(Copyright © 2000 Piero Scaruffi | Legal restrictions - Termini d'uso )
The American psycholinguist Bernard Baars believes that
conscious experience is distributed widely throughout the nervous system and
it originates from a Darwinian process of selection.
Any conscious experience emerges from cooperation and competition between the many processing units of the brain working in parallel and occurs within a background of unconscious contexts. The self is the dominant, enduring context of many conscious experiences. Baars brings forth a wealth of psychological and neurophysiological data to justify his views.
He starts by proving that the mind contains unconscious mental representations, such as episodic memories and linguistic knowledge; that the mind originates from the work of many independent, specialized "processors", i.e. skills that have become highly practiced, automatic and unconscious. Baars emphasizes the striking differences between conscious and unconscious processes: unconscious processes are much more effective (e.g., we parse sentences unconsciously all the time, but cannot consciously define how we parse them), they operate in parallel (whereas we can only have one conscious process at the time), they appear to have almost unlimited capacity (conscious processes have very limited capacity).
The conscious "stage" interacts with several unconscious "experts" who create goals and plans and compete for playing them on the stage. These experts are "modules" (eyesight, fear, hunger, etc) that compete for access to the "global workspace". A form of "natural selection" decides which module (or modules) are predominant at any time. Conscious experience indirectly triggers widespread adaptive processes. Conscious experience is the product of biological adaptation.
Consciousness is the result of a a dual process of searching for information and adaptating to information, the former leading to more conscious access, the latter reducing conscious access (things become habitual and automatic).
Baars notices that perceptual systems are more sensitive to information than energy: redundant information fades from consciousness, no matter how many energy is applied.