Consciousness vs. Epiphenomenon: The Mind Game essay

John Sear (2013) described consciousness of our awareness of being present, the feeling of our feet on the floor, the knowledge that people are listening to you, that you are speaking,the size of the room and ringing all of this knowledge together. Anthony P. Atkinson (2000) defines four aspects of consciousness. 1 . Access consciousness meaning the ability to report and act on our experiences. 2. Phenomenal consciousness meaning the qualitative nature of experience, what is it like to feel like you. 3. Monitoring consciousness refers to our awareness of ones sensations and perceptions, and 4.

Self -consciousness, thoughts about our awareness of oneself. Epiphenomenon’s refute that these concepts of consciousness actually serve any function and are just a by-product of physical events, in there words, mental events (thought) cannot affect physical events (sense organs, contractions etc). Studies on implicit learning show that we can ‘remember’ things without having any awareness of remembering them. Neumann and Struck (2000) showed that peoples mood can be affected by the mood of others around them, even when they are unaware of their mood changes.

In contrast, Murphy and Cajon (1993) conducted a similar study proving that it only takes minimal processing for emotional responses to be triggered, but cognitive processes require longer processing times. Lieberman 2000) argues that priming of mood states underlie what is commonly known as the phenomenon ‘intuition; our ability to judge social situations and respond appropriately without being aware of the information on which we base our judgments. Bearing this study in mind, does consciousness have a function if learning can happen unconsciously?

Biddable and Wilson (1994) conducted an experiment to try and prove a function of consciousness; he OFF argues that awareness of our memory for past errors help us adapt our behavior by learning from our mistakes. If consciousness does have a unction, to what extent does this function affect our lives? Progress is slow but an advancement of behavioral data and neurophysiology data is aiming to answer what is consciousness and what is consciousness for. Studies on the unconscious influences on behavior seek to prove that consciousness is merely a by-product of brain processes.

Neumann et al (2000) conducted an experiment where participants listened to text read in a sad voice and were then asked to rate their own mood. Participants were unaware that their mood had changed as a result of listening to the sad voice. Similarly Barge, Chem. and Burrows (1996) studied the effect priming has on behavioral influences. Barge et al (1996) asked participants to arrange lists of word to form meaningful sentences. In the experimental group, each word list contained words specific to old age, for example, ‘wrinkled’ or ‘ancient’.

After the task was completed, researchers timed the participants leaving the room. The experimental group left the room much more slowly than the control group, who had not been exposed to the primes. Barge et al. Argued that the participants in the experimental group activated an old age territory and behaved accordingly without ever noticing the primes. Another common way of demonstrating implicit learning is by using subliminal presentation. This form of presentation appears and disappears so fast usually the participant has only recognized a flash.

Marcel (1983) conducted an experiment asking participants to identify real words from made up words. The study showed that participants were more likely to identify ‘doctor’ as a real word when preceded by a brief presentation of the word ‘nurse’. The word ‘nurse’ being the prime, or subliminal presentation. This research combined seeks to prove that learning can happen without conscious awareness, leading them to the argument that learning is not dependent on consciousness. A major downfall here is that there is no way to determine participant’s awareness of the stimuli or key relationships while they are doing the task.

You cannot simply ask them if they are aware of the stimulus as this will draw attention to it and hence override the chance to demonstrate learning with out awareness. The only way to determine awareness is to ask participants afterwards, and this relies on participant’s Emory of what they were aware of during the task, which is not reliable either. Another limitation is it difficult to test whether all stimuli are subliminal for all participants as some stimuli are easier to perceive than others.

It must be considered also that subliminal presentation depends on the efficiency of the equipment used to present the stimuli. Stimuli presented too quickly may not be seen at all, hence no subliminal learning will happen, and stimuli presented for too long leads the participant to identify the stimulus. It should be considered throughout these studies that implicit memory may not of cached the ‘threshold’ of consciousness or has not been processed by a ‘conscious memory module’ when only small amount of learning has occurred.

