Minimal Sense of Self, Temporality and the Brain1

Abstract Cognitive neuroscientists are currently busy searching for the neural signatures of conscious experience. I shall argue that the notion of neural correlates of consciousness employed in much of this work is subject to two very different interpretations depending on how one understands the relation between the concepts of “state consciousness” and “creature consciousness.” Localist theories treat the neural correlates of creature consciousness as a kind of background condition that must be in place in order for the brain to realize particular conscious experiences. Holists on the other hand take the neural correlates of creature consciousness to be a part of the core realizer of a particular conscious experience. My aim in this paper will be threefold. First I argue we should understand creature consciousness as a property of those creatures that have a minimal sense of self. Given this conception of creature consciousness I argue that the localist position is untenable: Creature consciousness cannot simply be a background condition. Finally I argue that the minimal sense of self is a consequence of the temporal structure of consciousness. It follows that any theory of NCCs must explain how experiences with a complex temporal structure can be implemented in neural processing. Julian Kiverstein2 University of Edinburgh

Cognitive neuroscientists have amassed a deep and detailed understanding of how our brains process information from the external world, but the question of how this information is transformed into conscious experience remains an unsolved problem. The

Work on this paper was funded by the AHRC under the ESF Eurocores Consciousness in the Natural and Cultural Context scheme for the CONTACT (Consciousness in Interaction) Project, AH/E511139/1. Many thanks to Valtteri Arstila, Nini Praetorius and Valdas Noreika – my colleagues on the Volkswagen Stiftung sponsored Subjective Time project for feedback on an earlier draft of this paper. I would also like to thank the organizers of the CNCC Essay Prize, the anonymous reviewers for their helpful feedback, the members of the jury, and Mike Wheeler for the many excellent questions he raised in his commentary. Final thanks go to Andy Clark, Shaun Gallagher, Axel Seeman and to members of the audience at the Edinburgh prize giving conference. 2 University of Edinburgh, Department of Philosophy, Dugald Stewart Building, 3 Charles Street, Edinburgh, EH8 9AD Scotland. Website: E-mail:


On this conception conscious experience is best understood as the perspective of a whole creature on its environment. He suggests that knowing what it is for a creature to be conscious won’t help us much with the difficult questions state consciousness raises: 3 The distinction between “state” and “creature” consciousness was first made. Once the correlates of particular experiences have been identified neurobiologists can then look for common structures that may help them to understand the mechanisms that underpin consciousness more generally. localism about NCCs must collapse into holism.neurobiologists Francis Crick and Christof Koch (2003) have proposed that the latter problem is one that is best approached incrementally. but how are we to understand this notion? I will argue (in §1) that we get very different answers to this question depending on how we think about the relation between states of consciousness and conscious creatures. The idea of neural correlates of consciousness (henceforth NCCs) is central to this research strategy. Holists deny that it is possible to identify the neural correlates of particular states of consciousness without also finding the neural mechanisms that form the basis for creature consciousness. state and creature consciousness are conceived of in a way that precludes the possibility of investigating their neural basis separately.3 According to one perspective. I finish up by considering two models of information processing. 1. NCCs are correlates of particular states of consciousness. In §4 I explain how conscious states can include a minimal sense of self because consciousness has a temporal structure. I conclude that neither is entirely satisfactory. 60 . I argue that once we identify creature consciousness with the minimal sense of self. I will unfortunately not have the space to discuss this overlap in what follows. see for instance: Rosenthal (1990/1997) and (1993/2005). In §3 I argue that once we have this understanding of creature consciousness it becomes difficult to see how creature consciousness could have a neural basis that did not also form a part of the core neural basis of particular conscious states. They suggest that first neuroscientists must identify correlations between neural processes and particular types of experience. In §1 I introduce the dispute between localism and holism in more detail. Localists take the problem of explaining state and creature consciousness to be separate and independent problems. while the second claims to explain the minimal sense of self. Neural Correlates of (Creature and State) Consciousness David Rosenthal (1990/1997 & 1993/2005) has argued that a theory of consciousness must distinguish the question of what it is for a creature to be conscious from the question of what it is for a state to be conscious. which overlap in interesting ways with my own. which I will label localism. §2 takes on the task of clarifying the notions of state and creature consciousness. I spend some time attempting to clarify the notion of creature consciousness and introduce one of the central claims of this paper that creature consciousness is best identified with what I call a minimal sense of self. the first of which promise to explain the temporal structure of experience. Bayne (2007) and Hohwy (in progress) discuss the relation between creature and state consciousness arriving at positions. On an alternative understanding of NCCs. to my knowledge. which I will label holism. by David Rosenthal.

