Answering questions about consciousness by modeling perception as covert behavior
Journal article, 2015
Two main open questions in current consciousness research concern (i) the neural correlates of consciousness (NCC) and (ii) the relationship between neural activity and first-person, subjective experience. Here, possible answers are sketched for both of these, by means of a model-based analysis of what is required for one to admit having a conscious experience. To this end, a model is proposed that allows reasoning, albeit necessarily in a simplistic manner, about all of the so called "easy problems" of consciousness, from discrimination of stimuli to control of behavior and language. First, it is argued that current neuroscientific knowledge supports the view of perception and action selection as two examples of the same basic phenomenon, such that one can meaningfully refer to neuronal activations involved in perception as covert behavior. Building on existing neuroscientific and psychological models, a narrative behavior model is proposed, outlining how the brain selects covert (and sometimes overt) behaviors to construct a complex, multi-level narrative about what it is like to be the individual in question. It is hypothesized that we tend to admit a conscious experience of X if, at the time of judging consciousness, we find ourselves acceptably capable of performing narrative behavior describing X. It is argued that the proposed account reconciles seemingly conflicting empirical results, previously presented as evidence for competing theories of consciousness, and suggests that well-defined, experiment-independent NCCs are unlikely to exist. Finally, an analysis is made of what the modeled narrative behavior machinery is and is not capable of. It is discussed how an organism endowed with such a machinery could, from its first-person perspective, come to adopt notions such as "subjective experience", and of there being "hard problems" and "explanatory gaps" to be addressed in order to understand consciousness.
neural correlates of consciousness
first-person subjective experience