The Intermediate Level Theory of Consciousness

Authored by: David Barrett

The Routledge Handbook Of Consciousness

Print publication date:  March  2018
Online publication date:  March  2018

Print ISBN: 9781138936218
eBook ISBN: 9781315676982
Adobe ISBN:


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Jesse Prinz (2011, 2012) advocates what he calls the Attended Intermediate Representation (hereafter ‘AIR’) theory of consciousness. To understand Prinz’s view, it is easiest to begin with the overall method he employs to deliver a theory. He attempts first to answer the question of where in the processing of information in the brain that consciousness arises. The focus on ‘intermediate’ gives away the answer to this question; he emphasizes the intermediate level of processing as the locus of consciousness. It is representations at this intermediate level that constitute the content of conscious experiences. Once one knows where the conscious states pop up in the processing, one can then employ a further method shared by psychologists and neuroscientists: compare cases where these intermediate level activations occur with and without consciousness, then look for differences elsewhere that could be responsible for the variation in consciousness. Here the ‘attention’ part of the theory comes to the fore. Prinz contends that a major reason why intermediate level activations can occur without consciousness is that subjects with these activations lack attention. Two subjects can thus process the same information through intermediate areas, but, if one attends to the stimuli responsible for those activations and the other does not, only the former will be conscious of those stimuli. Conjoin the two parts and you have the overall view: conscious states are AIRs.

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