Following a set of studies concerning the intrinsic electrophysiology of mammalian central neurons in relation to global brain function, we reach the following conclusions: (i) the main difference between wakefulness and paradoxical sleep lies in the weight given to sensory afferents in cognitive images; (ii) otherwise, wakefulness and paradoxical sleep are fundamentally equivalent brain states probably subserved by an intrinsic thalamo-cortical loop. From this assumption, we conclude that wakefulness is an intrinsic functional realm, modulated by sensory parameters. In support of this hypothesis, we review morphological studies of the thalamocortical system, which indicate that only a minor part of its connectivity is devoted to the transfer of direct sensory input. Rather, most of the connectivity is geared to the generation of internal functional modes, which may, in principle, operate in the presence or absence of sensory activation. These considerations lead us to challenge the traditional Jamesian view of brain function according to which consciousness is generated as an exclusive by-product of sensory input. Instead, we argue that consciousness is fundamentally a closed-loop property, in which the ability of cells to be intrinsically active plays a central role. We further discuss the importance of spatial and temporal mapping in the elaboration of cognitive and perceptual constructs.