Does Consciousness Cause Behavior? (MIT Press)

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New experimental evidence most notable, work by Benjamin Libet and Daniel Wegner has brought the causal status of human behavior back to the forefront of intellectual discussion. This multidisciplinary collection advances the debate, approaching the question from a variety of perspectives. The contributors begin by examining recent research in neuroscience that suggests that consciousness does not cause behavior, offering the outline of an empirically based model that shows how the brain causes behavior and where consciousness might fit in. Other contributors address the philosophical presuppositions that may have informed the empirical studies, raising questions about what can be legitimately concluded about the existence of free will from Libet's and Wegner's experimental results.

Others examine the effect recent psychological and neuroscientific research could have on legal, social, and moral judgments of responsibility and blame—in situations including A Clockwork Orange -like scenario of behavior correction. Contributors William P. Malle, Alfred R. Overall, this is an excellent volume that brings together an impressive cast of commentators on the key question for consciousness studies: does the c word actually do anything. Search Search. Correct adjustment of hand movement toward a target that has changed position can occur under conditions where participants are not consciously aware the target has moved, and therefore their hand movement could not be under conscious control Bridgeman et al.

Intentional movement toward a target object is corrected within — ms after hand movement begins, or after the target has changed position Smith and Bowen, ; Soechting and Lacquaniti, ; Zelaznik et al. Therefore, these intentional actions must be nonconsciously controlled. Nonconscious visual systems can accurately control intentional behavior even when the conscious visual representation is in error, because behavior is controlled on the basis of nonconscious representations that are generally less prone to error than our perceptual representations Bridgeman et al.

The vast majority of experiments investigating the control of behavior related to whether conscious or nonconscious visual information was employed to control behavior, and they consistently found that control is nonconscious. However, Paillard et al.

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They studied a person who had suffered neurological damage that resulted in the total loss of experienced sensation on her right side. They described an experiment in which the woman was blindfolded and then touched at points on her right hand. She had no conscious awareness of the contact, but when asked to touch the point of contact with her left hand was able to do so without difficulty.

The woman's action in touching the point of contact was a voluntary movement, which ordinarily would be assumed to be under conscious control. But the fact that she was unable to experience the contact showed that her movement was controlled nonconsciously.

Since she had no difficulty using her nonconscious tactile information for controlling her movements it is likely that she was using the same system as she used before her injury see Rossetti, , for evidence on tactile and proprioceptive data for action. It seems that action control is always nonconscious, whatever the data source. Having broken the spell of the article, I ask myself whether I will return to it immediately, or have a coffee first. Shall I continue reading to find where the article is taking me, or shall I stop and enjoy a drink? I am aware of a kind of tension, of opposing impulses.

Then I get up from my chair and make myself a coffee. I know the choice has been made, but I experienced no decision process. Another way one becomes aware of the outcome of one's decision is by one's feelings about the issue under consideration. Depending on the nature of the choice that one faces, one's feeling of knowing the outcome may come quickly, or there may be an intervening period of uncomfortable uncertainty or indecision.

And the feeling of decision may come suddenly or it may be a slow realization. When it comes, the feeling could be of preference for a particular object, or an inclination toward a particular action. One may have thought about an issue long and hard, working through all the various considerations, perhaps even writing them down.

When making a choice or decision, the step from awareness of the various options to one's decision is a nonconscious process Nisbett and Wilson, ; Johansson et al. In an investigation of the decision process, Petitmengin et al. Their subjects recovered much of the sequence of events surrounding their decisions, but there was no reference to their reporting all the data manipulations central to a decision.

Their reports are much as one observes when taking careful note of events during the course of a decision; experiencing the sensory and emotional information prior to the decision, followed, perhaps after some delay, by an awareness of one's decision which has been nonconsciously determined. The experience of becoming aware of the outcome of the nonconscious decision process may be what Petitmengin et al. Haggard and Eimer investigated the relationship between the timing of neural events and the perceived time of choosing to make one of two alternative voluntary actions whether to move the left or right index finger.

They wrote p. In a report of functional magnetic resonance imaging studies during decision processes, Soon et al. There are two forms of attention control: exogenous automatic orienting, and endogenous voluntary control. Orienting is automatic and nonconscious, but voluntary control of attention must also be nonconscious because we have no awareness of choosing what we will attend to Velmans Velmans , wrote that it is logically impossible for consciousness to select what enters itself, unless it is already being experienced.

This argument must be valid for the very many occasions when our attention moves to something that was not already in mind, but it is not valid for some of our movements of attention. For example, I am hearing a noise, and I attend to it because I am curious where it is coming from; or I look more closely at an insect on a wall; or my attention moves from one flower to an adjacent one in the garden.

I was experiencing these things before I chose to focus on them, so are these movements of attention consciously determined? First, it is likely that the same mechanisms of selection apply whether or not the object was being perceived prior to the movement of attention, which would suggest they are nonconscious. Second, voluntary control of attention amounts to intentionally choosing which information will be experienced and adjusting one's attention accordingly. In relation to the control of attention just as with other choices, decisions, and control of action some aspects of the prior information may be conscious, but the crucial decision and control processes are never observed.

Voluntary and involuntary movements of attention are both controlled nonconsciously. In any intentional action, one never experiences the complete sequence of events from the starting conditions to completing the action. Bowers , p.

