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 have developed Passive Frame Theory, an 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[. For 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. (shrink)
The contents of our conscious mind can seem unpredictable, whimsical, and free from external control. When instructed to attend to a stimulus in a work setting, for example, one might find oneself thinking about household chores. Conscious content thus appears different in nature from reflex action. Under the appropriate conditions, reflexes occur predictably, reliably, and via external control. Despite these intuitions, theorists have proposed that, under certain conditions, conscious content resembles reflexes and arises reliably via external control. We introduce the (...) Reflexive Imagery Task, a paradigm in which, as a function of external control, conscious content is triggered reliably and unintentionally: When instructed to not subvocalize the name of a stimulus object, participants reliably failed to suppress the set-related imagery. This stimulus-elicited content is considered ‘high-level’ content and, in terms of stages of processing, occurs late in the processing stream. We discuss the implications of this paradigm for consciousness research. (shrink)
Can one be fooled into believing that one intended an action that one in fact did not intend? Past experimental paradigms have demonstrated that participants, when provided with false perceptual feedback about their actions, can be fooled into misperceiving the nature of their intended motor act. However, because veridical proprioceptive/perceptual feedback limits the extent to which participants can be fooled, few studies have been able to answer our question and induce the illusion to intend. In a novel paradigm addressing this (...) question, participants were instructed to move a line on the computer screen by use of a phony brain–computer interface. Line movements were actually controlled by computer program. Demonstrating the illusion to intend, participants reported more intentions to move the line when it moved frequently than when it moved infrequently. Consistent with ideomotor theory, the finding illuminates the intimate liaisons among ideomotor processing, the sense of agency, and action production. (shrink)
If embodied models no longer address the symbol grounding problem and a conceptual system can step in and resolve categorizations when embodied simulations fail, then perhaps the next step in theory-building is to isolate the unique contributions of embodied simulation. What is a disembodied conceptual system incapable of doing with respect to semantic processing or the categorization of smiles?
Passive frame theory attempts to illuminate what consciousness is, in mechanistic and functional terms; it does not address the “implementation” level of analysis (how neurons instantiate conscious states), an enigma for various disciplines. However, in response to the commentaries, we discuss how our framework provides clues regarding this enigma. In the framework, consciousness is passive albeit essential. Without consciousness, there would not be adaptive skeletomotor action.
Although it is well accepted that working memory is intimately related to consciousness, little research has illuminated the liaison between the two phenomena. To investigate this under-explored nexus, we used an imagery monitoring task to investigate the subjective aspects of WM performance. Specifically, in two experiments, we examined the effects on consciousness of holding in mind information having a low versus high memory load, and holding memoranda in mind during the presentation of distractors . Higher rates of rehearsal occurred in (...) the high load and distractor conditions than in comparable control conditions. Examination of the temporal properties of the rehearsal-based imagery revealed that, across subjects, imagery events occurred evenly throughout the delay. We hope that future variants of this new imagery monitoring task will reveal additional insights about WM, consciousness, and action control. (shrink)
The basic nuts and bolts underlying human behavior remain mysterious from a scientific point of view. Everyday acts -- naming an object, suppressing the urge to say something, or grabbing a waiter's attention with a "cappuccino, please" -- remain difficult to understand from a mechanistic standpoint. Despite these challenges, research has begun to illuminate, not only the basic processes underlying human action production, but the role of conscious processing in the control of behavior. This Research Topic, "Consciousness and the Control (...) of Action," is devoted to surveying and synthesizing these developments from disparate fields of study. (shrink)
Perhaps the time has come to re-examine the basic notions of cognitive science. Together with previous challenges against associationism, the target article should be viewed as a call to arms to re-evaluate the empirical basis for contemporary conceptualizations of human learning and the notion of a concept that has become too imprecise for describing the elements of cognition.
To further illuminate the nature of conscious states, it may be progressive to integrate Merker's important contribution with what is known regarding (a) the temporal relation between conscious states and activation of the mesodiencephalic system; (b) the nature of the information (e.g., perceptual vs. premotor) involved in conscious integration; and (c) the neural correlates of olfactory consciousness. (Published Online May 1 2007).
In 1959, Neal Miller made the bold claim that the Stimulus–Response, Behaviorist models of that era were describing the way in which stimuli lead to the entry of contents into consciousness. Today, researchers have begun to investigate the link between external stimuli and involuntary entry, using paradigms such as the reflexive imagery task, the focus of our review. The RIT has revealed that stimuli can elicit insuppressible entry of high-level cognitions. Knowledge of the boundary conditions of the RIT effect illuminates (...) the limitations of involuntary processes and the role of consciousness in the regulation of behavior. We review the boundary conditions of this paradigm as well as its systematic effects. Systematic effects are unlikely to be due to experimental demand. While reviewing each effect, we consider its theoretical implications. In addition, throughout our review, we discuss future directions for the study of insuppressible entry using the RIT. Last, we discuss a theoretical development that stems from the RIT and illuminates how involuntary entry and encapsulation, though at times disadvantageous for the actor, are essential for adaptive action selection during the course of ontogeny. (shrink)
The groundbreaking, viewpoint theory of Merker et al. explains several properties of the conscious field, including why the observer cannot directly apprehend itself. We propose that viewpoint theory might also provide a progressive, constitutive marker of consciousness and shed light on why most of the contents of consciousness are encapsulated.