The timing of conscious experience: a critical review and reinterpretation of Libet's research

Conscious Cogn. 1998 Dec;7(4):559-95. doi: 10.1006/ccog.1998.0332.


An extended examination of Libet's works led to a comprehensive reinterpretation of his results. According to this reinterpretation, the Minimum Train Duration of electrical brain stimulation should be considered as the time needed to create a brain stimulus efficient for producing conscious sensation and not as a basis for inferring the latency for conscious sensation of peripheral origin. Latency for conscious sensation with brain stimulation may occur after the Minimum Train Duration. Backward masking with cortical stimuli suggests a 125-300 ms minimum value for the latency for conscious sensation of threshold skin stimuli. Backward enhancement is not suitable for inferring this latency. For determining temporal relations between stimuli that correspond to subjects' reports, the end of cerebral Minimum Train Duration should be used as reference, rather than its onset. Results of coupling peripheral and cortical stimuli are explained by a latency after the cortical Minimum Train Duration, having roughly the same duration as the latency for supraliminal skin stimuli. Results of coupling peripheral stimuli and stimuli to medial lemniscus (LM) are explained by a shorter LM latency and/or a longer peripheral latency. This interpretation suggests a 230 ms minimum value for the latency for conscious sensation of somatosensory near-threshold stimuli. The backward referral hypothesis, as formulated by Libet, should not be retained. Long readiness potentials preceding spontaneous conscious or nonconscious movements suggest that both kinds of movement are nonconsciously initiated. The validity of Libet's measures of W and M moments (Libet et al., 1983a) is questionable due to problems involving latencies, training, and introspective distinction of W and M. Veto of intended actions may be initially nonconscious but dependent on conscious awareness.

MeSH terms

  • Brain / physiology*
  • Consciousness*
  • Humans
  • Perceptual Masking
  • Psychological Theory
  • Thalamus / physiology
  • Time Perception / physiology*