National Institute for Physiological Sciences Takemura Lab Sensory & Cognitive Brain Mapping
National Institutes of Natural Sciences National Institute for Physiological SciencesNational Institutes of Natural Sciences National Institute for Physiological Sciences



Takemura Lab Seminar: Hakwan Lau (RIKEN CBS)

Date and Time

May 20th, 2022 (Friday)
13:30-14:30 (Japan Standard Time)


Myodaiji Building, 1F Seminar Room A/B (onsite) & Zoom (online)


Dr. Hakwan Lau, RIKEN CBS

Title & Abstract

Title: Subjective Experience as Implicit Metacognition

Abstract: The problem of consciousness concerns how we can mechanistically account for the occurrence of subjective experiences. Taking a cognitive neuroscience approach, I emphasize two functional aspects of conscious experiences. First, they present the content as reflecting the state of the world at the moment. That is, they come with what philosophers call an assertoric force, impacting on our cognition. Accordingly, we are logically inclined to believe what we experience (although we can also sometimes resist this tendency). Second, conscious content is qualitative, in the sense that without effort, we can automatically appreciate how similar an experience is with respect to all other possible experiences. Seeing red is to see it as being distinct from blue, more similar to orange than to yellow, and so on. Importantly, the relevant similarity relations concern one's own capacity to distinguish between different stimuli. As such, the qualitative content contains implicit metacognitive (i.e. self-) knowledge. I present a view in which mechanisms in the prefrontal cortex can account for both of these aspects of consciousness. On this view, subjective experiences arise when qualitative content acquires an assertoric force. This happens when such content is monitored by the relevant prefrontal mechanisms in a specific way. Unlike global workspace theory, the emphasis is on the role of implicit (i.e. automatic) self-monitoring, rather than the broadcast and amplification of signals. Accordingly, this bypasses one of the most challenging problems facing virtually all major theories of consciousness, including physics-centric and panpsychic views, which is the confounding of conscious perception with information. On the implicit metacognitive view, consciousness is not just information processing. It is a specific form of automatic and intrinsic appreciation of the nature of one's own information processing at the moment. Therefore, not all robots are conscious, but some can be engineered to be so, at least in principle.