Eric LaRock, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Philosophy
Oakland University
Philosophy Department
751 Mathematics and Science Center
Rochester, MI 48309
&
Affiliate Faculty
Center for Consciousness Science
University of Michigan, Ann Arbor


I wrote my doctoral dissertation on a central problem in neuroscience called the binding problem and how that problem pertains to central philosophical questions regarding the unity of consciousness.  My current research focuses mainly on problems at the intersection of philosophy of mind and neuroscience, such as neural binding and the unity of consciousness, the hard problem of consciousness, the relationship between persons and brains, neuroplasticity and the nature of agent causation, neural timing and free will, working memory and consciousness, the neural correlates of consciousness, and the philosophical implications of anesthesia awareness.    
 

My Published (or Forthcoming) Manuscripts:


Working Memory and Consciousness: The Current State of Play (with Marjan Persuh and Jacob Berger), Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, Vol. 12, March 2018.  

Abstract: Working memory, an important posit in cognitive science, allows one to temporarily store and manipulate information in the service of ongoing tasks. Working memory has been traditionally classified as an explicit memory system – that is, as operating on and maintaining only consciously perceived information. Recently, however, several studies have questioned this assumption, purporting to provide evidence for unconscious working memory. In this paper, we focus on visual working memory and critically examine these studies as well as studies of unconscious perception that seem to provide indirect evidence for unconscious working memory. Our analysis indicates that current evidence does not support an unconscious working memory store, though we offer independent reasons to think that working memory may operate on unconsciously perceived information. 

Link to article: https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fnhum.2018.00078/full



Hard Problems of Unified Experience from the Perspective of Neuroscience. In M. Guta (editor), Consciousness and the Ontology of Properties. New York: Routledge, 2018.

https://www.routledge.com/Consciousness-and-the-Ontology-of-Properties/Guta/p/book/9781138097865


Neuroscience and the Hard Problem of Consciousness. In Neuroscience and the Soul (edited by Thomas Crisp et al.), pp. 151-180. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2016.  This anthology also includes chapters by Richard Swinburne (University of Oxford), Timothy O'Connor (Indiana University), William Hasker (Huntington University), J.P. Moreland (Talbot), Robin Collins (Messiah College), Kevin Corcoran (Calvin College), Dan Speak (Loyola Marymount University), and many more.



From Non-Reductive Physicalism to Emergent Subject Dualism. In Neuroscience and the Soul (edited by T. Crisp et al.), pp. 190-197. Eerdmans, 2016.



Saving Our Souls From Materialism (with Robin Collins, Ph.D., Distinguished Professor of Philosophy, Messiah College). In Neuroscience and the Soul (edited by T. Crisp et al.), pp. 137-146. Erdmans, 2016. 


Review of Neuroscience and the Soul: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/rirt.12974/full


Aristotle and Agent-Directed Neuroplasticity, International Philosophical Quarterly, 2013, Issue 53, vol. 4, pp 385-408.

Abstract:

I propose an Aristotelian approach to agent causation that is consistent with the hypothesis of strong emergence.  This approach motivates a wider ontology than materialism by maintaining (1) that the agent is generated by the brain without being reducible to it (on grounds of the unity of experience) and (2) that the agent possesses (formal) causal power to affect (i.e., mold, sculpt, or organize) the brain.  I draw affinities between Aristotle's notion of form and David Chalmers' notion of information to deepen the significance of Aristotelian formal causation.  Form and information are two terms that pick out the same referent: a fundamental principle of organization that links conscious mind to matter.  After providing recent empirical evidence for the strong emergence of the agent, I then articulate and analyze a dominant objection to agent causation discussed in neuroscience, which is based upon the observation of the readiness potential (or RP) in the brain.  In this context, the RP refers to unconscious neuronal events (in the supplementary motor area) that precede the formation of a (proximal) conscious intention to act.  So it appears as if the train of neuronal events has left the depot before the agent can act.  In response to this objection,  I argue (a) that even if one were to grant that the RP precedes the formation of a conscious intention, it would not follow (on both logical and empirical grounds) that there is no conscious agent causation; and (b) that the objection disappears when one takes into account distal versus proximal intentions.  


From Biological Naturalism to Emergent Subject Dualism, Philosophia Christi (special issue: Neuroscience and the Soul), 2013, Issue 15, vol. 1, pp. 97-118.  