Thus they would reject Rosenthal’s claim that an explanation of creature consciousness won’t help us to understand state consciousness. with different parts of the cerebral cortex being specialized for different functions but with a vast network of connections allowing these parts to enter into dense interactions. In a similar spirit. Both follow Shoemaker (1981) in making a distinction between a core realizer and a total realizer. for a representation of that content in consciousness. parietal and stimulus-specific representations in sensory cortices” that is necessary for conscious experience of a particular type. under conditions C.It is the notion of a mental state’s being conscious that occasions such difficulty in understanding what consciousness amounts to…no special problems impede our understanding of what it is for a creature to be a conscious creature. 46) Is Rosenthal right to claim that a biological explanation of creature consciousness won’t help us to understand the nature of state consciousness? Rosenthal tacitly assumes the correctness of the perspective on NCCs I labeled localism in my introduction.” David Chalmers offers a similar definition: “A NCC (for content) is a minimal neural representational system N such that representation of content in N is sufficient. 2000. p. 61 . Ned Block (2005. He finds such a combination of specialization and integration in the mammalian thalamo-cortical system. 482). Block defines a core realizer as the part of a neural representational system that distinguishes one conscious content from another (2007. Rees & Frith (2007) suggest that it may be interaction “between frontal. p. Instead they claim we cannot explain state consciousness without also explaining creature consciousness. Localists attempt to pinpoint or localize the neural activity that is correlated with specific types of experience. Holists do not assign explanatory priority to state consciousness or to creature consciousness. p.” (Chalmers. We can sharpen the disagreement between holists and localists by taking a closer look at the notion of neural correlates of consciousness. in a fashion akin to so-called “grandmother cells”. Moreover damage to this region causes akinetopsia or motionblindness. However activity in MT/V5 is widely agreed not to be sufficient for seeing 4 Localization of this kind need not be read as the view that there are physically discrete areas of the brain that encode particular contents. p. Being awake is presumably an unproblematic biological notion. Thus consider a visual experience as of motion. 31) To say that a neural representational system N is sufficient for the occurrence of an experience E is to say that nothing else is required in order for an experience of this type to occur other than activity in the population of neurons of which N is composed. MT/V5 is a strong candidate for the core realizer for such an experience because activity in this functionally specialized area is correlated with visual experience as of motion.4 In doing so they assign explanatory priority to state consciousness over creature consciousness.” While in Block (2007) he talks of the “core neural basis of experience. A creature’s being conscious means that it is awake and mentally responsive. Tononi (2007) has suggested for instance that the kind of neural architecture required for conscious experience combines functional specialization with functional integration. (Rosenthal. A localist theory could accept that experience is correlated with large-scale distributed neural activity spread across geographically disparate areas of the brain. The assumption that state consciousness can be investigated independently of creature consciousness is rejected by theories that I will label holist. 1993/2005. Block and Chalmers are both careful to say that it is only under certain conditions that activation of a neural representational system will suffice for a given experience. 46) defines a neural correlate of phenomenal consciousness as “the minimal neural basis of the phenomenal content of an experience.

self-explanatory: State consciousness is a property that distinguishes conscious from non-conscious states.motion: In addition recurrent feedback between MT/V5 and V1 may also be required (Block. Localists take the part of a neural representational system that is the core-realizer to be the NCC. but it may nevertheless make a constitutive contribution to realizing experience. Block (2007. Conscious states can however only occur in conscious creatures. but only in the context of the right background conditions. To suppose they could is to suppose we could cut cells from a brain and place them in a bottle and they would continue to support a conscious experience (c. p. and inner speech. while pains.5 So what is creature consciousness? 5 The converse is. also true: a creature can only be conscious by being in a conscious state. the activation of the upper brainstem. deny that the neural basis of creature consciousness is just a background condition. itches and tickles. on the other hand. Block. 2007. as has been argued by Merker (2007) and Parvizi & Damasio (2001). p. The core realizer is the minimal sufficient condition for an experience of a particular type. are all uncontroversial examples of states possessing this property. and what he calls constitutive background conditions. In section 3 I will take a closer look at localist theories of NCCs. Before I do so however I must offer some further clarification of how I will understand “state” and “creature” consciousness. 62 . 46. He gives. The total realizer for a given experience will thus include the cells that make up a core realizer plus the background conditions required for these cells to play the role of realizing an experience. Conscious Creatures. The cells that make up a core realizer could not realize a conscious experience apart from wider activity in the brain – in this sense they are insufficient. sense experience. 2001). Now that we have a firmer grip on the notion of NCCs let us return to the dispute I began describing above between localists and holists. 482). as an example of the latter. holists challenge the localist conception of the distinction between the core and the background conditions for a given experience. and Minimal Selves The notion of state consciousness is. 2. Subliminal perception (as has been found in masked priming experiments) would be an example of a type of state that lacks this property. Those cells that do not form part of the core realizer will constitute the background conditions that must be in place if the core realizer is to do the work of supporting a given type of experience. The upper brainstem does not form a part of a core realizer for a given experience because it doesn’t play a role in explaining the contents of consciousness. Thus. 482) makes a further distinction between causally necessary background conditions such as cerebral blood flow. I take it. I take it. Pascual-Leone & Walsh. Amongst these background conditions will be neural activity that is correlated with creature-consciousness. something that is clearly not possible. Conscious States. They argue that neural activity correlated with creature consciousness should also be treated as making a constitutive contribution to realizing an experience. p. The neural correlates of creature consciousness are assigned the status of either causal or constitutive background conditions.f. 2005. Holists.