The Neuroscience of Consciousness

Rather, the causal link between antecedents and their consequences is provided by an inference, however implicit and invisible. There are gaps in every experience of intentional choice, intentional initiation of responses, intentional control of attention or behavior, and in thinking, speaking, problem solving, creativity, and every other action with which consciousness is associated; and in each of these activities the executive mental process is missing from consciousness.

However, since we never experience mental processes, we cannot know what it would be like to experience them. One can only know that one does not experience these processes by the fact that a stage in the events is absent, though, in the ordinary course of events, one generally does not notice this.

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The absence of data processing in consciousness was assumed by Velmans , and others Pockett, ; Robinson, to imply that consciousness had no biological function. However, in the words of Smith , p. In fact, the evidence that consciousness does have biological value is strong, and this is detailed in the next section.

An issue that is important when assessing the evidence for consciousness being adaptive, is whether or not consciousness could be considered as functionally separable from the conscious neural structure of which it is a property. This question is important because much of the evidence that consciousness is adaptive depends upon information that is common to consciousness and the conscious neural structure. There have been claims that the conscious neural structure has biological value but consciousness is functionless Pockett, ; Blakemore, ; Robinson, This amounts to a claim that, in terms of its functioning, consciousness is separable from the conscious neural structure.

The brain is our last frontier and consciousness is expanding - Dr. Heather Berlin - [email protected]

There have also been counter claims that consciousness is integral to the conscious neural structure for example, Gomes, There are reasons to believe that consciousness cannot exist without the conscious neural structure, and that the neural structure by its nature produces consciousness, so one cannot have the neural structure without having consciousness Loorits, Therefore, the conscious neural structure and consciousness, as its property, are functionally inseparable, and any evidence that consciousness is adaptive is evidence that both consciousness and the conscious neural structure are adaptive.

A number of scientists have commented that consciousness appears to be so complex it must be adaptive for example, Gray, , ; Nichols and Grantham, Consciousness is certainly complex, incorporating several sensory modalities, each with a number of variants, interrelated with various felt experiences. When one considers the complexity of visual perception, one appreciates that this aspect of consciousness must have evolved in many stages, sufficient to establish that visual consciousness does have biological value.

According to Reber , cerebral achromaticity is rare, but dark—light blindness is much rarer, and Jackson's Principle states that evolutionarily older functions are more robust than more recent functions. This suggests that dark—light experience developed separately and earlier than color experience. Additionally, a system has evolved whereby the colors that one experiences are adjusted so as to give maximum differentiation between objects Gouras and Zrenner, ; Gouras, ; Thompson, Light—dark contrast, in combination with the color spectrum, as it is employed in consciousness, is a rather complex method for differentiating objects within our visual experience.

This almost certainly arose in stages over a significant period of evolutionary time, which could not have occurred without it offering survival advantages. If visual experience provides survival advantages, consciousness, of which visual experience is an integral part, must also provide survival advantages. But, the total complexity of consciousness is much greater because it includes many other interrelated components 8 : auditory experiences of pitch and loudness; tastes and odors representing chemical information; internal awareness of contact with objects; awareness of one's own bodily position and movements; perception of one's emotions and other internal states, and one's feelings about people objects, and events.

And each of these is normally appropriately positioned within a three-dimensional array. Consciousness is an extremely complex phenomenon that could not have evolved without having an important biological function.

The existence of accessory systems that have evolved in association with consciousness is evidence that consciousness has biological value and can influence behavior:. The fact that a second visual system with different properties has evolved to provide suitable information for conscious perception must mean there is biological value in perceptual systems. This could only have occurred because consciousness has biological value.

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James wrote that we evolved pleasant feelings toward what is generally good for us and unpleasant feelings toward what is generally bad for us. He said that if consciousness had no effects, we could quite easily have evolved with pleasant feelings toward what harms us and unpleasant feelings toward what is good for us, but we did not, therefore it is likely these feelings, and hence all experiences, are adaptive.

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James' argument can be extended from feelings to all of our experiences. When we are about to do something, if it is not a fully automatic response, we are conscious of our intended action. Why would it be necessary to know our intentions unless our experiences have some influence on our behavior? Also, whenever we are actively involved with events, consciousness is fairly well correlated with the facts of the situation. This is ensured by a mechanism for reality monitoring of experiences in our ordinary waking states, whenever that is necessary Johnson and Raye, If consciousness had no effects on behavior, it would not matter if our experiences were completely fantastical and had no correlation with reality.

But our experiences have evolved so as to represent reality fairly accurately whenever that is necessary, and this is evidence that consciousness can influence behavior, and is adaptive.

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Acta Psychol. For example, we can focus on a part of the whole circuit, say two connected nodes, and compute the effective information that can be carried by this microcircuit. Brass M. Edited by: Jeffrey K. Mind 4, 1— Nichols, S.

In general, there is a very clear separation between self-related information and external sense information in consciousness. Bodily sensations like pain, coldness, hunger or tiredness; emotional and other feelings, like anger, confidence or pleasure; knowledge of our own choices; and awareness of our own physical boundaries, are normally well differentiated from exogenous information. In normal conditions, self-related information from diverse internal sensors is always perceived as self-related, and always located together. If consciousness had no biological function, it could easily have been otherwise—it would have made no difference in terms of one's survival if self-related information were scattered across one's experience.

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