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Watzl "What is Attention?"


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Watzl "What is Attention?"

  1. 1. + Is Attention One or Many? And Why Should We Care? Sebastian Watzl
  2. 2. + What is Attention?
  3. 3. 3+ Reductivism + Disunity Views+ Anti-Reductivism +The Adverbial View
  4. 4. + Everyone knows what attention is  “Every one knows what attention is. It is the taking possession by the mind, in clear and vivid form, of one out of what seem several simultaneously possible objects or trains of thought.” James 1890/1981, p. 403-404  “[It is not] to the purpose to discuss the many familiar fanciful theories concerning [attention] that are sometimes propounded.” Munsell, 1873, p. 11
  5. 5. + No need to theorize about attention? No! Rather: to keep the following contrast in view Feature integration, DNA, working memory, …  theoretical terms; fixed completely by their roles in scientific theorizing. Pain, knowledge, desire, intention, …. ordinary terms; not fixed completely by their roles in scientific theorizing.
  6. 6. + Attention belongs in group 2  Part of folk-psychology  Ascription  “I was focusing my attention on the delicate lines of the saxophone solo; didn‟t really care much about the piano.”  Explanation  “She didn‟t hear the doorbell, because her attention was completely absorbed by her thoughts about her new project.”  Prediction  “You will get a better sense for the rhythm, if you focus on the piano and drums instead of the saxophone.”
  7. 7. + Attention belongs in group 2  Acquaintance through experience  Block on consciousness (and Armstrong on jazz): “if you got to ask, you ain‟t never gonna get to know”  Consider pain (arguably also perception or desire): if you ask what pain (perception, desire) is, I will point you to a certain kind of experience.  Same for attention: you know what it is like to focus attention on something
  8. 8. + But this leaves several options  Reductivism  Some natural kinds (e.g. gold or water) arguably can be reductively identified. Their nature is to be discovered scientifically.  Eliminativism (also: Disunity views)  There is nothing that corresponds to our ordinary discourse. At least it is no single thing  Anti-Reductivism  Distinguish between personal level mental episodes, and their sub-personal underpinnings. Consider philosophers on knowledge, belief, intention, desire, etc.  The Adverbial View  Rejects that attention is “a kind of entity”. Rather, it is a manner of doing something  in my view, not an alternative to anti-reductivism.
  9. 9. + Reductivism
  10. 10. + Reductivism Attention (the familiar mental episode) = a type of neuronal or information processing mechanism.  Compare:  water (the familiar substance) = H2O (a type of molecule)  temperature (the familiar property) = mean kinetic energy (a type of motion of molecules)
  11. 11. + Is attention a filter?  Broadbent (1958) “Perception and Communication”Serial centralprocessing/Memory Storage Parallel sensory processing p. 216, Ch. “Shifting of Attention” Get‟s associated with Filter ~ a type of information attention channel
  12. 12. + Is attention a filter?  This framework has been extremely influential 7000 6000 5000 4000 # citations 3000 2000 1000 0 Broadbent Chomsky
  13. 13. + Is attention a filter? Both from Itti, Rees, and Tsotsos (2005) “Neurobiology of Attention”
  14. 14. + Is attention a filter?  Research Program(s):  Where in the processing hierarchy is the filter located?  Early selection vs. late selection vs. flexible selection  How does the filter work? Mathematical models of the relevant filtering  Information theory, complexity theory, dynamic systems, neural networks, etc.; applications in computer vision, etc.  Nature of stimulus/input  Nature of response/output/storage  Channel/Filter characteristics:  Capacity  What stimulus/input distribution optimizes information transmission?
  15. 15. + But does this serve reductivism? 1. Attention is identical to a specific filter Filter/Attention 1. Attention is a type of filter in ✗ (cognitive) information processing. Attention Filters 1. Attention achieves/is correlated with filtering of information (among other Attention things) Filters ✓
  16. 16. + But does this serve reductivism?  Allport 1993:  Many assumption of the filter model about the processing architecture are false.  Filtering is just one of many things attention does.
  17. 17. + But does this serve reductivism?  Assumption: “Information processing follows a linearly ordered, unidirectional sequence of processing stages from sensory input to overt response, rather than (for example) operating in multiple, parallel, and perhaps reciprocal pathways.” (Allport, p. 187) Yet • There are multiple, reciprocal pathways between vision and action (including many feedback loops, and vision-action shortcuts) • Attention modulates processing of “simple” attributes like color, form, size, acuity, etc. (not just a filter) en route to higher processing van Essen and Gallant (1994) Vidyasagar 2003
  18. 18. + But does this serve reductivism?  Assumption: “Attentional selection […] denotes one unique or uniform computational process – represented, very often, as the selective admission of privileged information to a stage of “further processing” and/or the selective exclusion from this critical stage of all other, unattended information.” (ibid.) Yet  attention serves many computational functions:  spatially selective enhancement of processing  selective tuning  suppression of response tendencies (“central attention”)  selection for action among competing stimulus dimensions  temporal sequencing of cognitive operations  …  the mechanistic explanation of various so-called attention effects (negative priming, temporal grouping, saccade planning, Stroop effect, task sqitching, inhibition of return, evaluation of action consequences, etc.) look to be divers.
