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The Brain's Representational PowerOn Consciousness and the Integration of Modalities$
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Cyriel M.A. Pennartz

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9780262029315

Published to MIT Press Scholarship Online: May 2016

DOI: 10.7551/mitpress/9780262029315.001.0001

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Peeling Off Our Conscious Lives

Peeling Off Our Conscious Lives

(p.47) 3 Peeling Off Our Conscious Lives
The Brain's Representational Power

Cyriel M. A. Pennartz

The MIT Press

This chapter presents a fictive experiment in which a person named Harry voluntarily undergoes neurosurgical operations by which various cognitive processes are reversibly abolished. This paves the way for asking: which cognitive processes can be "peeled away" from our mental lives before consciousness is lost? Which processes belong to the core that is essential for consciousness? We review the relevance of processes such as sensory processing and perception in various modalities (vision, hearing, etc.), memory, emotions, motor behavior and language. Neurology and neuropsychology offer compelling cases for brain systems involved in perception and/or imagery as being essential for consciousness, whereas structures for memory, emotions, language and motor capacities appear less essential. This empirical evidence also argues against classic functionalism, which posits that a mental state acts as a causal intermediate between sensory input and motor output, because consciousness survives the long-lasting absence of motor behavior. As illustrated by clinical phenomena such as achromatopsia, the weight of evidence indicates that consciousness cannot be explained as simply having a discriminative state of groups of neurons, biasing or predisposing the organism toward specific actions.

Keywords:   Emotion, Functionalism, Language, Memory, Motor behavior, Neurology, Qualia, Sensory modalities, Visual agnosia

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