My working theory on consciousness is fairly simple considering how complex the central nervous system is.
Let me set the table on how I see the brain working:
Focusing on the H of HTM. (Hierarchy)
Consider this in a sensory stream general framework of (raw sense) to (collected sense/association) to (name/symbol) to (collected symbols/grammar) to (working memory) to (the emotionally colored here and now) in the tip of the temporal lobe. This is the stream of sensation that you know as your personal experience.
Geographically this same path is V1, various other Vx visual areas, angular gyrus, Wernicke’s area (and a bidirectional connection to Broca’s area to aid in parsing), Inferior temporal gyrus, middle temporal gyrus to the temporal pole. For the purposes of this exposition, I will ignore the sound, touch proprioception, and the vestibular systems but they do fit well into this general scheme.
A side note: The Retina model of the cortical IO company corresponds very closely to Broca’s area and Wernicke’s area. Each of the areas mentioned in my exposition could be at about the level of processing complexity described in the Retina model.
The forebrain is simultaneously driven from the body need sensors in the limbic system with various projections around the bottom and sides. Yes, like on the sensory streams, there is a similar general hierarchy in the forebrain - from the frontal pole with the terminus being the motor drivers along the central sulcus.
The temporal pole and forebrain are bi-directionally connected, (need state) in the forebrain to (current sensed state) in the temporal lobe.
As the forebrain is bouncing through the interaction between need/solution space and sense space (see below) this is unwrapped in the planning parts and after one or two stages of processing arrives at the area symbolically superior to Broca’s area. This is the motion planning part that animates the speech production areas.
Let me expand on this as it is a key concept: At several points, there are connecting loops from the forebrain to points in the sensory stream.
One of these is all-important to the concept of self-awareness: the nerve bundle connecting words to grammar (arcuate fasciculus) is about in the right place to inject forebrain planning as a sensation.
As you form and process plans these are unwrapped and projected at the appropriate point in the sensory stream so that you are aware of your own plans as if they were some of your sensed environment; these are injected into the sensory stream and processed as if it were external stimuli.
Think of the implication of this – this sensed dialog is then processed through the same temporal lobe evaluation and presented back to the temporal pole to influence the connection between the temporal lobe and the forebrain, forming a continuous stream of consciousness thought.
Since it is injected at about the level of speech you can talk to yourself and then evaluate what you said as if it were someone else talking. Just as many people read without verbalizing you can perceive this sensation without necessarily forming actual words; this does not preclude perceiving this stream as words. Again - just like the reading example - even people that can read without verbalizing can make out the word sounds if they want to.
This self-awareness loop, from the forebrain high-level planning back to the sensory stream and then back through the evaluation/declarative memory area in the temporal lobe, is what I see at the basic mechanism of consciousness.