Abstract: Philosophical and computational considerations, along with neurobiological data, suggest that phenomenal experience is holistic in the sense that it emerges from the dynamics of the entire brain. On this account, your experience of the page in front of you (say) is predicated upon coordinated activity, not just of visual areas alone, but of the rest of your brain as well. Experience thus must be inherently temporally extended, if only because coordination requires time. What is the nature of this coordination and how much time does it take for experience to emerge? Lessons from the science of parallel distributed computation suggest that putting experience -- or, for that matter, any other collective action such as decision making -- on hold until after all of the brain's constituents have had a chance to reach a consensus about it is a recipe for permanent functional paralysis. To understand why the brain does not have to wait for long (let alone indefinitely) to figure out what experience it is having, we must note that coordination, like experience that emerges, is an ongoing endogenous process modulated by input, rather than a transient ripple in an otherwise quiescent medium. Thus, the input-influenced present turn of the system's trajectory through the activation space -- the embodiment of experience -- is shaped collectively by the system's history, which likely possesses a variety of natural time scales amenable to empirical investigation.
Edelman, S., and T. Fekete, Being in Time, extended abstract for the poster presented at the 15th meeting of the Association for Scientific Study of Consciousness (ASSC15), June 2011, Kyoto, Japan.