Haladjian, Haroutioun and Carlos Montemayer. Consciousness, Attention, and Conscious Attention

By Robinson, Daniel N. | The Review of Metaphysics, September 2015 | Go to article overview

Haladjian, Haroutioun and Carlos Montemayer. Consciousness, Attention, and Conscious Attention


Robinson, Daniel N., The Review of Metaphysics


HALADJIAN, Haroutioun and Carlos MONTEMAYER. Consciousness, Attention, and Conscious Attention. Cambridge, Mass.: The MIT Press, 2015. xiv + 280 pp. Cloth, $40.00--The central thesis of this well researched volume asserts a functional independence between conscious and attentional processes. This is developed in five chapters, each fortified by selective and informed reviews of empirical studies and philosophical perspectives on the nature of consciousness, self-consciousness, and attention. The authors avail themselves of earlier research, reaching back to the 1950s, inspired by developments in engineering, computer science, and network theory. In this way, the issues they address have a broader than usual framework; a scientific and conceptual pedigree rendering current perspectives better grounded.

As noted by the authors, many lines of investigation have converged in recent years to frame the nature and problem of consciousness; studies of perceptual priming where the main effect is mediated nonconsciously; studies of reversible figures (for example, Necker's cube) in which the visual experience is altered without any direct and conscious effort by the percipient; studies of hallucinatory experiences, of dreams, of stimulus saliency. The welter of data can support widely different theoretical positions. These are weighed judiciously by the authors but not at the expense of their own attempt to achieve orderly integration by way of an evolutionary perspective.

As understood by the authors, attention "is a selective processing mechanism that enhances and selects perceptual information." The result directs action and presumably favors more successful engagements with the perceptible world. The selective function of attention is illustrated in several ways, the authors wisely referring back to pioneering studies by Donald Broadbent and Colin Cherry. The latter employed a "shadowing" task. Subjects wearing headphones were given different communications simultaneously in each ear, such presentations referred to as dichotic. Called upon to "shadow" (that is, to repeat with minimum delay) what was presented to one ear, the subjects proved to be oblivious to information delivered to the nonshadowing side. They failed even to notice that the language had changed. The ability to focus attention and to filter unessential material is of obvious adaptive value. Complex and only marginally understood subsidiary processes are at work in these operations. …

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