Sources of Richness and Ineffability for Phenomenally Conscious States

Neuroscience of Consciousness 2024 (1) (2024)
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Abstract

Conscious states—state that there is something it is like to be in—seem both rich or full of detail and ineffable or hard to fully describe or recall. The problem of ineffability, in particular, is a longstanding issue in philosophy that partly motivates the explanatory gap: the belief that consciousness cannot be reduced to underlying physical processes. Here, we provide an information theoretic dynamical systems perspective on the richness and ineffability of consciousness. In our framework, the richness of conscious experience corresponds to the amount of information in a conscious state and ineffability corresponds to the amount of information lost at different stages of processing. We describe how attractor dynamics in working memory would induce impoverished recollections of our original experiences, how the discrete symbolic nature of language is insufficient for describing the rich and high-dimensional structure of experiences, and how similarity in the cognitive function of two individuals relates to improved communicability of their experiences to each other. While our model may not settle all questions relating to the explanatory gap, it makes progress toward a fully physicalist explanation of the richness and ineffability of conscious experience—two important aspects that seem to be part of what makes qualitative character so puzzling.

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Author Profiles

Jonathan Simon
Université de Montréal
Axel Constant
University of Exeter

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