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System dynamics and consciousness



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Coppola, Peter 


This thesis starts with a review of the fundamental problems of studying consciousness scientifically. From these problems, I propose definitions and an approach that permits the comparison of different individuals via intrinsically-defined dynamics. This approach may permit the mapping of a correspondence between subjective experience and neural states. Having reviewed major theories of consciousness, I describe the data used in this thesis. I then go on to review the empirical literature on consciousness, with a particular focus on functional networks, complexity and dynamics. I end the first chapter by setting out the objective of investigating the dynamics of the cortex, subcortex and cerebellum in relation to consciousness. In the second chapter, I investigate the unpredictability of the dynamics of network topologies and conclude that the network dynamics of the cortex, subcortex and cerebellum are all unique predictors of levels of awareness. In the third chapter, I use intrinsic network dynamics to find that consciousness is characterised by quicker and more unpredictable dynamics, although with relatively more stable rates of change. Furthermore, consciousness seems to be characterised by a more complex temporal landscape and structure-function relationship. In the fourth chapter, I elaborate on the intrinsic dynamic approach utilising a naturalistic paradigm to find that there is a correspondence between subjective experience and network dynamics. Given this correspondence, I also elucidate which networks tend to be more individual-specific during consciousness. I find that the default mode network seems to relate to individual-specific consciousness dynamics whilst the dorsal attentional network seems to support more generalisable experiences. In the discussion, I review many different types of evidence in relation to the role of the cortex, subcortex and cerebellum in consciousness. In accordance with empirical results in this thesis, I conclude that the whole brain may have a role in experience, but perhaps only the subcortex is sufficient for experience to emerge. I then review the advancements made in the field of functional network dynamics and propose future directions.





Stamatakis, Emmanuel
Menon, David


Complexity, Consciousness, Dynamics, fMRI, Network Science


Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Awarding Institution

University of Cambridge
Cambridge Trust Vice Chancellor award for PC. Relevant Data funding: Wellcome Trust: Clinical Research Training Fellowship 083660/Z/07/Z. UK Medical Research Council (U.1055.01.002.00001.01). The Canadian Institute for Advanced Research (RCZB/072 RG93193).