Synthese

, Volume 191, Issue 2, pp 187–211 | Cite as

Attention, consciousness, and the semantics of questions

Article

Abstract

Attention influences the character of conscious perceptual experience in intricate and surprising ways, including our experience of contrast, space, and time. These patterns of influence have been argued to cause trouble for the attractive thesis that differences in the character of conscious experience flow from differences in what we represent (Block 2010). I present a novel theory of the functional role of attention that has the resources for a systematic representationalist account of these phenomena. On the erotetic theory of attention, we bring an interest to the task of perception, captured as a question we seek to answer. Questions, as understood here, are contents that cognitive systems can represent rather than sentences. We process perceptual input as a putative answer to our question in a way that is modulated by attentional focus; attentional focus aims to pick out something that matches what our question is “about.” In certain cases, this yields a form of predictive coding: if the contribution of focus matches what our question is about, we take it to select one of the possible answers we are entertaining, even though our perceptual input by itself does not supply a full answer. The proposed account also provides a new account of the phenomenology of salience.

Keywords

Attention Semantics of questions Consciousness Phenomenal character Predictive coding Representationalism Focus 

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Faculty of PhilosophyUniversity of OxfordOxfordUK

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