Axel Cleeremans:
THE UNITY OF CONSCIOUSNESS (Oxford University Press, 2003)

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(Copyright © 2000 Piero Scaruffi | Legal restrictions - Termini d'uso )

This book collects papers of a 2000 conference on Consciousness. The core topic is "binding": how is it that the brain receives a wealth of data of many different kinds, which cause massive parallel processing, but at the end I have a unitary view of one event happening in the world? How are all the various data "bound" in one percept? Tim Bayne and David Chalmers open the book by stating that the "unity" of consciousness is necessary: it makes no sense to talk of pieces of consciousness. Consciousness "is" the experience of being the subject, so, by definition, it is a unity: it is all of which I am the subject at a certain time. This has implications for any theory of consciousness, because the reductionist approach (splitting the problem into smaller problems) is, by definition, doomed to failure: consciousness cannot be split lest you lose precisely consciousness, and then you are no longer analyzing consciousness. Consciousness can only be studied as the state of being the subject, which is fundamentally different from the study of what and how enables the brain to integrate different processes. What is needed is a holistic approach to consciousness.
The approach to binding proposed by Anne Treisman is "time-based", i.e. binding is due to synchronize firing of neurons (rather than to a "place" in the brain where different neuronal activities would be integrated).
Andreas Engel offers a plausible explanation of the computational advantages of time-based binding over space-based binding, which would account for the fact that natural selection favored the former.
Giulio Tononi offers a candidate for the neural correlate of consciousness (the thalamo-cortical system). Francisco Varela disagrees with the search for the neural correlate of consciousness because the brain is immersed in a body, and he thinks that consciousness arises from this "enactment", not just from abstract neural processing. Varela thinks that consciousness "emerges" from the coupling of the body with the environment. Similarly, Rodney Cotterill believes that motor action is a precondition to consciousness: an isolated brain would not be conscious. The function of consciousness is to help us learn how to react to the environment, and the learning molds our consciousness. So consciousness and learning are just two aspects of the same phenomenon, and that phenomenon is, ultimately, about the coexistence of body and environment.
Other articles examine breakdown of the unity of consciousness