The emergence of consciousness from brain activity constitutes one of the great riddles in biology. It is commonly assumed that only the conscious perception of the presence of a stimulus elicits neuronal activation to signify a “neural correlate of consciousness,” whereas the subjective experience of the absence of a stimulus is associated with a neuronal resting state. Here, we demonstrate that the two subjective states “stimulus present” and “stimulus absent” are represented by two specialized neuron populations in crows, corvid birds. We recorded single-neuron activity from the nidopallium caudolaterale of crows trained to report the presence or absence of images presented near the visual threshold. Because of the task design, neuronal activity tracking the conscious “present” versus “absent” percept was dissociated from that involved in planning a motor response. Distinct neuron populations signaled the subjective percepts of “present” and “absent” by increases in activation. The response selectivity of these two neuron populations was similar in strength and time course. This suggests a balanced code for subjective “presence” versus “absence” experiences, which might be beneficial when both conscious states need to be maintained active in the service of goal-directed behavior.

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