Vol 15, No 2 (2009)

Unconscious & Consciousness


Table of Contents


(To be) conscious or unconscious: that is the question.  Full Text
Gabriel Kreiman, Stephanie Ortigue


Book Reviews

Quantum Enigma: Physics Encounters Consciousness Summary Full Text
Huping Hu
In contrast to other books popularizing quantum mechanics, the importance and significance of this book is that it both explicitly discusses the connections between quantum mechanics and consciousness, and is used as course material for liberal arts students at the authors’ university (UC Santa Cruz) and perhaps elsewhere. Teaching with humor and sometimes in parables, the authors skillfully expose some of the enigmas of quantum mechanics with emphasis on their connections to consciousness. Chiefly, these enigmas are: (1) the measurement problem which involves observer created reality and the randomness of nature, and (2) quantum entanglement, experimentally verified through violations of Bell’s inequality, which suggests inseparability or nonlocality at the microscopic levels. Rosenblum and Kuttner also succinctly summarize nine interpretations of quantum physics and point out in no uncertain terms that every interpretation encounters consciousness (158–69).
Physical Realization Summary Full Text
Wilson Cooper
In Physical Realization, Sydney Shoemaker argues that all properties, including phenomenally conscious properties that feature in our cognitive activities are realized in microphysical states of affairs or properties. It is the purpose of Physical Realization to provide an account of realization ‘and to discuss [its] bearing on a number of central topics in metaphysics and philosophy of mind’ (4). This book consolidates many of the themes found in Sydney Shoemaker’s work over the past quarter of a century, including his work on properties, coincident objects, essentialism, material constitution, and persistence through time, and culminates in a systematic overall metaphysical framework.
Distributed Cognition and the Will: Individual Volition and Social Context Summary Full Text
Carlo Martini
Distributed Cognition and the Will is a very ambitious collection of 13 essays (plus the introduction) exploring different facets of the relation between an “old problem” (the will) and a relatively recent field of studies (distributed cognition theories). As Don Ross, one of the editors, points out in the very opening lines of the introduction, if there were a ranking of the major problems that have been discussed in roughly two and a half millennia of philosophical enquiry, the problem of the will would figure among the top hits. But recent studies and empirical work on cognition and behavioral sciences come to conclusions in stark contrast with the traditional notions of agency, free will and will-causes-action accounts. One of the authors’ opening claims illustrates the general spirit of the collection: P. S. Davies writes that “the traditional notions of agency are dead or dying and their replacements are yet to be born or yet to reach maturity” (p. 39). These 13 essays are an interdisciplinary attempt to contribute to a better understanding of the flaws embedded in the classical conceptions of will and agency and to put forward some proposals for new or revised ones.
Describing Inner Experience? Proponent Meets Skeptic Summary Full Text
Josh Weisberg
What happens when a psychologist who’s spent the last 30 years developing a method of introspective sampling and a philosopher whose central research project is casting skeptical doubt on the accuracy of introspection write a book together? The result, Hurlburt & Schwitzgebel’s thought-provoking Describing Inner Experience?, is both encouraging and disheartening. Encouraging, because the book is a fine example of fruitful and open-minded interdisciplinary engagement; disheartening, because it makes clear just how difficult it is to justify the accuracy of introspective methods in psychology and philosophy. And since debates in consciousness studies largely turn on fine points of introspective detail, this is no minor methodological stumbling block.
Phenomenal Concepts and Phenomenal Knowledge Summary Full Text
James Trafford
Phenomenal Concepts and Phenomenal Knowledge is an edited volume of new essays relating to the debates around phenomenal experience in philosophy of mind. Alter and Walter provide an excellent introduction to the volume, producing a well edited collection of papers that represent some of the most interesting and cutting edge work in the field, and together provide a subtle and complex overview of the contemporary theoretical landscape. In addition, as many of the papers refer to others within the volume, they provide an excellent opportunity for in depth and complex debate between some of the leading theorists at work today. This review concentrates on ways in which papers in the volume further debates around the construal of phenomenal consciousness as physical or non-physical, and also on new responses to the infamous knowledge argument.



