In this chapter, we discuss a selection of current views of the neural correlates of consciousness (NCC). We focus on the different predictions they make, in particular with respect to the role of prefrontal cortex (PFC) during visual experiences, which is an area of critical interest and some source of contention. Our discussion of these views focuses on the level of functional anatomy, rather than at the neuronal circuitry level. We take this approach because we currently understand more about experimental (...) evidence at this coarse level and because these results are appropriate for arbitrating between current theoretical frameworks. We discuss the Two-Visual-Systems Hypothesis (Milner & Goodale 1995; 2006), Local Recurrency (Lamme 2010; Lamme 2006), Higher Order (Lau 2008; Lau & Rosenthal 2011) and Global Workspace theories (Baars 1997; Baars 2005; Dehaene & Naccache 2001; Dehaene 2014). Despite the apparent stark differences between conscious and unconscious perceptual processing, available evidence suggests that their neural substrates must be largely shared. This indicates that the difference in neural activity between conscious and unconscious perceptual processing is likely to be subtle and highly specialized. We argue that current experimental evidence about the involvement of specific activity in prefrontal cortex supports the higher order neural theory of consciousness. In consequence, imaging techniques that focus only on marked differences between conscious and unconscious level of activity are likely to be insensitive to the relevant neural activity patterns that underlie conscious experiences. Finally, it follows from the evidence we discuss that the functional advantages of conscious over unconscious perceptual processing may be more limited than commonly thought. (shrink)
Critics have often misunderstood the higher-order theory (HOT) of consciousness. Here we clarify its position on several issues, and distinguish it from other views such as the global The higher-order theory (HOT) of consciousness has often been misunderstood by critics. Here we clarify its position on several issues, and distinguish it from other views such as the global workspace theory (GWT) and early sensory models (e.g. first-order local recurrency theories). For example, HOT has been criticized for over-intellectualizing consciousness. We show (...) that while higher-order states are cognitively assembled, the requirements are actually considerably less than often presumed. In this sense HOT may be viewed as an intermediate position between GWT and early sensory views. Also, we clarify that most proponents of HOT do not stipulate consciousness as equivalent to metacognition or confidence. Further, compared to other existing theories, HOT can arguably account better for complex everyday experiences, such as of emotions and episodic memories. This makes HOT particularly useful as a framework for conceptualizing pathological mental states. (shrink)
How should we measure metacognitive sensitivity, i.e. the efficacy with which observers’ confidence ratings discriminate between their own correct and incorrect stimulus classifications? We argue that currently available methods are inadequate because they are influenced by factors such as response bias and type 1 sensitivity . Extending the signal detection theory approach of Galvin, Podd, Drga, and Whitmore , we propose a method of measuring type 2 sensitivity that is free from these confounds. We call our measure meta-d′, which reflects (...) how much information, in signal-to-noise units, is available for metacognition. Applying this novel method in a 2-interval forced choice visual task, we found that subjects’ metacognitive sensitivity was close to, but significantly below, optimality. We discuss the theoretical implications of these findings, as well as related computational issues of the method. We also provide free Matlab code for implementing the analysis. (shrink)
We discuss cases where subjects seem to enjoy conscious experience when the relevant first-order perceptual representations are either missing or too weak to account for the experience. Though these cases are originally considered to be theoretical possibilities that may be problematical for the higher-order view of consciousness, careful considerations of actual empirical examples suggest that this strategy may backfire; these cases may cause more trouble for first-order theories instead. Specifically, these cases suggest that (I) recurrent feedback loops to V1 are (...) most likely not the neural correlate of first-order representations for conscious experience, (II) first-order views seem to have a problem accounting for the phenomenology in these cases, and either (III) a version of the ambitious higher-order approach is superior in that it is the simplest theory that can account for all results at face value, or (IV) a view where phenomenology is jointly determined by both first-order and higher-order states. In our view (III) and (IV) are both live options and the decision between them may ultimately be an empirical question that cannot yet be decided. (shrink)
It is usually taken as given that consciousness involves superior or more elaborate forms of information processing. Contemporary models equate consciousness with global processing, system complexity, or depth or stability of computation. This is in stark contrast with the powerful philosophical intuition that being conscious is more than just having the ability to compute. I argue that it is also incompatible with current empirical findings. I present a model that is free from the strong assumption that consciousness predicts superior performance. (...) The model is based on Bayesian decision theory, of which signal detection theory is a special case. It reflects the fact that the capacity for perceptual decisions is fundamentally limited by the presence and amount of noise in the system. To optimize performance, one therefore needs to set decision criteria that are based on the behaviour, i.e. the probability distributions, of the internal signals. One important realization is that the knowledge of how our internal signals behave statistically has to be learned over time. Essentially, we are doing statistics on our own brain. This ‘higherorder’ learning, however, may err, and this impairs our ability to set and maintain optimal criteria for perceptual decisions, which I argue is central to perception consciousness. I outline three possibilities of how conscious perception might be affected by failures of ‘higher-order’ representation. These all imply that one can have a dissociation between consciousness and performance. This model readily explains blindsight and hallucinations in formal terms, and is beginning to receive direct empirical support. I end by discussing some philosophical implications of the model. (shrink)
