Attention, fixation, and change blindness


  • Tony Cheng University College London



attention, fixation, change blindness, cognitive access, covariance.


The topic of this paper is the complex interaction between attention, fixation, and one species of change blindness. The two main interpretations of the target phenomenon are the ‘blindness’ interpretation and the ‘inaccessibility’ interpretation. These correspond to the sparse view (Dennett 1991; Tye, 2007) and the rich view (Dretske 2007; Block, 2007a, 2007b) of visual consciousness respectively. Here I focus on the debate between Fred Dretske and Michael Tye. Section 1 describes the target phenomenon and the dialectics it entails. Section 2 explains how attention and fixation weigh in these debates, and argues that Dretske’s hyper-rich view fails precisely because he overlooks certain effects of attention and fixation. Section 3 explains why Tye’s view is also unsatisfying, mainly because he misconceives the degree of access. Section 4 then puts forward the positive model covariance, which has it that the degree of cognitive access tracks the degree of phenomenology, and contrasts it with Block’s view on the Sperling iconic memory paradigm. The paper ends with a discussion of levels of seeing, which involve crowding, indexing, and other visual phenomena. Change ‘blindness’ is a set of phenomena that was discovered about two decades ago, yet an entirely satisfying understanding is still lacking. To move forward, a more detailed understanding of attention and fixation is called for.