Recent developments in psychology and neuroscience suggest away to link the mental phenomenon of visual awareness with specific neural processes. Here, it is argued that the feed-forward activation of cells in any area of the brain is not sufficient to generate awareness, but that recurrent processing, mediated by horizontal and feedback connections is necessary. In linking awareness with its neural mechanisms it is furthermore important to dissociate phenomenal awareness from visual attention or decision processes.
In O'Regan & Noë's (O&N's) account for the phenomenal experience of seeing, awareness is equated to what is within the current focus of attention. They find no place for a distinction between phenomenal and access awareness. In doing so, they essentially present a dualistic solution to the mind-brain problem, and ignore that we do have phenomenal experience of what is outside the focus of attention.
Cowan makes an intriguing case for a fundamental limit in the number of chunks that can be stored in short term memory. Chunks are collections of concepts that have strong associations to one another and much weaker associations to other chunks. A translation of this definition for the visual domain would be that a visual chunk is a collection of features that belong to the same perceptual group. Here, we will first address the neuronal mechanisms that may demarcate visual chunks. (...) Then we critically evaluate to what extent these mechanisms might be responsible for the limit on the number of chunks that can be held in STM. We conclude that the clarity with which the psychophysical data point to the number four is not matched by a similarly clear limit imposed by physiological mechanisms. (shrink)