Is human information processing conscious?

Velmans, Max. 1991. Is human information processing conscious? Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 14(4), pp. 651-669. ISSN 0140-525X [Article]

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This is a target article for the Behavioral and Brain Sciences, followed by 36 open peer commentaries and my reply "Consciousness from a first-person perspective". Investigations of the function of consciousness in human information processing have focused mainly on two questions: (1) where does consciousness enter into the information processing sequence and (2) how does conscious processing differ from preconscious and unconscious processing. Input analysis is thought to be initially "preconscious," "pre-attentive," fast, involuntary, and automatic. This is followed by "conscious," "focal-attentive" analysis which is relatively slow, voluntary, and flexible. It is thought that simple, familiar stimuli can be identified preconsciously, but conscious processing is needed to identify complex, novel stimuli. Conscious processing has also been thought to be necessary for choice, learning and memory, and the organization of complex, novel responses, particularly those requiring planning, reflection, or creativity. This target article reviews evidence that consciousness performs none of these functions. Consciousness nearly always results from focal-attentive processing (as a form of output) but does not itself enter into this or any other form of human information processing. This suggests that the term "conscious process" needs re-examination. Consciousness appears to be necessary in a variety of tasks because they require focal-attentive processing; if consciousness is absent, focal-attentive processing is absent. Viewed from a first-person perspective, however, conscious states are causally effective. First-person accounts are complementary to third-person accounts. Although they can be translated into third-person accounts, they cannot be reduced to them.

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attention, brain, complementarity, consciousness, functionalism, information processing, mind, reductionism, unconscious

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May 1991Published

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24 Apr 2019 14:32

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24 Apr 2019 14:32

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Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.


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