Perceptual Consciousness and Cognitive Access from the Perspective of Capacity-Unlimited Working Memory

Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B (forthcoming)
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Theories of consciousness divide over whether perceptual consciousness is rich or sparse in specific representational content and whether it requires cognitive access. These two issues are often treated in tandem because of a shared assumption that the representational capacity of cognitive access is fairly limited. Recent research on working memory challenges this shared assumption. This paper argues that abandoning the assumption undermines post-cue-based “overflow” arguments, according to which perceptual conscious is rich and does not require cognitive access. Abandoning it also dissociates the rich/sparse debate from the access question. The paper then explores attempts to reformulate overflow theses in ways that don’t require the assumption of limited capacity. Finally, it discusses the problem of relating seemingly non-probabilistic perceptual consciousness to the probabilistic representations posited by the models that challenge conceptions of cognitive access as capacity-limited.

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Steven Gross
Johns Hopkins University


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