Host: Pieter Roelfsema
The Guest Speaker: Prof. dr. Cyriel Pennartz (UVA Cognitive and Systems Neuroscience)
Title: From predictive processing to multi-level representations and consciousness.
How does brain activity relate to consciousness? In this talk I will provide an update on a theoretical framework – Neurorepresentationalism – 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. Consciousness is furthermore proposed to have a biological function, framed by the contrast between reflex and habits (not requiring consciousness), and goal-directed, planned behavior (requiring multimodal, situational survey). Herein conscious experience is understood as a sensorily rich, spatially encompassing representation of body and environment, while we nevertheless have the impression of experiencing external reality directly. Computational models for predictive processing are helpful in understanding neural mechanisms underlying consciousness better, especially if are trained in an unsupervised manner. Even with predictive processing in place, however, the question remains why this type of neural network activity would give rise to phenomenal experience. Here, I argue that this ‘Hard Problem’ of consciousness can be approached through the concept of emergent, multi-level representations.