The neural correlates of perceptual awareness Summary Full Text
Alberto Capurro, Rodrigo Quian Quiroga
The study of the neural correlates of awareness is nowadays an active research field in Neuroscience. This has been basically boosted by the study of neural correlates of conscious perception with single cell recordings in monkeys and voxel activities with human fMRI experiments. In this review, we discuss the main experiments with recording of single neurons and related evidence about the neural events underling visual perceptual awareness.
Invisible is Better: Decrease of Subliminal Priming With Increasing Visibility Summary Full Text
Doris Eckstein, Dennis Norris, Matthew Davis, Richard Henson
Comparisons of indirect measures (e.g, subliminal priming) with direct measures (e.g, conscious reports, or prime discriminability) can help elucidate the relationship between nonconscious and conscious perception. We report three experiments on masked word priming in which we observed a negative correlation between prime discriminability (d’) and priming (RT), i.e. where priming decreased with increasing prime visibility. While such observations are rare (other empirical reports suggest instead a positive d’-priming relationship), they may indicate a conflict between conscious and nonconscious processing when primes are shown close to the subjective visibility threshold for the priming-relevant information. For instance, such a conflict could occur between nonconscious processing of a prime’s meaning and conscious perception of prime letters. Theoretical accounts that discuss similar conflicts assume that the conflict is resolved either by automatically prioritising conscious processes (Conscious Override Account) or by discounting the estimated confusion caused by a prime-target pair (Confusion Discounting Account). In both cases, priming is predicted to decrease when prime visibility increases from below threshold to perithreshold levels. Therefore, we suggest that negative priming-d’ relationships are most likely observed when the d’ measure assesses prime visibility at a level of representation that is below the level of representation at which priming arises, in terms of a putative hierarchy of word processing.
Brain Energy Supports the State of Consciousness Summary Full Text
Robert G. Shulman, Fahmeed Hyder, Douglas L. Rothman
Following the pragmatic practices of anesthesiologists an individual (human or animal) is defined to be in a state of consciousness empirically by the behavioral ability to respond to simple stimuli and the loss of consciousness is defined by the loss of that facility. Several brain activities are proposed as properties of the state of consciousness. Baseline brain energy consumption has been shown by 13C MRS to be almost completely used for neuronal signaling. PET measurements of glucose or oxygen consumption, from several laboratories, show a widespread ~45% reduction in cerebral energy during anesthesia-induced loss of consciousness. We propose that the high level of brain energy consumption of the awake state is a necessary property of the state of consciousness. Two additional neuronal properties are drastic changes in the patterns of fMRI activation and neuronal population activity at deep vs. light levels of anesthesia, which correspond to low vs. high energy states, respectively. The brain-wide fMRI activity patterns with rat sensory stimulation at the higher energy state (close to awake) collapses to contralateral somatosensory response at the lower energy state. Firing rates of an ensemble of neurons in the rat somatosensory cortex show that most of the energy in light anesthesia is consumed in the spiking frequency range of 20-40 Hz, which include γ-band electrical signals. In deep anesthesia the frequency range shifts to below 10 Hz. The high brain energy consumption, characteristic of the state of consciousness, supports elevated levels of high frequency neuronal firing observed in the resting, awake brain. In our model, necessary brain properties of the state of consciousness create our physical understanding of that state rather than the converse, popular in neuroimaging, in which subjective mental processes are identified to be necessary and sufficient correlates of the state of consciousness.
Conscious and unconscious processes in human desire Summary Full Text
Jackie Andrade, Jon May, David Kavanagh
Elaborated Intrusion theory (Kavanagh, Andrade & May, 2005) distinguishes between unconscious, associative processes as the precursors of desire, and controlled processes of cognitive elaboration that lead to conscious sensory images of the target of desire and associated affect. We argue that the latter play a key role in motivating human behaviour. Consciousness is functional in that it allows competing goals to be compared and evaluated. The role of effortful cognitive processes in desire helps to explain the different time courses of craving and physiological withdrawal.
Neurobiology of conscious and unconscious processes during waking and sleep Summary Full Text
Claude J. Gottesmann
Waking mind functioning comprises conscious and unconscious processes, with the latter being experimentally demonstrated by parapraxes and recent findings showing the active suppression of unwanted memories. According to psychoanalytic theory, these repression phenomena involve an unconscious censorship process. Today, neurobiological results show that this process seems to occur during waking rather than during the dreaming sleep stage.