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Wednesday, December 15, 2010

My Paper on Unconscious Perceptual Processes

The official link to my paper "Are there unconscious perceptual processes?" is now up. The paper manuscript is available in full on my homepage.


Anonymous said...

Seems to me the central issue of your paper is, in effect, how are conscious and unconscious to be defined?
Your opponents want to define it or establish conditions for it that you argue against.
But I find so troublesome this notion of the unconscious and conscious and "process".
What would be a conscious process? ---Is a conscious process a notion that arises saying "I am thinking" or " I am feeling" or I am thinking and feeling and , oh,there is another thought and another feeling" or some such? This is apparently, is commonly held to characterize consciousness.
Seems to me one could easily argue that these are just more examples of stuff that is produced by unconscious processes----so that, apparently, everything mind, including conscousness, is caused by unconscious processes and there is no such thing as a conscious process.
All I know is that some thought or saying arises and is said or written---including this sentence.
And including the notion that there is an I which knows or is conscious of something.
But if all such are caused by unconscous processes then this "I"
is just the result of an unconscious process--and not an individual identity at all, in fact. For if by "I" we mean at least a watcher, independent of what it is watching, then there is no such, for the "I" is just a notion from or at most an epiphenomenon of unconscious processes and there is no such entity as an individual--there are only neurons firing. That's all I can figure you mean by "unconscious processes".
So who or what is there to be conscious? So what is there then--an unconscious entity? Any such posit would be pure surmise or premise and silly.
Without some thing being conscious there is no such thing as a thing being unconscious.
If all is unconscious process then the notion of the individual is destroyed. And the existence of the individual, as you know, is at the center of psychology.
So what then, the body is the individual? The billions of cells
is the individual? What a joke.
From my point of view, the conclusion your set-up leads to is that there is no individual, nor is there consciousness.
I don't care one way or the other about this but it seems to me you are naive about the implications of your approach. You avoid the issue--which I think might be just fine for a psychologist, but not for a philosopher worthy of the name.

Brit Brogaard said...

No, my paper is not seeking to define "consciousness". It assumes that there is consciousness. The paper is not a philosophy paper. It does not aim at providing a discussion of what consciousness is. It aims at providing an answer to a question neuroscientists are still debating, namely that of whether perception can take place at a level below conscious awareness.

Anonymous said...

Hi Berit, Sheffield Drake here,
thanks for your reply,

Your definition of conscious strikes me as circular.
It's like defining peach taste as the content of peach in a taste format. This is the common thing to do unfortunately.
A definition lists the necessary features of some thing. But in my view the specific cases allowed as cases of the thing so defined, are also necessary features of the thing, are also part of the definition.
In my view, if a log sawn off flat is allowed as a case of chair or chairness then it is part of the definition of chair; the definition is different if the log is excluded as a case of chair.
So too the definition of conscious process would be one thing if the phenomenon your opponents cite as an example of conscious process is accepted as such, and the definition is another thing if your view prevails and the phenomenon is accepted as unconscious.
The american psychological association declared recently that
simple toe tapping restlessness by
elementary school children is now
a psychological disorder needing treatment. The definition of Psych
disorder became different with the introduction of such a case(and I agree with many who say "psych disorder" is rendered ridiculous).
It may be argued that the definition may stay the same and the cases change. Ok, but the point is that the idea, the concept, the character of the thing--which to me is the essence of definition-- is changed by cases.
The facts in this situation are not at issue, I assume. It is not doubted, for instance, that those areas of the brain you cite as associated with consciousness are not involved in the process at issue---so the focus is squarely on what label goes where.
By your paper you seek to exclude the phenomenon at issue from being labeled a case of conscious processes and instead want to have the phenomenon labeled a case of unconscious processes. The effect is to narrow the application of one definition and expand the application of the other.
Which ever label wins out--if it is ever decided by your fellows-- it will change the definitions of both consciousness and the unconscious, within the context of your profession.
My own view is that the unconscious is just a word for
the hypothesis that something in the brain causes the stuff that comes to our attention. It is a placeholder for "I don't know what" and deserves oblivion by Ockham's razor, as does consciousness,a paradoxical entity if there ever was one, since, if it is separate and different from content,it can never be known for the sense and notion of consciousness itself must be content and not consciousness and therefore we can't know even if there is such a thing. SO paradox.
You say that consciousness is assumed. Well, as you all decide what cases constitute examples of conscious and unconscious you will decide the character, the actual substance of what you have assumed.
And the definitions will change
with those decisions.
I understand that this paper is a psychology paper ---I simply think that the topic --as well as the profession---could benefit by a rigorous dose of philosophical analysis. So I am asking that you
put on your philosopher's hat.
In any case I want to thank you for this site and forum you have created. It is consistently one of the most interesting I visit.

Brit Brogaard said...

Hello Sheffield,

My paper does not seek to define 'consciousness'. That would be a different paper.

My paper looks at a specific debate in neuroscience about blindsight and dorsal stream processing. With respect to blindsight the issue is whether blindsight is a kind of severely degraded normal vision or is importantly different from normal vision. With respect to dorsal stream processing the issue is whether the representations that govern actions are accessible from working memory. The view I present and defend is that blindsight is fundamentally different from normal sight and that dorsal stream representations are inaccessible from working memory.

Throughout the paper I take 'consciousness' to be mean 'access consciousness'. At the end I reflect on the connection between phenomenal consciousness and access consciousness.

