Conscious experiences involve subjective qualities, such as colours, sounds, smells and emotions. In this Perspective, we argue that these subjective qualities can be understood in terms of their similarity to other experiences. This account highlights the role of memory in conscious experience, even for simple percepts. How an experience feels depends on implicit memory of the relationships between different perceptual representations within the brain. With more complex experiences such as emotions, explicit memories are also recruited. We draw inspiration from work (...) in machine learning as well as the cognitive neuroscience of learning and decision making to make our case and discuss how the account could be tested in future experiments. The resulting findings might help to reveal the functions of subjective experience and inform current theoretical debates on consciousness. (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)
Opponents to consciousness in fish argue that fish do not feel pain because they do not have a neocortex, which is a necessary condition for feeling pain. A common counter-argument appeals to the multiple realizability of pain: while a neocortex might be necessary for feeling pain in humans, pain might be realized differently in fish. This paper argues, first, that it is impossible to find a criterion allowing us to demarcate between plausible and implausible cases of multiple realization of pain (...) without running into a circular argument. Second, opponents to consciousness in fish cannot be provided with reasons to believe in the multiple realizability of pain. I conclude that the debate on the existence of pain in fish is impossible to settle by relying on the multiple realization argument. (shrink)
Whether the prefrontal cortex is part of the neural substrates of consciousness is currently debated. Against prefrontal theories of consciousness, many have argued that neural activity in the prefrontal cortex does not correlate with consciousness but with subjective reports. We defend prefrontal theories of consciousness against this argument. We surmise that the requirement for reports is not a satisfying explanation of the difference in neural activity between conscious and unconscious trials, and that prefrontal theories of consciousness come out of this (...) debate unscathed. (shrink)
This editorial introduces the Journal of Consciousness Studies special issue on "Animal Consciousness". The 15 contributors and co-editors answer the question "How should we study animal consciousness scientifically?" in 500 words or fewer.
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)
Is perceptual processing in dedicated sensory areas sufficient for conscious perception? Localists say ‘Yes—given some background conditions.’ Prefrontalists say ‘No: conscious perceptual experience requires the involvement of prefrontal structures.’ I review the evidence for prefrontalism. I start by presenting correlational evidence. In doing so, I answer the ‘report argument’, according to which the apparent involvement of the prefrontal cortex in consciousness stems from the requirement for reports. I then review causal evidence for prefrontalism and answer the ‘lesion argument’, which purports (...) to show that prefrontalism is wrong because lesions to the prefrontal cortex do not abolish consciousness. I conclude that multiple sources of evidence converge toward the view that the prefrontal cortex plays a significant role in consciousness. (shrink)
As for most measurement procedures in the course of their development, measures of consciousness face the problem of coordination, i.e., the problem of knowing whether a measurement procedure actually measures what it is intended to measure. I focus on the case of the Perceptual Awareness Scale to illustrate how ignoring this problem leads to ambiguous interpretations of subjective reports in consciousness science. In turn, I show that empirical results based on this measurement procedure might be systematically misinterpreted.
