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[Magazine] Scientific American Mind. Vol. 14. No 1

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The more we concentrate on one single event, the more other events will fade out of our consciousness. In everyday life, our brains perceive and process a great deal of information that never reaches our consciousness. Neuroscientists refer to these subconscious data as implicit perception and implicit learning. Most experts feel that such unconscious perception leads to a “flat” processing of information: one recognizes objects, occurrences or connections by means of obvious physical characteristics and simple rules.

Would we then have a clear sense of the bat’s consciousness? Would we be able to know “what it’s like” to be a bat? In both examples, we lack the necessary explanation. We can accept the determination that certain neuronal processes are linked to specific mental processes. But we do not understand why those processes are present and others are not, and we do not know what would occur subjectively if the neuronal processes were to change. Thus, we do not know if bats— or lizards or earthworms— possess a consciousness.

Feelings about the music itself can also influence the brain’s processing. Our work group found that when teenage test subjects liked a song, parts of the frontal and temporal lobes on the left side were predominantly active. If they found the music less enjoyable, the corresponding sections of the right brain were more active. What, then, can we conclude about how our brains process music? If music is experienced variously by each person, in different regions of the brain, it is difficult to find rules that apply universally.

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