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Phenomenal consciousness, access consciousness and self across waking and dreaming: bridging phenomenology and neuroscience

ABSTRACT

Abstract The distinction between phenomenal and access consciousness is central to debates about consciousness and its neural correlates. However, this distinction has often been limited to the domain of perceptual (visual) experiences. On the basis of dream phenomenology and neuroscientific findings this paper suggests a theoretical framework which extends this distinction to dreaming, also in terms of plausible neural correlates. In this framework, phenomenal consciousness is involved in both waking perception and dreaming, whereas access consciousness is weakened, but not fully eliminated, during dreaming. However, access consciousness is more active during lucid dreaming. The proposed framework accounts for different aspects of dream phenomenology, including levels of integration of perceptual, cognitive and affective features in dreams, bizarreness, dream amnesia and the occurrence of meta-awareness and accessibility in lucid dreaming. Self-related experiences and their neural substrates are suggested to be differently involved in waking cognition and dreaming. Further, phenomenal consciousness during both waking and dream experiences involve widespread recurrent interactions and convergence-divergence zones in the thalamo-cortico-limbic system, activated before conscious access in global workspace areas. Finally, we discuss the relationships of the proposed framework with other neurocognitive theories and models of consciousness and major theories of dreaming, and propose novel experimental predictions.AbstractThe distinction between phenomenal and access consciousness is central to debates about consciousness and its neural correlates. However, this distinction has often been limited to the domain of perceptual (visual) experiences. On the basis of dream phenomenology and neuroscientific findings this paper suggests a theoretical framework which extends this distinction to dreaming, also in terms of plausible neural correlates. In this framework, phenomenal consciousness is involved in both waking perception and dreaming, whereas access consciousness is weakened, but not fully eliminated, during dreaming. However, access consciousness is more active during lucid dreaming. The proposed framework accounts for different aspects of dream phenomenology, including levels of integration of perceptual, cognitive and affective features in dreams, bizarreness, dream amnesia and the occurrence of meta-awareness and accessibility in lucid dreaming. Self-related experiences and their neural substrates are suggested to be differently involved in waking cognition and dreaming. Further, phenomenal consciousness during both waking and dream experiences involve widespread recurrent interactions and convergence-divergence zones in the thalamo-cortico-limbic system, activated before conscious access in global workspace areas. Finally, we discuss the relationships of the proposed framework with other neurocognitive theories and models of consciousness and major theories of dreaming, and propose novel experimental predictions.