Neuro Humanities Studies

Evan Thompson, Alva Noƫ,

Are There Neural Correlates of Consciousness?

Year: 2004

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In the past decade, the notion of a neural correlate of consciousness (or NCC) has become a focal point for scientific research on consciousness (Metzinger, 2000a). A growing number of investigators believe that the first step toward a science of consciousness is to discover the neural correlates of consciousness. Indeed, Francis Crick has gone so far as to proclaim that we need to discover the neural correlates of consciousness. For this task the primate visual system seems especially attractive. No longer need one spend time attempting to endure the tedium of philosophers perpetually disagreeing with each other. Consciousness is now largely a scientific problem (Crick, 1996, p. 486). Yet the question of what it means to be a neural correlate of consciousness is actually far from straightforward, for it involves fundamental empirical, methodological, and philosophical issues about the nature of consciousness and its relationship to the brain. Even if one assumes, as we do, that states of consciousness causally depend on states of the brain, one can nevertheless wonder in what sense there is, or could be, such a thing as a neural correlate of consciousness. Our focus in this paper is one particular way of thinking about the neural correlates of visual consciousness that has become widespread among philosophers of mind and cognitive neuroscientists alike. According to this way of thinking, which we call the matching-content doctrine, the first task of the neuroscience of consciousness is to uncover the neural representational systems whose contents systematically match the contents of consciousness. We believe there are good empirical and philosophical reasons for being suspicious of this matchingcontent notion of neural correlates of conscious


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