The link between brain learning, attention, and consciousness

Consciousness and Cognition 8 (1):1-44 (1999)
Abstract
The processes whereby our brains continue to learn about a changing world in a stable fashion throughout life are proposed to lead to conscious experiences. These processes include the learning of top-down expectations, the matching of these expectations against bottom-up data, the focusing of attention upon the expected clusters of information, and the development of resonant states between bottom-up and top-down processes as they reach an attentive consensus between what is expected and what is there in the outside world. It is suggested that all conscious states in the brain are resonant states and that these resonant states trigger learning of sensory and cognitive representations. The models which summarize these concepts are therefore called Adaptive Resonance Theory, or ART, models. Psychophysical and neurobiological data in support of ART are presented from early vision, visual object recognition, auditory streaming, variable-rate speech perception, somatosensory perception, and cognitive-emotional interactions, among others. It is noted that ART mechanisms seem to be operative at all levels of the visual system, and it is proposed how these mechanisms are realized by known laminar circuits of visual cortex. It is predicted that the same circuit realization of ART mechanisms will be found in the laminar circuits of all sensory and cognitive neocortex. Concepts and data are summarized concerning how some visual percepts may be visibly, or modally, perceived, whereas amodal percepts may be consciously recognized even though they are perceptually invisible. It is also suggested that sensory and cognitive processing in the What processing stream of the brain obey top-down matching and learning laws that are often complementary to those used for spatial and motor processing in the brain's Where processing stream. This enables our sensory and cognitive representations to maintain their stability as we learn more about the world, while allowing spatial and motor representations to forget learned maps and gains that are no longer appropriate as our bodies develop and grow from infanthood to adulthood. Procedural memories are proposed to be unconscious because the inhibitory matching process that supports these spatial and motor processes cannot lead to resonance
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