This article is part of the Research Topic Consciousness and neural plasticity

Hypothesis & Theory ARTICLE

Front. Psychol., 28 February 2011 | doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2011.00020

Consciousness, plasticity, and connectomics: the role of intersubjectivity in human cognition

Micah Allen1* and Gary Williams2
  • 1 Interacting Minds Project, Centre of Functionally Integrative Neuroscience, Aarhus University, Århus, Denmark
  • 2 Department of Philosophy, Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, LA, USA

Consciousness is typically construed as being explainable purely in terms of either private, raw feels or higher-order, reflective representations. In contrast to this false dichotomy, we propose a new view of consciousness as an interactive, plastic phenomenon open to sociocultural influence. We take up our account of consciousness from the observation of radical cortical neuroplasticity in human development. Accordingly, we draw upon recent research on macroscopic neural networks, including the “default mode,” to illustrate cases in which an individual’s particular “connectome” is shaped by encultured social practices that depend upon and influence phenomenal and reflective consciousness. On our account, the dynamically interacting connectivity of these networks bring about important individual differences in conscious experience and determine what is “present” in consciousness. Further, we argue that the organization of the brain into discrete anti-correlated networks supports the phenomenological distinction of prereflective and reflective consciousness, but we emphasize that this finding must be interpreted in light of the dynamic, category-resistant nature of consciousness. Our account motivates philosophical and empirical hypotheses regarding the appropriate time-scale and function of neuroplastic adaptation, the relation of high and low-frequency neural activity to consciousness and cognitive plasticity, and the role of ritual social practices in neural development and cognitive function.

Keywords: plasticity, consciousness, resting-state networks, development, phenomenology, cognition, culture, intersubjectivity

Citation: Allen M and Williams G (2011) Consciousness, plasticity, and connectomics: the role of intersubjectivity in human cognition. Front. Psychology 2:20. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2011.00020

Received: 11 November 2010; Accepted: 31 January 2011;
Published online: 28 February 2011.

Edited by:

Morten Overgaard, Aarhus University Hospital, Aarhus University, Denmark

Reviewed by:

David Rosenthal, City University of New York, USA
Giorgio Marchetti, University of Urbino, Italy
Jonathan Cole, Poole Hospital, UK

Copyright: © 2011 Allen and Williams. This is an open-access article subject to an exclusive license agreement between the authors and Frontiers Media SA, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original authors and source are credited.

*Correspondence: Micah Allen, Interacting Minds Project, Centre of Functionally Integrative Neuroscience, Aarhus University Hospital, Aarhus University, Århus Sygehus, Norrebrogade 44, Building 10G, 5th floor, 8000 Århus, Denmark. e-mail:

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