The traditional understanding of creature consciousness is clearly unsatisfactory. insofar as I am conscious of my visual experience but not in the same way of yours. 166). Patients in a vegetative state are “awake” in the sense that their eyes open as part of the normal sleep-wake cycle. and we are both aware of the cake in the same type of way (i. We can label this basis form of selfconsciousness pre-reflective self-consciousness (see Gallagher & Zahavi. Suppose you and I are both surreptitiously glancing at the last slice of cake on a plate wondering which of us will make the first move on it. but with what should it be replaced? I have said that there can be no conscious states in the absence of creature consciousness so perhaps we can make progress on this question by asking what is required in order for a creature to have conscious states? Thomas Nagel famously returned the following answer to this question: “Fundamentally an organism has conscious states if and only if there is something it is like to be that organism – something it is like for the organism” (1974/1979. Epileptics can be in the midst of a conversation when a seizure strikes. I can think about what it is like to have this very experience. The same is true of patients in the midst of an absent epileptic seizure: They are unconscious – this is why they can be described as “absent” during the seizure – but they are nevertheless awake. even when you and I both undergo experiences of one and the same object.e. 1999. However Bayne (2007. 2005). first-person access. the quote from Rosenthal above). pp. We are both seeing the same slice of cake. Pre-reflective self-consciousness is to be distinguished from reflective modes of self-consciousness in which a subject deliberately takes a step-back and adopts 63 . The objects of my experience appear to me in a unique way. though of course I can think about your experience. They undergo states of “unconscious wakefulness” (Merker.18) notes in passing that this cannot be quite right. 2007. but they are not creature-conscious.” We must determine when a creature has and when it lacks its own subjective perspective on the world. 2008.Creature consciousness is normally identified with wakefulness and alertness (see for example. we are both seeing the cake). subjects can be asleep but consciously dreaming. 112). p. despite not being awake. which other subjects necessarily lack. The kind of access I have to my visual experience but not to yours is such that I can make my experience the object of a first-person thought. At least part of what Nagel seems to be getting at here was the idea that a conscious organism is one that has its own subjective perspective or first-person point of view on the world. We can call this kind of grip a subject has on his own conscious states. Part of what we mean when we talk about a creature’s subjective perspective concerns the distinctive kind of epistemic access this creature has to its own conscious states of mind. p. I suggest that it is this notion of a subjective perspective or first-person point of view that must be clarified if we are to understand what it means to talk of “creature consciousness. When does a creature have firstperson access to its conscious states? I will follow phenomenological philosophers in claiming that a creature has firstperson access to its mental states only if those mental states include as an intrinsic property a basic form of self-consciousness. ch. Zahavi. stopping them in their tracks sometimes in mid-sentence. a kind of access that other creatures lack. 3. Your experience is not available to me for me to think about it in this particular way. Yet I have a kind of access to my own visual experience that you lack and vice versa. p. Conversely. 95-101). These subjects are surely enjoying something in the way of creature consciousness. Once the seizure is over patients will often continue where they left off with no recollection as to what had just happened (Damasio.

