Call for Commentators for PSYCHE article

x91007 at pitvax.xx.rmit.edu.au x91007 at pitvax.xx.rmit.edu.au
Thu Jul 14 09:15:31 EST 1994


PSYCHE, an electronic journal devoted to the interdisciplinary study of
consciousness, will shortly publish an article by Bernard Baars entitled
"A thoroughly empirical approach to consciousness". 

We would like to invite you to give your view on this article.

If you are interested in writing a commentary on the article please contact 
us first giving a brief outline of your proposed commentary to see whether it 
will fit within the focus of PSYCHE. If you have any questions please do not 
hesitate to contact me. 

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Yours sincerely,

Winand Dittrich
w.h.dittrich at herts.ac.uk


Bernard J. Baars

ABSTRACT:  When are psychologists entitled to call a certain theoretical
construct "consciousness?"  Over the past few decades cognitive
psychologists have reintroduced almost the entire conceptual vocabulary
of common sense psychology, but now in a way that is tied explicitly to
reliable empirical observations, and to compelling and increasingly
adequate theoretical models.  Nevertheless, until the past few years
most cognitive psychologists and neuroscientists avoided dealing with
consciousness. Today there is an increasing willingness to do so. 

But is "consciousness" different from other theoretical entities like
"working memory" or "mental imagery"?  Some argue that under no
circumstances can empirical science speak of consciousness AS SUCH,
while others claim that the scientific goal is "knowing what it is like
to be a bat" --- to share an organism's conscious experience  (Nagel,
1974). The "bat" argument is ominously reminiscent of the protracted
debate on the consciousness of ants and amoebas that caused so much
uneasiness in psychology around 1900. It seems to  demand that we first
solve the mind-body problem AS A CONDITION of doing sensible science,
and thereby creates the risk of endless, fruitless controversy. The
endless philosophical debate about consciousness helped trigger the
behavioristic revolution about 1913, which threw out the baby of
consciousness with the bathwater of perennial, circular debate. WeUve
been that way; let's not go back to it. 

This paper maintains that the position of behavioristic denial is far
too restrictive, but that the Bat Criterion is far too demanding ---
that in fact, we only need to specify comparable pairs of psychological
phenomena that differ only in the fact that one member of any pair is
conscious, while the other is not.  This "method of contrastive
analysis" is a generalization of the experimental method, with
consciousness as a  variable whose interaction with other psychological
and biological phenomena can be assessed in standard ways. As usual in
science, this strategy is pragmatic: If it appears to yield sensible
results, it can be a stepping-stone toward further understanding. (Crick
and Koch, 1992) 

This  paper describes five sets of well-established pairs of phenomena
that meet these criteria. Others are worked out elsewhere (Baars, 1983,
1988, 1994).  Any adequate theory of conscious experience must satisfy
these demanding but achievable empirical constraints. 


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