Biology and Philosophy

, Volume 18, Issue 1, pp 131–168 | Cite as

Neural Plasticity and Consciousness

  • Susan Hurley
  • Alva Noë


We introduce a distinction between cortical dominance andcortical deference, and apply it to various examples ofneural plasticity in which input is rerouted intermodally orintramodally to nonstandard cortical targets. In some cases butnot others, cortical activity `defers' to the nonstandard sourcesof input. We ask why, consider some possible explanations, andpropose a dynamic sensorimotor hypothesis. We believe that thisdistinction is important and worthy of further study, bothphilosophical and empirical, whether or not our hypothesis turnsout to be correct. In particular, the question of how the distinction should be explained is linked to explanatory gapissues for consciousness. Comparative and absolute explanatorygaps should be distinguished: why does neural activity in aparticular area of cortex have this qualitative expressionrather than that, and why does it have any qualitativeexpression at all? We use the dominance/deference distinction toaddress the comparative gaps, both intermodal and intramodal (notthe absolute gap). We do so not by inward scrutiny but rather by expanding our gaze to include relations between brain, body andenvironment.

consciousness cortical deference cortical dominance dynamic sensorimotor contingencies explanatory gaps neural plasticity perceptual adaptation phantom limbs synaesthesia 


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Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 2003

Authors and Affiliations

  • Susan Hurley
    • 1
  • Alva Noë
    • 2
  1. 1.PAISUniversity of WarwickCoventryU.K.
  2. 2.Department of PhilosophyUniversity of CaliforniaSanta CruzU.S.A.

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