Hello, Senior at Port Townsend High School in Washington State here.
I’ve been reading up a bit on theories on consciousness, and I’ve come across a couple that worry me, hoping to get a neuroscientist’s take on this.
I read a presentation given by Dr. Steven Sevush about the single neuron theory of consciousness, stating that consciousness may be created at the single neuron level as pyramidal neurons integrate information in the brain, and I’ve been ruminating and losing a lot of sleep over this for months, thinking about this all day and such, for a few reasons.
For one, if our conscious experience is created by a single neuron or network, and there are other neurons in the brain having simultaneous experiences, wouldn’t that mean that the death of our associated neuron among others in our human bodies dying— would mean the ceasing of ourselves to exist, even if the rest of our body and the plethora of other conscious beings created by other neurons, goes on living without ever knowing at the macroscopic level from the outside?
I read that the adult human brain loses about 190,000 neurons a day. Of course, not all neurons are created equal, as some serve input purposes, some serve output purposes, some special types (like the pyramidal kind) serve both, and others exist mostly for the relaying of information. One might think that a memory cell constantly in use due to its service of core or commonly used memories would be less likely to disappear than a rarely active one. To that extent, one might surmise that a cell with many connections like the pyramidal type, wouldn’t be quick to disappear due to the body’s reliance on the type.
Another separate theory of consciousness that worries me is the idea that our consciousness is of course observably created by cells, and in a non-religious context our soul and existence is merely that of our body. If our consciousness is merely a function of the present group of neurons operating as is, and over time they’re slowly dying off and now and then a new cell or synaptic connections along dendritic trees are being made, would that mean that from the outside our body would continue on existing, our consciousness replaced by another operating as a function of our body?
I don’t mean to enter into an entirely philosophical realm here, so as to waste anyone’s time. I also don’t want to sound like I’ve lost my marbles. But I’ve been inspired by the Allen Institute’s research over the years, and this was the first place I thought to turn over this subject. If any researcher at the institute could answer my question about the single neuron theory of consciousness from a more knowledgeable standpoint of course than myself, I’d be eternally grateful. In fact— I haven’t been able to remain productive as a High School senior for months due to thinking about this all day for hours on end, losing motivation and being constantly exhausted as I’ve tried to obtain closure on this topic. It would mean the world to me if someone could help me out here. Thanks.