As is the case for all processes of our Consciousness, the executive function is located entirely in the grey matter of the neo-cortex. As in all processes of our Consciousness, the executive function is laid over the more archaic white matter brain region that once far less successfully sought to fulfill the same function. The interconnections between the neo-cortex of the frontal lobes and other brain regions, conscious and subconscious, consist almost entirely of the white matter neurons that initially interconnected the more archaic versions of those regions. White matter neurons are better adapted to this function than grey because they are encased in bulky myelin sheaths which maintain signal integrity over the comparatively long distances between regions.
As is the case for all processes of our Consciousness, the neo-cortex of the frontal lobes receives no direct sensory inputs and has no will of its own. It’s only purpose is to solve problems such that the survival of its host organism is enhanced. It can only assess and modify the will of the subconscious such that archaic processes are thwarted or redirected based upon experience ― can only form complex neuronal algorithms which assess the brains greatly expanded and enhanced, distributed memory and modify actions based upon the most favorable previous outcomes for similar contexts.
The frontal lobes can also provide one or more levels of meta-consciousness. They can evaluate their own executive function, and evaluate their evaluation of their own executive function, as part of their problem solving, something impossible on any level in the archaic paleo-mammalian brain.
“How,” it has often been asked, even by neurologists and philosophers, “can any amount of circuitry, no matter how well organized, arrive at something as numinous as Consciousness?” The answer to this is: “How, in scientific or philosophical terms, can anything else be the case?” Postivist/Reductionist approaches to the study of the brain historically reply that the numinous quality of Consciousness is beyond our understanding only because we are, as of yet, no where near mapping the total functionality of the brain. When this is done, it is assumed, the total of the neurons involved in brain function will add up to all phenomena properly associated with the brain (including those numinous qualities some assign to “mind”).
It seems unlikely, however, at this juncture, that any additive sum of neurons or neuronal networks can arrive at a change-of-state such as that apparently inherent in the Consciousness unless it does so by having exceeded a threshold population that invokes the special dynamics observed upon entering the realm of Complexity Theory. Furthermore, the Consciousness exhibits many of the qualities associated with Complex Systems. It is ordered and founded upon distributed independent localized processing. It is accomplished by a combination of local and system wide networks. It incorporates strong feedback loops. It exhibits self-organized criticality (i.e. operates at the edge of a chaos state) [Kitzbichler, 2009][Beggs, 2003] and accommodates system disequilibrium within overall stable states.
To put the matter in other terms which might highlight how this alters the nature of a philosophical question central to the understanding of Consciousness, this shifts the locus of mind-body duality from some impossible physical boundary near the human brain stem, or,