Abstract: 

I argue (1) that Searle's reductive stance about mental causation is unwarranted on evolutionary, logical, and neuroscientific grounds; and (2) that his theory of weak emergence, called biological naturalism, fails to provide a satisfactory account of objectual unity and subject unity. Finally I propose a stronger variety of emergence called emergent subject dualism (ESD) to fill the gaps in Searle's account, and support ESD on grounds of recent evidence in neuroscience.  Hence I show how it is possible, if not also theoretically preferable, to go from Searle's biological naturalism to emergent subject dualism.   

Table of Contents


An Empirical Case against Central State Materialism. Philosophia Christi, 2012, Issue 14, vol. 2, pp. 409-428.

Abstract:

I argue that recent empirical investigations reveal new problems and new evidence that should compel advocates of causal functionalism (of the sort defended by David Armstrong and David Lewis) to reconsider the feasibility of their account of mind. 

 

Cognition and Consciousness: Kantian Affinities with Contemporary Vision Research.  Kant-Studien, 2010, vol. 101, pp. 445-464.
Abstract:
I take a broad framework informed by philosophy, neuroscience and cognitive psychology to discuss some possible approaches to a few important binding problems.  For example, how do an object’s features (such as shape and color) appear to consciousness as a single, unified object at any given time, if its respective features are correlated with activity in different areas of the visual cortex?  This is known as the object feature binding (OFB) problem, and considerable attention has been directed to it in recent years.  Engel, for instance, and several other prominent neuroscientists have proposed that temporal correlation (e.g., neuronal synchrony) is the mechanism of OFB.  In fact, after discussing recent experimental data on binocular rivalry, Engel draws the sweeping conclusion that ‘only strongly synchronized neuronal responses can contribute to awareness and conscious phenomenal states’ (2003, p. 145). A thorough elaboration and critique of Engel’s formulation of the temporal correlation account of OFB is presented.  With respect to the constructive aspect of this paper, I develop a Kantian categories approach to OFB that bears affinity with recent findings in cognitive psychology.  I also elaborate another binding problem that has received relatively scant (if any) attention, which I call the diachronic object unity (DOU) problem. For example, how do an object’s features appear to consciousness as a single, unified object over time, if its respective features are correlated with transient neuronal activities?  It is difficult to see how DOU is possible from a strictly neural mechanistic perspective if, in fact, the awareness of a feature-unified object persists beyond the subpopulations of cells that fire in response to the object’s features.  A Kantian approach might suggest that DOU is achieved on the basis of the persisting character of the cognizing subject.  I discuss how this Kantian approach bears affinity with recent findings in neuroscience.  If plausible, the cognizing subject could make an explanatory contribution to our theory of unified consciousness and thus could not be eliminated on parsimonious grounds alone.   

Among Most Read Articles in Kant-Studien (October-December 2011)


The Philosophical Implications of Awareness during General Anesthesia. In G. A. Mashour (editor), Consciousness, Awareness, and Anesthesia. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010.

Table of Contents: http://www.cambridge.org/us/academic/subjects/medicine/anesthesia-intensive-care-pain-management/consciousness-awareness-and-anesthesia?format=HB#GVmvi1EADsTFde6S.97


Is Consciousness Really a Brain Process? International Philosophical Quarterly, 2008, vol. 48, pp. 201-229.
Abstract

U. T. Place became influential in the philosophical world for developing type-type identity theory.  Place claimed that consciousness is identical to a brain process.  After discussing a few philosophical objections to Place’s theory, I utilize recent findings in neuroscience to bolster the claim that consciousness is not simply a brain process, and then explore some alternative, non-reductive options concerning the relationship between consciousness and the brain, such as weak and strong accounts of the emergence of consciousness and the constitution view of consciousness. I propose an Aristotelian account of the strong emergence of consciousness. This account motivates a wider ontology than reductive physicalism and makes reference to formal causation as a way explaining the causal power of consciousness. What is meant by formal causation, in this context, is that consciousness has the causal power to organize or control neuronal activity. This notion of causation is elaborated and supported by recent findings in the neurosciences. An advantage of this empirically informed approach is that proponents of the irreducibility of consciousness no longer need to rely upon conceptually based arguments alone, but can build a case against reductive physicalism that has a significant empirical foundation. 
https://secure.pdcnet.org/pdc/bvdb.nsf/toc?openform&journal=pdc_ipq&yearrange=2000%20-%202010&category=0048_0002_2008#0048_0002_2008


