Attention and Mental Primer


  • For helpful comments on earlier drafts, we are grateful to Ned Block, Marisa Carrasco, Wayne Wu and two anonymous referees. Thanks also to the participants of the Attention and Conscious Perception Workshop at York University in May 2015, where material from this paper was presented.


Drawing on the empirical premise that attention makes objects look more intense (bigger, faster, higher in contrast), Ned Block has argued for mental paint, a phenomenal residue that cannot be reduced to what is perceived or represented. If sound, Block's argument would undermine direct realism and representationism, two widely held views about the nature of conscious perception. We argue that Block's argument fails because the empirical premise it is based upon is false. Attending to an object alters its salience, but not its perceived intensity. We also argue that salience should be equated with mental primer, a close cousin of mental paint that reintroduces difficulties for direct realism and representationism. The upshot is that direct realism and representationism are still in trouble, but not for the reason that Block thinks.