Biomorphology in general by J. C. Schoute

By J. C. Schoute

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This is one way of addressing the important question, What is consciousness for? Finding differences between conscious and unconscious processing is a way of answering this question. This amounts to applying the contrastive analysis advocated by Baars (1988; see also James, 1983). Holender’s (1986) criticism of the unconscious perception literature points out, among other things, that in nearly all of the findings of unconscious perception the response to the stimulus—for example the choice of the heavier weight in the Pierce and Jastrow (1884) study—is the same for both the conscious and the putatively unconscious case.

For example, within the population of cells that responded strongly to upward-moving gratings, there was a subpopulation whose activity fluctuated (approximately once per second) in response to a rivalrous grating, and whose periods of high activity were correlated with the monkey’s behavioral reports of seeing an upward-moving grating. This discovery was something of a watershed in that it established that the activity of sensory neurons is not always explicable solely in terms of distal stimulus properties.

Perceptual defense was considered highly implausible because it would be absurd to have two complete sets of perceptual apparati, especially if the function of one of them were only to protect the other from emotional distress. If a faster unconscious facility existed, so goes the argument, there would have been evolutionary pressure to have it be the single organ of perception and thus of awareness. 1, in which consciousness is essential for perception to be accomplished. If consciousness were not needed for all acts of perception in the first place, then it is possible for material to be processed fully without awareness, to be acted upon in some manner, and only selectively to become available to consciousness.

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