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Attention and consciousness in the processing of novelty

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The essence of Baars’ (1997) paper is to propose nine functions for consciousness. By way of introducing these functions we are presented with a metaphor of a theatre, in which players act, operators set contexts behind the scenes, an unconscious audience provides specialised capabilities, and, of course, a bright spotlight of attention illuminates whatever is available to consciousness. The value of this metaphor is not entirely clear, with the separate ‘roles’ of the audience and of the operators behind the scenes being particularly difficult to identify. Additionally, there may be a problem with idea that there is some kind of competition between actors who are seeking the spotlight of attention, for this suggests that the components of thought have volitions of their own. These would, indeed, be dangerous thoughts. Rather than attempting an analysis of the metaphor and its potential usefulness, this commentary will consider the nine functions of consciousness that have been proposed.

Document Type: Review Article

Affiliations: Department of Psychology, University of Nottingham, Nottingham NG7 2RD, UK. Email:

Publication date: April 1, 1997


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