Taking phenomenology seriously: The "fringe" and its implication for cognitive research

Consciousness and Cognition 2 (2):89-108 (1993)
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Evidence and theory ranging from traditional philosophy to contemporary cognitive research support the hypothesis that consciousness has a two-part structure: a focused region of articulated experience surrounded by a field of relatively unarticulated, vague experience.William James developed an especially useful phenomenological analysis of this "fringe" of consciousness, but its relation to, and potential value for, the study of cognition has not been explored. I propose strengthening James′ work on the fringe with a functional analysis: fringe experiences work to radically condense context information in consciousness; are vague because a more explicit representation of context information would overwhelm consciousness′ limited articulation capacity; help mediate retrieval functions in consciousness; and contain a subset of monitoring and control experiences that cannot be elaborated in focal attention and are "ineffable." In general, the phenomenology of the fringe is a consequence of its cognitive functions, constrained by consciousness′ limited articulation capacity. Crucial to monitoring and control is the feeling of "rightness." Rightness functions as a summary index of cognitive integration, representing, in the fringe, the degree of positive fit between a given conscious content and its parallel, unconsciously encoded context. Rightness appears analogous to the connectionist metric of global network integration, known variously as goodness-of-fit, harmony, or minimum energy



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