The intermediate scope of consciousness in the predictive mind

Francesco Marchi, Jakob Hohwy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


There is a view on consciousness that has strong intuitive appeal and empirical support: the intermediate-level theory of consciousness, proposed mainly by Ray Jackendoff and by Jesse Prinz. This theory identifies a specific “intermediate” level of representation as the basis of human phenomenal consciousness, which sits between high-level non-perspectival thought processes and low-level disjointed feature-detection processes in the perceptual and cognitive processing hierarchy. In this article, we show that the claim that consciousness arises at an intermediate-level is true of some cognitive systems, but only in virtue of specific constraints on their active interactions with the environment. We provide ecological reasons for why certain processing levels in a cognitive hierarchy are privileged with respect to consciousness. We do this from the perspective of a prediction-error minimization model of perception and cognition, relying especially on the notion of active inference: the privileged level for consciousness depends on the specific dispositions of an organism concerned with inferring its policies for action. Such a level is indeed intermediate for humans, but this depends on the spatiotemporal resolution of the typical actions that a human organism can normally perform. Thus, intermediateness is not an essential feature of consciousness. In organisms with different action dispositions the privileged level or levels may differ as well.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)891-912
Number of pages22
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2022

Cite this