Inverse Zombies, Anesthesia Awareness, and the Hard Problem of Unconsciousness (with G. A. Mashour, M.D., Ph.D., University of Michigan). Consciousness and Cognition: An International Journal, 2008, vol. 17, pp. 1163-1168. 
Abstract:
Philosophical (p-) zombies are constructs that possess all of the behavioral features and responses of a sentient human being, yet are not conscious. P-zombies are intimately linked to the hard problem of consciousness and have been invoked as arguments against physicalist approaches. But what if we were to invert the characteristics of p-zombies? Such an inverse (i-) zombie would possess all of the behavioral features and responses of an insensate being yet would nonetheless be conscious. While p-zombies are logically possible but naturally improbable, an approximation of i-zombies actually exists: individuals experiencing what is referred to as “anesthesia awareness.” Patients under general anesthesia may be intubated (preventing speech), paralyzed (preventing movement), and narcotized (minimizing response to nociceptive stimuli). Thus, they appear—and typically are—unconscious. In 1-2 cases/1000, however, patients may be aware of intraoperative events, sometimes without any objective indices. Furthermore, a much higher percentage of patients (22% in a recent study) may have the subjective experience of dreaming during general anesthesia. P-zombies confront us with the hard problem of consciousness—how do we explain the presence of qualia? I-zombies present a more practical problem—how do we detect the presence of qualia? The current investigation compares p-zombies to i-zombies and explores the “hard problem” of unconsciousness with a focus on anesthesia awareness.
Abstract:
I argue that Van der Velde and I agree on two fundamental issues surrounding the vision-related binding problem and recent solutions that have been offered: (1) that tagging theories fail to account for object feature binding in visual consciousness and (2) that feedforward-feedback processes in the visual cortical hierarchy play a role in generating a feature-unified object of visual consciousness. Van der Velde develops and discusses an important objection to tagging theories that could help to strengthen my critique of neuronal synchrony (and other tagging theories) and then argues that the cognitive subject makes no explanatory contribution to the unity of an object’s features in visual consciousness. These issues are discussed in turn.  By contrast, Van Leeuwen takes a more critical approach to my target article. A two-fold response to Van Leeuwen is offered: first, the root of Van Leeuwen’s perplexity is uncovered and then some specific objections that Van Leeuwen poses to my critique of neuronal synchrony, as a purported solution of the object feature binding problem, are addressed.


Disambiguation, Binding, and the Unity of Visual Consciousness. Theory & Psychology, 2007, vol. 17, pp. 747-777.  (This target article ranked among the 50 most frequently read articles throughout 2008, including first ranking throughout January and February 2008.)
Abstract:
Recent findings in neuroscience strongly suggest that an object’s features (e.g., its color, texture, shape, etc.) are represented in separate areas of the visual cortex. Although represented in separate neuronal areas, somehow the feature representations are brought together as a single, unified object of visual consciousness. This raises a question of binding: how do neural activities in separate areas of the visual cortex function to produce a feature-unified object of visual consciousness? Several prominent neuroscientists have adopted neural synchrony and attention-based approaches to explain object feature binding. I argue that although neural synchrony and attentional mechanisms might function to disambiguate an object’s features, it is difficult to see how either of these mechanisms could fully explain the unity of an object’s features at the level of visual consciousness. After presenting a detailed critique of neural synchrony and attention-based approaches to object feature binding, I propose interactive hierarchical structuralism (IHS). This view suggests that a unified percept (i.e., a feature-unified object of visual consciousness) is not reducible to the activity of any cognitive capacity or to any localized neural area, but emerges out of the interaction of visual information organized by spatial structuring capacities correlated with lower, higher, and intermediate levels of the visual hierarchy. After clarifying different notions of emergence and elaborating evidence for IHS, I discuss how IHS can be tested through transcranial magnetic stimulation and backward masking. In the final section I present some further implications and advantages of IHS.

Link to article: http://tap.sagepub.com/content/17/6/747.full.pdf


Why Neural Synchrony Fails to Explain the Unity of Visual Consciousness. Behavior and Philosophy, 2006, vol. 34, pp. 39-58.
Abstract:
I focus on a central issue in an area of consciousness and neuroscience known as the binding problem.  For example, because the features of an object are represented in different areas of the visual cortex, it is puzzling that such features would appear to consciousness as a single, unified object.  This raises a question of binding: how do distributed feature representations (such as shape and color) come together to form a unified object of consciousness.  Some philosophers and neuroscientists propose that neural synchrony is the mechanism that binds an object’s features into a unity.  At one time, Francis Crick (deceased, formerly Salk Institute for Biology) and Christof Koch (Cal-Tech) defended the view that neural synchrony is the mechanism that binds an object’s features into a unity at the level of consciousness (e.g. see Crick and Koch, 1990; Crick 1994).  In 2003, they changed their minds and began defending the neural coalitions approach to binding.  Because of Crick and Koch’s significant influence in this debate, I provide a careful elaboration of the evolution of their views from 1990 to 2003. I then spell out some of the philosophical and empirical difficulties facing the neural synchrony and neural coalitions approaches to binding in consciousness.


