Cognition, Computation, and Consciousness

Cognition, Computation, and Consciousness

Cognition, Computation, and Consciousness

Cognition, Computation, and Consciousness


The topic of consciousness is truly multidisciplinary, attracting researchers and theorists from diverse backgrounds. It is now widely accepted that previously disparate areas all have contributions to make to the understanding of the nature of consciousness. Thus, we now have computational scientists, neuroscientists, and philosophers all engaged in the same effort. This book illustrates these three approaches, with chapters provided by some of the most important and provocative figures in the field. The first section is concerned with philosophical approaches to consciousness. One of the fundamental issues here is that of subjective feeling or qualia. The second section focuses on approaches from cognitive neuroscience. Patients with different types of neurological problems, and new imaging techniques, provide rich sources of data for studying how consciousness relates to brain function. The third section includes computational approaches looking at the quantitative relationship between brain processes and conscious experience. Cognition, Computation, and Consciousness represents a uniquely integrated and current account of this most fascinating and intractable subject.


The issue of consciousness has long been a major problem of philosophy and has been set apart from the mainstream of science. However, recent remarkable advances in three lines of studies, namely, neuroscience, cognitive science, and computational science, give us hope that consciousness will eventually be related to brain mechanisms by joint efforts of these three disciplines.

Neuroscience is primarily aimed at localizing brain structures responsible for mental activity and at investigating neural events going on in them. Cognitive science is concerned with principles governing mental activity, and computational science at computational capabilities of artificial networks and systems. These three disciplines have been developed individually by separate groups of researchers, but recently these are often combined to form new fields such as cognitive neuroscience and computational neuroscience. Considerable progress has already been noted in these fields in clarifying brain mechanisms underlying visual perception, motor control, learning and memory, and emotion.

However, we are still far from the goal of understanding brain mechanisms of awareness, volition, affect, language, thought, and consciousness, which characterize us humans. in order to advance our endeavour towards this goal, further integration of cognitive and computational neuroscience is necessary. This book describes such efforts originally presented in the Symposium on Cognition, Computation, and Consciousness held in the International Institute of Advanced Studies, Kyoto, Japan, in 1994, and specially updated for this book.

The first section is concerned with philosophical approaches to consciousness. Many such approaches so far tried are surveyed, and the functionalism on which current cognitive and computational neuroscience are based is critically examined. One of the fundamental issues is that of subjective feeling or qualia--why it feels like something to be conscious.

The second section focuses on approaches to consciousness from cognitive neuroscience. One rich set of findings which helps to tease out different aspects of consciousness, and helps us to understand where these fit into brain functions, comes from patients with various types of neurological problems. Another set of findings comes from analysing brain activity in relation to such processes as imagery, and during conscious as compared to unconscious mental states, to help to define which brain processes are related to consciousness.

The third section deals with computational approaches to consciousness, for example how network processes such as coherence or attractor states are related to experienced phenomenology, and whether there is a certain type of computational processing that is especially difficult for the brain and that is related to explicit, conscious, control processing.

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