No watershed for overflow: Recent work on the richness of consciousness

Ian Phillips*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Citations (Scopus)


A familiar and enduring controversy surrounds the question of whether our phenomenal experience “overflows” availability to cognition: do we consciously see more than we can remember and report? Both sides to this debate have long sought to move beyond naïve appeals to introspection by providing empirical evidence for or against overflow. Recently, two notable studies—Bronfman, Brezis, Jacobson, and Usher (2014) and Vandenbroucke, Sligte, Fahrenfort, Ambroziak, and Lamme (2012)—have purported to provide compelling evidence in favor of overflow. Here I explain why the data from both studies are wholly consistent with a “no overflow” interpretation. Importantly, when framed purely in representational or informational terms, this “no overflow” interpretation agrees with the interpretations respectively offered by both Bronfman et al. (2014) and Vandenbroucke et al. (2012). The difference only emerges when additional assumptions are made concerning which representations correspond to elements in conscious experience. The assumptions made by overflow theorists are contentious and poorly motivated. However, challenging them simply reopens the original controversy. The upshot is a sobering moral: we still do not know how to move beyond appeals to naïve introspection in establishing the nature and limits of our ordinary experience.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)236-249
Number of pages14
JournalPhilosophical Psychology
Issue number2
Early online date24 Sept 2015
Publication statusPublished - 17 Feb 2016


  • Consciousness
  • Generic Experience
  • Perceptual Representation
  • Phenomenal Overflow
  • Unconscious Perception

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Applied Psychology
  • Philosophy


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