, Volume 191, Issue 2, pp 263-285

First online:

Dreams: an empirical way to settle the discussion between cognitive and non-cognitive theories of consciousness

  • Miguel Ángel SebastiánAffiliated withPrograma de Maestría y Doctorado en Filosofía, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM)Instituto de Investigaciones Filosóficas, UNAM Email author 

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Cognitive theories claim, whereas non-cognitive theories deny, that cognitive access is constitutive of phenomenology. Evidence in favor of non-cognitive theories has recently been collected by Block and is based on the high capacity of participants in partial-report experiments compared to the capacity of the working memory. In reply, defenders of cognitive theories have searched for alternative interpretations of such results that make visual awareness compatible with the capacity of the working memory; and so the conclusions of such experiments remain controversial. Instead of entering the debate between alternative interpretations of partial-report experiments, this paper offers an alternative line of research that could settle the discussion between cognitive and non-cognitive theories of consciousness. Here I relate the neural correlates of cognitive access to empirical research into the neurophysiology of dreams; cognitive access seems to depend on the activity of the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. However, that area is strongly deactivated during sleep; a period when we entertain conscious experiences: dreams. This approach also avoids the classic objection that consciousness should be inextricably tied to reportability or it would fall outside the realm of science.


Consciousness Cognitive access Dorsolateral prefrontal cortex Dreams Phenomenology Working memory