Cognitive Processing

, Volume 7, Issue 3, pp 163–194 | Cite as

A presentation of Attentional Semantics



The paper presents the two main assumptions of Attentional Semantics—(A) and (B), and its main aim (C). (A) Conscious experience is determined by attention: there cannot be consciousness without attention. Consciousness is explained as the product of attentional activity. Attentional activity can be performed thanks to a special kind of energy: nervous energy. This energy is supplied by the organ of attention. When we perform attentional activity, we use our nervous energy. This activity directly affects the organ of attention, causing a variation in the state of the nervous energy. This variation constitutes the phenomenal aspect of consciousness. (B) Words are tools to pilot attention. The meanings of words isolate, de-contextualize, “freeze” and classify in an articulated system the ever-changing and multiform stream of our conscious experiences. Each meaning is composed of the sequence of invariable elements that, independently of any individual occurrence of a given conscious experience, are responsible for the production of any instance of that conscious experience. The elements composing the meanings of words are attentional operations: each word conveys the condensed instructions on the attentional operations one has to perform if one wants to consciously experience what is expressed through and by it. (C) Attentional Semantics aims at finding the attentional instruction conveyed by the meanings of words. To achieve this goal, it tries: (1) to identify the sequence of the elementary conscious experiences that invariably accompany, and are prompted by, the use of the word being analyzed; (2) to describe these conscious experiences in terms of the attentional operations that are responsible for their production; and (3) to identify the unconscious and non-conscious operations that, directly or indirectly, serve either as the support that makes it possible for the attentional operations to take place, be completed, and occur in a certain way, or as the necessary complement that makes it possible to execute and implement the activities determined and triggered by the conscious experiences. The origins of Attentional Semantics are also presented, and the methodological problems researchers encounter when analyzing meanings in attentional terms are discussed. Finally, a brief comparison with the other kinds of semantics is made.


Attentional Semantics Attention Consciousness Mind Unconscious operations Time Methodology 


