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Neural Plasticity and Consciousness



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Biology and Philosophy 18 131 168 2003 2003 Kluwer Academic Publishers Printed in the Netherlands Neural Plasticity and Consciousness1 SUSAN HURLEY PAIS University of Warwick Coventry CV4 7AL U K E mail s l hurley warwick ac uk ALVA NO Department of Philosophy University of California Santa Cruz U S A E mail anoe cats ucsc edu Abstract We introduce a distinction between cortical dominance and cortical deference and apply it to various examples of neural plasticity in which input is rerouted intermodally or intramodally to nonstandard cortical targets In some cases but not others cortical activity defers to the nonstandard sources of input We ask why consider some possible explanations and propose a dynamic sensorimotor hypothesis We believe that this distinction is important and worthy of further study both philosophical and empirical whether or not our hypothesis turns out to be correct In particular the question of how the distinction should be explained is linked to explanatory gap issues for consciousness Comparative and absolute explanatory gaps should be distinguished why does neural activity in a particular area of cortex have this qualitative expression rather than that and why does it have any qualitative expression at all We use the dominance deference distinction to address the comparative gaps both intermodal and intramodal not the absolute gap We do so not by inward scrutiny but rather by expanding our gaze to include relations between brain body and environment Key words consciousness cortical deference cortical dominance dynamic sensorimotor contingencies explanatory gaps neural plasticity perceptual adaptation phantom limbs synaesthesia Introduction Why does neural activity in a particular area of cortex give rise to experience of red say rather than green or to visual experience rather than auditory Why for that matter does it have any conscious qualitative expression at all These familiar questions point to the explanatory gap between neural



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