Attentional Resolution

Consider the following figure from Cavanagh et al. (1998):

Fig. 1. Fixating on the center, attempt to count the lines by moving only your attention. This is much easier to do with the lines on the right.
Block (2001) writes, of the lines on the left:

[O]ne is phenomenally conscious of them. And one can say roughly how many there are. But, to the extent that one cannot attend to them, one cannot apply concepts to them, e.g. shape concepts.

Block’s idea here is that the attentional resolution effect helps support a distinction between phenomenal and access consciousness. The extent to which concepts cannot be empolyed to the lines on the left is the extent to which they cannot be individually attended. But note that there remain lots of ways in which concepts may nonetheless be applied to the lines on the left. To mention just one, consider conceiving of them as “the lines on the left.”


Block, N. (2001). Paradox and Cross Purposes in Recent Work on Consciousness in Stan Dehaene, ed., The Cognitive Neuroscience of Consciousness, M.I.T. Press

Cavanagh, P., He, S., & Intriligator, J. (1998). Attentional resolution: The grain and locus of visual awareness. In C. Taddei-Ferretti (Ed.), Neuronal basis and psychological aspects of consciousness. Singapore: World Scientific

3 Responses to “Attentional Resolution”

  1. Tad says:

    Pete -

    It seems that this only proves Block’s distinction if we’re a little more careful about what we’re supposed to be phenomenally conscious of, on the left. As you point out, we’re conscious of some vertical, parallel lines on the left, but that won’t support Block’s distinction, b/c we’re able to apply those concepts. Block would have to say that we have phenomenal though not access consciousness of exactly how many lines there are. But it’s unclear to me that we have any consciousness of that fact. What if sensitivity to the actual number showed up in some priming experiment? This still wouldn’t show that we were phenomenally conscious, as opposed to pre-consciously sensitive to the number.

  2. Pete Mandik says:

    Tad, I agree entirely. Further, I don’t see how the phenomenal realist would rise to the challenge posed by your last sentence aside from claiming support by intuition that the sensitivities in question are such that there’s “something it’s like” to have them.

    So, for example, they might claim that we can have a headache over a duration without attending to it over the entire duration. Intuitively, the headache was there the whole time. Also intuitively, there is something it is like to have even an unattended headache.

    There are several things to wonder about such a response:

    (i) does the phrase “what it’s like” really clarify anything here?

    (ii) even if phenomenal realism is intuitive, it remains open whther phenomenal realism is true

    (iii) supposing that phenomenal realism is true, we’ve got to wonder how that would underwrite the alleged intuitiveness. If the phenomenal exists independently of the conceptual, how can that fact be accessed by intuition?

  3. Alan Kleiner says:

    why not extrapolate that beyond 1 status in spacial retina to corrrelation of the degrees of freedom numeric value to say five not to overreaching numeric categories o color or note distinction.

    Thinking in spheres of several in quest o the majic # numerous enough with not too much to denote clear borders. Why are scarlet and magenta both feminine colors but yet many an Angstrum difference