Consciousness: a unique way of processing information

Cognitive Processing 1 (1612-4782) (2018)
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Abstract

In this article, I argue that consciousness is a unique way of processing information, in that: it produces information, rather than purely transmitting it; the information it produces is meaningful for us; the meaning it has is always individuated. This uniqueness allows us to process information on the basis of our personal needs and ever-changing interactions with the environment, and consequently to act autonomously. Three main basic cognitive processes contribute to realize this unique way of information processing: the self, attention and working memory. The self, which is primarily expressed via the central and peripheral nervous systems, maps our body, the environment, and our relations with the environment. It is the primary means by which the complexity inherent to our composite structure is reduced into the “single voice” of a unique individual. It provides a reference system that (albeit evolving) is sufficiently stable to define the variations that will be used as the raw material for the construction of conscious information. Attention allows for the selection of those variations in the state of the self that are most relevant in the given situation. Attention originates and is deployed from a single locus inside our body, which represents the center of the self, around which all our conscious experiences are organized. Whatever is focused by attention appears in our consciousness as possessing a spatial quality defined by this center and the direction toward which attention is focused. In addition, attention determines two other features of conscious experience: periodicity and phenomenal quality. Self and attention are necessary but not sufficient for conscious information to be produced. Complex forms of conscious experiences, such as the various modes of givenness of conscious experience and the stream of consciousness, need a working memory mechanism to assemble the basic pieces of information selected by attention.

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