This contribution examines two radically different explanations of our phenomenal intuitions, one reductive and one strongly non-reductive, and identifies two germane ideas that could benefit many other theories of consciousness. Firstly, the ability of sophisticated agent architectures with a purely physical implementation to support certain functional forms of qualia or proto-qualia appears to entail the possibility of machine consciousness with qualia, not only for reductive theories but also for the nonreductive ones that regard consciousness as ubiquitous in Nature. Secondly, analysis (...) of introspective psychological material seems to hint that, under the threshold of our ordinary waking awareness, there exist further ‘submerged’ or ‘subliminal’ layers of consciousness which constitute a hidden foundation and support and another source of our phenomenal intuitions. These ‘submerged’ layers might help explain certain puzzling phenomena concerning subliminal perception, such as the apparently ‘unconscious’ multisensory integration and learning of subliminal stimuli. (shrink)
The question of whether blindsight is a form of unconscious perception continues to spark fierce debate in philosophy and psychology. One side of the debate holds that while the visual information categorized in blindsight is not access conscious, it is nonetheless a form of perception, albeit a form of unconscious perception. The opposition, by contrast, holds that blindsight is just a form of degraded conscious perception that makes the categorized information harder to access because it is degraded. In this chapter, (...) we address the opposition's arguments for thinking that blindsight is a form of degraded conscious vision and then argue that the residual awareness found in blindsight is a form of non-perceptual awareness. To back this claim, we examine the residual visual abilities to detect and discriminate color found in some blindsight patients and show that residual consciousness in blindsight is indirect and lacks the phenomenal character characteristic of conscious vision. (shrink)
When viewing a circular coin rotated in depth, it fills an elliptical region of the distal scene. For some, this appears to generate a two-fold experience, in which one sees the coin as simultaneously circular (in light of its 3D shape) and elliptical (in light of its 2D ‘perspectival shape’ or ‘p-shape’). An energetic philosophical debate asks whether the latter p-shapes are genuinely presented in perceptual experience (as ‘perspectivalists’ argue) or if, instead, this appearance is somehow derived or inferred from (...) experience (as ‘anti-perspectivalists’ argue). This debate, however, has largely turned on introspection. In a recent study, Morales, Bax, and Firestone (2020) aim to provide the first empirical test of this question. They asked subjects to find an elliptical coin seen face-on from a search array that also included a circular coin seen either face-on or at an angle. They found that subjects reacted more slowly when the distracting circle was seen at an angle, such that it’s p-shape matched that of the target ellipse. From this, they concluded that the similar p-shape between the ellipse and circle constituted a phenomenal similarity between the two, and thus that perspectivalism is true. We show that these results can also be explained by pre-attentive guidance by unconscious representations (in what follows, just “unconscious pre-attentive guidance”) and that this explanation is at least as plausible as one from phenomenal similarity. Thus, we conclude that the experiment does not support perspectivalism over anti-perspectivalism. (shrink)
To study (un)conscious perception and test hypotheses about consciousness, researchers need procedures for determining whether subjects consciously perceive stimuli or not. This article is an introduction to a family of procedures called ‘confidence-based procedures’, which consist in interpreting metacognitive indicators as indicators of consciousness. I assess the validity and accuracy of these procedures, and answer a series of common objections to their use in consciousness research. I conclude that confidence-based procedures are valid for assessing consciousness, and, in most cases, accurate (...) enough for our practical and scientific purposes. (shrink)
The possibilities of unconscious perception and unconscious bias prompt parallel debates about unconscious mental content. This chapter argues that claims within these debates alleging the existence of unconscious content are made fraught by ambiguity and confusion with respect to the two central concepts they involve: consciousness and content. Borrowing conceptual resources from the debate about unconscious perception, the chapter distills the two conceptual puzzles concerning each of these notions and establishes philosophical strategies for their resolution. It then argues that empirical (...) evidence for unconscious bias falls victim to these same puzzles, but that progress can be made by adopting similar philosophical strategies. Throughout, the chapter highlights paths forward in both debates, illustrates how they serve as fruitful domains in which to study the relationship between philosophy and empirical science, and uses their combined study to further understanding of a general theory of unconscious content. (shrink)