Consciousness is currently a thriving area of research in psychology and neuroscience. While this is often attributed to events that took place in the early 1990s, consciousness studies today are a continuation of research that started in the late 19th century and that continued throughout the 20th century. From the beginning, the effort built on studies of animals to reveal basic principles of brain organization and function, and of human patients to gain clues about consciousness itself. Particularly important and our (...) focus here is research in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s involving three groups of patients—amnesia, split brain, and blindsight. Across all three groups, a similar pattern of results was found—the patients could respond appropriately to stimuli that they denied seeing (or in the case of amnesiacs, having seen before). These studies paved the way for the current wave of research on consciousness. The field is, in fact, still grappling with the implications of the findings showing that the ability to consciously know and report the identity of a visual stimulus can be dissociated in the brain from the mechanisms that underlie the ability to behave in a meaningful way to the same stimulus. (shrink)
Metacognition is the capacity to evaluate the success of one's own cognitive processes in various domains; for example, memory and perception. It remains controversial whether metacognition relies on a domain-general resource that is applied to different tasks or if self-evaluative processes are domain specific. Here, we investigated this issue directly by examining the neural substrates engaged when metacognitive judgments were made by human participants of both sexes during perceptual and memory tasks matched for stimulus and performance characteristics. By comparing patterns (...) of fMRI activity while subjects evaluated their performance, we revealed both domain-specific and domain-general metacognitive representations. Multivoxel activity patterns in anterior prefrontal cortex predicted levels of confidence in a domain-specific fashion, whereas domain-general signals predicting confidence and accuracy were found in a widespread network in the frontal and posterior midline. The demonstration of domain-specific metacognitive representations suggests the presence of a content-rich mechanism available to introspection and cognitive control. (shrink)
It has been over a decade and half since Christof Koch and the late Francis Crick first advocated the now popular NCC project (Crick and Koch, 1990), in which one tries to find the neural correlate of consciousness (NCC) for perceptual processes. In his chapter in this book Chris Frith provides a splendid review of how neuroimaging has contributed greatly to this project. For the sake of contrast, this chapter takes a more critical stance on what we have actually learned. (...) Many authors have written on whether looking for the neural correlates would eventually lead to an explanatory theory of consciousness, while the proponents defend that focusing on correlates is a strategically sensible first step, given the complexity of the problem (Crick and Koch, 1998;Crick and Koch, 2003). My point here is not to argue whether studying the NCC is useful, but rather, to question whether we are really studying the NCC at all. I argue that in hoping to sidestep the difficult conceptual issues, we have sometimes also missed the phenomenon of perceptual consciousness itself. (shrink)
People have intuitively assumed that many acts of volition are not influenced by unconscious information. However, the available evidence suggests that under suitable conditions, unconscious information can influence behavior and the underlying neural mechanisms. One possibility is that stimuli that are consciously perceived tend to yield strong signals in the brain, and this makes us think that consciousness has the function of sending such strong signals. However, if we could create conditions where the stimuli could produce strong signals but not (...) the conscious experience of perception, perhaps we would find that such stimuli are just as effective in influencing volitional behavior. (shrink)
Studying the neural correlates of conscious awareness depends on a reliable comparison between activations associated with awareness and unawareness. One particularly difficult confound to remove is task performance capacity, i.e. the difference in performance between the conditions of interest. While ideally task performance capacity should be matched across different conditions, this is difficult to achieve experimentally. However, differences in performance could theoretically be corrected for mathematically. One such proposal is found in a recent paper by Lamy, Salti and Bar-Haim [Lamy (...) D, Salti M, Bar-Haim Y. Neural correlates of subjective awareness and unconscious processing: an ERP study. J Cognitive Neurosci 2009,21:1435-46], who put forward a corrective method for an electroencephalography experiment. We argue that their analysis is essentially grounded in a version of High Threshold Theory, which has been shown to be inferior in general to Signal Detection Theory. We show through a series of computer simulations that their correction method only partially removes the influence of perfor- mance capacity, which can yield misleading results. We present a mathematical correction method based on Signal Detection Theory that is theoretically capable of removing performance capacity confounds. We discuss the limitations of mathemati- cally correcting for performance capacity confounds in imaging studies and its impact for theories about consciousness. (shrink)
Experimenters generally infer whether participants have visual experiences based on metacognitive responses. We showed a well-studied blindsight participant, GY, several definitions of the term “qualia” and then questioned him about whether he felt or he experienced qualia in his normal and blind fields. We found, contrary to others who have used different methods for measuring qualia, that GY does not have qualia for stationary stimuli in his blind field. This novel method for directly assessing qualia embraces the idea that experiences (...) should be related by the experiencer, not the experimenter. (shrink)
A recent fMRI study by Webb et al. (Cortical networks involved in visual awareness independent of visual attention, Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 2016;113:13923–28) proposes a new method for finding the neural correlates of awareness by matching atten- tion across awareness conditions. The experimental design, however, seems at odds with known features of attention. We highlight logical and methodological points that are critical when trying to disentangle attention and awareness.
