Vision & Cognition Seminar // Cyriel M.A. Pennartz: From neural activity and predictive processing to multi-level representations and consciousness
This seminar revolves around Neurorepresentationalism, a theoretical framework that defines conscious experience as multimodal, situational survey and explains its neural basis from brain systems constructing best-guess representations of sensations originating in our environment and body. It posits that conscious experience is first characterized by five essential hallmarks and, second, by a biological function that can be framed by the contrast between reflexes and habits versus goal-directed, planned behavior. Conscious experience is thereby understood as a sensorily rich, spatially encompassing representation of body and environment, while we nevertheless have the impression of experiencing external reality directly. Contributions to understanding neural mechanisms underlying consciousness are derived from models for predictive processing, which are trained in an unsupervised manner, do not necessarily require overt action, and have been extended to multi-layer neural networks. Even with predictive processing in place, however, the question remains why this type of neural network activity would give rise to phenomenal experience. The so-called Hard Problem is approached here with the concept of multi-level representations. Finally, I will discuss implications of Neurorepresentationalism for defining indicators of consciousness in animals, artificial intelligence devices and immobile or unresponsive patients with disorders of consciousness.