Conscious experience is equivalent to the brain generating a multimodal representation of the subject’s current situation, including the body.
Cerebral foundations of consciousness
Crucial for consciousness are the lower and higher sensory areas of the cortex, including multimodal and integrative areas such as the parietal cortex, but not prefrontal cortex. Each sensory modality is characterized by a hierarchical build-up of areas, and a key concept is that higher areas generate representations predicting the causes underlying low-level sensory inputs. This concept is akin to predictive processing, where perceptual learning based on errors plays a critical role. However, this theory also emphasizes the cross-connections between the modalities, and the need to achieve ‘superinferences’ corresponding to spatially encompassing, multimodal representations (a.k.a. conscious experience). Motor action is not necessary for consciousness per se.
Stance on reporting
Behavioral reporting is not necessary for consciousness per se; however, to infer consciousness in a third person (being), sufficient overt indicators should be positive.
Non-reductive materialism (brain processes ultimately lie at the basis of consciousness, however phenomenal experience, generated by the brain, is qualitatively different from low-level cellular processes).
Neurorepresentationalism (NREP) postulates that conscious experience equals a multimodally rich and spatially encompassing survey of the subject’s environment and body. This survey has a biological function, which is to enable the subject to plan complex future behaviors and make goal-directed decisions. Thus, consciousness has a clear function. In this framework, perception arises from the construction of both high- and low-level inferential representations which can be simultaneously characterized as perceptual hypotheses; the continuous interaction with bottom-up sensory inputs provides for updating of generative models of the causes underlying changes in sensory input (Pennartz 2015). Differently from Active Inference (AI, see below) it states that overt or covert action (eye movement, top-down attention) is not necessary for conscious perception per se. That is, motor activity and attention are able to influence conscious perception, but consciousness will be maintained even in their absence. The specific link to consciousness arises because representations, specified at a high conceptual level, can become comprehensive in a strong sense, i.e. when they provide a spatially encompassing and multimodally rich survey of the subject’s current situation. To specify the sensory modalities contributing to this richness, emphasis is not only placed on bottom-up/top-down cortical connectivity, but also on lateral (intermodal) connectivity. This leads to the postulate that background activity is necessary even in those brain areas and neuronal groups not explicitly tuned to perceived object features. A key concept in NREP is that representations are specified at different levels, where low levels of single neurons and spike are integrated into higher-order representational units at the level of a single modality (e.g. vision; a visual object) or multiple modalities. This type of emergentism is not characterized by classic bottom-up or top-down influence, hence avoiding problems with causal closure.