The target paper by Noë and Thompson is a very welcome addition to the literature on the neural correlates of consciousness. It raises a number of important issues, and the debate it will generate should go some way towards clarifying the conceptual terrain that we’re in. In this commentary I focus on three issues: the link between isomorphism and the matching-content doctrine; the argument against the matching-content doctrine; and the argument against experiential internalism.
Most early studies of consciousness have focused on human subjects. This is understandable, given that humans are capable of reporting accurately the events they experience through language or by way of other kinds of voluntary response. As researchers turn their attention to other animals, “accurate report” methodologies become increasingly difficult to apply. Alternative strategies for amassing evidence for consciousness in non-human species include searching for evolutionary homologies in anatomical substrates and measurement of physiological correlates of conscious states. In addition, (...) creative means must be developed for eliciting behaviors consistent with consciousness. In this paper, we explore whether necessary conditions for consciousness can be established for species as disparate as birds and cephalopods. We conclude that a strong case can be made for avian species and that the case for cephalopods remains open. Nonetheless, a consistent effort should yield new means for interpreting animal behavior. (shrink)
We contend that Noë and Thompson's arguments leave both the minimal substrate thesis and the (considerably stronger) matching-content doctrine unscathed. We construe their arguments as each having the form of a modus tollens as follows: (1) If the matching-content doctrine is true, then Q; (2) It is not the case that Q; therefore, (3) The matching-content doctrine is false. We show that in each case, Noë and Thompson fail to cite any Q such that both premises are true.
The search for neural correlates of consciousness (or NCCs) is arguably the cornerstone in the recent resurgence of the science of consciousness. The search poses many difficult empirical problems, but it seems to be tractable in principle, and some ingenious studies in recent years have led to considerable progress. A number of proposals have been put forward concerning the nature and location of neural correlates of consciousness. A few of these include.
This is a brief and accessible English summary of the "Self-model Theory of Subjectivity" (SMT), which is only available as German book in this archive. It introduces two new theoretical entities, the "phenomenal self-model" (PSM) and the "phenomenal model of the intentionality-relation" PMIR. A representationalist analysis of the phenomenal first-person persepctive is offered. This is a revised version, including two pictures.
This paper discusses the content of agency awareness. It contrast three elements in content: what the goal is, how it is to be reached, and who is having the goal/performing the action ? Marc Jeannerod's claim that goal representations are self-other neutral is discussed. If goal representations are essentially sharable, then we do not understand other people by projecting a piece of internal knowledge on to them, as often assumed. The problem which our brain has to solve is the converse (...) problem : determining who the agent is, once a goal is identified. This view has interesting consequences on the theory of mentalization. One can plausibly speculate that observing action, with an additional simulatory component for action memory, form major building blocks in understanding other minds. Metarepresenting, in this perspective, would depend on additional executive capacities for maintaining distinct the inferences from diverse simulated contexts of action. (shrink)
At the start of the 20th century the question of whether life could be explained in purely me- chanical terms was as hotly debated as the mind-body problem is today. Two factions opposed each other: Biological mechanists claimed that the properties characteristic of living organisms could be ex- plained mechanistically, in the way the behavior of a clock can be explained by the properties and the arrangement of its cogs, springs, and weights. Substantial vitalists, on the other hand, maintained that (...) the explanation envisaged by the mechanists was impossible and that one had to postulate a special nonphysical substance in order to explain life. (shrink)
The idea that our conscious decisions determine our actions has been challenged by a report suggesting that the brain starts to prepare for a movement before the person concerned has consciously decided to move . Libet et al. claimed that their results show that our actions are not consciously initiated. The current article describes two experiments in which we attempted to replicate Libet et al.'s comparison of participants' movement-related brain activity with the reported times of their decisions to move and (...) also the reported times of their decisions of which hand to move. We also looked at the distribution of participants' reports over time to evaluate an alternative explanation of Libet et al.'s results. Although the Readiness Potential was usually present before all of the decisions to move, consistent with the findings of Keller and Heckhausen and Libet et al. , we found that many reported decision times were before the onset of the Lateralized Readiness Potential, which measures hand-specific movement preparation. The latter finding is consistent with the conclusion that the LRP always started after the conscious decision to move. We conclude that even though activity related to movement anticipation may be present before a conscious decision to move, the cortical preparation necessary for the movement to happen immediately may not start until after the conscious decision to move. (shrink)
The original data reported by Benjamin Libet and colleagues are reinterpreted, taking into account the facilitation which is experimentally demonstrated in the first of their series of articles. It is shown that the original data equally well or better support a quite different set of conclusions from those drawn by Libet. The new conclusions are that it takes only 80 ms for stimuli to come to consciousness and that “subjective back-referral of sensations in time” to the time of the stimulus (...) does not occur. (shrink)
