Passive Frame Theory

ScienceDaily has an item (here) on a paper by Morsella and others on the Passive Frame Theory of consciousness. This theory is one of my favorites!!

The passive frame presents information but does not create or act on that information. This consciousness is like an interpreter Morsella says, “the information we perceive in our consciousness is not created by conscious processes, nor is it reacted to by conscious processes. Consciousness is the middle-man, and it doesn’t do as much work as you think.” It is intuitive to think that consciousness is in control of the things it reports (actions, thoughts, feelings, perceptions). But really consciousness simply passively presents these things.

Morsella also says that consciousness is not a connected stream. “One thought doesn’t know about the other, they just often have access to and are acting upon the same unconscious information. You have one thought and then another, and you think that one thought leads to the next, but this doesn’t seem to be the way the process actually works.

This theory also puts action at a more central place in the function of consciousness than perception.

I do not have access to the original paper (Morsella, Godwin, Jantz, Krieger, Gazzaley; Homing in on Consciousness in the Nervous System: An Action-Based Synthesis; Behavioral and Brain Sciences 2015). But here is the abstract:

What is the primary function of consciousness in the nervous system? The answer to this question remains enigmatic, not so much because of a lack of relevant data, but because of the lack of a conceptual framework with which to interpret the data. To this end, we developed Passive Frame Theory, a internally-coherent framework that, from an action-based perspective, synthesizes empirically supported hypotheses from diverse fields of investigation. The theory proposes that the primary function of consciousness is well-circumscribed, serving the somatic nervous system. Inside this system, consciousness serves as a frame that constrains and directs skeletal muscle output, thereby yielding adaptive behavior. The mechanism by which consciousness achieves this is more counterintuitive, passive, and ‘low level’ than the kinds of functions that theorists have previously attributed to consciousness. Passive Frame Theory begins to illuminate (a) what consciousness contributes to nervous function, (b) how consciousness achieves this function, and (c) the neuroanatomical substrates of conscious processes. Our untraditional, action-based perspective focuses on olfaction instead of on vision and is descriptive (describing the products of nature as they evolved to be) rather than normative (construing processes in terms of how they should function). Passive Frame Theory begins to isolate the neuroanatomical, cognitive-mechanistic, and representational (e.g., conscious contents) processes associated with consciousness.


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