Although science has made considerable progress in discovering the neural basis of cognitive processes, how consciousness arises remains elusive. In this book, Cyriel Pennartz analyzes which aspects of conscious experience can be peeled away to access its core: the “hardest” aspect, the relationship between brain processes and the subjective, qualitative nature of consciousness. Pennartz traces the problem back to its historical roots in the foundations of neuroscience and connects early ideas on sensory processing to contemporary computational neuroscience.
What can we learn from neural network models, and where do they fall short in bridging the gap between neural processes and conscious experience? Do neural models of cognition resemble inanimate systems, and how can this help us define requirements for conscious processing in the brain? These questions underlie Pennartz’s examination of the brain’s anatomy and neurophysiology. The perspective of his account is not limited to visual perception but broadened to include other sensory modalities and their integration. Formulating a representational theory of the neural basis of consciousness, Pennartz outlines properties that complex structures must express to process information consciously. This theoretical framework is constructed using empirical findings from neuropsychology and neuroscience as well as such theoretical arguments as the Cuneiform Room and the Wall Street Banker. Positing that qualitative experience is a multimodal and multilevel phenomenon at its very roots, Pennartz places this body of theory in the wider context of mind-brain philosophy, examining implications for our thinking about animal and robot consciousness.
The Centered Mind offers a new view of the nature and causal determinants of both reflective thinking and, more generally, the stream of consciousness. Peter Carruthers argues that conscious thought is always sensory-based, relying on the resources of the working-memory system. This system has been much studied by cognitive scientists. It enables sensory images to be sustained and manipulated through attentional signals directed at midlevel sensory areas of the brain. When abstract conceptual representations are bound into these images, we consciously experience ourselves as making judgments or arriving at decisions. Thus one might hear oneself as judging, in inner speech, that it is time to go home, for example. However, our amodal (non-sensory) propositional attitudes are never actually among the contents of this stream of conscious reflection. Our beliefs, goals, and decisions are only ever active in the background of consciousness, working behind the scenes to select the sensory-based imagery that occurs in working memory. They are never themselves conscious.
Drawing on extensive knowledge of the scientific literature on working memory and related topics, Carruthers builds an argument that challenges the central assumptions of many philosophers. In addition to arguing that non-sensory propositional attitudes are never conscious, he also shows that they are never under direct intentional control. Written with his usual clarity and directness, The Centered Mind will be essential reading for all philosophers and cognitive scientists interested in the nature of human thought processes.
In this book, Kristina Musholt offers a novel theory of self-consciousness, understood as the ability to think about oneself. Traditionally, self-consciousness has been central to many philosophical theories. More recently, it has become the focus of empirical investigation in psychology and neuroscience. Musholt draws both on philosophical considerations and on insights from the empirical sciences to offer a new account of self-consciousness — the ability to think about ourselves that is at the core of what makes us human.
Examining theories of nonconceptual content developed in recent work in the philosophy of cognition, Musholt proposes a model for the gradual transition from self-related information implicit in the nonconceptual content of perception and other forms of experience to the explicit representation of the self in conceptual thought. A crucial part of this model is an analysis of the relationship between self-consciousness and intersubjectivity. Self-consciousness and awareness of others, Musholt argues, are two sides of the same coin.
After surveying the philosophical problem of self-consciousness, the notion of nonconceptual content, and various proposals for the existence of nonconceptual self-consciousness, Musholt argues for a non-self-representationalist theory, according to which the self is not part of the representational content of perception and bodily awareness but part of the mode of presentation. She distinguishes between implicitly self-related information and explicit self-representation, and describes the transitions from the former to the latter as arising from a complex process of self–other differentiation. By this account, both self-consciousness and intersubjectivity develop in parallel.
What turns the continuous flow of experience into perceptually distinct objects? Can our verbal descriptions unambiguously capture what it is like to see, hear, or feel? How might we reason about the testimony that perception alone discloses? Christian Coseru proposes a rigorous and highly original way to answer these questions by developing a framework for understanding perception as a mode of apprehension that is intentionally constituted, pragmatically oriented, and causally effective. By engaging with recent discussions in phenomenology and analytic philosophy of mind, but also by drawing on the work of Husserl and Merleau-Ponty, Coseru offers a sustained argument that Buddhist philosophers, in particular those who follow the tradition of inquiry initiated by Dignaga and Dharmakirti, have much to offer when it comes to explaining why epistemological disputes about the evidential role of perceptual experience cannot satisfactorily be resolved without taking into account the structure of our cognitive awareness.