The conclusions drawn by Benjamin Libet from his work with collegues on the timing of somatosensorial conscious experiences has met with a lot of praise and criticism. In this issue we find three examples of the latter. Here I attempt to place the divide between the two opponent camps in a broader perspective by analyzing the question of the relation between physical timing, neural timing, and experiential timing. The nervous system does a sophisticated job of recombining and recoding messages from (...) the sensorial surfaces and if these processes are slighted in a theory, it might become necessary to postulate weird operations, including subjective back-referral. Neuroscientifically inspired theories are of necessity still based on guesses, extrapolations, and philosophically dubious manners of speech. They often assume some neural correlate of consciousness as a part of the nervous system that transforms neural activity in reportable experiences. The majority of neuroscientists appear to assume that the NCC can compare and bind activity patterns only if they arrive simultaneously at the NCC. This leads to a search for synchrony or to theories in terms of the compensation of differences in neural delays . This is the main dimension of the Libet discussion. Examples from vision research, such as “temporal-binding-by-synchrony” and the “flash-lag” effect, are then used to illustrate these reasoning patterns in more detail. Alternatively one could assume symbolic representations of time and space that are not coded in their own dimension . Unless such tags are multiplexed with the quality message , one gets a binding problem for tags. One of the hidden aspects of the discussion between Libet and opponents appears to be the following. Is the NCC smarter than the rest of the nervous system, so that it can solve the problems of local sign and timing on its own, or are these pieces of information coded symbolically early on in the system? A supersmart NCC appears to be the assumption of Libet's camp . The wish to distribute the smartness evenly across all stages of processing in the nervous system appears to motivate the opponents. I argue that there are reasons to side with the latter group. (shrink)
Trevena and Miller provide further evidence that readiness potentials occur in the brain prior to the time that participants claim to have initiated a voluntary movement, a contention originally forwarded by Libet, Gleason, Wright, and Pearl . In their examination of this issue, though, aspects of their data lead them to question whether their measurement of the initiation of a voluntary movement was accurate. The current article addresses this concern by providing a direct analysis of biases in this task. This (...) was done by asking participants to make subjective timing decisions regarding a stimulus that could be measured objectively. Our findings suggest that their timing task was indeed biased such that participants' tend to report events as happening approximately 70 ms later than they actually happened. Implications for the original Libet et al. claims are discussed. (shrink)
A commentary on articles by Klein, Pockett, and Trevena and Miller, in this issue, is given. Average shift in the point of subjective equality , calculated by Klein on Libet's data, and corresponding change in mean shift, calculated by Libet et al. , may be “corrected,” taking as a reference point the end of the minimum train duration. Values obtained, if significant, indicate a latency for conscious sensation of the skin stimulus of at least 230 ms. Pockett's main conclusions are (...) favored, but her explanation of peripheral–lemniscal couplings is found to be unconvincing. Trevena and Miller's article unsuccessfully tries to rescue a dualist interactionist view. Libet's method of timing intentions is thoroughly criticized. (shrink)
Benjamin Libet compared the perceived time of direct brain stimulation to the perceived time of skin stimulation. His results are among the most controversial experiments at the interface between psychology and philosophy. The new element that I bring to this discussion is a reanalysis of Libet's raw data. Libet's original data were difficult to interpret because of the manner in which they were presented in tables. Plotting the data as psychometric functions shows that the observers have great uncertainty about the (...) relative timing of events, as seen the shallow psychometric slopes. A second indication of uncertainty comes from Libet's use of three response categories, A first; B first; and A and B simultaneous. The large number of “perceptually simultaneous” responses provides a further measure of the difficulty of the judgment. There are thus a very broad range of stimulus delays in which the subject is unable to make an accurate ordering response. These points provide evidence that there is no compelling reason to invent exotic or ad hoc mechanisms to account for Libet's data since the uncertainty window is large enough to allow simple mechanism such as memory shifts. Libet argued that his data provide evidence for a backward referral in time. I argue that even though Libet's own data are weak, there are good arguments for a backward referral mechanism to help the subject make sense out of the tangled chaos of asynchronous information associated with experienced events. (shrink)
The temporal granularity of consciousness may be far less fine than the real-time information processing mechanisms that underlie our sensitivity to small temporal differences. It is suggested that conscious time perception, like space perception, is subject to errors that belie a unitary underlying representation. E. R. Clay's concept of the “specious present,” an extended moment represented in consciousness, is suggested as an alternative to the more common notion of instantaneous experience that underlies much reasoning based on the “time of arrival” (...) in consciousness. (shrink)
Striking experimental results by Benjamin Libet and colleagues have had an impor- tant impact on much recent discussion of consciousness. Some investigators have sought to replicate or extend Libet’s results (Haggard, 1999; Haggard & Eimer, 1999; Haggard, Newman, & Magno, 1999; Trevena & Miller, 2002), while others have focused on how to interpret those ﬁndings (e.g., Gomes, 1998, 1999, 2002; Pockett, 2002), which many have seen as conﬂicting with our commonsense picture of mental functioning.
