A theory of sentience by Austen Clark

By Austen Clark

Austen Clark deals a common account of the kinds of psychological illustration that we name "sensory." Drawing at the findings of present neuroscience, Clark defends the speculation that a number of the modalities of sensation percentage a popular shape that he calls "feature-placing." Sensing proceeds by way of deciding upon place-times in or round the physique of the sentient organism, and characterizing traits (features) that seem at these place-times. The speculation casts gentle on many different complex phenomena, together with the sorts of phantasm, the matter of projection, the suggestion of a visible box, and the lifestyles of sense-data.

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They provide a respite from the philosopher’s preoccupation with the mind’s point of view. By no means will they all be solved by the end of this chapter, or even by the end of the book; but it is useful to post a list of them somewhere, both to define terms and to keep us humble. The first is the ‘Convergence’ dilemma. Here is how Davida Teller (citing Barlow 1972) poses it: have a cell on which the effects of two or more sensory neurons converge if those neurons are to have a joint effect, then for each particular object that you can discriminate on the basis of its distinctive combination of features, there must at least one neuron whose activities are devoted to the recognition of that object.

The mere spatial separation of receptors is not sufficient to explain how one comes to have the sensation of two points separated in space. ’ But why should it yield even that? How is it that the stimulation of spatially extended Imagine yourself locked up in the LGN [lateral geniculate nucleus], surrounded by meters indicating the frequency of spike activity in a million neural units there. Would you be able to deduce the color of an external stimulus on the basis of changes in the readings of those meters?

The first is the ‘Convergence’ dilemma. Here is how Davida Teller (citing Barlow 1972) poses it: have a cell on which the effects of two or more sensory neurons converge if those neurons are to have a joint effect, then for each particular object that you can discriminate on the basis of its distinctive combination of features, there must at least one neuron whose activities are devoted to the recognition of that object. Hence, your ‘grandmother cell’ is the cell that fires if and only if you see, hear, or otherwise sensibly discriminate your grandmother.

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