Cognitive Science Lunchtime Talk - Ian Phillips
Unconscious Perception Reconsidered
ABSTRACT: Most contemporary philosophers and scientists believe in unconscious perception. They believe we can see, hear, taste, touch and smell in the absence of awareness. This conviction is rooted largely in alleged dissociations of perception and consciousness: in clinical syndromes such as blindsight and neglect; in neurotypical subjects under conditions of inattention or suppression; and finally in arthropods such as bees and spiders. I will canvas both philosophical and empirical reasons to be skeptical of this consensus. First, I'll explain how standard arguments for unconscious perception rely on contentious background assumptions concerning the relation between ordinary perception and the explanatory constructs of scientific psychology. Then, setting such concerns aside, I'll argue with reference to a variety of studies that the empirical demonstration of unconscious perception faces a dilemma. The dilemma arises because ordinary perception is an individual-level state or occurrence, yet criteria sufficiently stringent to guarantee that a putatively perceptual state is truly unconscious threaten to undermine the grounds for its attribution to the individual.