2 Consciousness and the Information Processing Framework

The received view that guides most empirical research in cognitive psychology describes the mind as an information-processing system ( Lachman, Lachman, & Butterfield, 1979; Massaro & Cowan, 1993). The information-processing (IP) framework has proved its heuristic value, guiding research that has generated many important insights into mental activity. The computer metaphor for the mind associated with the IP framework has also been fruitful, pointing the way toward solutions for (or at least useful approaches to) some perennial problems in the philosophy of mind (e.g., Dennett, 1991). However, as it is usually understood, the IP framework has also presented some obstacles to developing a satisfactory theory of consciousness. As I remarked in a commentary several years ago, IP theory shows us how representations can interact without an explicit first-person point of view ( Carlson, 1992). Although this is promising in terms of developing satisfactorily objective cognitive theory, it leaves out the subjectivity that is central to understanding experienced cognition.

I believe that a useful, scientific theory of consciousness must make contact with what is good and useful in current cognitive theory. Furthermore, I believe that the core ideas of the IP framework are compatible with theory that acknowledges and accounts for the subjectivity of consciousness. In this chapter, I review those core ideas, arguing that they can be distinguished from several habits of thought that present obstacles to understanding consciousness.

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