Recent findings in different areas of psychology and cognitive science have brought the unconscious mind back to center stage. However, the unconscious mind worry remains: What renders unconscious phenomena mental? I suggest a new strategy for answering this question, which rests on the idea that categorizing unconscious phenomena as “mental” should be scientifically useful relative to the explanatory research goals. I argue that this is the case if by categorizing an unconscious phenomenon as “mental” one picks out explanatorily relevant similarities (...) to a corresponding paradigmatically mental conscious phenomenon. Explanatory relevance is spelled out in terms of mechanistic norms. (shrink)
Studying consciousness requires contrasting conscious and unconscious perception. While many studies have reported unconscious perceptual effects, recent work has questioned whether such effects are genuinely unconscious, or whether they are due to weak conscious perception. Some philosophers and psychologists have reacted by denying that there is such a thing as unconscious perception, or by holding that unconscious perception has been previously overestimated. This article has two parts. In the first part, I argue that the most significant attack on unconscious perception (...) commits the criterion content fallacy: the fallacy of interpreting evidence that observers were conscious of something as evidence that they were conscious of the task-relevant features of the stimuli. In the second part, I contend that the criterion content fallacy is prevalent in consciousness research. For this reason, I hold that if unconscious perception exists, scientists studying consciousness could routinely underestimate it. I conclude with methodological recommendations for moving the debate forward. (shrink)
Brain activity determines which relations between objects in the environment are perceived as differences and similarities in colour, smell, sound, etc. According to selectionism, brain activity does not create those relations; it only selects which of them are perceptually available to the subject on a given occasion. In effect, selectionism entails that perceptual experience is diaphanous, i.e. that sameness and difference in the phenomenal character of experience is exhausted by sameness and difference in the perceived items. It has been argued (...) that diaphaneity is undermined by phenomenological considerations and empirical evidence. This paper considers five prominent arguments of this sort and shows that none of them succeeds. (shrink)
According to unconscious perception hypothesis (UP), mental states of the same fundamental kind as ordinary conscious seeing can occur unconsciously. The proponents of UP often support it with empirical evidence for a more specific hypothesis, according to which colours can be seen unconsciously (UPC). However, UPC is a general claim that admits of many interpretations. The main aim of this paper is to determine which of them is the most plausible. To this end, I investigate how adopting various conceptions of (...) colour and perceptual phenomenal character affects UPC’s resilience to objections. This brings me to the conclusion that the most plausible reading of UPC is the one according to which the phenomenal character of colour perception (i) is constituted by colours qua primitive mind-independent qualities of the environment and (ii) is not essentially tied to consciousness. My conclusion not only identifies the most plausible interpretation of UPC, but also highlights and supports an unorthodox version of the relational theory of perception, which is a perfectly viable yet so far overlooked stance in the debate about unconscious perception. (shrink)
Some theorists have recently raised doubts about much of the experimental evidence purporting to demonstrate the existence of unconscious perception. In our (2019) in this journal, we argued some of these considerations are not decisive. Phillips (forthcoming a) replies thoughtfully to our paper, concluding that he is unconvinced by our arguments. Phillips maintains that the view that perception is invariably conscious remains, as he puts it, the “default” hypothesis both within the folk understanding and experimental study of perception. There is (...) much to agree with in Phillips’ piece, but there remain some substantive points of disagreement, which we outline here. (shrink)
In a new study, Ben-Haim et al. use subliminal stimuli to separate conscious and unconscious perception in macaques. A programme of this type, using a range of cognitive tasks, is a promising way to look for conscious perception in more controversial cases.
Phillips argues that blindsight is due to response criterion artefacts under degraded conscious vision. His view provides alternative explanations for some studies, but may not work well when one considers several key findings in conjunction. Empirically, not all criterion effects are decidedly non-perceptual. Awareness is not completely abolished for some stimuli, in some patients. But in other cases, it was clearly impaired relative to the corresponding visual sensitivity. This relative dissociation is what makes blindsight so important and interesting.
