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Attention Explains the Transition to Unlimited Associative Learning Better Than Consciousness

Montemayor, Carlos (2021) Attention Explains the Transition to Unlimited Associative Learning Better Than Consciousness. [Preprint]

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Abstract

According to the authors, “At the heart of the UAL approach is the concept of an evolutionary transition marker,” defined in terms of a package of cognitive capacities concerning unlimited associative learning (UAL), which jointly suffice for grounding phenomenal consciousness. These are abilities for cognitively processing compound stimuli, novel stimuli, second-order conditioning, trace conditioning, and flexible, easily rewritable associations with value (p. 11). The authors claim that these capacities constitute a natural cluster, and that they likely did not evolve independently from each other. My commentary will argue that although the authors are right about most of these claims, their key proposal that these capacities constitute phenomenal consciousness is unjustified. More specifically, (1) all these capacities are best understood in terms of attention routines. Given the empirically confirmed and widely agreed upon dissociation between phenomenal consciousness and attention, these capacities do not suffice for consciousness. (2) The authors should distinguish between phenomenal and access consciousness. Even if one grants that the capacities for UAL suffice for a kind of consciousness, they all seem to involve access consciousness, or accessible content for action, decision-making, and thought, all of which are defined functionally, in terms of attention. (3) Cross-modal attention for UAL, without the need to appeal to phenomenal character, provides a much better explanation of all the evidence offered by the authors from the animal cognition literature. The best explanation of the evolutionary transition to UAL is based on attentional skills for navigation and predatory behaviour, rather than the intricate phenomenon of the first person perspective and phenomenal consciousness. In fact, all the examples provided by the authors concern attention, rather than phenomenal character. Their emphasis on accessibility confirms this, as well as the fact that UAL is functionally specified. Therefore, the attentional capacities that signal the transition to the Cambrian need not be phenomenally conscious. Given that attention suffices to explain UAL, but attention does not suffice to explain phenomenal consciousness (as the evidence on unconscious attention shows) UAL must address these difficulties concerning the dissociation between consciousness and attention.


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Item Type: Preprint
Creators:
CreatorsEmailORCID
Montemayor, Carloscmontema@sfsu.edu0000-0003-1786-6612
Keywords: Consciousness; Attention; Evolution; Universal Associative Learning.
Subjects: Specific Sciences > Psychology > Evolutionary Psychology
Specific Sciences > Biology > Evolutionary Theory
Specific Sciences > Biology > Function/Teleology
Specific Sciences > Cognitive Science
Specific Sciences > Cognitive Science > Consciousness
Depositing User: Dr. Carlos Montemayor
Date Deposited: 26 Mar 2021 03:20
Last Modified: 26 Mar 2021 03:20
Item ID: 18784
Subjects: Specific Sciences > Psychology > Evolutionary Psychology
Specific Sciences > Biology > Evolutionary Theory
Specific Sciences > Biology > Function/Teleology
Specific Sciences > Cognitive Science
Specific Sciences > Cognitive Science > Consciousness
Date: 7 March 2021
URI: http://philsci-archive.pitt.edu/id/eprint/18784

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