Consciousness: The Radical Plasticity Thesis

Document Type: 
Book Chapter
Article Type: 
Theoretical
Disciplines: 
Philosophy
Topics: 
Theory of Consciousness
Keywords: 
consciousness, learning, subjective experience, neural networks, metarepresentation
Deposited by: 
Dr Axel Cleeremans
Date of Issue: 
2007
Authors: 
Axel Cleeremans
Title of Book: 
Models of Brain and Mind: Physical, Computational, and Psychological Approaches
Series Name: 
Progress in Brain Research
Number of Pages: 
31
Publisher: 
Elsevier
Place of Publication: 
Amsterdam
Alternative URL: 
http://srsc.ulb.ac.be/axcWWW/papers/pdf/07-PBR.pdf
Abstract: 
I sketch a conceptual framework which takes it as a starting point that conscious and unconscious cognition are rooted in the same set of interacting learning mechanisms and representational systems. On this view, the extent to which a representation is conscious depends in a graded manner on properties such as its stability in time or its strength. Crucially, these properties are accrued as a result of learning, which is in turn viewed as a mandatory process that always accompanies information processing. From this perspective, consciousness is best characterized as involving (1) a graded continuum defined over “quality of representation”, such that availability to consciousness and to cognitive control correlates with quality , and (2) the implication of systems of metarepresentations. A first implication of these ideas is that the main function of consciousness is to make flexible, adaptive control over behavior possible. A second, much more speculative implication, is that we learn to be conscious. This I call the “radical plasticity thesis” — the hypothesis that consciousness emerges in systems capable not only of learning about their environment, but also about their own internal representations of it.
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PBR07-Cleeremans.pdf334.16 KB