What is a global state of consciousness?


Global States of Consciousness
Levels of Consciousness
Neural Correlates of Consciousness
Disorders of Consciousness

How to Cite

Mckilliam, A. K. (2020). What is a global state of consciousness?. Philosophy and the Mind Sciences, 1(II). https://doi.org/10.33735/phimisci.2020.II.58


The notion of a global state (or level) of consciousness is an increasingly important construct in the science of consciousness. However, exactly what a global state of consciousness is remains poorly understood. In this paper I offer an account of global states of consciousness as consciousness-related capacity modulations. On this view global states are not themselves phenomenal states – they are not occurring experiences. Rather, they are states that specify which of a creature’s overall consciousness-related capacities are currently online. Given that the search for the neural correlates of consciousness (NCC), as it is currently conceived, is the search for the neural basis of occurrent experiences, the NCC framework is incapable of revealing the neural basis of global states. As such, a mature science of consciousness will need to move beyond the search for NCCs, as that project is currently conceived.



Albahari, M. (2009). Witness-consciousness: Its definition, appearance and reality. Journal of Consciousness Studies, 16(1), 62–84. https://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/imp/jcs/2009/00000016/00000001/art00003

Aru, J., Bachmann, T., Singer, W., & Melloni, L. (2012). Distilling the neural correlates of consciousness. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, 36(2), 737–746. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neubiorev.2011.12.003

Aru, J., Suzuki, M., Rutiku, R., Larkum, M. E., & Bachmann, T. (2019). Coupling the state and contents of consciousness. Frontiers in Systems Neuroscience, 13, 43. https://doi.org/10.3389/fnsys.2019.00043%20

Baars, B. J. (2005). Global workspace theory of consciousness: Toward a cognitive neuroscience of human experience. In S. Laureys (Ed.), The boundaries of consciousness: Neurobiology and neuropathology (Vol. 150, pp. 45–53). Elsevier. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0079-6123(05)50004-9

Bachmann, T., & Hudetz, A. G. (2014). It is time to combine the two main traditions in the research on the neural correlates of consciousness: C= L× D. Frontiers in Psychology, 5, 940. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2014.00940%20

Bayne, T. (2007). Conscious states and conscious creatures: Explanation in the scientific study of consciousness. Philosophical Perspectives, 21, 1–22. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1520-8583.2007.00118.x%20

Bayne, T. (2010). The unity of consciousness. Oxford University Press.

Bayne, T., & Carter, O. (2018). Dimensions of consciousness and the psychedelic state. Neuroscience of Consciousciousness, 2018(1), niy008. https://doi.org/10.1093/nc/niy008

Bayne, T., & Hohwy, J. (2016). Modes of consciousness. In W. Sinnott-Armstrong (Ed.), Finding consciousness: The neuroscience, ethics and law of severe brain damage (pp. 57–80). Oxford University Press. https://doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780190280307.001.0001%20

Bayne, T., Hohwy, J., & Owen, A. M. (2016). Are there levels of consciousness? Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 20(6), 405–413. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tics.2016.03.009

Block, N. (2005). Two neural correlates of consciousness. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 9(2), 46–52. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tics.2004.12.006

Block, N. (2007). Consciousness, accessibility, and the mesh between psychology and neuroscience. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 30(5-6), 481–499. https://doi.org/10.1017/s0140525x07002786

Block, N. (2019). What is wrong with the no-report paradigm and how to fix it. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 23(12), 1003–1013. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tics.2019.10.001%20

Boly, M., Massimini, M., Tsuchiya, N., Postle, B. R., Koch, C., & Tononi, G. (2017). Are the neural correlates of consciousness in the front or in the back of the cerebral cortex? Clinical and neuroimaging evidence. Journal of Neuroscience, 37(40), 9603–9613. https://doi.org/10.1523/jneurosci.3218-16.2017

Boly, M., Seth, A. K., Wilke, M., Ingmundson, P., Baars, B., Laureys, S., Edelman, D., & Tsuchiya, N. (2013). Consciousness in humans and non-human animals: Recent advances and future directions. Frontiers in Psychology, 4, 625. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00625%20

Bonhomme, V., Staquet, C., Montupil, J., Defresne, A., Kirsch, M., Martial, C., Vanhaudenhuyse, A., Chatelle, C., Larroque, S. K., Raimondo, F., Demertzi, A., Bodart, O., Laureys, S., & Gosseries, O. (2019). General anesthesia: A probe to explore consciousness. Frontiers in Systems Neuroscience, 13(36). https://doi.org/10.3389/fnsys.2019.00036

Brennan, P. M., Murray, G. D., & Teasdale, G. M. (2018). Simplifying the use of prognostic information in traumatic brain injury. Part 1: The GCS-Pupils Score: An extended index of clinical severity. Journal of Neurosurgery, 128(6), 1612–1620. https://doi.org/10.3171/2017.12.JNS172780

Carruthers, P. (2019). Human and animal minds: The consciousness questions laid to rest. Oxford University Press.

