Mathematics and the brain: A category theoretical approach to go beyond the neural correlates of consciousness

Georg Northoff, Naotsugu Tsuchiya, Hayato Saigo

Research output: Contribution to journalReview ArticleResearchpeer-review

9 Citations (Scopus)


Consciousness is a central issue in neuroscience, however, we still lack a formal framework that can address the nature of the relationship between consciousness and its physical substrates. In this review, we provide a novel mathematical framework of category theory (CT), in which we can define and study the sameness between dierent domains of phenomena such as consciousness and its neural substrates. CT was designed and developed to deal with the relationships between various domains of phenomena. We introduce three concepts of CT which include (i) category; (ii) inclusion functor and expansion functor; and, most importantly, (iii) natural transformation between the functors. Each of these mathematical concepts is related to specific features in the neural correlates of consciousness (NCC). In this novel framework, we will examine two of the major theories of consciousness, integrated information theory (IIT) of consciousness and temporospatial theory of consciousness (TTC). We conclude that CT, especially the application of the notion of natural transformation, highlights that we need to go beyond NCC and unravels questions that need to be addressed by any future neuroscientific theory of consciousness.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1234
Number of pages21
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - 17 Dec 2019


  • Category theory
  • Consciousness
  • Integrated information theory
  • Mathematics
  • Neural correlates of consciousness
  • Temporospatial theory of consciousness

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