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Can subjective experience be quantified? Critically examining computational cognitive neuroscience approaches

Date: Friday, November 6, 2020 15:00 - 16:00
Speaker: Megan Peters (UC Irvine)
Location: Online
Series: Neurotheory Forum
Host: Andrew Saxe
Contact: IST Austria / University of Oxford

Computational and cognitive neuroscience techniques have made great strides towards describing the neural computations underlying perceptual inference and decision-making under uncertainty. These tools tell us how and why perceptual illusions occur, which brain areas may represent noisy information in a probabilistic manner, and so on. However, an understanding of the subjective, qualitative aspects of perception remains elusive: qualia, or the personal, intrinsic properties of phenomenal awareness, have remained out of reach of these computational analytic insights. Here, I propose that metacognitive computations, and the subjective feelings that go along with them, give us a solid starting point for understanding subjective experience in general. Specifically, perceptual metacognition possesses ontological and practical properties that provide a powerful and unique opportunity for studying the studying the neural and computational correlates of subjective experience using established tools of computational and cognitive neuroscience.  By capitalizing on decades of developments in formal computational model comparisons as applied to the specific properties of perceptual metacognition, we are now in a privileged position to reveal new and exciting insights about how the brain constructs our subjective conscious experiences.

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