Decoding the content of consciousness states: A neurophilosophical perspective on mind reading

Document Type: 
ASSC Conference Item
Article Type: 
Computational Nueroscience
brain reading, mind reading
Deposited by: 
Stephan Schleim
Date of Issue: 
Stephan Schleim
Event Dates: 
23-26 June 2006
Event Location: 
Oxford, GB
Event Title: 
10th annual meeting of the Association for the Scientific Study of Consciousness
Event Type: 
ASSC Conference
Presentation Type: 
Number of Pages: 
Until recently, the term “mind reading” in a scientific context usually referred to a subject’s theory of mind (TOM) capability to discern a conspecific’s mental state. However, the increasing understanding of methods of neuroimaging, especially fMRI, have led investigators to infer the content of mental images, effort to control racial prejudice in social interaction, imagery of bodily movement, the strategy to count a number of visual objects, lie detection, and even the orientation (Haynes & Rees 2005) and color (Kamitani & Tong 2005) of subjectively experienced bistable stimuli from aggregated or single-trial blood oxygen level dependent (BOLD) signals. Especially the last two studies are of immediate importance for consciousness research, as they provide means to access a subject’s first-person state from a scientific third-person perspective and are therefore a first step in the direction of breaking the neural code of representation.Nevertheless, what can count as true mind reading requires conceptual clarification, because the distinction between non-private (e.g. stimulus-related) and private (e.g. imagery, thought, attention) mental states plays an important role. Further, it is a qualified question in how far these results have to be considered rather as a mere reproduction or retro-diction of previous findings than a genuine prediction, because virtually every imaging paradigm with statistically significant findings can trivially be used to infer a subject’s state from the retrospective view. After summarizing the above mentioned studies, I suggest a theoretical framework providing necessary and sufficient conditions for weak vs. strong forms of mind reading. I then evaluate the presented studies by means of this newly introduced conceptual distinction to answer the question of whether true mind reading is already possible or remains – for the time being – mere fiction.
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