  1. Baars BJ (1988) A cognitive theory of consciousness. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  2. Benedetti G (1999) La categoria di ‘spazio’. In: Studi in memoria di Silvio Ceccato. Società Stampa Sportiva, RomeGoogle Scholar
  3. Benedetti G (2001) Semantica operativa. La semantica in termini di operazioni mentali. Parte prima. Principi generali, metodologia e tecnica di analisi.
  4. Benedetti G (2005) Basic mental operations which make up mental categories.
  5. Block RA, Zakay D (2001) Retrospective and prospective timing: memory, attention, and consciousness. In: Hoerl C, McCormack T (eds) Time and memory. Issues in philosophy and psychology. Oxford University Press, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  6. Broadbent DA (1958) Perception and communication. Pergamon, LondonGoogle Scholar
  7. Ceccato S (1964) Un tecnico tra i filosofi. Come filosofare. Marsilio, PadovaGoogle Scholar
  8. Ceccato S (1966) Un tecnico tra i filosofi. Come non filosofare. Marsilio, PadovaGoogle Scholar
  9. Ceccato S (1968) Cibernetica per tutti, vol I. Feltrinelli, MilanoGoogle Scholar
  10. Ceccato S (1969) (ed) Corso di linguistica operativa. Longanesi, MilanoGoogle Scholar
  11. Ceccato S (1970) Cibernetica per tutti, vol II. Feltrinelli, MilanoGoogle Scholar
  12. Ceccato S (1972) La mente vista da un cibernetico. Eri, TorinoGoogle Scholar
  13. Ceccato S (1974) La terza cibernetica. Feltrinelli, MilanoGoogle Scholar
  14. Ceccato S (1996) C’era una volta la filosofia. Spirali, MilanoGoogle Scholar
  15. Ceccato S, Zonta B (1980) Linguaggio consapevolezza pensiero. Feltrinelli, MilanoGoogle Scholar
  16. Chalmers DJ (1996) The conscious mind. In search of a fundamental theory. Oxford University Press, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  17. Crick F (1994) The astonishing hypothesis. Charles Scribner’s Sons Macmillan Publishing Company, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  18. Crick F, Koch C (2003) A framework for consciousness. Nat Neurosci 6:119–126PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Damasio A (1999) The feeling of what happens. Body and emotions in the making of consciousness. Harcourt Brace, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  20. Dennett DC (1991) Consciousness explained. Litte, Brown, BostonGoogle Scholar
  21. Driver J, Spence CJ (1994) Spatial synergies between auditory and visual attention. In: Umiltà C, Moscovitch M (eds) Attention and performance 15: conscious and nonconscious information processing. MIT, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  22. Duncan J (1984) Selective attention and the organization of visual information. J Exp Psychol Gen 113:501–517PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Edelman GM (1989) The remembered present: a biological theory of consciousness. Basic Books, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  24. Eriksen CW, St. James JD (1986) Visual attention within and around the field of focal attention: a zoom lens model. Percept Psychophys 40:225–240PubMedGoogle Scholar
  25. Fagot C, Pashler H (1992) Making two responses to a single object: implications for the central attentional bottleneck. J Exp Psychol Human Percept Perform 18:1058–1079CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Freeman WJ (1999) How brains make up their minds. Weidenfeld & Nicolson, LondonGoogle Scholar
  27. Frixione M (1994) Semantica modellistica, significato lessicale e intelligenza artificiale. Sistemi Intelligenti 2:215–245Google Scholar
  28. von Glasersfeld E (1987a) An attentional model for the conceptual construction of units and number. Methodologia 2:5–20Google Scholar
  29. von Glasersfeld E (1987b) Linguaggio e comunicazione nel costruttivismo radicale. Clup, MilanoGoogle Scholar
  30. von Glasersfeld E (1998) Il costruttivismo radicale. Una via per conoscere ed apprendere. Società Stampa Sportiva, RomaGoogle Scholar
  31. Gregory RL (1966) Eye and brain: the psychology of seeing. McGraw-Hill, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  32. Guerra G (1997) Mente e scienze della vita. La Nuova Italia Scientifica, RomaGoogle Scholar
  33. Harnad S (1990) The symbol grounding problem. Physica D 42:335–346CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. James W (1890) The principles of psychology. Holt, New York (Reprint, 1983, Harvard University Press. Cambridge)Google Scholar
  35. Johnson-Laird PN (1983) Mental models: towards a cognitive science of language, inference and consciousness. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  36. Johnson-Laird PN (1988) A computational analysis of consciousness. In: Marcel AJ, Bisiach E (eds) Consciousness in contemporary science. Oxford University Press, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  37. Kahneman D (1973) Attention and effort. Prentice Hall, Englewood CliffsGoogle Scholar
  38. La Berge D (1995) Attentional processing. The brain’s art of mindfulness. Harvard University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  39. Laganà A (1992) Percorsi della filosofia. Gangemi, RomaGoogle Scholar
  40. Libet B (2004). Mind time. The temporal factor in consciousness. Harvard University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  41. Mach E (1890) Contributions to the analysis of the sensations. Open Court, La SalleGoogle Scholar
  42. Mack A, Rock I (1998) Inattentional blindness. Bradford Book, MIT, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  43. Marchetti G (1993) The mechanics of the mind. Espansione, RomeGoogle Scholar
