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Three paradoxes of phenomenal consciousness: bridging the explanatory gap

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Any physical explanation of consciousness seems to leave unresolved the ‘explanatory gap': Isn't it conceivable that all the elements in that explanation could occur, with the same information processing outcomes as in a conscious process, but in the absence of consciousness? E.g. any digital computational process could occur in the absence of consciousness. To resolve this dilemma, we propose a biological-process-oriented physiological- phenomenological characterization of consciousness that addresses three ‘paradoxical’ qualities seemingly incompatible with the empirical realm: (1) The dual location of phenomenal properties ‘out there’ yet ‘in here’ in consciousness; (2) the mysterious ‘thickness’ of the specious present; (3) the feeling of ‘free agency', that we can voluntarily direct our actions, including the act of conscious attention, while at the same time attention and the emotions that direct it seem responsive to physiological substrates with physical causes. These paradoxes are then resolved by relating three elements of consciousness: (1) organismically interested anticipation; (2) sensory and proprioceptive imagery generated by the interested anticipation rather than by sensory input; (3) resonating of these activities with activity stimulated by sensory data, where the interested anticipation precedes the processing of the input. Each of these elements is bridged to physiological processes such that, if they occur in a certain relation to each other, we can understand why they would inevitably be accompanied by the corresponding elements of conscious experience.

Keywords: Emotion; action theory; agency; attention; consciousness; efference; explanatory gap; hard problem; imagery

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Clark Atlanta University. Email: 2: Email:

Publication date: 1998-04-01

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