Chalmers, D. J. (2000). What is a neural correlate of consciousness? In T. Metzinger (Ed.), Neural correlates of consciousness (pp. 17–39). MIT Press.

Cohen, D. (1974). Toward a theory of dream recall. Psychological Bulletin, 81(2), 138. https://doi.org/10.1037/h0037616%20

Cohen, M. A., & Dennett, D. C. (2011). Consciousness cannot be separated from function. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 15(8), 358–364. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tics.2011.06.008

Crick, F., & Koch, C. (2003). A framework for consciousness. Nature Neuroscience, 6(2), 119–126. https://doi.org/10.1038/nn0203-119

Crowther, T. (2018). Experience, dreaming, and the phenomenology of wakeful consciousness. In F. Dorsch, F. MacPherson, & M. Nida-Rümelin (Eds.), Phenomenal presence (pp. 252–282). Oxford University Press. https://doi.org/10.1093/oso/9780199666416.003.0011

Dehaene, S., Changeux, J.-P., & Naccache, L. (2011). The global neuronal workspace model of conscious access: From neuronal architectures to clinical applications. In D. Stanislas & C. Y. (Eds.), Characterizing consciousness: From cognition to the clinic? (pp. 55–84). Springer. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-642-18015-6_4

Fazekas, P., Nemeth, G., & Overgaard, M. (2019). White dreams are made of colours: What studying contentless dreams can teach about the neural basis of dreaming and conscious experiences. Sleep Medicine Reviews, 43, 84–91. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.smrv.2018.10.005%20

Fazekas, P., & Overgaard, M. (2018). A multi‐factor account of degrees of awareness. Cognitive Science, 42(6), 1833–1859. https://doi.org/10.1111/cogs.12478

Fink, S. B. (2016). A deeper look at the “neural correlate of consciousness”. Frontiers in Psychology, 7, 1044. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2016.01044%20

Fortier-Davy, M., & Millière, R. (2020). The multi-dimensional approach to drug-induced states: A commentary on Bayne and Carter’s “Dimensions of Consciousness and the Psychedelic State”. Neuroscience of Consciousness, 2020(1), niaa004. https://doi.org/10.1093/nc/niaa004%20

Funkhouser, E. (2006). The determinable-determinate relation. Noûs, 548–569. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1468-0068.2006.00623.x%20

Goodenough, D. R. (1991). Dream recall: History and current status of the field. In S. J. Ellman & J. S. Antrobus (Eds.), The mind in sleep: Psychology and psychophysiology (2nd ed., pp. 143–171). John Wiley & Sons.

Hohwy, J. (2007). The search for neural correlates of consciousness. Philosophy Compass, 2(3), 461–474. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1747-9991.2007.00086.x

Hohwy, J. (2009). The neural correlates of consciousness: New experimental approaches needed? Consciousness and Cognition, 18(2), 428–438. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.concog.2009.02.006%20

Hohwy, J., & Bayne, T. (2015). The neural correlates of consciousness: Causes, confounds and constituents. In S. M. Miller (Ed.), The constitution of phenomenal consciousness: Toward a science and theory (pp. 155–176). John Benjamins Publishing Company. https://doi.org/10.1075/aicr.92.06hoh

Klein, C. (2017). Consciousness, intention, and command-following in the vegetative state. British Journal for the Philosophy of Science, 68(1), 27–54. https://doi.org/10.1093/bjps/axv012%20

Koch, C. (2004). The quest for consciousness: A neurobiological approach. Roberts & Company Publishers.

Koch, C., Massimini, M., Boly, M., & Tononi, G. (2016). Neural correlates of consciousness: Progress and problems. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 17(5), 307–321. https://doi.org/10.1038/nrn.2016.22

Koch, C., & Tsuchiya, N. (2007). Attention and consciousness: Two distinct brain processes. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 11(1), 16–22. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tics.2006.10.012%20

Laureys, S. (2005). The neural correlate of (un)awareness: Lessons from the vegetative state. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 9(12), 556–559. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tics.2005.10.010%20

Lowe, E. J. (2005). The four-category ontology: A metaphysical foundation for natural science. Oxford University Press.

Mashour, G., & Avidan, M. (2015). Intraoperative awareness: Controversies and non-controversies. British Journal of Anaesthesia, 115, i20–i26. https://doi.org/10.1093/bja/aev034%20

Michel, M. (2019). The mismeasure of consciousness: A problem of coordination for the perceptual awareness scale. Philosophy of Science, 86(5), 1239–1249. https://doi.org/10.1086/705509%20

Michel, M., & Morales, J. (2020). Minority reports: Consciousness and the prefrontal cortex. Mind & Language, 35(4), 493–513. https://doi.org/10.1111/mila.12264

Mogensen, J., & Overgaard, M. (2017). Reorganization of the connectivity between elementary functions – a model relating conscious states to neural connections. Frontiers in Psychology, 8, 625. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2017.00625%20