Historically, mental imagery has been defined as an experiential state - as something necessarily conscious. But most behavioural or neuroimaging experiments on mental imagery - including the most famous ones - don’t actually take the conscious experience of the subject into consideration. Further, recent research highlights that there are very few behavioural or neural differences between conscious and unconscious mental imagery. I argue that treating mental imagery as not necessarily conscious (as potentially unconscious) would bring much needed explanatory unification to (...) mental imagery research. It would also help us to reassess some of the recent aphantasia findings inasmuch as at least some subjects with aphantasia would be best described as having unconscious mental imagery. (shrink)
One necessary condition on any adequate account of perception is clarity regarding whether unconscious perception exists. The issue is complicated, and the debate is growing in both philosophy and science. In this paper we consider the case for unconscious perception, offering three primary achievements. First, we offer a discussion of the underspecified notion of central coordinating agency, a notion that is critical for arguments that purportedly perceptual states are not attributable to the individual, and thus not genuinely perceptual. We develop (...) an explication of what it is for a representational state to be available to central coordinating agency for guidance of behavior. Second, drawing on this explication, we place a more careful understanding of the attributability of a state to the individual in the context of a range of empirical work on vision-for-action, saccades, and skilled typing. The results place pressure on the skeptic about unconscious perception. Third, reflecting upon broader philosophical themes running through debates about unconscious perception, we highlight how our discussion places pressure on the view that perception is a manifest kind, rather than a natural kind. In doing so, we resist the tempting complaint that the debate about unconscious perception is merely verbal. (shrink)
A wealth of cases – most notably blindsight and priming under inattention or suppression – have convinced philosophers and scientists alike that perception occurs outside awareness. In recent work (Phillips 2016a, 2018; Phillips and Block 2017, Peters et al. 2017), I dispute this consensus, arguing that any putative case of unconscious perception faces a dilemma. The dilemma divides over how absence of awareness is established. If subjective reports are used, we face the problem of the criterion: the concern that such (...) reports underestimate conscious experience (Eriksen 1960, Holender 1986, Peters and Lau 2015). If objective measures are used, we face the problem of attribution: the concern that the case does not involve genuine individual-level perception. Quilty-Dunn (2019) presents an apparently compelling example of unconscious perception due to Mitroff et al. (2005) which, he contends, evades this dilemma. The case is fascinating. However, as I here argue, it does not escape the dilemma’s clutches. (shrink)
This paper adopts a jungian standpoint to discuss neurobiological and psychological constructs such as neuronal groups, default network, Ego and Self. By considering several epistemological issues and adopting the emergentist perspective, this work argues that the jungian theory can enter into constructive dialogue with neuroscientific evidence.
While there seems to be much evidence that perceptual states can occur without being conscious, some theorists recently express scepticism about unconscious perception. We explore here two kinds of such scepticism: Megan Peters and Hakwan Lau's experimental work regarding the well-known problem of the criterion -- which seems to show that many purported instances of unconscious perception go unreported but are weakly conscious -- and Ian Phillips' theoretical consideration, which he calls the 'problem of attribution' -- the worry that many (...) purported examples of unconscious perception are not perceptual, but rather merely informational and subpersonal. We argue that these concerns do not undermine the evidence for unconscious perception and that this sceptical approach results in a dilemma for the sceptic, who must either deny that there is unconscious mentality generally or explain why perceptual states are unique in the mind such that they cannot occur unconsciously. Both options, we argue, are problematic. (shrink)
It is an orthodoxy in cognitive science that perception can occur unconsciously. Recently, Hakwan Lau, Megan Peters and Ian Phillips have argued that this orthodoxy may be mistaken. They argue that many purported cases of unconscious perception fail to rule out low degrees of conscious awareness while others fail to establish genuine perception. This paper presents a case of unconscious perception that avoids these problems. It also advances a general principle of ‘phenomenal coherence’ that can insulate some forms of evidence (...) for unconscious perception from the methodological critiques of Lau, Peters and Phillips. (shrink)
Recently, it has been objected that naïve realism is inconsistent with an empirically well-supported claim that mental states of the same fundamental kind as ordinary conscious seeing can occur unconsciously (SFK). The main aim of this paper is to establish the following conditional claim: if SFK turns out to be true, the naïve realist can and should accommodate it into her theory. Regarding the antecedent of this conditional, I suggest that empirical evidence renders SFK plausible but not obvious. For it (...) is possible that what is currently advocated as unconscious perception of the stimulus is in fact momentaneous perceptual awareness (or residual perceptual awareness) of the stimulus making the subject prone to judge in some way rather than another, or to act in some way rather than another. As to the apodosis, I show that neither the core of naïve realism nor any of its main motivations is undermined if SFK is assumed. On the contrary, certain incentives for endorsing naïve realism become more tempting on this assumption. Since the main motivations for naïve realism retain force under SFK, intentionalism is neither compulsory nor the best available explanation of unconscious perception. (shrink)
