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Partial Report is the Wrong Paradigm

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Original languageEnglish
Article number20170350
JournalPhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London Series B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1755
Early online date30 Jul 2018
Accepted/In press19 Jun 2018
E-pub ahead of print30 Jul 2018
Published19 Sep 2018



King's Authors


Is consciousness independent of the general-purpose information processes known as ‘cognitive access’? The dominant methodology for supporting this independence hypothesis appeals to partial report experiments as evidence for perceptual consciousness in the absence of cognitive access. Using a standard model of evidential support, and reviewing recent elaborations of the partial report paradigm, this article argues that the paradigm has the wrong structure to support the independence hypothesis. Like reports in general, a subject's partial report is evidence that she is conscious of information only where that information is cognitively accessed. So, partial report experiments could dissociate consciousness from cognitive access only if there were uncontroversial evidence for consciousness that did not imply reportability. There is no such evidence. An alternative, broadly Marrian methodology for supporting the independence hypothesis is suggested, and some challenges to it outlined. This methodology does not require experimental evidence for consciousness in the absence of cognitive access. Instead, it focuses on a function of perceptual consciousness when a stimulus is cognitively accessed. If the processes best suited to implement this function exclude cognitive access, the independence hypothesis will be supported. One relevant function of consciousness may be reflected in reason-based psychological explanations of a subject's behaviour.

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