Nonequilibrium brain dynamics as a signature of consciousness

Yonatan Sanz Perl, Hernán Bocaccio, Carla Pallavicini, Ignacio Pérez-Ipiña, Steven Laureys, Helmut Laufs, Morten Kringelbach, Gustavo Deco, Enzo Tagliazucchi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


The cognitive functions of human and nonhuman primates rely on the dynamic interplay of distributed neural assemblies. As such, it seems unlikely that cognition can be supported by macroscopic brain dynamics at the proximity of equilibrium. We confirmed this hypothesis by investigating electrocorticography data from nonhuman primates undergoing different states of unconsciousness (sleep, and anesthesia with propofol, ketamine, and ketamine plus medetomidine), and functional magnetic resonance imaging data from humans, both during deep sleep and under propofol anesthesia. Systematically, all states of reduced consciousness unfolded at higher proximity to equilibrium compared to conscious wakefulness, as demonstrated by the computation of entropy production and the curl of probability flux in phase space. Our results establish nonequilibrium macroscopic brain dynamics as a robust signature of consciousness, opening the way for the characterization of cognition and awareness using tools from statistical mechanics.

Original languageEnglish
Article number014411
JournalPhysical Review E - Statistical, Nonlinear, and Soft Matter Physics
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jul 2021
Externally publishedYes


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