Consciousness Doesn't Overflow Cognition

Frontiers in Psychology 5:10.3389/fpsyg.2014.01399 (2014)


Theories of consciousness can be separated into those that see it as cognitive in nature, or as an aspect of cognitive functioning, and those that see consciousness as importantly distinct from any kind of cognitive functioning. One version of the former kind of theory is the higher-order-thought theory of consciousness. This family of theories posits a fundamental role for cognitive states, higher-order thought-like intentional states, in the explanation of conscious experience. These states are higher-order in that they represent the subject herself as being in various world-directed first-order states and thus constitute a kind of cognitive access to one's own mental life. This distinctive cognitive access is postulated to account for what it is like for one to have a conscious experience. One important challenge to this approach is Block's case for phenomenological overflow (Block, 2007, 2011, 2012). The basic argument is that, overall, the balance of evidence favors the identification of phenomenal consciousness with first-order non-cognitive states rather than our cognitive access to those states. Emerging clearly from the ensuing debate is that Block's argument is meant to establish that phenomenology overflows working memory. This is important because, unlike other theories, the higher-order thought theory can allow that our conscious experience overflows working memory. In addition, it can account for the subjective impression that there is overflow even if there isn't.

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References found in this work

Perceptual Consciousness Overflows Cognitive Access.Ned Block - 2011 - Trends in Cognitive Sciences 15 (12):567-575.
Consciousness Cannot Be Separated From Function.Michael A. Cohen & Daniel C. Dennett - 2011 - Trends in Cognitive Sciences 15 (8):358--364.

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