Consciousness and neural plasticity. Edited by: Morten Overgaard & Mads Jensen
Publisher: Frontiers Media SA 2012
In contemporary consciousness studies the phenomenon of neural plasticity has received little attention despite the fact that neural plasticity is of still increased interest in neuroscience. We will, however, argue that neural plasticity could be of great importance to consciousness studies. If consciousness is related to neural processes it seems, at least prima facie, that the ability of the neural structures to change should be reflected in a theory of this relationship
"Neural plasticity" refers to the fact that the brain can change due to its own activity. The brain is not static but rather a dynamic entity, which physical structure changes according to its use and environment. This change may take the form of growth of new neurons, the creation of new networks and structures, and change within network structures, that is, changes in synaptic strengths.
Plasticity raises questions about the relation between consciousness and brain functions. If consciousness is connected to specific brain structures (as a function or in identity) what happens to consciousness when those specific underlying structures change? It is therefore possible that the understanding and theories of neural plasticity can have direct consequences for a theory about consciousness. For instance, theories of strict identity between consciousness and structure may face the serious dilemma to either accept that, say, the experience of the colour red is fundamentally different in one individual over time due to cortical changes or to abandon the strong identity thesis altogether.
Were one to pursue a theory according to which consciousness is not an epiphenomenon to brain processes, consciousness may in fact affect its own neural basis. The neural correlate of consciousness is often seen as a stable structure, that is, something that is stable over time.
Considering neural plasticity, this is not necessarily so. The NCC might change and hence literally change the way a person is conscious. What it is about the NCC that can and might change is, even though it can be relevant for the relation between the brain and consciousness is, still an unanswered question.
There are, hence, a lot of questions that might shed light upon the relevant but unknown relations between consciousness and the brain. Therefore, We hereby propose to do a special issue on consciousness and neural plasticity to shed light on these underestimated issues.