We are still far from having a clear theoretical understanding of attention, consciousness, and unconsciousness, let alone their relations. Scientists often work with an intuitive understanding of consciousness rather than a clearly defined concept. Unconsciousness is usually only negatively defined as the complement of consciousness. Not only does this leave both terms underspecified. It also makes it impossible to fruitfully address questions such as what the relation between consciousness and attention is and what exactly the role of conscious cognitive processing in contrast to unconscious cognitive processing is.
The aim of this workshop is to develop a new concept of conscious and unconscious processing which is strongly empirically anchored. We will clarify the concept of consciousness (1) by discussing the relation of consciousness, information and attention (Montemayor), (2) by presenting novel empirical findings concerning the offline stream of conscious representations supporting the global workspace theory (Sergent), (3) by suggesting a cognitive architecture of conscious processing which is anchored in Bayesian processing and which accounts for basic evolutionary functions of consciousness: the ALARM theory of consciousness (Newen) and (4) by presenting challenges for the empirical investigation of unconscious mentality and by showing how only a conceptual pluralism with regard to unconscious mentality has the potential to meet these challenges (Krickel). The combination of these contributions will deliver fruitful new theoretical perspectives, include new experiments, and novel ideas, whereby all proposals are strongly anchored in up-to-date empirical research.
Institute for Philosophy
University of Bochum, Germany
Department of Philosophy
San Francisco State University, USA
Albert Newen (chair)
Institute for Philosophy
University of Bochum, Germany
Laboratory for the Psychology of Perception
University of Paris Descartes, France
Consciousness, Information and Attention
How exactly does consciousness differ from other fundamental components of the mind? This talk explores the differences between conscious and unconscious mental states within the context of information processing. The talk examines current approaches to how consciousness is associated with information and presents various possibilities about how to define consciousness in terms of information. Some of the central questions examined are: Can we avoid a functionalist approach and address the hard problem of consciousness with a theory of information? How can we account for information processing that is not conscious. (e.g., information that is necessarily conscious versus information that is necessarily unconscious)? How might answers to these questions elucidate the relationship between consciousness and attention?
Carlos Montemayor is Associate Professor of Philosophy at San Francisco State University, USA. His research focuses on philosophy of mind and cognitive science. He is the author of Minding Time: A Philosophical and Theoretical Approach to the Psychology of Time (Brill, The Netherlands, 2013), co-author (with Harry H. Haladjian) of Consciousness, Attention, and Conscious Attention (MIT Press, 2015) and co-author (with Abrol Fairweather) of Knowledge, Dexterity, and Attention: A Theory of Epistemic Agency (Cambridge University Press, 2017).
Global Workspace Theory and the Offline Stream of Conscious Representations
Spontaneously we think that the flow of our conscious perception is in synchrony with the external events. However, several current theories of consciousness might predict otherwise. According to the global workspace theory, conscious access does not arise during the initial phase of sensory processing, but is linked with a second, optional phase of processing where reactivation of local sensory information by top-down attentional influence allows this information to be broadcast to a wider network of areas, including fronto-parietal hubs. Interestingly, this theoretical proposition leads to a counter intuitive prediction : that conscious access to a sensory information is not necessarily time-locked with the external event, as sensory processing would be ; it is time-locked with the broadcast of a representation. In a series of experiments, we validated this prediction by showing that retrospective attention can trigger conscious perception of a past and previously missed stimulus, suggesting the existence of a form of « retro-perception ». Based on these observations, as well as other intriguing phenomena such as the psychological refractory period and latent working memory, I will explore the idea that such temporal flexibility -this possibility to process information offline, in a slightly asynchronous manner- is a key aspect of the conscious mode of processing.
Claire Sergent is Associate Professor at the University of Paris Descartes. She passed her PhD in 2005 at Université Paris XI under the supervision of Stanislaus Dehaene. In the last decade she has co-authored many articles with him and his lab on consciousness. Now, she is an independent researcher at a laboratory focusing on the psychology of perception.
Albert Newen (with Carlos Montemayor)
The ALARM Theory of Consciousness
What is the cognitive architecture of consciousness? Is it best described by higher-order theories of consciousness, by global workspace theories or do we have to presuppose consciousness as a nonreducible property? We think that neither of these theoretical strategies is capturing the heart of consciousness. We presuppose that cognitive systems use Bayesian processes to implement learning processes by reweighting of Bayesian priors. Conscious processing plays a crucial role in learning processes since it allows for instantaneous learning in contrast to cumulative learning. Cumulative learning enables a cognitive system to account for former experiences which is realized by a systematic Bayesian reweighting of former priors that integrates the new experience. In contrast, instantaneous learning provides a great advantage over cumulative learning since it allows for a radical reweighting of priors in a life-challenging situation: if life is in danger, the cognitive system cannot just do a cumulative integration of the challenging experience. Rather, it must give absolute priority to it. For example, if you burned your hand, it is highly beneficial to consciously feel this and thereby giving the pain absolute priority to save the organism. The ALARM architecture is described in detail.
Albert Newen is Full Professor for Philosophy of Mind at the Ruhr-University Bochum (RUB) and director of the Center for Mind and Cognition at RUB. He is president of the German Society for Cognitive Science (2018-2020). His main work includes important contributions to interdisciplinary philosophical theory formation which is essentially based on the empirical discoveries in psychology, psychiatry and neuroscience. This leads to more than 100 articles in peer-reviewed journals including Cognition, Mind & Language, Phil. Phen. Research, Synthese, Phil. Psychology, Erkenntnis, etc. He also initiated several empirical studies which shaped the theory of self-consciousness, agency and social cognition including social perception
Is there Unconscious Mentality?
The claim that there is unconscious mentality (UM) is ubiquitous in various areas of philosophy and science. It is argued that perception can happen unconsciously, that our actions are influenced by unconscious attitudes, and that even decision-making can occur unconsciously. However, a closer look at the empirical evidence for UM suggests a less clear picture. There are at least five challenges: First, the empirical criteria for non-consciousness of the relevant mental states or processes are not reliable. Second, it is unclear in which sense the unconscious states are supposed to be mental and how this is empirically substantiated. Third, on the assumption that the justification for UM is an inference to the best explanation, it is unclear why explanations invoking UM should provide the best explanation. Fourth, explanations invoking UM can be rationalizing explanations or mechanistic explanations. Failing to appreciate this distinction, researchers misleadingly take subjective reports about reasons to provide evidence about causes. Fifth, it is doubtable whether the postulation of unconscious mental states indeed has any explanatory value as there are many different contrasts to “conscious”: pre-conscious, a-conscious, non-conscious, procedural, non-declarative, automatic, unfelt, subliminal, denied, miscategorized, fragmented, not reportable, implicit, not integrated, not available for rational planning and reasoning – to mention just a few.
Beate Krickel is Assistant Professor at the Institute for Philosophy II at Ruhr University Bochum. Her research focuses on Philosophy of Science as well as Philosophy of Psychology. In her recent book The Mechanical World (2018, Springer) as well as in several articles she investigates the conceptual and ontological commitments of mechanistic explanation and their connection to empirical methods. Furthermore, she developed a new interpretation the role of unconscious mental processing in implicit bias (2018, Philosophical Psychology).