Cognition and Emotion: Aristotelian Affinities with Contemporary Emotion Research (with K. Kafetsios, Ph.D., University of Crete, Greece). Theory & Psychology, 2005, vol. 15, pp. 639-657.
Abstract
:
We provide a critique of the usual functionalist, cognition-first reading of Aristotle’s theory of emotion and then offer an alternative understanding of Aristotle's theory of cognition and emotion that brings to bear certain biological considerations evidenced in his arguments on the integration of form and matter (hylomorphism) and the hierarchical organization of the biological world. This, of course, does not suggest that we are critical of all varieties of functionalism, but only those which fail to utilize and incorporate findings in neuroscience.  One way to help bridge the gap between mind and the physical world is through empirical findings.  Based upon our new reading of Aristotle, we identify affinities with contemporary research in the cognitive neuroscience of emotion and developmental research on emotion.


Against the Functionalist Reading of Aristotle’s Philosophy of Perception and Emotion. International Philosophical Quarterly, 2002, vol. 42, pp. 231-258.
Abstract
:
I argue on textual, philosophical, and cognitive scientific grounds that reading Aristotle’s theory of mind as consistent with the usual (“dry mind”) varieties of functionalism is a mistake because it implicitly downgrades the significance of the biological basis of emotion and perception.  I then show how some of Aristotle’s insights are still relevant to contemporary problems surrounding emotion and perception, and that his methodology is broad enough to accommodate findings in both cognitive psychology and neuroscience.


Dualistic Interaction, Neural Dependence, and Aquinas’s Composite View. Philosophia Christi, 2001, vol. 3, pp. 459-472.
Abstract
:
I explicate the Churchland's dualistic interaction and neural dependence objections to Cartesian dualism and argue that Aquinas’s conception of Aristotelian hylomorphism provides a way out of those objections.


Augustine on Time, Mind, and Personal Identity. Augustinus, 2001, vol. 46, pp. 251-271.

Abstract:
I argue that Augustine's concept of time implies that the continuity of temporal experience is not adequately explainable in physical terms and that persons (or at least a core component of persons) are enduring substances rather than perduring wholes composed of suitably related physical parts.  In the latter part of the essay, I suggest that an enduring account of persons is in some important respects explanatorily better than some contemporary varieties of the perduring account of persons.   
 

External Peer-Reviewer for:

The Review of Philosophy and Psychology

Canadian Psychology

British Journal for the Philosophy of Science

International Philosophical Quarterly

Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (2 x)

Journal of Medical Ethics

Sage Publications


Dissertation Area: Consciousness and Neuroscience
Doctoral Dissertation: The Unities of Visual Awareness, Saint Louis University, 2005.
Dissertation Committee: George Terzis (director), Michael Barber (secondary reader), Jesse Prinz (external reader)

Some Recent Citations of my Published Work:

Citations in Books:
Foundations of Consciousness. Routledge, 2018. 

The Blackwell Companion to Substance Dualism. Oxford: Blackwell, 2018.

Questions in the Psychology of Religion. Eugene: Cascade Books, 2017.

The Conscious Brain. Oxford University Press, 2012.

The Organization of Mind
. Oxford University Press, 2011.

Brain, Mind, and Consciousness: Advances in Neuroscience Research. New York: Springer, 2011.

The Consciousness Paradox. MIT Press, 2011.

Death and Donation. Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2011.

Consciousness: The Science of Subjectivity. New York: Psychology Press, 2010. 
     (This comprehensive and concise interdisciplinary textbook on consciousness devotes part          of a chapter to Mashour and LaRock's (2008) inverse zombie concept.) 

Suppressing the Mind: Anesthetic Modulation of Memory and Consciousness. New York: Humana Press, 2009.

The Cambridge Handbook of Situated Cognition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009. 

Political Affect: Connecting the Social and the Somatic. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2009.

Appearance and Reality in Greek Thought. Buenos Aires: University of Colihue, 2007.

Aristotle, Emotions, Education. Burlington: Ashgate, 2007.