I shall henceforth refer to this dimension of consciousness as a conscious state’s mode of givenness since it concerns an object’s appearing or being given in a certain way to a subject. The conscious states that are given to me are necessarily given as mine. In addition the subject has some experience of the conscious state she is undergoing. remembered. and so forth. As Zahavi (2005) puts it: “We are never conscious of an object simpliciter. because when I undergo a proprioceptive experience. A reflectively self-conscious subject might think. my experience cannot be exhausted by what it represents. Pre-reflective self-consciousness has two (closely related) dimensions to it. but always of the object as appearing in a certain way: as judged. It doesn’t require the subject to think of herself as herself. seen. smelled. described. there is something it doesn’t seem possible for me to be mistaken about: I cannot be mistaken that it is me feeling my arm rise. The sense the subject has of herself is a consequence of the way she is affected by the state she is undergoing. imagined. feared. “I am angry” or “I desire some coffee. The consciousness the subject has of herself is pre-conceptual and pre-linguistic. tasted and so on” (p. a kind of thought that would require a first-person concept. The first-person givenness of this experience renders any act of identification unnecessary. for instance. but deny that for all of his conscious states he has a sense of himself as being in some way affected by these states. It is because the subject is aware of herself as being affected in some way that the state is available to her to be noticed in a subsequent act of reflection.6 Our objector might concede that obviously in order to selfattribute a mental state. It might be objected that we simply don’t find anything like this minimal sense of self in our ordinary experience. One and the same object can be given under different modes: It can be seen. noninferential awareness of the state she is affected by as her own. I am going to follow Zahavi (2005) in conceiving of states that are given to a subject with this quality of mineness as states that include a minimal sense of self. Putting these two aspects of pre-reflective self-consciousness together we can say that for a state to be prereflectively self-conscious it must have a first-person mode of givenness (henceforth first-person givenness). the mental state in question must be conscious. 64 . remembered. A conscious state is available to reflect on only if the subject already has some sense that she is herself undergoing or living through this state. I cannot be mistaken about this. and in the 6 My thanks go to Valtteri Arstila for pressing this objection. If I am always conscious of an object as appearing to me in a certain way. However there is something these different modes share in common: A conscious state’s mode of givenness is always in the first-person. this experience has first-person givenness. Part of what I experience as I raise my arm is that I am undergoing this proprioceptive experience. The first aspect relates to what the subject experiences when she undergoes a conscious experience.the perspective of an observer on her own mind.” She is in a position to think a thought of this kind only because her anger or desire for coffee was already in some sense available to her for inspection prior to any act of reflection. When I think I am raising my arm based on a feeling of my arm rising. It must also include the way the object is given to me. The subject doesn’t just experience what her conscious state represents as many representationalists claim (for the classic statement see Harman 1990). Now consider the thought that I am raising my arm.121). anticipated. All that is required is that the subject have some immediate.

for instance by cortical microstimulation in a prosthetic device or during neurosurgery. a decrease in 65 . In a muchdiscussed study. The resulting changes in brain activity do not reflect changes in sensory input but may instead be taken to reflect differences in brain activity corresponding with the difference between conscious and non-conscious processing of a stimulus.absence of identification there can be no possibility of misidentification. V4 seems to be necessary for color experience. Moreover. Subjects reported that their conscious experience shifted every few seconds between a visual experience of the face image and an experience of the house image. for instance. The localist account of NCCs Localist theories identify the neural correlates of the contents of specific experiences. Consider binocular rivalry as an example of one such method. is most likely necessary for the experience of motion. 3. When a new image strikes the retina it is processed rapidly through successive layers of visual cortex. A strong correlation of activity in FFA was found when subjects reported their percept flipping to an experience of a face-image. while PPA responds strongly to place-related stimuli. It is because my conscious states are always given to me in this way that I cannot be mistaken about whether I am undergoing them.. Tong and colleagues (1998) presented subjects with a picture of a face to one eye and a picture of a house to the other eye. Damage to or removal of a region that includes V5/MT will render a subject unable to perceive motion. Localists use a number of different methods to study the changes in contents of consciousness. Binocular rivalry is an excellent tool for localists since it provides a way of studying changes in the content of visual experience while the sensory input that is being processed is kept constant. 247) write: “If the NCC could be induced artificially. In a similar fashion. p. Thus Tononi & Koch (2008. Damage to V4 results in achromotopsia or loss of color perception. fMRI was used to record activity in the fusiform face area (FFA) and the parahippocampal place area (PPA). The fact that first-person thoughts are immune to errors of misidentification (Shoemaker 1968) shows us that prior to reflection my conscious states are always already given as mine. They study how brain activity changes with specific changes in the contents of consciousness while keeping factors such as a creature’s overall level of consciousness and sensory input as constant as possible. A creature is conscious when it can undergo states of mind that have first-person givenness and therefore include a minimal sense of self. One question that localists ask is therefore at what stage in this hierarchical processing does consciousness arise? Often localists will also be looking for what Zeki & Bartels (1999) have described as “essential nodes”: functionally specialized brain areas that are necessary for the experience of a particular sensory feature. while strong correlation with activity in PPA was found when subjects reported experiencing a house image. Each layer takes only 10 ms of processing so that in about 100-150 ms the whole brain can be appraised of the new information before our eyes. the subject will experience the associated percept. 1983).” They ought really to have added so long as the subject is not anaesthetized. Localists also predict that microstimulation of an essential node will suffice to bring about an experience of a sensory feature (or at least it will do so in a creature that is conscious). I propose that we identify creature consciousness with pre-reflective selfconsciousness. a condition known as akinetopsia (see Zihl et al. We saw earlier (in §1) how V5/MT. FFA responds twice as strongly to faces as to other stimuli.

