A Synergistic Workspace for Human Consciousness Revealed by Integrated Information Decomposition


A central goal of neuroscience is to understand how the brain orchestrates information from multiple input streams into a unified conscious experience. Here, we address two fundamental questions: how is the human information-processing architecture functionally organised, and how does its organisation support consciousness? We combine network science and a rigorous information-theoretic notion of synergy to delineate a “synergistic global workspace”, comprising gateway regions that gather synergistic information from specialised modules across the brain. This information is then integrated within the workspace and widely distributed via broadcaster regions. Through functional MRI analysis, we show that gateway regions of the synergistic workspace correspond to the brain’s default mode network, whereas broadcasters coincide with the executive control network. Demonstrating the empirical relevance of our proposed architecture for neural information processing, we show that loss of consciousness due to general anaesthesia or disorders of consciousness corresponds to a diminished ability of the synergistic workspace to integrate information, which is restored upon recovery. Thus, loss of consciousness coincides with a breakdown of information integration within the synergistic workspace of the human brain. This work contributes to conceptual and empirical reconciliation between two prominent scientific theories of consciousness, the Global Neuronal Workspace and Integrated Information Theory. Taken together, this work provides a new perspective on the role of prominent resting-state networks within the human information-processing architecture, while also advancing our understanding of how the human brain supports consciousness through the synergistic integration of information.