Are There Islands of Awareness?

Tim Bayne, Anil K. Seth, Marcello Massimini

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Ordinary human experience is embedded in a web of causal relations that link the brain to the body and the wider environment. However, there might be conditions in which brain activity supports consciousness even when that activity is fully causally isolated from the body and its environment. Such cases would involve what we call islands of awareness: conscious states that are neither shaped by sensory input nor able to be expressed by motor output. This Opinion paper considers conditions in which such islands might occur, including ex cranio brains, hemispherotomy, and in cerebral organoids. We examine possible methods for detecting islands of awareness, and consider their implications for ethics and for the nature of consciousness.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)6-16
Number of pages11
JournalTrends in Neurosciences
Issue number1
Early online dateDec 2019
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2020


  • cerebral organoids
  • disorders of consciousness
  • dreaming
  • ex cranio brains
  • Guillain-Barré syndrome
  • hemispherotomy
  • measures of consciousness
  • neuroethics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)


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