“Six decades ago our psychoanalytically oriented predecessors wrestled with the problem of formulating a credible account of the unconscious. Paradoxically, perhaps, having gathered such convincing evidence in recent years to support the existence of extensive and elaborate nonconscious information processing, contemporary psychologists now are faced with precisely the reverse problem. A major challenge confronting modern psychology is the need to develop an adequate account of the nature and function of consciousness”
Williams et al (1997 [Cognitive psychology and emotional disorders, 2nd ed.], p. 260), via an article by Mick Power (2000) in the Psycholologst
For us, however, a key difference is that only conscious reasoning can make use of working memory to hold intermediate conclusions, and accordingly reason in a recursive way (Johnson-Laird, 2006, p. 69): primitive recursion, by definition, calls for a memory of the results of intermediate computations (Hopcroft & Ulmann, 1979). [… example task omitted …] The non-recursive processes of intuition cannot make this inference, but when we deliberate about it consciously, we grasp its validity (Cherubini & Johnson-Laird, 2004). Conscious reasoning therefore has a greater computational power than unconscious reasoning, and so it can on occasion overrule our intuitions.
There’s no evidence that whatever bits of memory intuition uses cannot do recursion. Hunting through semantic memory structures can be viewed as a recursive process and the process is not (at least always) accessible to consciousness. Aside from this, you can impose recursion on just about any process you care to analyse, and you can often remove recursion from a process description depending on what primitives are available. Questioning whether a process “is” or “isn’t” recursive isn’t a healthy activity. Also the jump from “recursive” to “primitive recursive”, as if they were one and the same, is deeply confusing. See the Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy for details of other flavours of recursion.
Bucciarelli, M.; Khemlani, S. & Johnson-Laird, P. N. (2008). The psychology of moral reasoning. Judgment and Decision Making, 3, 121-139
“Disagreements only happen when you enter the conscious world, when you try to consider things.”
“Sometimes you have to accept that you’re a product of your environment and no matter what input you want to put into that environment, that’s just your personal taste, the culmination of all your influences, being creatively voiced one way or another, like a painter might do.”
“Some people are so tied up with the whole issue of understanding — they think you need to understand something in order to like it.”
“You don’t realise where routine and schedule become habits, and then become rules. […] It’s good sometimes to remove a lot of the conscious process.”
—Sean Booth, of Autechre, an interview, Wire (2008, March)
“Consciousness is a fascinating but elusive phenomenon; it is impossible to specify what it is, what it does, or why it evolved. Nothing worth reading has been written about it.”
—Stuart Sutherland in the International Dictionary of Psychology (1989)
(Hat tip: Tom.)