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This chapter discusses three classes of theories: information-processing theories that build on modular elements, network theories that focus on the distributed access of conscious processing, and globalist theories that combine aspects of these two. It also discusses cognitive or functional models of consciousness with less reference to the burgeoning neuroscientific evidence that increasingly supports the globalist position. Beginning in the 1980s, a number of experimental methods gained currency as means of studying comparable conscious and non-conscious processes. The metaphor of cognitive architectures dates to the 1970s when cognitive psychologists created information-processing models of mental processes. The general position is that consciousness operates as a distributed and flexible system offering nonconscious expert systems global accessibility to information that has a high concurrent value to the organism. Future work should focus on obtaining neuroscientific evidence and corresponding behavioral observations that can address global access as the distinguishing feature of consciousness.
Evan Thompson, Canada Research Chair and Associate Professor of Philosophy, York University,
Antoine Lutz, Postdoctoral Fellow, W. M. Keck Laboratory for Functional Brain Imaging and Behavior, Waisman Center, University of Wisconsin–Madison,
Diego Cosmelli, Ecole Polytechnique, Paris
One of the major challenges facing neuroscience today is to provide an explanatory framework that accounts for both the subjectivity and neurobiology of consciousness. Although neuroscientists have supplied neural models of various aspects of consciousness, and have uncovered evidence about the neural correlates of consciousness (or NCCs), there nonetheless remains an ‘explanatory gap’ in our understanding of how to relate neurobiological and phenomenological features of consciousness. This explanatory gap is conceptual, epistemological, and methodological:
An adequate conceptual framework is still needed to account for phenomena that (ⅰ) have a first-person, subjective-experiential or phenomenal character; (ⅱ) are (usually) reportable and describable (in humans); and (ⅲ) are neurobiologically realized.
The conscious subject plays an unavoidable epistemological role in characterizing the explanandum of consciousness through first-person descriptive reports. The experimentalist is then able to link first-person data and third-person data. Yet the generation of first-person data raises difficult epistemological issues about the relation of second-order awareness or meta-awareness to first-order experience (e.g., whether second-order attention to first-order experience inevitably affects the intentional content and/or phenomenal character of first-order experience).
The need for first-person data also raises methodological issues (e.g., whether subjects should be naïve or phenomenologically trained).
Neurophenomenology is a neuroscientific research program whose aim is to make progress on these issues associated with the explanatory gap. In this chapter we give an overview of the neurophenomenological approach to the study of consciousness.
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