Abstract Details

Consciousness and Relevance Realization  John Vervaeke , Richard Wu; Anderson Todd (Psychology and Cognitive Scien, University of Toronto, Toronto, ON Canada)   P2

Dominant accounts of consciousness in cognitive science tend to focus on determining the function(s) of consciousness and delineating architectural models that would support such functionality. Recent proposals concerning the functionality of consciousness have converged on the determination (realization) of relevance as a core function of consciousness: a conscious agent is one that has enhanced abilities to realize relevance. This links the problem of consciousness to a unresolved version of the long-standing frame problem, i.e., the problem of relevance. Recently, Shanahan (2009) has argued that the core of what remains after recent theoretical progress in addressing the frame problem is the challenge in in explaining how a computationally limited agent determines that relevance of information in its changing environment. This problem of relevance, moreover, receives articulations in several areas in cognitive science (Vervaeke, Lillicrap, and Richards, 2012), but has only recently been linked to the problem of consciousness (Shanahan and Baars, 2005). This talk will examine four prominent accounts of consciousness - the Global Workspace Theory (Baars, 2005), the Integrated Information Theory (Tononi, 2011), the Radical Plasticity Hypothesis (Cleeremans,2011), and the Fronto-Parietal Network theory (Bor & Seth,2012) - and suggest that they converge on the connection between consciousness and relevance realization. The talk will then proceed to discuss how exploring this connection may, in addition to revealing insights about the function of consciousness, help to explain certain key phenomenological properties of consciousness. More specifically, an account of how consciousness helps an agent to realize relevance will provide an account of how the agent has a salience landscape (Ramachandran and Oberman, 2006). Roughly, a salience landscape is the way a cognitive agent determines relevance through decisions about how to commits its attentional, metabolic, temporal, and behaviour resources in a highly complex, dynamic, and self-organizing manner. These decisions and commitments result in certain information from the environment standing out more than other information such that the cognitive agent will only orient to certain aspects of objects and situations, it will only orient to information that is relevant to it and centered upon it, and it will only orient to information that is timed well to its dynamical realization of relevance. The salience landscape will have patterns of aspectuality, centrality, and temporality that may give us a powerful way to talk about the perspectival nature of consciousness. The perspectival nature of consciousness is the property of consciousness in which consciousness seems to be from a point of view, i.e., in consciousness information is focused on the agent under those aspects that are relevant to the agent, and at a particular temporal scale and duration. The perspectival nature of consciousness also contributes something of what it is like to have consciousness, i.e., what it is like to be a particular kind of conscious being. Therefore, the connection between consciousness and relevance realization may serve not only to explain the function of consciousness, but also shed explanatory light on the nature of consciousness. This, in turn, promises a more integrated account of consciousness as a whole.