Consciousness and inference to the best explanation: Compiling empirical evidence supporting the access-phenomenal distinction and the overflow hypothesis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


A tacit assumption in the field of consciousness studies is that the more empirical evidence a theory can explain, the better it fares when weighed against competitors. If one wants to take seriously the potential for empirical evidence to move forward debates in consciousness studies, there is a need to gather, organize, validate, and compare evidence. We present an inference to the best explanation (IBE) process on the basis of empirical support that is applicable in debates between competing theories of consciousness. Our proposed IBE process consists in four steps: Assimilate, Compile, Validate, and Compare. Until now, the vast majority of the work in the field has consisted in gathering empirical evidence for theories i.e., the assimilation step. To illustrate the feasibility of our proposed IBE process, and what it may look like when applied in practice, we deliver a complete collection (the compilation step) of empirical support for the distinction between A-Consciousness and P-Consciousness and the overflow hypothesis. Finally, we offer an example of the validation step, by scrutinizing the interpretation of aphantasics’ performance on retro-cue paradigms offered in the literature in support of the overflow hypothesis. The compilation we deliver here is the first effort in the IBE process, the end result of which — hopefully — will be the ability of the research community to carry out side-by-side comparisons of theories and the empirical phenomena they claim to explain, i.e., the comparison step.


External organisations
  • Aarhus University
Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Philosophy


  • Theories of consciousness, Empirical evidence, Inference to the best explanation, IBE, Overflow, Access consciousness, Phenomenal consciousness
Original languageEnglish
Article number103173
JournalConsciousness and Cognition
Publication statusPublished - 2021 Sep
Publication categoryResearch

Related projects

Asger Kirkeby-Hinrup

Swedish Research Council


Project: Research

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