Conscious experiences involve subjective qualities, such as colours, sounds, smells and emotions. In this Perspective, we argue that these subjective qualities can be understood in terms of their similarity to other experiences. This account highlights the role of memory in conscious experience, even for simple percepts. How an experience feels depends on implicit memory of the relationships between different perceptual representations within the brain. With more complex experiences such as emotions, explicit memories are also recruited. We draw inspiration from work (...) in machine learning as well as the cognitive neuroscience of learning and decision making to make our case and discuss how the account could be tested in future experiments. The resulting findings might help to reveal the functions of subjective experience and inform current theoretical debates on consciousness. (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)
Emotional states of consciousness, or what are typically called emotional feelings, are traditionally viewed as being innately programed in subcortical areas of the brain, and are often treated as different from cognitive states of consciousness, such as those related to the perception of external stimuli. We argue that conscious experiences, regardless of their content, arise from one system in the brain. On this view, what differs in emotional and non-emotional states is the kind of inputs that are processed by a (...) general cortical network of cognition, a network essential for conscious experiences. Although subcortical circuits are not directly responsible for conscious feelings, they provide non-conscious inputs that coalesce with other kinds of neural signals in the cognitive assembly of conscious emotional experiences. In building the case for this proposal, we defend a modified version of what is known as the higher-order theory of consciousness. (shrink)
'Fear' is used scientifically in two ways, which causes confusion: it refers to conscious feelings and to behavioral and physiological responses. Restricting the use of 'fear' to denote feelings and using 'threat-induced defensive reactions' for the responses would help avoid misunderstandings about the brain mechanisms involved.
Birch et. al. see their model as incompatible with higher-order-thought (HOT) theories of consciousness, on which a state is conscious if one is in some suitable way aware of that state. They see higher-order (HO) awareness as an “extra ingredient”. But since Birch et al go on to say that “[t]his is not the place for a detailed discussion of HOT theories,” they don’t address why they take HO awareness to be an extra ingredient or why HOT theorists are convinced (...) that it’s needed. In this commentary we argue that higher-order theories are a crucial for understanding consciousness. (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)
The target articles by Dixon (2012), Scarantino (2012), and Mulligan and Scherer (2012) explore the nature of emotion from philosophical and psychological perspectives. I discuss how neuroscience can also contribute to debates about the nature of emotion. I focus on the aspects of emotion that usually fall within the topic of basic emotions, but conclude that we may need to revise how we conceive and study these kinds of emotional states in relation to the brain.
While it is common to think that neuroscientists are proponents of basic emotions theory, this is not necessarily the case. My ideas, for example are more aligned with cognitive than basic emotions theories.
In the interesting and thought-provoking article Grazziano and colleagues argue for their Attention Schema Theory (AST) of consciousness. They present AST as a unification of Global Workspace Theory (GWT), Illusionism, and the Higher-Order Thought (HOT) theory. We argue it is a mistake to equate 'subjective experience,' ad related terms, with dualism. They simply denote experience. Also, as presented, AST does not accurately capture the essence of HOT for two reasons. HOT is presented as a version of strong illusionism, which it (...) isn't, and HOT requires that one be aware of one's mental life, and postulates that his consists in a re-representation of what is occurring at at the lower-order levels. However, the authors deny that AST involves re-representing visual stimuli. We close by proposing an alternative unification: GWT and AST provide crucial accounts of how lower-order states are assembled and maintained, but higher-order theory provides the account of subjective experience. (shrink)
Pavlovian cues predict the occurrence of motivationally salient outcomes, thus serving as an important trigger of approach and avoidance behavior. The amygdala is a key substrate of Pavlovian conditioning, and the nature of its contribution varies by the motivational valence of unconditioned stimuli. The literature on aversive Pavlovian learning supports a serial-processing model of amygdalar function, while appetitive studies suggest that Pavlovian associations are processed through parallel circuits in the amygdala. It is proposed that serial and parallel forms of information (...) processing can be attributed to differential recruitment of amygdalar nuclei, with emphasis placed on the lateral amygdala. (shrink)
The “happiness agenda” is a worldwide movement that claims that happiness is the highest good, happiness can be measured, and public policy should promote happiness. Against Happiness is a thorough and powerful critique of this program, revealing the flaws of its concept of happiness and advocating a renewed focus on equality and justice. -/- Written by an interdisciplinary team of authors, this book provides both theoretical and empirical analysis of the limitations of the happiness agenda. The authors emphasize that this (...) movement draws on a parochial, Western-centric philosophical basis and demographic sample. They show that happiness defined as subjective satisfaction or a surplus of positive emotions bears little resemblance to the richer and more nuanced concepts of the good life found in many world traditions. Cross-cultural philosophy, comparative theology, and social and cultural psychology all teach that cultures and subcultures vary in how much value they place on life satisfaction or feeling happy. Furthermore, the ideas promoted by the happiness agenda can compete with rights, justice, sustainability, and equality—and even conceal racial and gender injustice. -/- Against Happiness argues that a better way forward requires integration of cross-cultural philosophical, ethical, and political thought with critical social science. Ultimately, the authors contend, happiness should be a secondary goal—worth pursuing only if it is contingent on the demands of justice. (shrink)
This work constitutes the proceedings of a New York Academy of Sciences conference held in September 2002. It seeks to take stock of understanding of the self and its relation to the brain, and consider future directions for scientific research in a multidisciplinary context.
The essence of who we are depends on our brains. They enable us to think, to feel joy and sorrow, communicate through speech, reflect on the moments of our lives, and to anticipate, plan for, and worry about our imagined futures. Although some of our abilities are comparatively new, key features of our behavior have deep roots that can be traced to the beginning of life. By following the story of behavior, step-by-step, over its roughly four-billion-year trajectory, we come to (...) understand both how similar we are to all organisms that have ever lived, and how different we are from even our closest animal relatives. We care about our differences because they are ours. But differences do not make us superior; they simply make us different. (shrink)