What is it about?

Progress in the science of consciousness depends on the experimental paradigms and varieties of contrastive analysis available to researchers. Here we highlight paradigms where the object is represented in consciousness as a set of its features but the interpretation of this set alternates in consciousness. We group experimental paradigms with this property under the label “conscious interpretation”. We compare the paradigms studying conscious interpretation of the already consciously perceived objects with other types of experimental paradigms. We review previous and recent studies investigating this interpretative aspect of consciousness and propose future directions. We put forward the hypothesis that there are types of stimuli with a hierarchy of interpretations for which the rule applies: conscious experience is drawn towards higher-level interpretation and reverting back to the lower level of interpretation is impossible. We discuss how theories of consciousness might incorporate knowledge and constraints arising from the characteristics of conscious interpretation.

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Why is it important?

Virtually all of the experimental methods for distilling the neural correlates of the contents of consciousness capitalize on comparing what is different between the brain processes when a subject is not conscious of a particular qualitative content versus when (s)he is conscious of that content. The extracted difference in the brain process signatures stands for the neural correlates of consciousness (NCC). However, when NCC is studied with ambiguous images presented (eg, vase-and-faces, rat-and-man, wife-and-mother-in-law), the stimulus is steadily in conscious experience and what changes is its cognitive interpretation (with physical low level features invariant). In this paper this distinction motivated a recommendation for the distinction between IntNCC and ThrNCC (NCC for conscious interpretation and NCC for pushing through the threshold of consciousness, respectively). So far the NCCs between these 2 varieties have been indistinguishable. Research on what would these NCC differences be would aid progress in consciousness science.


Knowingly using this distinction in experimental designs to take apart IntNCC and ThrNCC would get us closer to the different aspects of consciousness as explained by the corresponding brain mechanisms.

Professor Talis Bachmann
Tartu Ulikool

Read the Original

This page is a summary of: Conscious interpretation: A distinct aspect for the neural markers of the contents of consciousness, Consciousness and Cognition, February 2023, Elsevier, DOI: 10.1016/j.concog.2023.103471.
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