One way to ensure complete lack of awareness of stimuli in participants is to study learning in people who are unconscious. Jackie Andre and Catherine Depose (2004) conducted such a study by playing words to patients during surgery, whilst being under anesthesia. When the patients came back around from their deep sleep, they were asked to complete word stems with the first word that came into their mind. The words that were played during their time under anesthesia were more likely o be used to complete the words stems. Depose et al. Included they had effectively primed memories in someone who is unconscious. Although Depose et al. Used EGG measure to ensure the depth of sleep was level throughout the experiment; participants were only tested for words they already knew. There was no new information learned while the patients were unconscious. Research into the function of consciousness can be seen using experiments on controlled processing. Controlled processing is a conscious action, used to override automatic processes like habitually adding milk to coffee etc. Controlled processes typically coincide with consciousness.

Schneider and Shuffling (1977) used a target search task’ where participants were required to detect targets as quickly as possible for arrays of distraction. The experiment had two conditions, consistent mapping and varied mapping. In the consistent mapping the targets were always selected from the same set of items and distraction were always from a different set. For the varied mapping, targets and distracted were always from the same set. On a given trial, participants saw and memorized the set of targets. Then saw a sequence f frames.

Their task was to determine whether any of the memorized targets appeared in the sequence. In consistent mapping performance was fast. In varied mapping performance was much slower and slowed further by increasing the target number. Schneider and Shuffling argued that varied mapping depends on a serial search through each frame, taking longer to identify the target. Consistent mapping depends on an automatic search leading to a much faster identification. The results from this experiment can be used to support the theory that consciousness allows for controlled processing.

Although the experiment can determine one function of consciousness, it does not tell us whether our behavior is controlled by our consciousness, or whether we only become conscious of our behavior when we deliberately take control over it. Cajon et al. (1993) tested the hypothesis that emotional or affective responses only take minimal processing but cognitive responses require more processing. Participants were tested by being asked to rate their liking of Chinese ideographs, the ideograph was presented just after a prime. The prime was either subliminal or optimal and consisted Of one Of four trials.

No-prime control 2. Irrelevant prime control 3 Positive affective prime trial 4. Negative affective prime trial. The results showed that ideographs were rated as more pleasant when preceded by a subliminal positive prime, but had no effect on optimal prime. Murphy and Cajon (1993) argued that being aware of the prime and their mood change they could ignore it when rating the ideographs. Their experiment suggested that consciousness of primes allowed for participants to override their affective response to them when judging the ideographs.

It can be concluded that affective priming suggests that conscious processes elf us make rational rather than emotional decisions. These different studies on consciousness lead researches in the field concluding different theories of the function of consciousness. Biddable (2000) suggested that working memory is necessary for consciousness. Whereas Bars (2002) argues that consciousness is necessary for working memory. He describes consciousness as a global workspace, functioning to bring all processing modularity’s together.

Bars describes his theory of global workspace by using the following metaphor; in the theatre of consciousness, the spotlight Of selective attention illuminates the stage (working memory), revealing the contents of consciousness to the audience (the unconscious) and thus bringing together the products of modular processing. Bars draws on neuroscience evidence to support his theory using Deanne et al. (2001) fem. study on comparing seen and unseen words in a visual masking paradigm. Another way of studying people in altered states of consciousness is by examining their behavior during hypnosis.

People are able to perform surprising and impressive tasks under hypnosis like speaking ‘forgotten’ languages and recovering memories from childhood. Consciousness researchers suggest this is because consciousness plays a part in what they call ‘reality checking’. They suggest that while conscious, we have a normal tendency to check out mental contents against the outside world. In contrast, with reduced states of consciousness we are less likely to check the hypnotist’s suggestions against what we know to be true.

This leads to the belief that consciousness plays a part in operating with or on a selected portion of the information that is flooding through our senses everyday. A problem with this theory is that it can be argued that hypnotherapy can be he result of social pressure to conform with the hypnotists suggestions, although this may be the case on occasion, it does not account for some of us reprising feats people can perform, like undergoing surgery without painkillers or anesthesia. Consciousness can only be studied using implicit memory tests or by looking at subjective experiences.

Implicit memory tests have proven to be an unreliable source of evidence time and time again. Most of these studies employ a comparison of conscious and unconscious cognitive processes, because these studies are based on behavioral data they are often not accurate and can be inconsistent. Although neurophysiology data can provide us with some evidence to the existence of consciousness it still leaves a lot of questions to be answered, such as if consciousness is associated with a specific localization or it works by Bars theory (2002) suggesting it is associated with global brain activity.

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