  44. Marchetti G (1997) La macchina estetica. Il percorso operativo nella costruzione dell’atteggiamento estetico. Franco Angeli, MilanoGoogle Scholar
  45. Marchetti G (2001) A theory of consciousness.
  46. Marchetti G (2003) Foundations of attentional semantics.
  47. Marchetti G (2005) The importance of non-attentional operations for attentional semantics.
  48. Marconi D (1992) Semantica cognitiva. In: Santambrogio M (ed) Introduzione alla filosofia analitica del linguaggio. Laterza, BariGoogle Scholar
  49. McLeod PD (1977) A dual task response modality effect: support for multi-processor models of attention. Q J Exp Psychol 29:651–667CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. McLeod PD (1978) Does probe RT measure central processing demand? Q J Exp Psychol 30:83–89PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Mesulam MM (1990) Large-scale neurocognitive networks and distributed processing for attention, language, and memory. Ann Neurol 28:597–613PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Motter BC (1998) Neurophysiology of visual attention. In: Parasuraman R (ed) The attentive brain. MIT, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  53. Oakley T (2004) Elements of attention: a new approach to meaning construction in the human sciences. Partly available at oakley1.htm
  54. Pashler HE (1989) Dissociations and dependencies between speed and accuracy: evidence for a two-component theory of divided attention in simple task. Cogn Psychol 21:469–514CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Pashler HE (1998) The psychology of attention. MIT, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  56. Posner MI (1990) Hierarchical distributed networks in the neuropsychology of selective attention. In: Caramazza A (ed) Cognitive neuropsychology and neurolinguistics. Lawrence Erlbaum, HillsdaleGoogle Scholar
  57. Posner MI (1995) Attention in cognitive neuroscience: an overview. In: Gazzaniga MS (ed) Handbook of cognitive neuroscience. MIT, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  58. Posner MI, Petersen SE (1990) The attention system of the human brain. Annu Rev Neurosci 13:25–42PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Pylyshyn ZW (1984) Computation and cognition. Toward a foundation for cognitive science. MIT, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  60. Reeke GN, Edelman GM (1995) A Darwinist view of the prospects for conscious artifacts. In: Trautteur G (ed) Consciousness: distinction and reflection. Bibliopolis, NapoliGoogle Scholar
  61. Reeves A, Sperling G (1986) Attention gating in short-term visual memory. Psychol Rev 93:180–206PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Rolls ET (2003) Vision, emotion and memory: from neurophysiology to computation. Int Congress Ser 1250:547–573CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Ruggiu L (1998) (ed) Filosofia del tempo. Bruno Mondadori, MilanoGoogle Scholar
  64. Searle JR (1980) Minds, brains, and programs. Behav Brain Sci 3:417–424CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Searle JR (1984) Minds, brains, and science: The 1984 Reith Lectures. Harvard University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  66. Searle JR (1994) The rediscovery of the mind. MIT, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  67. Shallice T (1988) Information-processing models of consciousness: possibilities and problems. In: Marcel AJ, Bisiach E (eds) Consciousness in contemporary science. Oxford University Press, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  68. Shiffrin RM, Gardner GT (1972) Visual processing capacity and attentional control. J Exp Psychol 93:78–82CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  69. Shore DI, Spence C (2004) Prior entry, available at
  70. Sternberg S, Knoll RL, Gates BA (1971). Prior entry reexamined: effect of attentional bias on order perception. Presented at the annual meeting of the Psychonomic Society, St. Louis, MOGoogle Scholar
  71. Treisman A, Davies A (1973) Dividing attention to ear and eye. In: Kornblum S (ed) Attention and performance IV. Academic, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  72. Tsal Y (1983) Movement of attention across the visual field. J Exp Psychol Human Percept Perform 9:523–530CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  73. Tse PU, Intriligator J, Rivest J, Cavanagh P (2004) Attention and the subjective expansion of time. Percept Psychophys 66(7):1171–1189PubMedGoogle Scholar
  74. Umiltà C (1988) The control operations of consciousness. In: Marcel AJ, Bisiach E (eds) Consciousness in contemporary science. Oxford University Press, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  75. Vaccarino G (1981) Analisi dei significati. Armando Armando, RomaGoogle Scholar
  76. Vaccarino G (1997) Prolegomeni, vol I. Società Stampa Sportiva, RomaGoogle Scholar
  77. Vaccarino G (2000) Prolegomeni, vol II. Società Stampa Sportiva, RomaGoogle Scholar
  78. Velmans M (1991) Is human information processing conscious? Behav Brain Sci 14:651–726Google Scholar
  79. Vicario GB (1997) Il tempo in psicologia. Le Scienze 347:43–51Google Scholar
  80. Violi P (1997) Significato ed esperienza. Bompiani, MilanoGoogle Scholar
  81. Webster MJ, Ungerleider LG (1998) Neuroanatomy of visual attention. In: Parasuraman R (ed) The attentive brain. MIT, CambridgeGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Marta Olivetti Belardinelli and Springer-Verlag 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of UrbinoUrbinoItaly

Personalised recommendations