Max Velmans

British psychologist

Max Velmans (born 27 May 1942) is a British psychologist and Emeritus Professor of Psychology at Goldsmiths, University of London. He co-founded the Consciousness and Experiential Psychology Section of the British Psychological Society in 1994, and served as its chair from 2003 to 2006.


  • Viewing the brain from the outside, Libet has shown that the experienced intention to perform an act is preceded by cerebral initiation. Why should the experienced decision to veto that intention, or to actively or passively promote its completion, be any different?
  • Thus, to understand what consciousness is, we need to understand what causes it, what its function(s) may be, how it relates to nonconscious processing in the brain and so on.
    • Max Velmans (Ed.) (1996). The Science of Consciousness: Psychological, Neuropsychological and Clinical Reviews. Routledge. p. 3
  • Anything that we are aware of at a given moment forms part of our consciousness, making conscious experience at once the most familiar and most mysterious aspect of our lives.
    • Susan Schneider and Max Velmans (2008). "Introduction". In: Max Velmans, Susan Schneider. The Blackwell Companion to Consciousness. Wiley.
  • This sketch of how consciousness fits into the wider universe supports a form of non-reductive, Reflexive Monism. Human minds, bodies and brains are embedded in a far greater universe. Individual conscious representations are perspectival. That is, the precise manner in which entities, events and processes are translated into experiences depends on the location in space and time of a given observer, and the exact mix of perceptual, cognitive, affective, social, cultural and historical influences which enter into the 'construction' of a given experience. In this sense, each conscious construction is private, subjective, and unique. Taken together, the contents of consciousness provide a view of the wider universe, giving it the appearance of a 3D phenomenal world. ... However, such conscious representations are not the thing-itself. In this vision, there is one universe (the thing-itself), with relatively differentiated parts in the form of conscious beings like ourselves, each with a unique, conscious view of the larger universe of which it is a part. In so far as we are parts of the universe that, in turn, experience the larger universe, we participate in a reflexive process whereby the universe experiences itself.
    • Max Velmans (2009) Understanding Consciousness, Edition 2. Routledge/Psychology Press, p. 298

Is human information processing conscious?, 1991Edit

Max Velmans, "Is human information processing conscious?." Behavioural and Brain Sciences 14.4 (1991): 651-726.

  • p. 651Abstract. Investigations of the function of consciousness in human information processing have focused mainly on two questions: (1) where does consciousness enter into the information processing sequence and (2) how does conscious processing differ from preconscious and unconscious processing. Input analysis is thought to be initially "preconscious," "pre-attentive," fast, involuntary, and automatic. This is followed by "conscious," "focal-attentive" analysis which is relatively slow, voluntary, and flexible. It is thought that simple, familiar stimuli can be identified preconsciously, but conscious processing is needed to identify complex, novel stimuli. Conscious processing has also been thought to be necessary for choice, learning and memory, and the organization of complex, novel responses, particularly those requiring planning, reflection, or creativity. The present target article reviews evidence that consciousness performs none of these functions. Consciousness nearly always results from focal-attentive processing (as a form of output) but does not itself  enter into this or any other form of human information processing. This suggests that the term "conscious process" needs re-examination. Consciousness appears to be necessary in a variety of tasks because they require focal-attentive processing; if consciousness is absent, focal-attentive processing is absent. Viewed from a first-person perspective, however, conscious states are causally effective. First-person accounts are complementary to third-person accounts. Although they can be translated into third-person accounts, they cannot be reduced to them.
  • Consider how one silently reads the following sentence: ‘The forest ranger did not permit us to enter the reserve without a permit’. Note that on its first occurrence, the word ‘permit’ was (silently) pro-nounced with the stress on the second syllable (permit), hereas on its second occurrence the stress was on the first syllable (permit)... The syntactic and semantic analysis required to determine the appropriate meaning of the word ‘permit’ must have taken place prior to the allocation of the stress pattern; and this in turn, must have taken place prior to the phonemic image entering awareness.
    • p. 657; Cited in: Giorgio Marchetti, "A presentation of attentional semantics." Cognitive processing 7.3 (2006): 163-194.
  • In principle, it might be possible to obtain evidence of focal-attentive processing in the absence of awareness of what is being processed... in practice, however, a complete dissociation of consciousness from focal-attentive processing is difficult to achieve.”
  • We have ranged over all the main phases of human information processing - from information encoding, storage, retrieval, and transformation to output. We have considered the role of consciousness in the analysis and selection of stimuli, in learning and memory, and in the production of voluntary responses, including those requiring planning and creativity.
In one sense, each of these tasks may be "conscious" (if it is at the focus of attention). We may be conscious of the stimuli that we analyze and select for more detailed attention, conscious of what we learn and commit to memory, and conscious of the responses we make to such stimuli. When the required responses are complex or novel we may be aware of devoting effort to planning and monitoring their execution. In reflective thought or problem solving we may have some awareness of internal processing in the form of thoughts, emotions, images, and so forth. Whether consciousness is necessary for such processing, however, is a different matter.
  • Partly cited in: W.S. Robinson (2006). "Epiphenomenalism." Encyclopedia of Cognitive Science.

Quotes about Max VelmansEdit

  • Velmans (1991) summarized evidence for the existence of implicit (preconscious) analysis of input stimuli, implicit processing of semantic content.
    • Ron Sun (2001).Duality of the Mind: A Bottom-up Approach Toward Cognition

External linksEdit

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