Time, action, and consciousness

Abstract
Time plays a central role in consciousness, at different levels and in different aspects of information processing. Subliminal perception experiments demonstrate that stimuli presented too briefly to enter conscious awareness are nevertheless processed to some extent. Implicit learning, implicit memory, and conditioning studies suggest that the extent to which memory traces are available for verbal report and for cognitive control is likewise dependent on the time available for processing during acquisition. Differences in the time available for processing also determine not only the extent to which one becomes conscious of action, but also provides the basis for making attributions of authorship to experienced acts. In this paper, we offer a brief overview of these different findings and suggest that they can all be understood based on the fact that consciousness takes time. From this perspective, the availability of representations to conscious awareness depends on the quality of these representations — the extent to which they are strong, stable in time, and distinctive. High-quality representations occur when processes of global competition have had sufficient time to operate so as to make the system settle into the best possible interpretation of the input. Such processes implement global constraint satisfaction and critically depend on reentrant processing, through which representations can be further enriched by high-level constraints. We discuss these ideas in light of current theories of consciousness, emphasizing the fact that consciousness should be viewed as a process rather than as a static property associated with some states and not with others
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