When visual attention is directed away from a stimulus, neural processing is weak and strength and precision of sensory data decreases. From a computational perspective, in such situations observers should give more weight to prior expectations in order to behave optimally during a discrimination task. Here we test a signal detection theoretic model that counter-intuitively predicts subjects will do just the opposite in a discrimination task with two stimuli, one attended and one unattended: when subjects are probed to discriminate the (...) unattended stimulus, they rely less on prior information about the probed stimulus’ identity. The model is in part inspired by recent findings that attention reduces trial-by-trial variability of the neuronal population response and that they use a common criterion for attended and unattended trials. In five different visual discrimination experiments, when attention was directed away from the target stimulus, subjects did not adjust their response bias in reaction to a change in stimulus presentation frequency despite being fully informed and despite the presence of performance feedback and monetary and social incentives. This indicates that subjects did not rely more on the priors under conditions of inattention as would be predicted by a Bayes-optimal observer model. These results inform and constrain future models of Bayesian inference in the human brain. (shrink)
aFunctional Imaging Laboratory, Wellcome Department of Imaging Neuroscience, University College London, 12 Queen Square, London WC1N 3BG, UK bDepartment of Experimental Psychology, University of Oxford, UK cOxford Centre for Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging of the Brain, UK dDepartment of Psychiatry and Oxford Centre for Clinical Magnetic Resonance Research, University of Oxford, UK..
The scientific study of consciousness emerged as an organized field of research only a few decades ago. As empirical results have begun to enhance our understanding of consciousness, it is important to find out whether other factors, such as funding for consciousness research and status of consciousness scientists, provide a suitable environment for the field to grow and develop sustainably. We conducted an online survey on people’s views regarding various aspects of the scientific study of consciousness as a field of (...) research. 249 participants completed the survey, among which 80% were in academia, and around 40% were experts in consciousness research. Topics covered include the progress made by the field, funding for consciousness research, job opportunities for consciousness researchers, and the scientific rigor of the work done by researchers in the field. The majority of respondents (78%) indicated that scientific research on consciousness has been making progress. However, most participants perceived obtaining funding and getting a job in the field of consciousness research as more difficult than in other subfields of neuroscience. Overall, work done in consciousness research was perceived to be less rigorous than other neuroscience subfields, but this perceived lack of rigor was not related to the perceived difficulty in finding jobs and obtaining funding. Lastly, we found that, overall, the global workspace theory was perceived to be the most promising (around 28%), while most non-expert researchers (around 22% of non-experts) found the integrated information theory (IIT) most promising. We believe the survey results provide an interesting picture of current opinions from scientists and researchers about the progresses made and the challenges faced by consciousness research as an independent field. They will inspire collective reflection on the future directions regarding funding and job opportunities for the field. (shrink)
In this entry we give an overview of the search for the neural correlates of consciousness (NCCs). We begin with a discussion of the conceptual complexities of defining the notion of an NCC. We then discuss some of the experimental approaches used to empirically investigate the NCCs. We then consider some competing views of NCCs. Finally, we consider how the competing views of NCCs bear on different theories of consciousness. We focus on the methodological and theoretical challenges facing this line (...) of research. (shrink)
In my field of consciousness research, scientists frequently mock philosophers for their apparent uselessness. There are many issues about which philosophers have debated for centuries, and yet there are no satisfying resolutions. However, sometimes one thinks: what really is philosophy but careful thinking? Certainly that cannot be completely useless? It is therefore particularly refreshing to read Machado and Silva's article in this issue, which emphasizes the role of conceptual analysis in psychological research.
The fact that early visual processing has a larger capacity than later visual processing can be explained without positing distinct systems for phenomenology and cognitive accessibility. While phenomenology may overflow forced-choice reports, the later can also overestimate the former, as in the case of blindsight. Metacognitive measures of awareness offer a way to address the of consciousness research.