Consciousness scientists have not reached consensus on two of the most central questions in their field: first, on whether consciousness overflows reportability; second, on the physical basis of consciousness. I review the scientific literature of the 19th century to provide evidence that disagreement on these questions has been a feature of the scientific study of consciousness for a long time. Based on this historical review, I hypothesize that a unifying explanation of disagreement on these questions, up to this day, is (...) that scientific theories of consciousness are underdetermined by the evidence, namely, that they can be preserved “come what may” in front of (seemingly) disconfirming evidence. Consciousness scientists may have to find a way of solving the persistent underdetermination of theories of consciousness to make further progress. (shrink)
Consciousness is scientifically challenging to study because of its subjective aspect. This leads researchers to rely on report-based experimental paradigms in order to discover neural correlates of consciousness (NCCs). I argue that the reliance on reports has biased the search for NCCs, thus creating what I call 'methodological artefacts'. This paper has three main goals: first, describe the measurement problem in consciousness science and argue that this problem led to the emergence of methodological artefacts. Second, provide a critical assessment of (...) the NCCs put forward by the global neuronal workspace theory. Third, provide the means of dissociating genuine NCCs from methodological artefacts. (shrink)
Local theories of consciousness state that one is conscious of a feature if it is adequately represented and processed in sensory brain areas, given some background conditions. We challenge the core prediction of local theories based on long-lasting postdictive effects demonstrating that features can be represented for hundreds of milliseconds in perceptual areas without being consciously perceived. Unlike previous empirical data aimed against local theories, localists cannot explain these effects away by conjecturing that subjects are phenomenally conscious of features that (...) they cannot report. We also discuss alternative explanations that localists could offer. (shrink)
This chapter presents the perceptual reality monitoring theory of consciousness (PRM). PRM is a higher-order theory of consciousness. It holds that consciousness involves monitoring the reliability of one’s own sensory signals. I explain how a perceptual reality monitoring mechanism computes the higher order representations that are crucial for consciousness. While PRM accounts for the difference between conscious and unconscious states, it does not explain, on its own, why experiences feel the way they do—the phenomenal character of experience. PRM is compatible (...) with multiple theories of phenomenal character. Here, I show how to combine it with ‘Mental Quality Space’ theory. I finish by presenting empirical evidence for PRM, as well as some of its predictions. (shrink)
Some proponents of the Integrated Information Theory of consciousness profess strong views on the Neural Correlates of Consciousness, namely that large swathes of the neocortex, the cerebellum, at least some sensory cortices, and the so-called limbic system are all not essential for any form of conscious experiences. We argue that this connection is not incidental. Conflation between strong and weak versions of the theory has led these researchers to adopt definitions of NCC that are inconsistent with their own previous definitions, (...) inadvertently betraying the promises of an otherwise fruitful empirical endeavour. (shrink)
Negative subjective reports such as “I didn’t see the stimulus” can be interpreted as indicating either that the subject didn’t see the stimulus, or as indicating that, while the subject did see the stimulus, the strength of sensory signals associated with the stimulus fell below a conservative criterion for answering “seen”. Determining which of these two interpretations is correct is the criterion problem. I present two ways in which researchers can solve this problem. But there’s more. What I call the (...) “new criterion problem” consists in determining whether criteria effects reflect perceptual changes, or changes in response strategy. Through case studies, I argue that this new version of the problem can be solved as well, although there is currently no systematic way to solve it. I conclude that criterion problems do not constitute good reasons for skepticism about the scientific study of consciousness. (shrink)
The scientific study of consciousness emerged as an organized field of research only a few decades ago. As empirical results have begun to enhance our understanding of consciousness, it is important to find out whether other factors, such as funding for consciousness research and status of consciousness scientists, provide a suitable environment for the field to grow and develop sustainably. We conducted an online survey on people’s views regarding various aspects of the scientific study of consciousness as a field of (...) research. 249 participants completed the survey, among which 80% were in academia, and around 40% were experts in consciousness research. Topics covered include the progress made by the field, funding for consciousness research, job opportunities for consciousness researchers, and the scientific rigor of the work done by researchers in the field. The majority of respondents (78%) indicated that scientific research on consciousness has been making progress. However, most participants perceived obtaining funding and getting a job in the field of consciousness research as more difficult than in other subfields of neuroscience. Overall, work done in consciousness research was perceived to be less rigorous than other neuroscience subfields, but this perceived lack of rigor was not related to the perceived difficulty in finding jobs and obtaining funding. Lastly, we found that, overall, the global workspace theory was perceived to be the most promising (around 28%), while most non-expert researchers (around 22% of non-experts) found the integrated information theory (IIT) most promising. We believe the survey results provide an interesting picture of current opinions from scientists and researchers about the progresses made and the challenges faced by consciousness research as an independent field. They will inspire collective reflection on the future directions regarding funding and job opportunities for the field. (shrink)
According to the global neuronal workspace model of consciousness, consciousness results from the global broadcast of information throughout the brain. The global neuronal workspace is mainly constituted by a fronto-parietal network. The anterior insular cortex is part of this global neuronal workspace, but the function of this region has not yet been defined within the global neuronal workspace model of consciousness. In this review, I hypothesize that the anterior insular cortex implements a cross-modal priority map, the function of which is (...) to determine priorities for the processing of information and subsequent entrance in the global neuronal workspace. (shrink)
To study consciousness, scientists need to determine when participants are conscious and when they are not. They do so with consciousness detection procedures. A recurring skeptical argument against those procedures is that they cannot be calibrated: there is no way to make sure that detection outcomes are accurate. In this article, I address two main skeptical arguments purporting to show that consciousness scientists cannot calibrate detection procedures. I conclude that there is nothing wrong with calibration in consciousness science.
