Introspective physicalism as an approach to the science of consciousness

Cognition. 2001 Apr;79(1-2):161-96. doi: 10.1016/s0010-0277(00)00128-1.


Most 'theories of consciousness' are based on vague speculations about the properties of conscious experience. We aim to provide a more solid basis for a science of consciousness. We argue that a theory of consciousness should provide an account of the very processes that allow us to acquire and use information about our own mental states - the processes underlying introspection. This can be achieved through the construction of information-processing models that can account for 'Type-C' processes. Type-C processes can be specified experimentally by identifying paradigms in which awareness of the stimulus is necessary for an intentional action. The Shallice (1988b) framework is put forward as providing an initial account of Type-C processes, which can relate perceptual consciousness to consciously performed actions. Further, we suggest that this framework may be refined through the investigation of the functions of prefrontal cortex. The formulation of our approach requires us to consider fundamental conceptual and methodological issues associated with consciousness. The most significant of these issues concerns the scientific use of introspective evidence. We outline and justify a conservative methodological approach to the use of introspective evidence, with attention to the difficulties historically associated with its use in psychology.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Awareness / physiology
  • Consciousness / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiology
  • Psychological Theory*