural continuity than the stem amniote-mammalian transition, the line drawn at the origin of mammals for consciousness by several of the theorists seems questionable. An equally important point is that consciousness cannot be ruled out in the absence of complex cognition; it may in fact be the case that consciousness is a necessary prerequisite for complex cognition.

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B. I. B. Lindahl
Stockholm University