like cerebral blood flow. Are the neural correlates of creature consciousness. necessary for the brain to realize conscious experience without being a part of the neural basis of consciousness? Cerebral blood flow must be carefully regulated to meet the brain’s metabolic demands. as the signal progress further down the ventral visual pathway. Too little blood flow to the brain and the result can be the death of brain cells and a stroke.activity was observed in the respective areas when the preferred stimulus for that area popped out of awareness. It is not however a part of what it is to be conscious in the way that say hydrogen is a part of water. Rees & Frith (2007. a part of every conscious state. Regulation of cerebral blood flow is therefore necessary for the core neural basis of a given state to do the work of realizing a particular conscious state. Conceiving of the neural correlates of creature consciousness in this way we might therefore argue for the following division of labor: The core realizer is the part of the NCC which explains differences in the contents of consciousness. p. 556) take this to suggest that processing taking place in early visual cortex represents both the seen and suppressed images. It follows that the neural basis of this property must also be a part of the neural basis of consciousness. Successful stabilization of a unitary conscious percept is associated both with an activated representation in ventral visual cortex of the perceptual content. 2007. plus activity in frontal and parietal cortex. It is only in later processing. and so cannot be a mere causal background condition. (Rees & Frith. on this view. Let us consider first whether the neural correlates of creature consciousness could have the status of causal background conditions. Whenever a state makes a creature conscious of the world the creature also has consciousness of this state as his own. acting as a condition that must be in place in order for the brain to realize conscious experience without forming a part of what it is to be in a conscious state? This picture of what the NCC for creature consciousness does is incompatible with the account of creature consciousness I have proposed. p. The property that makes a creature conscious is. Response fluctuations in PPA and FFA were significantly larger than those observed in early visual cortex such as V1. Rees & Frith go on to conclude: …distributed object representations in the ventral visual pathway compete for perceptual dominance. I have argued that creature consciousness consists in the possession of a minimal sense of self. Could the neural correlates of creature consciousness have the status of constitutive background conditions? A constitutive background condition is a part of the total neural realizer that is required for a core realizer to do the work of realizing a particular property. Might the neural correlates of creature consciousness function in a similar sort of way. If too much blood is supplied to the brain at a given time this can result in an increase in intracranial pressure causing damage to brain tissue. that the competition between the images is resolved and one image dominates while the other is suppressed. while the constitutive background conditions explain something that remains the same across these variations. 556) How do localists conceive of creature consciousness? They conceive of the neural basis of creature consciousness as having the status of either a causal or a constitutive background condition: a condition that must be in place if the core NCC is to do the work of realizing an experience with a specific content. The constitutive background conditions might for instance be mechanisms 66 . perhaps biased by top-down signals from frontal and parietal cortex.

(2003). suggest that activation of parieto-frontal regions may “support the “first-person perspective” on the visual world” (p. This data would also present a problem for any proposal to treat activation of parieto-frontal regions as the correlate of creature consciousness. Where does this leave creature consciousness as I’ve characterized it? It is of course possible that the neural correlates of creature consciousness are distinct from the mechanisms that explain the difference between conscious and nonconscious processing.that account for the difference between conscious and nonconscious processing of a stimulus. 1998.. When face sensitive neurons in FFA are activated. It is only when activity in FFA interacts with “higher” areas via a reentrant loop that the face becomes visible. 2002. The suggestion we are currently considering is that this mechanism plays the role of the constitutive background conditions for a given NCC. agree there is a mechanism that distinguishes conscious from nonconscious processing. however. recurrent loops must spread globally into parieto-frontal regions. There is no consensus then on how to explain the difference between conscious and non-conscious processing.g. but conscious experience can occur in the absence of verbal report (Block 2007. (2001) finding of recurrent processing in monkeys even when the monkey failed to report the presence of a texturally defined figure. Moutoussis & Zeki. Lamme (2006). notice that even if we broaden the constitutive background conditions to include the neural basis of creature consciousness. we would have to broaden the class of constitutive background conditions to include the mechanisms that distinguish conscious from nonconscious processing and whatever neural activity turns out to be the signature of the minimal sense of self. Dehaene et al. Laureys et al. Thompson & Schall. (2006) reject this possibility. The two accounts just canvassed do. shows that parietofrontal regions are impaired in patients that are in a vegetative state. This theory might seem to be challenged by the Super et al. arguing that in order for conscious processing of a stimulus to occur. This would invite the following questions: Why are both kinds of constitutive background conditions required and how are they related? A rather neat picture would emerge if the constitutive background conditions that explain the difference between conscious and nonconscious processing were to also explain creature consciousness. If this turns out to be the case. however. Haynes et al. 2005. 1999). asks in response to this finding: “Should we trust the monkey’s report?” Perhaps reentrant processing is sufficient for conscious experience. however. drawing in part on this data. which make information available for report. this is already to depart substantially from the spirit if not the letter of localism. Reentrant or recurrent processing is one candidate for a mechanism that might explain the difference between conscious and nonconscious processing. (1999). Elliot & Dolan.671). seem to show that even activation of parieto-frontal regions can be insufficient for conscious experience. However we have noted above that there is evidence challenging the claim that activation of parieto-frontal regions is sufficient for conscious experience. this is necessary. but not sufficient for a visual experience as of a face. Baars et al. Various masking experiments (e. Lamme 2006). Setting this possibility aside. According to this theory a stimulus is consciously processed only when a feedforward sweep is accompanied by a reentrant sweep (Lamme & Roelfsema. 2000). for instance. Though the 67 .

