Conscious thought and reason are based on the Cerebral Cortex, which is a sheet of neural tissue that plays a key role in memory, attention, awareness, thought, language and consciousness.
In general, the more neurons in the cerebral cortex, the better, but a lot depends on the efficiency of the “wiring” of the brain. Birds have a different brain structure than mammals and lack a cerebral cortex. And yet, they have fewer neurons than mammals but still are capable of solving surprisingly difficult problems that mammals cannot solve.
Here’s a short table of the approximate number of neurons in the cerebral cortex for different types of non-avian animals.
|Animal||Neurons in Cerebral Cortex|
The cerebral cortex sits on “top” of the lower portions of the brain (cerebellum, limbic system, and brain stem). These lower portions of the brain handle the automatic systems (respiration, heartbeat, blood pressure, movement, balance, etc) without the conscious control or supervision of the cerebral cortex.
Here’s the thing about consciousness – it is single threaded.
While the other portions of the brain are merrily performing multiple activities simultaneously, the cerebral cortex can only process one stream of consciousness at a time. Our consciousness can’t do multiple tasks simultaneously.
Thinking, logic, reason; all of these activities take place under the tightly focused spotlight of consciousness. Anything outside of the spotlight essentially disappears from our consciousness and we are incapable of thinking about it until it once again reappears under the spotlight.