Most contemporary theorists regard the traditional thesis that perception is essentially conscious as just another armchair edict to be abandoned in the wake of empirical discovery. Here I reconsider this dramatic departure from tradition. My aim is not to recapture our prelapsarian confidence that perception is inevitably conscious (though much I say might be recruited to that cause). Instead, I want to problematize the now ubiquitous belief in unconscious perception. The paper divides into two parts. Part One is more purely (...) philosophical. It explains how standard arguments for unconscious perception rely on contentious background assumptions concerning the relation between ordinary perception and the explanatory constructs of scientific psychology. Part Two, in contrast, offers detailed engagement with relevant empirical work. It exposes how, even setting aside the concerns identified in Part One, a dilemma confronts the believer in unconscious perception. This dilemma arises because ordinary perception is an individual-level state or occurrence, yet criteria sufficiently stringent to guarantee that a putatively perceptual state is unconscious vitiate the grounds for its attribution to the individual. The dilemma foments a hypothesis, namely that the conditions for genuine, individual-level perception are sufficient conditions for perceptual consciousness. The viability of this hypothesis should unnerve anyone who thinks unconscious perception is simply an empirical given. (shrink)
Contrasting the properties of conscious and unconscious processes is crucial for understanding how consciousness occurs in the brain. In this chapter, we review the theoretical framework and empirical methods used to delineate and contrast conscious vs. unconscious perception. After outlining the main approaches to measure unconscious influences on brain and behavior, we describe some of the psychophysical tools employed to render stimuli unconscious, including the depletion of sensory signals, attentional resources, and vigilance states. We then provide an overview of the (...) extent and limits of unconscious perception, and conclude on the future of the contrastive approach to the study of consciousness. (shrink)
Like most writing on human behavior, these articles lack a coherent framework and so I hesitate to recommend this book to anyone, as the experienced ought to have about the same perspective I do, and the naïve will mostly be wasting their time. Since I find most of these essays obviously off the mark or just very dull, I can't generate much enthusiasm for commenting on them, so after providing what I consider a reasonable precis of a framework (see my (...) other articles for an expanded version) I provide cursory comments on the various articles. -/- Those wishing a comprehensive up to date account of Wittgenstein, Searle and their analysis of behavior from the modern two systems view may consult my article The Logical Structure of Philosophy, Psychology, Mind and Language as Revealed in Wittgenstein and Searle (2016). -/- Those interested in all my writings in their most recent versions may download from this site my e-book ‘Philosophy, Human Nature and the Collapse of Civilization Michael Starks (2016)- Articles and Reviews 2006-2016’ by Michael Starks First Ed. 662p (2016). -/- All of my papers and books have now been published in revised versions both in ebooks and in printed books. -/- Talking Monkeys: Philosophy, Psychology, Science, Religion and Politics on a Doomed Planet - Articles and Reviews 2006-2017 (2017) https://www.amazon.com/dp/B071HVC7YP. -/- The Logical Structure of Philosophy, Psychology, Mind and Language in Ludwig Wittgenstein and John Searle--Articles and Reviews 2006-2016 (2017) https://www.amazon.com/dp/B071P1RP1B. -/- Suicidal Utopian Delusions in the 21st century: Philosophy, Human Nature and the Collapse of Civilization - Articles and Reviews 2006-2017 (2017) https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0711R5LGX . (shrink)
It has been objected recently that naïve realism is inconsistent with an empirically well-supported hypothesis that unconscious perception is possible. Because epistemological disjunctivism is plausible only in conjunction with naïve realism (for a reason I provide), the objection reaches it too. In response, I show that the unconscious perception hypothesis can be changed from a problem into an advantage of epistemological disjunctivism. I do this by suggesting that: (i) naïve realism is consistent with the hypothesis; (ii) the contrast between epistemological (...) disjunctivism and epistemic externalism explains the difference in epistemic import between conscious and unconscious perception. (shrink)
Contemporary studies in unconscious cognition are essentially founded on dissociation, i.e., on how it dissociates with respect to conscious mental processes and representations. This is claimed to be in so many and diverse ways that one is often lost in dissociation. In order to reduce this state of confusion we here carry out two major tasks: based on the central distinction between cognitive processes and representations, we identify and isolate the main dissociation paradigms; we then critically analyze their key tenets (...) and reported findings. (shrink)
Relationalism holds that perceptual experiences are relations between subjects and perceived objects. But much evidence suggests that perceptual states can be unconscious. We argue here that unconscious perception raises difficulties for relationalism. Relationalists would seem to have three options. First, they may deny that there is unconscious perception or question whether we have sufficient evidence to posit it. Second, they may allow for unconscious perception but deny that the relationalist analysis applies to it. Third, they may offer a relationalist explanation (...) of unconscious perception. We argue that each of these strategies is questionable. (shrink)
This article presents an argument for the view that we can perceive temporal features without awareness. Evidence for this claim comes from recent empirical work on selective visual attention. An interpretation of selective attention as a mechanism that processes high-level perceptual features is offered and defended against one particular objection. In conclusion, time perception likely has an unconscious dimension and temporal mental qualities can be instantiated without ever being conscious.
