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Transcript of Conscious Entrainment
Carolyn Dicey Jennings
COGS @ UC Merced
Working Definition of
temporally-extended experience that transcends mere arousal but need not necessarily correspond with self-awareness, situational awareness, propositional knowledge, or episodic memory.
Ostensive Definition: that which separates dreamless sleep from dreaming.
Working Definition of
a voluntary (but not necessarily intentional) act of prioritization by the subject. It is but one way of altering the distribution (amount and concentration) of neural and/or mental resources. Corresponds with neural bias from prefrontal feedback (e.g. from the DLPFC).
Ostensive Definition: that which separates looking from seeing and listening from hearing.
The Guiding Question:
Can conscious experience occur without the influence of top-down attention?
IB + GWT
"the only significant effect of the level of
...was on the backward connection from frontal to superior temporal cortex" (Boly et al. 2011, 861).
"These findings suggest that we
and remember only those objects and details that receive focused
." (Simons & Chabris 1999)
"There seems to be no
(Mack & Rock 1998, ix)
Conscious experience may not depend on the ability to report or display one's state of consciousness (Block 2008).
Dreaming corresponds with
1) a diminished ability to report
2) a phenomenology/neurobiology similar to that of diminished attention (Nir & Tononi 2010):
"reduced voluntary control of action and thought"
"altered mnemonic processes"
"deactivation of dorsolateral prefrontal cortex"
perceptual gist, imagistic content, phenomenal consciousness, etc.
Block does not directly argue that phenomenal consciousness is beyond the reach of attention.
I assume here that phenomenal consciousness is separable from attention.
"phenomenally conscious content is what differs between experiences as of red and green" (Block 2005 p. 46)
"access consciousness is characterized by "direct control of the sort that happens when a representation is poised for free use as a premise in reasoning and can be freely reported." (Block 1995)
The natural separability of phenomenal and access consciousness is claimed to make the best sense of the following:
1. visual processing takes place in different brain areas than the processing associated with access (Block 2008, 498)
2. the experiential and behavioral limits of phenomenal consciousness overflow those of access consciousness.
OVERFLOW ARGUMENT 1
humans distinguish 1400 frequencies in sound, but report on only 80.
access consciousness has the capacity of only 80 frequencies but phenomenal consciousness has the capacity of 1400 or more.
the evidence that participants can distinguish any two of 1400 frequencies is arguably based on
rather than on no access: the participants report that they experience a difference between any two of 1400 frequencies, although they cannot identify the precise difference.
OVERFLOW ARGUMENT 2
when a participant is flashed a random set of up to twelve letters for a fraction of a second, the participant reports experiencing all twelve letters but is only able to access and report around four individual letters (Sperling 1960 p. 7)
the capacity of phenomenal consciousness overflows that of access consciousness, where phenomenal consciousness has a limit upwards of twelve letters and access consciousness is limited to around four (Block 2008 p. 487).
it may be that the subject both experiences and accesses twelve rough-grained letters and then experiences and accesses four fine-grained letters.
Without overflow, the Mesh Argument does not make a case for conscious experience beyond attention.
1. Single-mindedness, focus, and attunement, but
not top-down attention
(evidence from empirical studies).
, but content of experience may not be directly reportable (evidence from phenomenological reflection and "memory that").
1. Habituation and Attention:
Habit initially engenders
, allowing one to perform two tasks with no noticeable performance loss to either task (e.g. Hirst et al. 1980), which corresponds with reduced activation in prefrontal brain areas (e.g. Poldrack et al. 2005).
Habituation eventually allows
to take the place of the "controlled processing" associated with top-down attention, which has a distinct neural substrate (see, e.g. Schneider et al. 1994; Saling & Phillips 2007; Yin & Knowlton 2006).
Objection 1: The Challenge from Memory
Can "memory that" serve as evidence that these experiences are conscious? In the absence of introspection and report, don't we at least need "memory of"?
A Case Study: a "world-renowned" and "highly proficient" cellist (aged 76) had transient memory loss following a difficult performance, including the performance of a piece that is considered to be "
one of the hardest cello pieces ever written
" (Thakur & Ropper 2011, 1260). The cellist played the pieces "perfectly" and also tuned the cello between the performances, despite being
unable to recall anything about the performance directly after it
or even days later.
this evidence is
of a form of conscious experience that exists outside the influence of top-down attention, which I call "conscious entrainment." This does not exclude other attempts to find conscious experience beyond top-down attention, but I think it is the most promising avenue for more research.
These accounts have targeted a form of consciousness that is strongly associated with top-down attention:
(see also Jennings 2014). Further, the relevant experiments have used
, which are known to require top-down attention to a greater extent than familiar tasks.
2. Habituation and Experience
Conscious experience does not appear to diminish through habituation.
Further, even if while undergoing an entirely automatic process one can not recall the specific content of the experience, one may nonetheless recall
one was conscious.
Compare this to dreaming, which is also linked to the absence of attention, and which also sometimes forces us to rely on "
Objection 2: The Challenge from Self-Refutation
Might conscious entrainment involve low-level attention rather than no attention?
Conscious entrainment is experienced as
different in kind
from "normal" conscious experience.
One central characteristic of conscious perception missing in conscious entrainment is the
between experiencer and experienced (or the divide between subject and object).
from conscious entrainment as though waking.
When one emerges, one
struggles to regain control
over the activity.
The Basic Claim:
Some forms of conscious experience do not require top-down attention (e.g.
Inattentional Blindness (IB) 1 of 2
Inattentional Blindness (IB) 2 of 2
Prefrontal Feeback and Consciousness
Global Workspace Theory (GWT)
"This framework postulates that, at any give time, many modular cerebral networks are active in parallel and process information in an unconscious manner. An information becomes
, however, if the neural population that represents it is mobilized by
top-down attentional amplification
into a brain-scale state of coherent activity that involves many neurons distributed throughout the brain." (Dehaene & Naccache 2001, 1)
The Achilles' Heel of Past Attempts:
Stipulative Definition of
the experience of effortless absorption in a task following habituation with that task.
Ostensive Definition: that which separates
being in the flow
being in autopilot
"When I am
my painting I am
not aware of what I am doing
." (Janson & Janson 2003, 974)
"Then suddenly something just kicked me. I kind of woke up and realized that I was in
a different atmosphere
than you normally are...It frightened me because I was well
beyond my conscious understanding
." (Donaldson 2011)
"I couldn't overcome it. I got to
thinking too much
, and I couldn't shut it off." (Rayno 2014)
An Experimental Sketch:
to control attention while training participants in a new skill.
When automaticity is achieved for this new skill, determine the
behavioral and neural correlates
that separate automatic processing for this skill from both executive processing and lower-level sensorimotor processing.
of conscious experience for these same participants outside of the dual-task setting, to record features of conscious experience that correspond with the neural and behavioral correlates of automatic processing for that skill.