Anonymous said...

Hi Berit, Sheffield here,
thanks for your reply,

In effect, your paper does attempt to affect the definition of consciousness.
You have not explicitly said so in your paper ---but from my view that is what you are doing.
From your abstract:
"Blindsight and vision for action seem to be exemplars of unconscious visual processes. However, researchers have recently argued that blindsight is not really a kind of unconscious vision but is rather severely degraded conscious vision." And, "some interpret these results as showing that some dorsal stream processes are conscious visual processes."
And "The aim of this paper is to provide new support for the more traditional view that blindsight and vision for action are genuinely
unconscious perceptual processes."
I maintain that your aim, in effect, is not to deny the validity of the data--but to deny that its interpretation should allow these processes to be called "conscious".
Instead you want them to remain
"exemplars of unconscious visual processes".
Sounds to me that your aim, in effect, is to keep the definition of consciousness free of this bunch of data; to keep the data and conditions at issue from being subsumed by, or be a case of, the definition of consciousness. Instead, you want the it declared that the data and conditions are a case of "unconscious visual processes".
Clearly, whichever view prevails will have an effect upon the definition of consciousness and unconsciousness, specifically as it relates to vision.
If yours prevails it will say, in effect, that the definition of consciousness does not encompass these data but the definition of unconsciousness does.
Apparently, you are not saying that the consciousness in conscious visual processes is completely different from other consciousness and a separate thing altogether.
No, Unconsciousness and consciousness are very broad terms indeed and have wide compass. The widest framework of this dispute is consciousness and unconsciousness.
Clearly, the view that prevails will effect, will help constitute, the definition of conscious and unconscious as understood by your profession.
Surely, you are not saying that your paper's point of view, if adopted by most of your colleagues, will have no effect on the definition of consciousness and unconsciousness within
your profession?
Sorry, I don't buy it.
Use your Philosopher's vision to see a bit wider.
Again thanks for this forum.
And by the way, years ago I visited Denmark: countryside, Copenhagen, Tivoli gardens. I stayed with friends in a suburb called Brondby Strand.
Denmark summer is so green and beautiful---cows everywhere, and Copenhagen is a magical town.

Anonymous said...

Sheffield here,


Given the vagueness of both COnsciousness and unconscious--you know that where and how consciousness ends and unconsciousness begins is going to involve a continuum--a vague continuum where the point one meets the other will be tough to pin down. (Like how many hairs
lost equals bald). And this is
the ultimately the bedrock of the dispute. And I don't think it matters whether you specify the issue is about access consciousness or
Stream of consciousness, Phenomenal consciousness, subjective conscousness, transitive consciousness, what it is like to be a bat consciousness, meta-mentality, raw qualia, narrative consciousness, self-relexive consciousness---all of it is mushy conceptually and circularly defined, and to me all permutations of consciousness are superfluous. Optional--- not necessary.
It can be said perfectly coherently that "there is anger" or "colors and beauty have arisen" without thought or mention of any consciousness or even without an "I" of any sort.
My position is that consciousness or unconsciousness
or I or me arise like any other thing or arise as false or non--existent, whether held to be entities or just notions (and I don't see much difference)this stuff just shows up like anything else--and it goes away like anything else and comes back again.
That there is any permanent thing there is dubitable. Some may see it everywhere, and some, myself included, see it no where. But I see this intuition of consciousness as perfectly valid, as is no such intuition in my case.
And this is part of my point--that all these perspectives, all this stuff that shows up, including consciousness--is on a par. No thing ultimately more significant than another thing. How can that be?
Because I see that consciousness or what have you appears in a space of non-personal being. The personal arises in the non-personal. All things that arise, arise in the non-personal. Being has no particular identity. Rather, particular identities come out of it.
It is more of an absence than a positive thing--yet an absence in which there is no lack. You can't say what it is --yet there is nothing missing there.
Some people introspect and see consciousness--I introspect and see
that I am absent; That what arises is not, none of it, what I am.
I am rather, the absence of all that -so cannot know or say what I am. And I maintain that none of us can know what we are---because at base we are all that absence that yet still is. We are a beautiful unknown is how it comes.
So, in the context of things and stuff, an identity will arise with preferences and and sentiments and some will have sentiment one way or another about whther there is or is not consciousness. But to the absent fundament we are---these things have no significance,
produce no change--for that absence is ever the same and ever quiet.
This description as part of the world of things is necesssarily positing a thing,a notion, entity something known, and we are the unknown.
If you are not what arises as a person, a self, a body, a thing, a a notion, a story. Then what are you?
It may be objected that to say it is the unknown it to say something you know about it--so how can it be unknown?
And the only way I can put it is that when there is introspection, I see that I am absent entirely--and yet there is nothing missing in that. We are the unknown basis of everything.
In the face of it words seem silly to me.
Yes, I know that this is a galaxy away from the constructive comment about your paper that you would like to receive. Yes, I am guilty of the sin of tangentiality
and I apologize.
Berit, I want to wish you a very joyous and happy and healthy and
loving and congnizantly productive NEW YEAR.

Brit Brogaard said...

Hi there. Sorry it has taken me so long to get back to you. I got caught up in some deadline projects. You raise some interesting issues about consciousness. If you want, you can take a look at my paper "Degrees of Consciousness" and see if the issues raised there are more in line with what you are getting at. The paper is available on my website.