Odegaard, B., Knight, R. T., & Lau, H. (2017). Should a few null findings falsify prefrontal theories of conscious perception? Journal of Neuroscience, 37(40), 9593–9602. https://doi.org/10.1523/jneurosci.3217-16.2017%20

Overgaard, M., & Overgaard, R. (2010). Neural correlates of contents and levels of consciousness. Frontiers in Psychology, 1, 164. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2010.00164%20

Pace-Schott, E. F. (2013). Dreaming as a story-telling instinct. Frontiers in Psychology, 4, 159. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00159%20

Pal, D., Dean, J. G., Liu, T., Li, D., Watson, C. J., Hudetz, A. G., & Mashour, G. A. (2018). Differential role of prefrontal and parietal cortices in controlling level of consciousness. Current Biology, 28(13), 2145–2152. e5. https://doi.org/10.1101/262360%20

Pal, D., Li, D., Dean, J. G., Brito, M. A., Liu, T., Fryzel, A. M., Hudetz, A. G., & Mashour, G. A. (2020). Level of consciousness is dissociable from electroencephalographic measures of cortical connectivity, slow oscillations, and complexity. Journal of Neuroscience, 40(3), 605–618. https://doi.org/10.1523/jneurosci.1910-19.2019%20

Phillips, I. (2018). The methodological puzzle of phenomenal consciousness. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 373(1755), 20170347. https://doi.org/10.1098/rstb.2017.0347%20

Revonsuo, A. (2006). Inner presence: Consciousness as a biological phenomenon. MIT Press.

Revonsuo, A., & Salmivalli, C. (1995). A content analysis of bizarre elements in dreams. Dreaming, 5(3), 169. https://doi.org/10.1037/h0094433%20

Rosenthal, D. (2005). Consciousness and mind. Clarendon Press.

Rosenthal, D. (2019). Consciousness and confidence. Neuropsychologia, 128, 255–265. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2018.01.018%20

Sanders, R. D., Tononi, G., Laureys, S., Sleigh, J. W., & Warner, D. S. (2012). Unresponsiveness ≠ unconsciousness. The Journal of the American Society of Anesthesiologists, 116(4), 946–959. https://doi.org/10.1097/aln.0b013e318249d0a7%20

Seth, A. (2009). Explanatory correlates of consciousness: Theoretical and computational challenges. Cognitive Computation, 1(1), 50–63. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12559-009-9007-x%20

Stender, J., Laureys, S., & Gosseries, O. (2017). Altered states of consciousness after brain injury. In S. Schneider & M. Velmans (Eds.), The Blackwell Companion to Consciousness (pp. 662–681). Wiley Online Library. https://doi.org/10.1002/9781119132363.ch47%20

Stickgold, R., Rittenhouse, C. D., & Hobson, J. A. (1994). Dream splicing: A new technique for assessing thematic coherence in subjective reports of mental activity. Consciousness and Cognition, 3(1), 114–128. https://doi.org/10.1006/ccog.1994.1008

Strauch, I., & Meier, B. (1996). In search of dreams: Results of experimental dream research. SUNY Press.

Teasdale, G., Maas, A., Lecky, F., Manley, G., Stocchetti, N., & Murray, G. (2014). The Glasgow Coma Scale at 40 years: Standing the test of time. The Lancet Neurology, 13(8), 844–854. https://doi.org/10.1016/s1474-4422(14)70120-6

Thompson, E. (2014). Waking, dreaming, being: Self and consciousness in neuroscience, meditation, and philosophy. Columbia University Press.

Tononi, G., Boly, M., Massimini, M., & Koch, C. (2016). Integrated information theory: From consciousness to its physical substrate. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 17(7), 450–461. https://doi.org/10.1038/nrn.2016.44

Tononi, G., & Koch, C. (2008). The neural correlates of consciousness – an update. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1124(1), 239–261. https://doi.org/10.1196/annals.1440.004

Voss, U., & Hobson, A. (2014). What is the state-of-the-art on lucid dreaming? Recent advances and questions for future research. In T. K. Metzinger & J. M. Windt (Eds.), Open mind. MIND Group. https://doi.org/10.15502/9783958570306

Watzl, S. (2017). Structuring mind: The nature of attention and how it shapes consciousness. Oxford University Press.

Wilson, J. (2017). Determinables and determinates. In E. N. Zalta (Ed.), The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2017). Metaphysics Research Lab, Stanford University. https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/spr2017/entries/determinate-determinables/

Windt, J. M. (2015a). Dreaming: A conceptual framework for philosophy of mind and empirical research. The MIT Press.

Windt, J. M. (2015b). Just in time—dreamless sleep experience as pure subjective temporality. In T. K. Metzinger & J. M. Windt (Eds.), Open mind. MIND Group.

Windt, J. M., Nielsen, T., & Thompson, E. (2016). Does consciousness disappear in dreamless sleep? Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 20(12), 871–882. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tics.2016.09.006

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.