The two papers cited above were used in a discussion of consciousness as an area of ongoing research in the Senior Seminar in Neural and Behavioral Sciences at Bryn Mawr and Haverford Colleges during spring semester, 1999. The following are comments on the article by participants in that seminar.
A very redeeming aspect of the paper is that Zelado does not really attempt to define consciousness. Instead, he highlights aspects of it. This is a nice way to avoid the consciousness debate in its essence. Generally I found the article interesting; more as a summary of what consciousness may constitute than anything else, however.
The article by Pie, Tannenbaum et.al. was unfortuantely hard to understand in many of its aspects. The reasoning for the experiment was easy enough to follow, but the manner in which it was carried out was a little odd. I am not sure I believe that using novice basketball players was methodologically the best way to go about answering the question the researchers posed. Also, the manner in which the experiment was set up was starnge. I had a hard time folowing what conditions were presnet and what each condition was intended to tap at. I was honestly surprised by the results the studies yielded. I had expected the imagery to have a much more profound, positive effect on performance.
The article on minimal consciousness goes into an abstract discussion of consciousness like many of the philosophers in Searle's book. In fact the authors refer to some of them (Searle, Crick, and Edelman). At first I thought they would discuss aspects of infant consciousness using observations such as the social referencing scenario described in the introduction. Unfortunately, they provide very few examples of the concepts they discuss. In fact they lost me when they started discussing the different terminology used to describe aspects of consciousness.
The basic conclusion of their article was that minimal consciousness, that is consciousness that consists of only the necessary components and is still coherent, does not require shared knowledge, volition, articulateness, consciousness of self and reflectivity. However they did not necessarily attribute these characteristics to infant consciousness. At the end of the discussion I was still confused about the relationship between minimal consciousness and infant consciousness.
The other article addresses an interesting question of whether visual imagery can influence motor skill performance. The results of the second study seemed difficult to understand relative to the proposed hypothesis. How the study relates to consciousness is still a little unclear to me. Is it assuming that by using the videos of athletes and the imagery they produce the subjects are becoming more conscious of their own motor skills? Are they consciously applying the knowlege gained from the videos to their own performance?
The study by Pie seemed pretty straightforward, however the results were a bit lacking for substance. They basically found that people became aquainted with imagery but that imagery did not necessarily improve their performance. So what does this have to do with conciousness? Perhaps that we are concious of imagery, but not of it's effects (if any) on our performance. -that we can conciously choose a behavior and yet not conciously know what may become of it.
As for Zelazo, I was very motivated to read his article at first because he seemed to be striving for an explaination of conciousness by reducing it to the minimal threshold - minimal conciousness. Though a very interesting concept, I don't see how it is really worthwhile studying in infants. Infants and animals both may be minimally concious, but they also both are very difficult to study as there is no way to really communicate with them. Fortunately for Zelazo, he did not attempt an experimental investigation. However, he did provide a nice breakdown of many parts of conciousness and indicated which aspects would not be needed for minimal conciousness. He found three categories that held for minimal conciousness 1)conation, 2)implicit learning and 3)being-like-something.
The Zelazo article was reminiscent of Searle's book, in that it gives different ideas and theories about consciousness, including both psychological and philosophical ones. From the introduction it seemed interesting to study minimal consciousness, which he attributes infants to have. I began to get a little lost, however, in his explanation of all the different terminology and theories. At the same time he simply based his ideas on theories and not actual data from studies of developmental psychology, neurobiology, etc. The lack of experimental data took away from his argument, which at times got sidetracked. I found the "primordial chaos of sensations" idea and the notion of Self not being an a priori property interesting, yet his arguments were not convincing enough for me.
I thought that the experiments conducted were helpful at testing their hypotheses regarding the use of imagery and its effect on motor tasks. But I am wondering what might have cause the discrepancies with other studies that suggest using imagery techniques to be helpful. Perhaps the differences are difficult to find because people that might be more successful at using imagery are those people that are better at the motor tasks because they can imagine them more clearly. How would we discern the difference between physical practice and imagery practice? Are there actual differences or is it just a matter of physical practice? I guess I feel that the study did not reject these theories because they only studied people without previous experience or skill at the motor tasks.
It is interesting to examine the relationship between the mind and the body and how consciousness could have an effect on the body. Such relationships have been supported by studying stress and its affects on the body. In relation to last class, I wonder if the affects are conscious or unconscious or something else. Imagining seems to be a conscious event but I am not so sure that its effects are conscious because although we want behavior or motor activities to be improved, I do not know that people can describe how it might work consciously.
I think that a large part of my scepticism of the complex levels of consciousness being present in infants is in assuming that Zelazo is referring to a complete development of intersubjectivity, imitation, etc. however, I think that it is possible and certainly probable that limited forms of consciousness on these levels are indeed present. Also, Zelazo refers to an infant of 12 months, which is certainly older than I had percieved an infant to be.
Overall, the concept of consciousness developing through infancy and continuing to develop with experience seems to me to be a very logical and interesting idea. I think that Zelazo's approach to discussing it was appropriately vague, by refusing to define consciousness, and useable. I also think that his seven aspects of consciousness are interesting, though by no means a complete definition of components of consciousness.
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