Perception without perceiver

consciousnessPerception without perceiver

Rafael Malach, Dept. of Neurobiology (in conversation with Zoran Josipovic)

Journal of Consciousness Studies, 13, No. 9, pp. 57-66 (2006)

In this Q&A transcription published in the Journal of Consciousness Studies, Rafael Malach again argues that, at least in some cases, conscious perception does not require any form of ‘observer’ in the prefrontal area, but needs only activation in the sensory cortex. This claim is based on fMRI studies performed by Malach and colleagues. In one study where subjects had their brains scanned while watching a film, there was a wide spread activation of the sensory cortex in the rear of the brain, coinciding with relatively little activity in the frontal areas, where a significant degree of inhibition was apparent.

It was further shown that the more engaging the film, the less activity there was in the frontal areas. Malach suggests that the role of the frontal areas is not to create perceptual consciousness but to deliberate on the significance of the sensory experience and to make it reportable. When introspective or deliberative activity is in process, it is accepted that both sensory and prefrontal areas may be activated. If we accept this approach it becomes impossible to explain consciousness entirely in terms of the self, and the easy let out of deconstructing the self, and then claiming to have explained consciousness is closed off.

Malach suggests that conceptually, there could be an axis running from, firstly, introspective activity in the prefrontal, through, secondly, attention to external world material such a film, which can activate much of the sensory cortex, while inhibiting prefrontal activity, to thirdly and finally experiences such as Zen meditation, which can be seen as pure perception without any residual awareness of the self. This type of pure perceptual/absence of self experience is reported as being associated with other forms of altered states of consciousness.

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