Some contributions of neurophysiology of vision and memory to the problem of consciousness
Weiskrantz (Larry)
Source: Marcel & Bisiach - Consciousness in Contemporary Science
Paper - Abstract

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  1. Each of us will have his or her own idea of what, if anything, is meant by ‘consciousness', and what its value might be as a concept, or cluster of concepts, in scientific discourse and theory. But to insist that the value must depend, as a prerequisite, on the availability of a precise definition would, I think, be a mistake. Indeed, if we always insisted on precise definitions we all would be speechless almost all the time. Definitions and precise theoretical constructs are the final product, not the starting of enquiry.
  2. The actual starting point for this chapter derives from certain neuro-psychological observations and reports. In particular, it deals with the reports of patients' 'awareness' of events and capacities in the fields of vision and memory. The problem of 'awareness' and the neurological organization and structure implied by the term were forced upon me by the evidence: they did not emerge from some mysterious vaporous and ill-fined mist, but directly from the empirical evidence of patients themselves. I would like to review some striking disjunctions between verbal reports and patients' actual demonstrable capacities, and then consider some of the implications, within an evolutionary framework. Although I am not providing a definition at this or a later stage, it will become clear, I trust, that I am referring only to a restricted domain of what it means when someone says he 'is (or is not) conscious of something', rather than to embrace an exhaustive or global account of all usages of the term, including some of the usages of some of the other authors in this volume. My main emphasis will be upon the distinction seen processing, responding, discriminating—on the one hand—and being able to acknowledge awareness of or to offer a commentary on such functions, on the other hand.
  3. There is nothing inherently strange in our ability to carry out quite complicated tasks without awareness. On the contrary, it could be argued that it is a rare privilege for certain kinds of activities to require awareness. Many motor skills can be performed—are best done, in fact—without reflection. Many bodily processes are sensitive to environmental events without our direct knowledge. … What is strange is finding that there are patients who are unaware of events of which we normally expect them—like us—to be aware, even to be vividly aware. Moreover, they are severely disabled by their lack of awareness. There are two categories of patient I want to consider.
    … ‘amnesic syndrome’ – the patient reports not remembering anything new from minute to minute.
    … ‘blindsight’

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