  19. 19. + But does this serve reductivism?Attention Specific computational mechanisms
  20. 20. + The argument against reductivism 1. If reductivism is true, then there is a type of computational or neuronal process whose operation coincides with the presence of attention at least in most cases. 2. There is no type of computational or neuronal process whose operation coincides with the presence of attention at least in most cases. a. Many mechanisms that are associated with attention some some contexts, in other contexts operate without attention. b. The various effects of attention get explained by distinct mechanisms.Thus 3. Reductivism is false.
  21. 21. + Why is the filter model still used? It serves as a paradigm or “model” to understand the various mechanisms that underlie attention. It can generate useful mathematical tools for understanding information processing in human cognition and brain functioning whether or not any specific filtering can be identified with attention. In general, we can think of most “theories” or “models” of attention in one of the following ways:  models of what will be attended.  models of the effects/underpinnings of attention in x (brain areas, single cells, etc.)  models of one important feature of attention  ...
  22. 22. + Other “Theories” of Attention The feature integration theory (Treisman and Gelade 1980)  "The early alignment of featural detection with preattentive processing and featural binding with attentional processing can no longer be sustained” (Quinlan 2003) The pre-motor theory (Rizolatti et al. 1987)  “The evidence is not consistent with the view that spatial attention is functionally equivalent to motor preparation” (Smith and Schenk 2012) ... The working memory theory (Prinz 2011, 2012)
  23. 23. + The WM theory “Attention can be identified with the processes that allow information to be encoded in working memory.” (Prinz 2012, p. 93; also Prinz 2011, p. 184 )  Explicitly intended as reductivism:  “I treat “attention” as a natural kind term. (ibid., p. 90)  [The] interactions between attention and working memory suggest an intimate relationship. The simplest explanation for this relationship is an identity claim” (ibid. p. 93)
  24. 24. + The WM theory Problems:  The link between attention and working memory is probably not as tight as Prinz supposes.  “there is evidence that attention is not sufficient for encoding, but the evidence is inconclusive as to whether attention is necessary for encoding.” (Fougnie 2009, p. 10)  “Perhaps the most striking conclusion supported by this review is that, in contrast to previous theories, the distinction between attention and WM is quite strong.” (ibid, p. 26)  Working memory might not have a reductive explanation either  “neither attention nor working memory represent a uniform set of processes, theories of their relationship tend to focus on only some aspects.” (ibid, p. 1, my emphasis)
  25. 25. + What about Biased Competition? Stimuli (or information carrying items) “compete for representation, analysis, or control.” “This competition process is biased [… ] [through top-down signals] towards information that is currently relevant to behavior” (Desimone and Duncan 1995)
  26. 26. + What about Biased Competition? Spratling 2008
  27. 27. + What about Biased Competition? Not a specific mechanism  “[T]here is doubtless biased competition in many separate brain systems, conducting different processing operations on many different kinds of information. In this sense there are multiple varieties of attention.” (Duncan 2006) Biased Competition (most likely) is a general feature of neural processing.  “[B]iased competition proposes that cortical feedback acts to enhance stimulus-driven neural activity that is consistent with top-down predictions in order to affect competition occurring between neural representations in each cortical area” (Spratling 2008) Is best viewed not as a reductive theory of attention, but as a theory that treats attention as an “emergent”(better: higher-order) feature of a certain kind of neural/computational architecture. (see Desimone and Duncan 1995, p. 1954, or Allport 2011, p. 24)
  28. 28. + Disunity Views
  29. 29. + Eliminativism (or Disunity)  “The problem is that “attention” is not a single concept, but an umbrella term for a variety of [distinct] psychological phenomena” (Styles 2006, p. 1)  “There is no such thing as attention” (Anderson, 2011)  Attention is an amalgamate of distinct processes. That they are grouped together is due to careless folk-psychology, historical accident, etc.  A or B or C or ...  A and B and C and ...  Most of A, B, C, ...  Some contextually relevant subset of {A, B, C, ...}  ...
