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Guest Talk: Axel Cleeremans, Université Libre de Bruxelles

Axel Cleeremans, Professor of Cognitive Science, Université Libre de Bruxelles, and Research Director of the Belgian Fund for Scientific Research (F.N.S.R.) is visiting Aarhus and will give a guest talk on "Consciousness: The radical plasticity thesis"

2015.03.27 | Henriette Blæsild Vuust

Date Mon 20 Apr
Time 15:00 16:00
Location CFIN meeting room, 5th floor, AUH, building 10G, Nørrebrogade 44, Aarhus C.

Axel Cleeremans
Consciousness: The radical plasticity thesis


While numerous theories of consciousness have now been proposed, two big ideas dominate and subsume most other proposals. The first is that consciousness amounts to “fame in the brain” (e.g., Baars, Dehaene, Dennett, Lamme): We are conscious of whatever representations have, at some point in time, come to dominate information processing through processes of global competition and constraint satisfaction.  The other idea is that consciousness specifically depends on the involvement of meta-representations (e.g., Rosenthal, Perner & Dienes): We are conscious of something in virtue of the fact that our first-order representations are the target of higher-order representations. In other words, it is because of the fact that one is conscious that one is conscious, that one is conscious! In this talk I explore the idea that consciousness is something that one learns rather than an intrinsic property of certain neural states, and suggest that this perspective offers a way of reconciling Global Workspace Theory with Higher-Order Thought Theory. Starting from the idea that neural activity is inherently unconscious, the question becomes: How does the brain learn to be conscious? I suggest that consciousness arises as a result of the brain's continuous attempts at predicting not only the consequences of its actions on the world and on other agents, but also the consequences of activity in one cerebral region on activity in other regions. By this account, the brain continuously and unconsciously redescribes its own activity to itself, so developing systems of meta-representations that characterize and qualify their target representations. Such re-representations form the basis of conscious experience, and also subtend successful control of action. In a sense thus, this is the enactive perspective, but turned both inwards and (further) outwards. Consciousness is “signal detection on the mind”; the mind is the brain's (non-conceptual, implicit) theory about itself. I subtend these ideas by exploring empirical evidence that conscious experience is shaped by learning and through neural network models that simulate the relationships between performance and awareness in the different tasks explored by Persaud et al. (2007), which include blindsight, Artificial Grammar Learning, and the Iowa Gambling Task.