It is natural to assume that the fine-grained and highly accurate spatial information present in visual experience is often used to guide our bodily actions. Yet this assumption has been challenged by proponents of the Two Visual Systems Hypothesis , according to which visuomotor programming is the responsibility of a “zombie” processing stream whose sources of bottom-up spatial information are entirely non-conscious . In many formulations of TVSH, the role of conscious vision in action is limited to “recognizing objects, selecting (...) targets for action, and determining what kinds of action, broadly speaking, to perform” . Our aim in this study is to show that the available evidence not only fails to support this dichotomous view but actually reveals a significant role for conscious vision in motor programming, especially for actions that require deliberate attention. (shrink)
Block () highlights two experimental studies of neglect patients which, he contends, provide ‘dramatic evidence’ for unconscious seeing. In Block's hands this is the highly non-trivial thesis that seeing of the same fundamental kind as ordinary conscious seeing can occur outside of phenomenal consciousness. Block's case for it provides an excellent opportunity to consider a large body of research on clinical syndromes widely held to evidence unconscious perception. I begin by considering in detail the two studies of neglect to which (...) Block appeals. I show why their interpretation as evidence of unconscious seeing faces a series of local difficulties. I then explain how, even bracketing these issues, a long-standing but overlooked problem concerning our criterion for consciousness problematizes the appeal to both studies. I explain why this problem is especially pressing for Block given his view that phenomenal consciousness overflows access consciousness. I further show that it is epidemic—not only affecting all report-based studies of unconscious seeing in neglect, but also analogous studies of the condition most often alleged to show unconscious seeing, namely blindsight. (shrink)
Introspective subjective reports cannot provide direct evidence that phenomenal experience overflows cognitive access. This problem for the overflow view is underappreciated in several ways: first, it places the onus on the overflow theorist to explain how sub-jective reports can be used to provide evidence for overflow. Second, it implies that there must be a true non-overflow account of subjective reports of overflow, even if there is overflow. Thus, attempting to dis-prove all anti- overflow explanations of subjective reports is futile. Third, (...) it follows that the focus of enquiry should be on unconscious processing and indirect measures of conscious awareness; this is the area where the debate may be advanced. Finally, employment of inadmissible subjective reports continues to undermine work by over-flow theorists like Bronfman et al. and Block. (shrink)
This study renews the classical concept of subliminal perception by investigating the impact of subliminal flicker from fluorescent lighting on affect and cognitive performance. It was predicted that low compared to high frequency lighting would evoke larger changes in affective states and also impair cognitive performance. Subjects reported high rather than low frequency lighting to be more pleasant, which, in turn, enhanced their problem solving performance. This suggests that sensory processing can take place outside of conscious awareness resulting in conscious (...) emotional consequences; indicating a role of affect in subliminal/implicit perception, and that positive affect may facilitate cognitive task performance. (shrink)
Previous studies making use of indirect processing measures have shown that perceptual grouping can occur outside the focus of attention. However, no previous study has examined the possibility of subliminal processing of perceptual grouping. The present work steps forward in the study of perceptual organization, reporting direct evidence of subliminal processing of Gestalt patterns. In two masked priming experiments, Gestalt patterns grouped by proximity or similarity that induced either a horizontal or vertical global orientation of the stimuli were presented as (...) masked primes and followed by visible targets that could be congruent or incongruent with the orientation of the primes. The results showed a reliable priming effect in the complete absence of prime awareness for both proximity and similarity grouping principles. These findings suggest that a phenomenal report of the Gestalt pattern is not mandatory to observe an effect on the response based on the global properties of Gestalt stimuli. (shrink)