Hierarchical Brain

An explanation of the human brain

First published 1st February 2024. This is version 1.5 published 2nd March 2024.
Three pages are not yet published: sleep, memory and an index.
Copyright © 2024 Email info@hierarchicalbrain.com

Warning - the conclusions of this website may be disturbing for some people without a stable mental disposition or with a religious conviction.


Cognoception is a term I have invented because I felt that such a word should exist. It describes the making, and use of, a model or symbol schema in my brain that represents an internal brain process or concept. Examples are attention, perception, action, memory and free will.

A direct parallel can be drawn with perception: perception is the afferent processing of incoming sense data relating to something outside my brain, with the end result of the activation of a symbol schema that represents the thing being perceived and the potential update of this symbol schema; cognoception involves exactly the same processing, but of data from inside my brain relating to an internal brain process or concept, and the activation and/or update of a symbol schema that represents that brain process or concept. Symbol schemas created and activated by cognoception are part of the self symbol schema that represents my self.

Because it depends on the existence of symbol schemas, cognoception resides at level 6 in my hierarchical structure of levels of description, along with perception and other high-level functions.

Contents of this page
Etymology and usage - an explanation and definition of the term.
Overview - including a definition of cognoception.
Other writer’s descriptions - a review of similar things described by other writers.
Further details - some further important points about my proposals.
References - references and footnotes.

Etymology and usage


Other writer’s descriptions

Further details

References For information on references, see structure of this website - references

  1. ^ The attention schema theory: a mechanistic account of subjective awareness - Webb and Graziano 2015
    doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2015.00500 downloadable here or see GoogleScholar.
    Beginning of conclusion on page 9: “We argue that the attention schema theory provides a possible answer to the puzzle of subjective experience. The core claim of the theory is that the brain computes a simplified model of the process and current state of attention, and that the content of this model is the basis of subjective reports. According to the theory, subjective reports such as 'I am aware of X' involve the following steps. Stimulus X is encoded as a representation in the brain, competing with other stimulus representations for the brain’s limited processing resources. If stimulus X wins this signal competition, resulting in its being deeply processed by the brain, then stimulus X is attended. According to the theory, an additional step is needed to produce a report of subjective awareness of stimulus X. The brain has to compute a model of the process of attention itself. Attention is, in a sense, a relevant attribute of the stimulus. It’s red, it’s round, it’s at this location, and it’s being attended by me. The complex phenomenon of a stimulus being selectively processed by the brain, attention, is represented in a simplified model, an attention schema.”
  2. ^ Rethinking Consciousness - Graziano 2019 Norton & Company USA
    Third paragraph of dust cover blurb: “Graziano proposes that in order to monitor and control this specialized attention, the brain evolved a simplified model of it - a cartoonish self-description depicting an internal essence with a capacity for knowledge and experience. In other words, consciousness.”
  3. ^ Toward a standard model of consciousness: Reconciling the attention schema, global workspace, higher-order thought, and illusionist theories - Graziano, Guterstam, Bio and Wilterson 2019
    doi: 10.1080/02643294.2019.1670630 downloadable here or see GoogleScholar.
    Page 5: under the heading “Why a model of attention?”: “...why limit the theory to attention? The brain contains other processes such as decision-making, memory, and movement coordination. The brain might construct models of these other cognitive processes as well. Why not build a theory of consciousness around a decision-making schema, the brain’s quick-and-dirty model of how it makes decisions? Or a memory schema, the brain’s imperfect model of how it stores and retrieves memory? ... First, it is likely that the brain does build models of these other internal processes. However, they do not seem to correlate tightly with consciousness. ... Neither decision-making nor memory are tightly correlated with consciousness. In contrast, attention and consciousness have a closer relationship. ... the evidence suggests that attention and subjective awareness are tightly linked and difficult to separate. If you are directing attention toward something, you are likely to be conscious of it. If you are directing no attention toward something, you are unlikely to be conscious of it. You may think you are continuously aware of the full world around you regardless of how your attention is deployed, but that is not so. There are many now-classic experiments on what is called inattentional blindness, in which withdrawal of attention from an item leads to a loss of awareness of the item.”
  4. ^ Consciousness and the attention schema: Why it has to be right - Graziano 2020
    doi: 10.1080/02643294.2020.1761782 downloadable here or see GoogleScholar.
    Page 7, under the heading “Concern 3: Why the focus on attention?”: “...why does AST [the Attention Schema Theory] link consciousness specifically to an attention schema? Why not a memory schema? Or a decision-making schema? Or a mental imagery schema? Or a response schema? Why not just say: consciousness is a mind schema? I agree with the general idea. The brain must model many aspects of itself. If by 'consciousness' you mean the broader content in the mind, then, of course, consciousness contains models of many things far beyond attention.”
  5. ^ Consciousness explained or described? - Schurger and Graziano 2022
    doi: 10.1093/nc/niac00 downloadable here or see GoogleScholar.
    Page 5, third paragraph: “AST explains why people are convinced that they have this extra something. AST does not explain how this extra something comes about.”
  6. ^ The strange order of things: Life, feeling and the making of cultures - Antonio Damasio Pantheon Books USA 2018
    See page 151, second paragraph: “... part of the process of subjectivity is made from the same kind of material with which we construct the manifest contents held in subjectivity, specifically, images. But while the kind of material is the same, the source is different. Rather than corresponding to the objects, actions, or events, which normally dominate consciousness, these particular images correspond to general images of our own bodies, as a whole, caught in the act of producing those other images. This new set of images constitutes a partial revelation of the process of making the manifest contents of mind deftly and quietly inserted along those other images [sic].... The new set of images helps describe nothing less than the owner’s body in the process of acquiring other images, but unless you pay close attention, you hardly notice them.”
    This seems to be saying, in rather imprecise language, that the brain creates 'images' (which are what I call symbol schemas) that represent the making of other images, i.e. the process of perception. So this is very similar to my concept of cognoception.
  7. ^ Self-modeling epistemic spaces and the contraction principle - Metzinger 2020
    doi: 10.1080/02643294.2020.1729110 downloadable here or see GoogleScholar.
    This philosophical paper is a criticism of Graziano’s Attention Schema Theory (see references above), but is much more difficult to understand.
    Beginning of article under the heading “1. Strong points: The contribution AST makes”:
    “What Graziano and colleagues describe as the 'attention schema' really is one special case of what I have called the 'phenomenal model of the intentionality relation' (PMIR)...”
    So I think a PMIR is similar to what I might call the symbol schema for action or attention.
    Page 199 under the heading “4. Bringing it all together: The contraction principle” in the first paragraph: “What is conscious simply is a part of an organism’s model of the world, a specific processing layer in its internal model of reality - which typically also includes the organism itself and other agents in the world. 'Phenomenality' is a property of an integrated, global state. This is a theory, and we know that it is a theory. From the organism’s inner perspective, things are very different. The model is transparent; therefore, the representational medium is invisible. It is not experienced as a world-model, but simply as the world.”
  8. ^ Godel, Escher, Bach - Douglas Hofstadter Penguin Books UK 1979 or see GoogleScholar.
    Page 387 under the heading “The self-system and consciousness”, first paragraph: “A very important side effect of the self-subsystem is that it can play the role of 'soul', in the following sense: in communicating constantly with the rest of the subsystems and systems in the brain, it keep track of what symbols are active, and in what way.”

Page last uploaded Wed Feb 28 02:26:03 2024 MST