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Consciousness as Serial Processing in Parallel-Processing Brains

Baars’s account is primarily functionalist. Consciousness is enabling global access for the cognitive system as a whole through global representations and serial processing. One way to view Baars’s account is as a theory of how serial processing is possible in the brain as a parallel-processing machine. Baars hints at such a reading when he tells us that:

Most psychologists work with the limited capacity component of the nervous system, which is associated with consciousness and voluntary control, while neuroscientists work with the “wetware” of the nervous system, enormous in size and complexity, and unconscious in its detailed functioning. But what is the meaning of this dichotomy? How does a serial, slow, and relatively awkward level of functioning emerge from a system that is enormous in size, relatively fast-acting, efficient, and parallel? That is the key question. (Baars 1988, p. 120)

There is no central program that governs this serial processing; it emerges out of interaction between modules through the global workspace. Consciousness is the serial information-processing architecture that runs on top of the parallel computational machinery.

Baars aims to ground his computational model empirically by searching for the “wetware” that supports consciousness as the serial-processing control center. He also proposes a methodology for solving the problem of consciousness: contrastive analysis.

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