The Global Workspace In Your Head

by Tracy R. Walsh

review of Stanislas Dehaene’s latest book, Consciousness and the Brain, lays out the cognitive scientist’s theory of awareness:

Dehaene takes the “global workspace” model of consciousness developed by psychologist Bernard Baars and boldly extends it, identifying consciousness as the process of brain-wide information sharing. At any time, millions of short-lived mental representations of your world are being created by unconscious processing, he says. Consciousness selects one and makes it available to distributed, high-level decision systems through a brain-wide “broadcast”. … Consciousness, thinks Dehaene, may have evolved to pick out what is relevant from this huge amount of parallel activity, and keep it active within the global workspace while different parts of the brain evaluate it. It is necessary so we can deal with one important thing at a time and enable a kind of “collective intelligence” to be reached. That would include providing access to memory and mental associations, as well as to language processors which could describe the ongoing experience, Dehaene suggests. It all takes time, which may explain why consciousness seems to run about a third of a second behind reality.

Previous Dish on Dehaene’s work here.