Posted by & filed under Consciousness, Neuroscience, Research Methods, Sensation-Perception.

Description: Here is a scenario for you to think about. Imagine that you are volunteering in a psychology research lab, and it is your first day and you do not yet know what it is that they are researching in the lab. Your orientation is going to happen shortly, but first you are asked to help out with the collection of some data from a volunteer who arrived in the lab just before you. You are taken to a wide hallway and are introduced to the research participant who is sitting in a chair with their white cane across their lap answering some questions being asked by one of the researchers in the lab. You listen to the volunteer explain that they are totally blind, that they can see nothing, no shadows or images at all. You then watch as another researcher moves quietly down the hall and moves a number of boxes, chairs and small tables so that they are randomly spread out along the hallway. After this you watch as the blind volunteer is asked to stand up, is turned slightly by the researcher so that they are aiming down the hallway, asked to surrender their white cane (which they do) and to then slowly walk down the hallway. You watch in amazement as the volunteer slowly walks the length of the hallway to the end where one of the researchers awaits them and does not bump into a single object the whole way down (by moving from side to side and NOT by ‘blind luck’ it seems. At that point what would you think? That they lied about being blind? That they lied when asked at the end of the hall if they saw the objects they did not bump into? How might this be possible and what might it tell us about human consciousness? No idea? Well, have a read through the linked article and learn a bit about blindsight.

Source: Blindsight: A Strange Neurological Condition Could Help Explain Consciousness, Henry Taylor, The Conversation.

Date: December 3, 2022

Image by Mitrey from Pixabay

Article Link:

What is consciousness? Tough question. But we tend to think it involves awareness, as in we are consciously aware of what we see, what we feel, and what we think. So, is the volunteer I described above conscious of the object they avoided bumping into as they walked down the hall? They must have been at some level, but they did not think they were. One way to start to grow a broader theory of consciousness is to realize that a LOT goes on in our minds that we do not pay conscious attention to. Add to that the suggestion that processing something at the level of the brain and monitoring that processing may be located in distinct neural areas or systems. So, for example, processing visual information about the world around us may take place in the brain in systems distinct but related to the areas or systems that allow us to consciously monitor those processes. If this is the case then stroke damage could lead to a loss of that aspect of consciousness without losing the spatial information processing function leading to blindsight. Hard to get your mind around this? Well, welcome to theorizing and trying to figure out how to study human consciousness. Fascinating stuff!

Questions for Discussion:

  1. What is (human) consciousness?
  2. What is blind sight?
  3. What might blindsight help us to start to figure out about consciousness?

References (Read Further):

De Gelder, B., Tamietto, M., Van Boxtel, G., Goebel, R., Sahraie, A., Van den Stock, J., … & Pegna, A. (2008). Intact navigation skills after bilateral loss of striate cortex. Current biology, 18(24), R1128-R1129. Link

Kentridge, R. W., Heywood, C. A., & Weiskrantz, L. (1999). Attention without awareness in blindsight. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London. Series B: Biological Sciences, 266(1430), 1805-1811. Link

Jiang, Y., Costello, P., Fang, F., Huang, M., & He, S. (2006). A gender-and sexual orientation-dependent spatial attentional effect of invisible images. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 103(45), 17048-17052. Link

Phillips, I. (2021). Blindsight is qualitatively degraded conscious vision. Psychological Review, 128(3), 558. Link

Overgaard, M. (2011). Visual experience and blindsight: a methodological review. Experimental Brain Research, 209(4), 473-479. Link

Celeghin, A., de Gelder, B., & Tamietto, M. (2015). From affective blindsight to emotional consciousness. Consciousness and cognition, 36, 414-425. Link

Overgaard, M., & Mogensen, J. (2015). Reconciling current approaches to blindsight. Consciousness and Cognition, 32, 33-40. Link