Connecting conscious and unconscious processing

  • Cleeremans A
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Abstract

Consciousness remains a mystery-"a phenomenon that people do not know how to think about-yet" (Dennett, , p. 21). Here, I consider how the connectionist perspective on information processing may help us progress toward the goal of understanding the computational principles through which conscious and unconscious processing differ. I begin by delineating the conceptual challenges associated with classical approaches to cognition insofar as understanding unconscious information processing is concerned, and to highlight several contrasting computational principles that are constitutive of the connectionist approach. This leads me to suggest that conscious and unconscious processing are fundamentally connected, that is, rooted in the very same computational principles. I further develop a perspective according to which the brain continuously and unconsciously learns to redescribe its own activity itself based on constant interaction with itself, with the world, and with other minds. The outcome of such interactions is the emergence of internal models that are metacognitive in nature and that function so as to make it possible for an agent to develop a (limited, implicit, practical) understanding of itself. In this light, plasticity and learning are constitutive of what makes us conscious, for it is in virtue of our own experiences with ourselves and with other people that our mental life acquires its subjective character. The connectionist framework continues to be uniquely positioned in the Cognitive Sciences to address the challenge of identifying what one could call the "computational correlates of consciousness" (Mathis & Mozer, ) because it makes it possible to focus on the mechanisms through which information processing takes place.

Author-supplied keywords

  • Connectionist modeling
  • Consciousness
  • Learning
  • Metacognition

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Authors

  • Axel Cleeremans

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