g. He cannot treat the neural correlates of creature consciousness as a causal background condition while accepting the account I have given of creature consciousness.e. Without this distinction we are left with a picture in which the neural activity correlated with creature consciousness is a part of the core neural basis for any given conscious state. I called this latter variety of consciousness. first outline a phenomenological answer to this question describing how consciousness must of necessity be structured in order for conscious states to include pre-reflective self-consciousness. Temporality.details differ. Chalmers. Nagel. The key to explaining this intrinsic subjectivity. haven’t we undermined the very distinction between constitutive background conditions and the core neural realizer of a given experience?7 Doesn’t the necessity of this kind of interaction show that the constitutive background conditions are just as necessary for the occurrence of an experience with a particular content as activity in the brain areas that constitute the core realizer? Deprived of this distinction. may be the bridge connecting neural processing with the minimal sense of self. I will assume that this phenomenological account acts as a constraint on the neuroscientific and psychological 7 Hohwy (in progress) makes a similar point in the course of arguing that “to account for consciousness proper we need to consider the dynamic interaction between the specific (i. we seem required to include that the NCC for creature consciousness forms a part of the NCC for state consciousness. I am always also conscious of myself undergoing these experiences. 1996. state) and enabling (i. Interaction of this kind would be just as much required should it turn out that the mechanisms accounting for the difference between conscious and non-conscious processing are distinct from the mechanisms explaining creature consciousness. Once we concede the necessity of this kind of interaction. In this final section I will introduce a concept advertised in my title. I will. 4.e. but which has so far not figured in my discussion – temporality. 1974/1979). a feature of experience many philosophers (and neuroscientists) have supposed must elude scientific explanation (see e. Furthermore. This leaves the localist facing something of an uncomfortable dilemma. I will in due course consider two possible explanations along these lines. A holist account of NCCs promises to account for the intrinsic subjectivity of experience. however. the core realizer for a given experiential episode will comprise neural activity that determines both an experience’s content and its first-person givenness. most of the proposals sketched above stress the interaction between a core realizer and the constitutive background conditions. is to find the neural signature of the minimal sense of self. according to holists. I have argued in §3 that in addition to my being conscious of whatever my experiences represent. How does pre-reflective self-consciousness come about? This question is ambiguous: It can most naturally be read as a request for a psychological or neuroscientific explanation. given some further background conditions” (ms: p. Temporality and the minimal sense of self According to holism.9). 1991. creature) conditions. 68 . Localism collapses into holism. I will argue. however. McGinn. pre-reflective selfconsciousness. the distinction between a core realizer of a given experience and a core realizer’s constitutive background conditions doesn’t hold up.

but also of my own ongoing experience. 2008. 1991). but if as phenomenologists. ch. The primal impression was Husserl’s name for a phase of consciousness that is constantly arising in the “now. we also hear a sound that is stretched-out through time and that has continued for a surprisingly long amount of time. This awareness of ongoing experience is what I’ve called pre-reflective self-consciousness. Edmund Husserl. my anticipations are implicitly anticipations about what I will experience or what I will do: I don’t just anticipate what is about to happen. reaching some way back into the past and extending forward into the future. Unfortunately. which he called retention. Gallagher argues that if someone were to be deprived of this anticipatory sense they would feel like all of 69 . I lack the space to argue for this assumption (but see Gallagher & Zahavi. It explains how it is possible for me to be simultaneously aware both of my ongoing experiences and of what they represent. We are conscious of our auditory experience as one that began a short while ago in the past. Retention and protention contribute a backward and forward-looking temporal context to ongoing experience.explanations of conscious experience. in his lectures on time consciousness from 1893-1917 (published as Husserl. Retention and protention do more than make it possible for the recent past and near future to contribute to the contents of ongoing experience. We don’t just hear the pitch. we abstract away from this temporal context. What we experience from moment to moment always occurs within a temporal field. and loudness of the note. I will. and of what is about to occur in the future. and protention of which the previous phase of experience was composed.” In practice this aspect of an experience is always embedded in a temporal context of retention and protention. It is the influence of this temporal context on ongoing experience that makes it possible for the contents of experience to represent temporally extended events. 193) has noted. The retentional part of an experience thus partly explains how pre-reflective self-consciousness might come about. be simultaneously aware both of what my experiences present. primal impression. primal impression. At each instant in time an experience will be made up of these three components. and protention. timbre. In particular. distinguished three parts of a temporally extended experience. What is retained from moment to moment is the entire phase of experience that has just elapsed: the retention. Retention is the component of an experience that is a function of the recent past. The content of this experience is an event that is extended through time: the event of the Soprano’s holding her note.1 & 2 for a defense of this approach). it consists in our anticipations about what we might experience in the near future. and that must surely end soon to be replaced by another. Consider by way of illustration Sean Kelly’s (2005) helpful example of hearing a Soprano singer holding a note. The event’s mode of givenness also has a temporal character: We are conscious of our auditory experience as having been going on for some time. Our experiences are not temporally punctual presenting us with discrete. Protention also makes an important contribution to the phenomenology of prereflective self-consciousness. Insofar as the entire previous phase of an experience is retained. is continuing in the present. As Gallagher (2005. Protention is a part of an experience that is a function of the near future. from moment to moment. what we are left with is the primal impression. but what is about to happen to me. durationless instants in time. If an experience is to present us with a temporally extended object it must have a content that is partly a function of what has just past. p.

