Apophatic science: How computational modeling can explain consciousness

Will Bridewell, Alistair M. C. Isaac

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This study introduces a novel methodology for consciousness science. Consciousness as we understand it pretheoretically is inherently subjective, yet the data available to science are irreducibly intersubjective. This poses a unique challenge for attempts to investigate consciousness empirically. We meet this challenge by combining two insights. First, we emphasize the role that computational models play in integrating results relevant to consciousness from across the cognitive sciences. This move echoes Alan Newell’s call that the language and concepts of computer science serve as a lingua franca for integrative cognitive science. Second, our central contribution is a new method for validating computational models that treats them as providing negative data on consciousness: data about what consciousness is not. This method is designed to support a quantitative science of consciousness while avoiding metaphysical commitments. We discuss how this methodology applies to current and future research and address questions that others have raised.
Original languageEnglish
Article numberniab010
Number of pages10
JournalNeuroscience of Consciousness
Issue number1
Early online date16 Jun 2021
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 16 Jun 2021


  • computationalism
  • consciousness
  • evidence
  • functionalism
  • methodology
  • modeling


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