Introspection is the capacity by which we know our own conscious mental states. Several theories aim to explain it. According to acquaintance theory, we know our experiences by being acquainted with them. Acquaintance is non-causal, non-inferential, and non-observational. I present a dilemma for the acquaintance theory of introspection. Either subjects are always acquainted with all their experiences; or some attentional mechanism selects the relevant experiences (or aspects of experiences) for introspection. The first option is implausible: it implies that subjects are (...) omniscient about their own experiences. The second option is also implausible: if acquaintance is a non-causal relation, introspection cannot target specific (aspects of) experiences without violating the principle of causal closure of the physical. (shrink)
Consciousness is currently a thriving area of research in psychology and neuroscience. While this is often attributed to events that took place in the early 1990s, consciousness studies today are a continuation of research that started in the late 19th century and that continued throughout the 20th century. From the beginning, the effort built on studies of animals to reveal basic principles of brain organization and function, and of human patients to gain clues about consciousness itself. Particularly important and our (...) focus here is research in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s involving three groups of patients—amnesia, split brain, and blindsight. Across all three groups, a similar pattern of results was found—the patients could respond appropriately to stimuli that they denied seeing (or in the case of amnesiacs, having seen before). These studies paved the way for the current wave of research on consciousness. The field is, in fact, still grappling with the implications of the findings showing that the ability to consciously know and report the identity of a visual stimulus can be dissociated in the brain from the mechanisms that underlie the ability to behave in a meaningful way to the same stimulus. (shrink)
Doerig et al. have set several criteria that theories of consciousness need to fulfill. By these criteria, higher-order theories fare better than most existing theories. But they also argue that higher-order theories may not be able to answer both the ‘small network argument’ and the ‘other systems argument’. In response, we focus on the case of the Perceptual Reality Monitoring theory to explain why higher-order theories do just fine.
Having a confirmation bias sometimes leads us to hold inaccurate beliefs. So, the puzzle goes: why do we have it? According to the influential argumentative theory of reasoning, confirmation bias emerges because the primary function of reason is not to form accurate beliefs, but to convince others that we’re right. A crucial prediction of the theory, then, is that confirmation bias should be found only in the reasoning domain. In this article, we argue that there is evidence that confirmation bias (...) does exist outside the reasoning domain. This undermines the main evidential basis for the argumentative theory of reasoning. In presenting the relevant evidence, we explore why having such confirmation bias may not be maladaptive. (shrink)
En sciences sociales, les scientifiques utilisent les rapports des sujets sur leurs propres états mentaux dans leurs démarches expérimentales. Ainsi, l’introspection, ou la capacité des sujets à former des croyances sur leurs propres états mentaux, y joue un rôle important. Selon les tenants de l’introspectionnisme, l’introspection est une méthode, certes privée, mais qui permet de justifier directement des hypothèses scientifiques. Ainsi, contrairement aux méthodes utilisées dans les sciences de la nature qui se fondent uniquement sur des données publiques, les sciences (...) sociales utiliseraient des données subjectives pour justifier leurs hypothèses. Contre l’introspectionnisme, nous défendons que l’introspection n’est pas utilisée pour justifier directement les hypothèses, mais que sa place est plutôt similaire à celle d’un instrument de mesure des états et processus mentaux des sujets, susceptible d’être calibré, à la façon dont les instruments de mesure utilisés dans les sciences... (shrink)