p. for instance. A sensory system that models a whole temporal interval can thereby represent a perceived domain as it was at multiple times in the past. All of their conscious states would have the character of being unbidden: The person would feel alienated from their own consciousness. ch. the vehicles of those contents. However in drawing inferences from these descriptions about the nature of NCCs we must be careful to avoid any content-vehicle conflations. Consider first Rick Grush’s (2006) trajectory estimation model (TEM) of sensory processing. sensory systems aren’t just concerned with modeling the body or environment as it is right now at a single point in time.their conscious states as they unfolded in the future were imposed on them from the outside. p. and to help filter noise from incoming sensory signals. 2006. our sensory systems model not only where the ball is now but also its having been at a “slightly different location just prior to that” and where we anticipate it is heading (Grush. Grush presents the TEM as a model of information processing that aims to address the question of how Husserl’s analyses of time consciousness might be neurally implemented. Grush’s TEM seems to hold the promise of explaining how a subject can experience in the here and now an event that extends through time. as it is now and as it will be up to a certain point in time in the future. 444). Rather our sensory systems construct models for multiple times within a temporal interval centered on now. We can have 70 . 2006. we therefore require a framework for thinking about how temporal structures that exist at the level of content can be implemented by vehicle properties. This temporal interval includes a “past-lag” of a fixed duration l and a “future-reach” of a fixed duration k (Grush. Grush’s account would therefore seem like a promising place to look for such an account. According to the TEM. We will therefore be left with only a broad idea of the desiderata a holist account of NCCs must satisfy. The task of describing the holist account in detail must wait for another occasion. I am unfortunately finishing on a somewhat critical note. These models describe the general form that neural processing must take to realize experience with the temporal structure described above. 6) notes. We must not confuse a claim about the properties of the contents of experience for a claim about the properties of the brain states. A holist account of NCCs must explain how temporally structured conscious states might be implemented in neural processing. We shouldn’t however expect to find any straightforward mirroring of this structure at the neural level. for instance. What implications do these phenomenological descriptions have for our conception of NCCs? I have described how experience must be structured if it is to count as pre-reflectively self-conscious. As we watch a bowling ball makes its way down a bowling lane. that the brain needn’t use a temporally ordered sequence of representations to represent temporal order. For I will argue that neither account can serve as a basis for a holist account of NCCs without being further augmented. It may well be true that a conscious state must be composed of retentional and protentional components if it is to conclude a minimal sense of self. The starting point for the TEM is a hypothesis (which Grush (2004) defends) that sensorimotor systems must construct internal models of the body and/or the environment in order to overcome problems with feedback delays. 443-4). I will finish up by briefly describing two (closely related) information-processing models. Before we can conclude anything about NCCs from the phenomenology of experience. which purport to do this explanatory work. Dennett (1991.