Thomistic Principles and Bioethics. London: Routledge, 2006.

Citations in Journals:
Entropy, 2018
"Topographic Reconfiguration of Local and Shared Information in Anesthetic-Induced Unconsciousness"

Trends in Neurosciences, 2018
"Neural Correlates of Unconsciousness in Large-Scale Brain Networks"

Journal of Consciousness Studies, 2017
"Mounting Evidence that Minds are Neural EM Fields Interacting with Brains"

Anesthesiology, 2016
“Anesthetizing the Self: The Neurobiology of Humbug”

International Journal of Psychophysiology, 2016
“Conscious Brain, Metacognition, and Schizophrenia”

Journal of Mind and Behavior, 2016
“Neuroelectrical Approaches to Binding Problems”

Electrophysiology and Psychophysiology in Psychiatry and Psychopharmacology.
Current Topics in Behavioral Neurosciences,
2014
“Psychophysiology of Dissociated Consciousness.”

Consciousness and Cognition, 2014
“Acceptably Aware during General Anesthesia”

Journal of Consciousness Studies, 2013
“Electromagnetic-Field Theories of Mind”

Cognitive Systems Research, 2012
“Consciousness, Schizophrenia, and Complexity”

Brain and Cognition, 2011
"Consciousness versus Responsiveness: Insights from General Anesthetics"

Brain and Cognition, 2011
"Consciousness Lost and Found: Subjective Experiences in an Unresponsive State"

Behavioral Neurology, 2011
"How to assess ictal Consciousness?"

Consciousness and Cognition,
2011
"
The Relationship between Feature Binding and Consciousness: Evidence from Asynchronous Multimodal Stimuli"

Frontiers in Psychology,
2010
"Framework of Consciousness from Semblance of Activity at Functionally LINKed Postsynaptic Membranes"

Journal of Consciousness Studies,
volume 17, 2010.

"How to Make Mind-Brain Relations Clear"

Biosystems, volume 101, 2010.
"Implications on Visual Apperception: Energy, Duration, Structure and Synchronization

 
Journal of Mind and Behavior, volume 30, 2009.
"Quantum Science and the Nature of Mind"
 

Theory and Psychology, volume 17, 2007.
"Binding and Consciousness from an Intrinsic Perspective"



Journal of Medicine and Philosophy, volume 30, 2005.
"Aquinas's Account of Human Embryogenesis and Recent Interpretations"


Citations in Dissertations:
Beyond Propositionality: Metaphor in the Embodied Mind, 2016.

The Emergence of Mental Content: An Essay in the Metaphysics of Mind, 2015.

Following Jesus with your Brain: Applying Knowledge of Neuroscience and Philosophy of Mind to Strengthen Discipleship in a Local Church, 2015.

Alterations in the States and Contents of Consciousness: Empirical and Theoretical Aspects, 2014.

The Neural Networks Recruited during Visual Feature Binding, 2014.

Conscious and Unconscious Vision, 2009.

Relationship of Speed of Cortical Integration and Measures of Intelligence, 2008. 

On Whether or not Merleau-Ponty's Phenomenology of Lived Body Experiences can Enrich St. Thomas Aquinas's Integral Anthropology, 2009.
    
 
Citations in Encyclopedias:
Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 2010.
     "The Unity of Consciousness"

Awards:
James Collins Award for Outstanding Graduate Work in Philosophy, Saint Louis University, 2003.
 

Dissertation Fellowship, Saint Louis University, 2004-2005.


Research Fellow for Neuroscience and the Soul, Spring 2013. 
(Funded by John Templeton Foundation)

Awarded Pilot Grant for “Nonconscious Working Memory: Evidence against Attentional Theories of Consciousness,” Center for Consciousness Science, University of Michigan (with Marjan Persuh, Jacob Berger, and Chandra Sripada), 2015-2018.

Awarded Grant for The Conscious Persons Project (with Kevin Corcoran, Calvin College), Spring 2015. This event involved a workshop on consciousness with David Chalmers and other neuroscientists and philosophers. 
 
Upper-Level Course Created and Taught at Oakland (since 2005):
 
11. Philosophy of Neuroscience

10. Consciousness
  
9. Mental Causation 
  
8. Consciousness, Persons, and Free Will
  
7. Philosophy of Cognitive Science
 
6. Aristotle

5. Personal Identity

4. Consciousness and Persons
 
3. Philosophy of Mind 
 
2. Ancient Philosophy
 
1. God, Consciousness, and Free Will