Metacognition–the ability to represent, monitor and control ongoing cognitive processes–helps us perform many tasks, both when acting alone and when working with others. While metacognition is adaptive, and found in other animals, we should not assume that all human forms of metacognition are gene-based adaptations. Instead, some forms may have a social origin, including the discrimination, interpretation, and broadcasting of metacognitive representations. There is evidence that each of these abilities depends on cultural learning and therefore that cultural selection might shape (...) human metacognition. The cultural origins hypothesis is a plausible and testable alternative that directs us towards a substantial new programme of research. (shrink)
We have only limited awareness of the system by which we control our actions and this limited awareness does not seem to be concerned with the control of action. Awareness of choosing one action rather than another comes after the choice has been made, while awareness of initiating an action occurs before the movement has begun. These temporal differences bind together in consciousness the intention to act and the consequences of the action. This creates our sense of agency. Activity in (...) the anterior cingulate cortex and medial prefrontal cortex is associated with awareness of our own actions and also occurs when we think about the actions of others. I propose that the mechanism underlying awareness of how our own intentions lead to actions can also be used to represent the intentions that underlie the actions of others. This common system enables us to communicate mental states and thereby share our experiences. (shrink)
Cognitive neuroscience aspires to explain how the brain produces conscious states. Many people think this aspiration is threatened by the subjective nature of introspective reports, as well as by certain philosophical arguments. We propose that good neuroscientific explanations of conscious states can consolidate an interpretation of introspective reports, in spite of their subjective nature. This is because the relative quality of explanations can be evaluated on independent, methodological grounds. To illustrate, we review studies that suggest that aspects of the feeling (...) of being in control of one's bodily movement can be explained in terms of the complex and surprising way the brain predicts movement. This is a modest type of functional, contrastive explanation. Though we do not refute the threatening philosophical arguments, we show that they do not apply to this type of explanation. (shrink)
Christopher Frith is a research professor at the Functional Imaging Laboratory of the Wellcome Department of Imaging Neuroscience at University College, London. He explores, experimentally, using the techniques of functional brain imaging, the relationship between human consciousness and the brain. His research focuses on questions pertaining to perception, attention, control of action, free will, and awareness of our own mental states and those of others. As the following discussion makes clear, Frith investigates brain systems involved in the choice of one (...) action over another and in the understanding of other people. Such investigations are aimed at understanding brain basis of autism and schizophrenia. In his widely cited study of schizophrenia, The Cognitive Neuropsychology of Schizophrenia , Frith argues that many of the positive symptoms of schizophrenia, such as delusions of control, auditory hallucinations, and thought insertion, involve problems of self-monitoring. Patients, in effect, lose track of their own intentions and mistakenly attribute agency for their own actions to someone else. Frith employs models of motor control, involving comparator mechanisms and efference copy, not only to explain delusions that involve movement, but also to develop a neurocognitive explanation of delusional cognition. (shrink)
Antti Revonsuo has given us an engaging and deliberately provocative paper discussing the value of brain imaging in the search for the neural basis of consciousness. In some places, however, his enthusiasm for the controversial nature of the topic has led him to overstate or misdirect his case.
For the new generation of cognitive neuroscientists, the mind-brain problem is no longer a matter for philosophical speculation; how the mind links with the brain can be studied experimentally. The strength of this belief is demonstrated by a stream of popular science books purporting to show how consciousness emerges from the brain. In contrast, Sean Spence presents a rigorous, modest and wholly admirable discussion of the physiological underpinnings of free will. It is of particular importance that he brings to our (...) attention various phenomena associated with psychotic illnesses. It is generally agreed that schizophrenia has a biological basis. Yet the characteristic symptoms reflect disorders of self-awareness, especially in the experience of free will (delusions of control). It follows that studies of the physiological basis of psychotic symptoms (e.g. Silbersweig et al. 1995) must also increase our understanding of the physiological basis of free will. The test for any discussion of the mind-brain problem from a scientific stance is that it suggests new possibilities for experimental studies. I think a number of the points raised in this essay provide clear starting points for the development of such experiments. (shrink)