Laying the Foundations for a Theory of Consciousness: The Significance of Critical Brain Dynamics for the Formation of Conscious States

Frontiers in Human Neuroscience 18:1379191 (2024)
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Abstract

Empirical evidence indicates that conscious states, distinguished by the presence of phenomenal qualities, are closely linked to synchronized neural activity patterns whose dynamical characteristics can be attributed to self-organized criticality and phase transitions. These findings imply that insight into the mechanism by which the brain controls phase transitions will provide a deeper understanding of the fundamental mechanism by which the brain manages to transcend the threshold of consciousness. This article aims to show that the initiation of phase transitions and the formation of synchronized activity patterns is due to the coupling of the brain to the zero-point field (ZPF), which plays a central role in quantum electrodynamics (QED). The ZPF stands for the presence of ubiquitous vacuum fluctuations of the electromagnetic field, represented by a spectrum of normal modes. With reference to QED-based model calculations, the details of the coupling mechanism are revealed, suggesting that critical brain dynamics is governed by the resonant interaction of the ZPF with the most abundant neurotransmitter glutamate. The pyramidal neurons in the cortical microcolumns turn out to be ideally suited to control this interaction. A direct consequence of resonant glutamate-ZPF coupling is the amplification of specific ZPF modes, which leads us to conclude that the ZPF is the key to the understanding of consciousness and that the distinctive feature of neurophysiological processes associated with conscious experience consists in modulating the ZPF. Postulating that the ZPF is an inherently sentient field and assuming that the spectrum of phenomenal qualities is represented by the normal modes of the ZPF, the significance of resonant glutamate-ZPF interaction for the formation of conscious states becomes apparent in that the amplification of specific ZPF modes is inextricably linked with the excitation of specific phenomenal qualities. This theory of consciousness, according to which phenomenal states arise through resonant amplification of zero-point modes, is given the acronym TRAZE. An experimental setup is specified that can be used to test a corollary of the theory, namely, the prediction that normally occurring conscious perceptions are absent under experimental conditions in which resonant glutamate-ZPF coupling is disrupted.

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