experiences that extend through time in this way because our sensory systems construct models of the environment that have both a trailing edge. Indeed Grush seems to hold the view that it is only on this time-scale that we can truly be said to experience an event through time. The error signal is then used. or that a perceptual experience is had by me…an instantaneous feeling of “mineness” with which experiences are labeled” (Hohwy. When the causes of one’s experience are not what the perceptual systems have predicted. He suggests that at longer time scales our brains may group together distinct experiences by subsuming them under concepts (Grush.8 It purports to explain how the brain realizes the contents of experience independently of explaining how the brain realizes the minimal sense of self. The claim that we can give an account of the vehicles of temporal experience without also explaining the how the minimal sense of self is physically implemented is just what the holist denies. When a prediction is compared with actual incoming sensory signals and a match is found. 2006. together with lateral connection. Hohwy (2007) presents a model of information processing. and a leading edge that reaches into the future.1-2). However Grush is quite explicit about the limits of his ambitions for his model.1). Thus he seems to be committed to the view that the features of neural processing that explain how we can experience events through time will not also explain how we are affected by the ongoing flow of our experiences. I have argued above that localism of this kind is untenable. and this is no less true of a localist theory that purports to explain the temporal structure of experience. 2007. Hohwy appeals to what he describes as a “predictive coding scheme” to account for the minimal sense of self: On a predictive coding scheme. However. the incoming sensory signals will be attenuated. 2006. If we construe the TEM as a proposal about the neural processing that underpins conscious experience. retention and protention make us aware of our ongoing experiences over much longer time scales. which he explicitly describes as a “reductive account” of the minimal sense of self (p. However he does claim that an account can be given of the contents of temporal experience independently of explaining what he calls the “double intentionality” of temporal experience. (p. His aim is to explain only how experience can be temporally extended for very short durations of 200 msecs at most. 447). but as an information-processing model that is neutral on the details of implementation. to update the hypothesis so as to generate even better predictions. Grush doesn’t present his account of sensory processing as a theory of NCCs. He says the target of his explanation is: “the pre-reflective feeling that a given movement is performed by me. Grush claims that this is explained by mechanisms separate and distinct from the TEM. p. By “double intentionality” he means the feature of temporal experience whereby we are not just conscious of an event extended through time but also of our ongoing experience. If the predictions are good then the incoming signal is attenuated such that only the error signal is propagated forwards in the system. this feeling of familiarity is replaced by one of “bewilderment and alienation” 8 To be fair. 447). the cognitive system implemented in the brain is hierarchical such that relatively high levels represent hypotheses about probable causes and issues predictions about future sensory input backwards to lower levels in the system. p. This attenuation will lend the signals a feeling of familiarity. 71 . lagging a short way back in the past. It doesn’t purport to explain temporally extended experience over longer durations (Grush. so what we sense will acquire “a feel of familiarity”. p. it is most naturally read as a localist theory. the subject will have a sense that the experiences she is undergoing are as she expected.7) As the perceptual systems become better at making predictions about the state of the environment.

Unfortunately I do not have the space to expand on this comparison here. Philosophy of Mind. Still we have at least identified a central question a theory of NCCs must answer if we are to further our understanding of how neural processing is transformed into conscious experience. and the mesh between psychology and neuroscience. but we can only have some sense of how an object is given by means of a retentional component that makes us aware of our ongoing experience. p. Consciousness. Bayne. S. 10 72 .Z. 9.”9 Hohwy doesn’t describe any mechanisms that might explain the contribution of retention to ongoing experience. & Laureys. pp. Trends in Cognitive Science. 9 Indeed Hohwy presents his proposal in these terms himself (Hohwy. (2007). 26. Brain. T. just as with Grush. We have seen that to undergo states of this kind the creature must undergo states that have a complex temporal structure. Block. The result is a picture of experience as the subjective or first-person perspective of a whole animal on its environment.Two neural correlates of consciousness. 481-548. accessibility. Conclusion I have argued that the neural basis of state consciousness cannot be identified separately from the neural basis of creature consciousness. However I haven’t yet identified a neural mechanism that could form the basis for retention.. Behavioural and Brain Sciences. Ramsøy. Hohwy takes the feeling of familiarity to relate to how a perceptual content is given [“is it predicted or not”] (p. Block. N. It seems very likely that the brain uses predictive coding to construct generative models concerning the likely causes of its sensory inputs. B. Yet it is retention that explains how it is possible to be simultaneously conscious of one’s ongoing experience and what one’s experiences represent. Philosphical Perspectives 21.8). Hohwy has given us an important part of the story. I don’t see how predictive coding could deliver any kind of awareness of ongoing experience except by working in conjunction with a retentional mechanism. This information-processing framework will surely form an important component in a holist account of NCCs. Trends in Cognitive Science. 30. the story will remain incomplete until we learn how predictive coding functions in conjunction with a retentional mechanism. (2007)..10 However. It should be noted that Hohwy’s generative models are in many ways similar to Grush’s (2004) emulators of which the TEM is a further development. We can think of predictive coding as a kind of processing which realizes what Husserl called “protention. A creature has its own subjective perspective when it undergoes states that include a minimal sense of self. 2007. Sensory attenuation is thus the mechanism that Hohwy takes to explain our awareness of ongoing experience. (2005). 46-52. (2003).8).(p. References Baars. 671-675. Conscious states and conscious creatures: Explanations in the scientific study of consciousness. T.9). N. I have finished up by outlining two accounts of neural processing which partially explain how experience could have such a temporal structure. conscious experience and the observing self. 1-22.

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