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MindGrad 2009

‘Two Different Interpretations of Partial Report Paradigms’

Henry Shevlin, University of Oxford

In this paper, I consider two different interpretations of three partial report paradigms, namely the Sperling, Landman et al., and Sligte et al. experiments. In two recent papers, ‘Consciousness, accessibility, and the mesh between psychology and neuroscience’, and ‘Consciousness and cognitive access’, Ned Block has argued that these experiments provide compelling evidence in favour of the idea that phenomenology is sometimes richer than – or ‘overflows’ – the contents of working memory. Here, I describe the experiments and outline Block’s interpretation of them. I go on to argue that another interpretation, which I term ‘sparse representations’, provides another plausible account of the experiments which does not commit us to the idea that phenomenology ever overflows the cognitively accessed contents of perception. I conclude that Block’s attempt to provide empirical evidence for the divergence of phenomenology from the cognitively accessed contents of perception is unsuccessful.


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