The asynchrony of consciousness

S. Zeki, A. Bartels

Abstract

We present below a simple hypothesis on what we believe is a characteristic of visual consciousness. It is derived from facts about the visual brain revealed in the past quarter of a century, but it relies most especially on psychophysical evidence which shows that different attributes of the visual scene are consciously perceived at different times. This temporal asynchrony in visual perception reveals, we believe, a plurality of visual consciousnesses that are asynchronous with respect to each other, reflecting the modular organization of the visual brain. We further hypothesize that when two attributes (e.g. colour and motion) are presented simultaneously, the activity of cells in a given processing system is sufficient to create a conscious experience of the corresponding attribute (e.g. colour), without the necessity for interaction with the activities of cells in other processing systems (e.g. motion). Thus, any binding of the activity of cells in different systems should be more properly thought of as a binding of the conscious experiences generated in each system.