S. Pockett and G. Gomes discuss a possible bias in the method by which Libet's subjects estimated the time at which they became aware of their intent to move their hands. The bias, caused by sensory delay processing the clock information, would be sufficient to alter Trevena and Miller's conclusions regarding the timing of the lateralized readiness potential. I show that the flash-lag effect would compensate for that bias. In the last part of my commentary I note that the other (...) target articles do not examine the most interesting aspect of Libet's unfashionable views on free will. I point out that Libet's views are less strange than they at first appear to be. (shrink)
The first priority of this response is to address Libet's rebuttal of my reinterpretation of his data. Then, because many authors have commented on various aspects of the debate, the rest of the response is organized in terms of subject matter, not as replies to each individual commentator. First, I reply to an objection expressed by two separate commentators to part of my reinterpretation of those of Libet's data supposedly supporting backward referral. This leads to a brief discussion of the (...) whole concept of backward referral. The relevance of the flash-lag illusion to possible measurement errors in the Libet/Trevena and Miller paradigm is addressed next. Finally, I have a few words to say on the relationship between quantum mechanical ontology and free will. (shrink)
Susan Pockett presents sound arguments supporting her reinterpretations of data that Libet and co-workers used to support a number of intriguing and influential conclusions regarding the microgenesis and timing of conscious sensory experience and volitionally controlled motor responses. The following analysis, extending and elaborating some of her main arguments, proposes that Libet's experimental methodologies and rationales, and thus also his interpretation of data, are flawed and that neglect or ignorance of methodological and empirical constraints well known to sensory psychologists risks (...) drawing premature or faulty conclusions about the timing of conscious experience. (shrink)
This issue of Consciousness and Cognition presents four target articles and eight commentaries on the target articles. The present article presents comments on those commentaries, grouped into backward referral and volition categories. Regarding backward referral: I disagree with my fellow commentators and take the unpopular position of defending Libet's notion of backward referral. I join my fellow commentators in critiquing Libet's notion of a 500-ms delay. I examine several of the hypotheses suggested by other commentators for why cortical and lateral (...) meniscus stimulation give very different timing results. I suggest a simple experiment to help discriminate among the hypotheses. I comment on why temporal reordering is more likely to occur late rather than early in mental processing. Regarding Libet's volition experiments, I ask what is the root of the controversy, given the general agreement on the data. I agree with a commentator that Libet's chronotheology rather than his chronoscience is the cause of much of the controversy. Rather than joining others in criticizing Libet for his chronotheology I point out that he is making a respectable philosophical point regarding nondeterministic Free Will, but one that is easily misunderstood. I discuss two ways by which Libet's viewpoint can be brought into mainstream science. (shrink)
Reinterpretations of Libet's results have received support from most commentaries. Libet's arguments against alternative hypotheses are contested. Latency depends on intensity. Integration of intensity and duration explains the Minimum Train Duration. Analogies of Libet's timing of intentions with control experiments indicate biases of opposite signs, according to intramodal or intermodal results. Rosenthal's view of nonconscious intentions becoming conscious after a delay is favored. Compatibilist free will is discussed.
Mental timing studies may be influenced by powerful cognitive illusions that can produce an asymmetry in their rate of progress relative to neuronal timing studies. Both types of timing research are also governed by a temporal asymmetry, expressed by the fact that the direction of causation must follow time's arrow. Here we refresh our earlier suggestion that the temporal asymmetry offers promise as a means of timing mental activities. We update our earlier analysis of Libet's data within this framework. Then (...) we consider the surprises which often occur on those rare occasions when neural timing experiments parallel mental timing work exactly. Together, these surprises and asymmetries prescribe a relentlessly meticulous and fully transparent exposition of timing methods, terms, and concepts which shuns plausible narratives, even when buttressed by rigorous formal models, unless guided by apposite empirical evidence. (shrink)
Pockett has drawn an alternative conclusion from the data of Libet, Alberts, Wright, and Feinstein , and suggested that it takes 80 ms, rather than 500 ms, for the sensation evoked by a stimulus to enter awareness. Here, I suggest that our conscious sensation evolves over time, during the period from 80 to 500 ms after a stimulus, until the sensation is stably localized in space.
In previous research Libet discovered that a critical time period for neural activation is necessary in order for a stimulus to become conscious. This necessary time period varies from subject to subject. In this current study, six subjects for whom the time for neural activation of consciousness had been previously determined were administered a battery of psychological tests on the basis of which ratings were made of degree of repressiveness. As hypothesized, repressive subjects had a longer critical time period for (...) neural activation of consciousness, suggesting the possibility that this neurophysiological time factor is a necessary condition for the development of repression. (shrink)