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Awareness as inference in a higher-order state space

Fleming, SM; (2020) Awareness as inference in a higher-order state space. Neuroscience of Consciousness , 2020 (1) , Article niz020. 10.1093/nc/niz020. Green open access

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Abstract

Humans have the ability to report the contents of their subjective experience—we can say to each other, ‘I am aware of X’. The decision processes that support these reports about mental contents remain poorly understood. In this article, I propose a computational framework that characterizes awareness reports as metacognitive decisions (inference) about a generative model of perceptual content. This account is motivated from the perspective of how flexible hierarchical state spaces are built during learning and decision-making. Internal states supporting awareness reports, unlike those covarying with perceptual contents, are simple and abstract, varying along a 1D continuum from absent to present. A critical feature of this architecture is that it is both higher-order and asymmetric: a vast number of perceptual states is nested under ‘present’, but a much smaller number of possible states nested under ‘absent’. Via simulations, I show that this asymmetry provides a natural account of observations of ‘global ignition’ in brain imaging studies of awareness reports.

Type: Article
Title: Awareness as inference in a higher-order state space
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
DOI: 10.1093/nc/niz020
Publisher version: https://doi.org/10.1093/nc/niz020
Language: English
Additional information: This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted reuse, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited
Keywords: theories and models; computational modeling; consciousness; metacognition
UCL classification: UCL
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Brain Sciences
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Brain Sciences > Div of Psychology and Lang Sciences
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Brain Sciences > Div of Psychology and Lang Sciences > Experimental Psychology
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10109295
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