Cortical columns are structures found in the cortex, thought to be elementary processing units. Their size and organisation is quite homogeneous across the cortex.
The deep structures of the brain are extremely non random, and even small deviations to the norm lead to massive disruptions of functions, but the cortex is not like that. You can remove half of it, and still have a functional human. Also, even at a macro level, the neo-cortex is quite random, and you could use the sulci (folds of the brain) like you use fingerprints.
If you take a blind person, put a matrix of electrodes on his tongue or vibrators on the back, and connect that matrix to a camera, after some time, he will be able to see with it. What is interesting is that it activates his visual cortex, although the nerve input doesn't arrive there. Somehow, the part of your brain that receives acidity inputs from the tongue (current tastes sour) or your somato-sensory cortex, which usually have no reason to project toward visual areas, are able to identify the input as being vision, and reroute it.
Damage most areas of the brain, like for example the Brocca area, can be overcome with time, as other areas start to their job instead.
The cortex, unlike the midbrain or the pons, is largely a self organizing structure, and its organization appears to be driven mostly by stimuli. The idea that a large enough cortex spontaneously creates complex feedback loops resulting in self-awareness is not absurd, but it is unproven.
It is commonly accepted that the connection strength between different parts of the neocortex are an anatomical feature, present from development and modulated by stimuli. This is also unproven, and mapping studies show a significant variability with some constant features. I wouldn't be surprised to learn than a significant part of these connections are not controlled by physiological processes, but start as random connections with stimuli and positive feedback reinforcing some and destroying others.
If we take the example of ants and food sources. If you start your experiment with no pheromones or obstacles, the ants will create very direct routes. You can also create preliminary routes and put walls around them, forcing them to be stable in shape, although their weight may vary. Or you could put a few obstacles and draw some routes, and let the ants refine them or create new ones. The wiring of the cortex could be like the first experiment, starting blank and inputs shaping its development, like the second, constructed with care and allowed small variations, or like the third experiment, as an intermediate between the two.
And honestly, right now, we don't know which is right.
Izawwlgood wrote:Furthermore, I, and I believe everyone, believes that both physiological and stimuli are required for connections to form. But you're mixing up 'emergent' here now; what I, and I believe most people, mean by consciousness being an emergent property of our brains, is that there's no 'lobe of individuality' or 'area of sapience'. Rather, the whole of the brain, together, results in a gestalt. Sapience is an emergent property of the complex structures of our brain.
So we do use different meanings of the word. I mean something like self-organizing, and you mean something like delocalized.
Your view that it is a property of the whole is a bit extreme, and many people think it's the result of the complex interaction between many, but not all, parts of the brain.
If I remove your visual cortex, you'll get blind, but that won't really affect your personality or perception of self. If I mess up with your cingulate cortex, on the other hand, I will affect your personality much more strongly. And if I damage your temporoparietal junction, I can screw with your perception of what is you and what is not (as in my body vs the rest of the world).
In my opinion, the temporoparietal junction is implied in self-awareness and consciousness, but not the visual cortex, and we can identify a circuit (although complex and delocalized) that is responsible for all that.