A Connectionist Theory of Phenomenal Experience

O'Brien, Gerard and Opie, Jon (1999) A Connectionist Theory of Phenomenal Experience. [Journal (Paginated)]

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When cognitive scientists apply computational theory to the problem of phenomenal consciousness, as many of them have been doing recently, there are two fundamentally distinct approaches available. Either consciousness is to be explained in terms of the nature of the representational vehicles the brain deploys; or it is to be explained in terms of the computational processes defined over these vehicles. We call versions of these two approaches vehicle and process theories of consciousness, respectively. However, while there may be space for vehicle theories of consciousness in cognitive science, they are relatively rare. This is because of the influence exerted, on the one hand, by a large body of research which purports to show that the explicit representation of information in the brain and conscious experience are dissociable, and on the other, by the classical computational theory of mind – the theory that takes human cognition to be a species of symbol manipulation. But two recent developments in cognitive science combine to suggest that a reappraisal of this situation is in order. First, a number of theorists have recently been highly critical of the experimental methodologies employed in the dissociation studies – so critical, in fact, it’s no longer reasonable to assume that the dissociability of conscious experience and explicit representation has been adequately demonstrated. Second, classicism, as a theory of human cognition, is no longer as dominant in cognitive science as it once was. It now has a lively competitor in the form of connectionism; and connectionism, unlike classicism, does have the computational resources to support a robust vehicle theory of consciousness. In this paper we develop and defend this connectionist vehicle theory of consciousness. It takes the form of the following simple empirical hypothesis: phenomenal experience consists in the explicit representation of information in neurally realized PDP networks. This hypothesis leads us to re-assess some common wisdom about consciousness, but, we will argue, in fruitful and ultimately plausible ways.

Item Type:Journal (Paginated)
Keywords:connectionism, phenomenal experience, classicism, vehicle theory of consciousness, process theory of consciousness, philosophy of mind, dissociation, mental representation
Subjects:Neuroscience > Computational Neuroscience
Psychology > Cognitive Psychology
Philosophy > Philosophy of Mind
JOURNALS > Behavioral & Brain Sciences
ID Code:1412
Deposited By:Opie, Jon
Deposited On:29 Mar 2001
Last Modified:11 Mar 2011 08:54

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