  30. 30. + Eliminativism (or Disunity)  Compare jade. Arguably, jade is a disjunctive kind, something is jade iff it is either jadeite or nephrite. These are only superficially similar.  Note:  In the case of jade, it is implausible that similarity “for us” (maybe” “how it strikes in experience”) makes for a genuine kind.  In the case of attention that‟s not at all obvious: it could be a mental kind individuate by its role for us, and/or its normal phenomenal character (even if it isn‟t always conscious)
  31. 31. + Eliminativism (or Disunity) “The various issues which psychologists address under the general heading of „attention‟ [...][even though attention is not a single process] do have something in common though. They are all concerned with selectivity in mental life, and these days in neural activity also.” (Driver 2001, p. 73) Build a theory of attention out of that (see also James).
  32. 32. + Anti-Reductivism
  33. 33. + Anti-Reductivism  Personal vs sub-personal level  “At the personal level, we talk about persons as such – as experiencing, thinking subjects and agents.” (Davies 2005)  At the sub-personal level we talk about “brains and events in the nervous system.” (Dennett, 1969, p. 93)).  The anti-reductivist view treats attention as a personal level phenomenon that  Is underpinned by a variety of different mechanisms.  Can be multiply realized.
  34. 34. + Moderate Anti-Reductivism  Radical Anti-Reductivism(s):  Refuse to say anything about what attention is. It is what it is, and we can‟t say anything more. Or,  Refuse to draw any connections between the personal level and the sub-personal underpinnings.  Moderate Anti-Reductivism:  We can say something about what all attention phenomena have in common, though without getting rid of appeal to “attention vocabulary”  We can draw connections to the sub-personal level.
  35. 35. + Marr‟s Levels  Computational  What is the problem to be solved by vision, ..., etc.  Algorithmic  Which algorithms dealing with what types of representations or information solve this problem?  Implementational  Which hardware, wetware, neuronal circuits implement those algorithms and how do they do so?
  36. 36. + Marr‟s Levels  Computational  What is the problem to be solved by attention?  Algorithmic  Which algorithms dealing with what types of representations or information solve this problem?  Implementational  Which hardware, wetware, neuronal circuits implement those algorithms and how do they do so?
  37. 37. + What is the purpose of attention?To deal with limitation To organize information
  38. 38. + What is the purpose of attention?The need for dealingwith capacitylimitations, and theneed to manageinformation oftencome together less information tends to be easier to manage
  39. 39. + What is the purpose of attention?A thought experimentSuppose we had infiniteprocessing capacities.Suppose we could beconscious of everythingat once. Would there beno need for attention?
  40. 40. + What is the purpose of attention?If the answer is yes Support for the capacity limitation viewIf the answer is no Support for the information management view
  41. 41. + What is the purpose of attention?The answer is, I believe: no An agent with infinite capacities would have have more, rather than less need for information management. She would need prioritization in order to do something with all the information. Without prioritization, the information would be unusable.
  42. 42. + The Structuralist View  Basic idea  Attention prioritizes some items in our mental life over others.  This prioritization is personal level: priority for the whole organism.  Priority cannot be reduced. See also: Dicey-Jennings
  43. 43. + The Structuralist View  The view Attention consists in the mental episode of structuring a subject‟s mental life so that some of its elements are prioritized relative to others.
  44. 44. + The Structuralist View  How to think of the structure of our mental lives:  partition the personal level mental life (at a time) into parts: perceiving a, thinking about b, etc.  prioritize some parts over others. Higher attentional priorityA perception of the A perception of thesax piano
  45. 45. + The Structuralist View  How to think of the structure of our mental lives:  partition the personal level mental life (at a time) into parts: perceiving a, thinking about b, etc.  prioritize some parts over others. Is attentionally prior to (abb.: >) A relation between a subject‟s personal level mental episodes
  46. 46. + The Structuralist View  “Attentional Space”  the space of personal level mental episodes that are attentionally related to each other.  Partitioning not given independent of attention.  Attentional prioritization not to be reduced.  Can investigate the structure of that space by investigating the relevant attentional relations.  The attentional structure of our mental life is a holistic feature of it, and not a specific element in it.
  47. 47. + The Structuralist View  Attentional prioritizing need not have a further (specific) purpose. What is central in your mental life might be exploited in flexible ways.  Sometimes the prioritizing is for bodily action, sometimes for thought, sometimes (daydreaming) for nothing specific at all.  Attentional prioritizing can occur in perception, thought, deliberation, etc.  There is probably a large degree of unity and integration between these, but this is not an essential feature of the structuralist position: the view provides an account of what is in common between the variety of forms of attention, whether or not these are integrated.  What gets de-prioritized does not get thrown away. Attention does not primarily “filter out”, but “manages” information  It‟s primary function, to repeat, is not to handle “capacity limitations” but to provide the organization (that is likely necessary for human agency; see Wu 2008; and Mole 2011)
  48. 48. + The End