Consciousness and Perceptual Attention: A Methodological Argument

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Vol: 5, Issue: 1

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Grassia, Massimo
Pacific University Libraries
article description
Our perception of external features comprises, among others, functional and phenomenological levels. At the functional level, the perceiver’s mind processes external features according to its own causal- functional organization. At the phenomenological level, the perceiver has consciousness of external features. The question of this paper is: How do the functional and the phenomenological levels of perception relate to each other? The answer I propose is that functional states of specifically perceptual attention constitute the necessary basis for the arising of consciousness in a perceiver.Widely studied within cognitive psychology, perceptual attention is still awaiting a thoroughgoing philosophical treatment. The paper presents and draws upon Anne Treisman’s feature-integration theory of attention (cf. A. Treisman & G. Gelade, “A Feature-Integration Theory of Attention,” Cognitive Psychology, 12, 1980. Pp. 97-136). According to this theory, attentional mechanisms are responsible for the binding of perceptual features into coherent and stable objects of perception. By itself, I will claim, the theory of feature integration does not allow a straightforward reduction of consciousness to the functional processing underlying it. However, on the basis of Treisman’s theory we can produce a methodological argument for endorsing the non-reductivist thesis that attentional states constitute the necessary basis for the arising of consciousness in a perceiver. The paper closes by presenting this argument, according to which the thesis is implied by a unified account of the common representational natures of attentional and conscious states.