Chapter 4: Attention and Timing
- Blackmore's question: "Does consciousness cause attention to be directed, or
is consciousness the effect
of paying attention (or perhaps neither)? (p.51)
- James: "Everyone knows what attention is. It is the taking
possession by the mind in clear and vivid form, of one out of what seem
several simultaneously possible objects or trains of thought.
Focalization, concentration, or consciousness are of its essence.
It implies withdrawal from some things in order to deal effectively
with others." (James 1890, Vol., i: 403-4)
- The "spotlight of attention" metaphor: "My experience is what I agree to attend to.
Only those items which I notice
shape my mind 00 without selective interest, experience is an utter
chaos." (James 1890, Vol., i: 402)
- "Attention and memory are closely related and some theories of
attention treat short term memory, with its limited capacity, as the
relevant resource to be competed for." (p. 53)
Attention and Consciousness
- "For all this variation [among various accounts] two main kinds
of connections that are made between consciousness and attention"
James' cause/effect issue. Which is attention?
- "the idea that when something is attended to it is 'in'
- "the idea that consciousness can direct attention, or even that
directing attention is the main function of consciousness." (53)
- Active theory: Consciousness directs my attention to the object.
- Reactive theory: It grabs my attention.
- "no amount of evidence could really help decide between the two"
- "therefore he made his decision on ethical grounds -- his
decision being to count himself among those who believe in a spiritual
force. That force was the genuinely causal force of personal
- Involuntary control of attention
- "attention is often directed involuntarily [= unconsciously?!]
-- for example when we react quickly to something like a loud noise, or
our name being called" (55)
- involuntary aspects of visual tracking
- keeps images of salient things in the foveal (hi-res) part of
- peripheral unexpected sudden motions literally "catch our
- Related curiosities
- involuntary [unconscious?] nature of saccades (generally)
- "smooth pursuit": "this kind of eye movement cannot be made
voluntarily" without "an actual moving target" (55)
- "Another form of involuntary visual attention occurs in
perceptual 'pop-out'." (56)
- "These examples show that much of selective attention is
controlled unconsciously. But this does not preclude the
possibility that under other circumstances we really do ... decide to
pay closer attention .... (56)
The Half-Second Delay in Consciousness
- Libet's experiments
- directly stimulated the the somatosensory cortex
- with .5 seconds + stimulations patient-subjects reported
various sensations (e.g., being touched on the arm)
- with shorter stimulations patient-subjects reported no
- "Libet concluded that 'neuronal adequacy' for conscious
sensation is only achieved after half a second of continuous
stimulation in [the] somatosensory cortex." (58)
- Conclusion: consciousness is on a half-second delay!
- nowhere so efficacious as it seems (waxing epiphenomenal)
- certainly not proactive!
- "Libet's controversial suggestion was that sensory experiences
are subjectively referred back in time once neuronal adequacy has been
Interpreting Libet's Delay
- "Penrose (1994a) believes that the phenomena demand reference to
non-locality and quantum theory." (60)
- "[Popper & Eccles] think that some kind of intervention by
the nonphysical mind is required to explain subjective antedating." (60)
- "Libet himself points out that subjective referral in space has
long been recognized and so we should not be surprised to find
subjective referral in time as well. Although it may seem odd
that we experience objects as 'out there' when vision depends on our
brain 'in here,' this kind of projection is not magical -- nor is
subjective referral. Given the widely dispersed activity in the
cortex, we should expect a mechanism that coordinated subjective
- Related oddities
- phi phenomena (one light moves) & "color
phi" (it changes
color before that color
- cutaneous rabbit: "we might ask how taps two to four came to be
experienced as moving up the arm when the next tap in the series had
not yet happened.
- "Perhaps we need to drop the assumption that there must be a time
at which consciousness happens. Indeed we may need to question
the very idea that at any moment in time something either is, or is
not, "in consciousness." (63)