Consciousness: the radical plasticity thesis

In Rahul Banerjee & B. K. Chakrabarti (eds.), Models of Brain and Mind: Physical, Computational, and Psychological Approaches. Elsevier (2008)
In this chapter, I sketch a conceptual framework which takes it as a starting point that conscious and unconscious cognition are rooted in the same set of interacting learning mechanisms and representational systems. On this view, the extent to which a representation is conscious depends in a graded manner on properties such as its stability in time or its strength. Crucially, these properties are accrued as a result of learning, which is in turn viewed as a mandatory process that always accompanies information processing. From this perspective, consciousness is best characterized as involving (1) a graded continuum defined over “quality of representation”, such that availability to consciousness and to cognitive control correlates with quality , and (2) the implication of systems of metarepresentations. A first implication of these ideas is that the main function of consciousness is to make flexible, adaptive control over behavior possible. A second, much more speculative implication, is that we learn to be conscious. This I call the “radical plasticity thesis” — the hypothesis that consciousness emerges in systems capable not only of learning about their environment, but also about their own internal representations of it.
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