Consciousness has less control than believed, according to new theory
Consciousness, the internal dialogue that seems to govern one's thoughts and actions, is far less powerful than people believe, serving as a passive conduit rather than an active force that exerts control, according to a new theory proposed by an SF State researcher.
Associate Professor of Psychology Ezequiel Morsella's "Passive Frame Theory" suggests that the conscious mind is like an interpreter helping speakers of different languages communicate.
"The interpreter presents the information but is not the one making any arguments or acting upon the knowledge that is shared," Morsella said. "Similarly, 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."
Morsella and his coauthors' groundbreaking theory, published online on June 22 by the journal Behavioral and Brain Sciences, contradicts intuitive beliefs about human consciousness and the notion of self.
Consciousness, per Morsella's theory, is more reflexive and less purposeful than conventional wisdom would dictate. Because the human mind experiences its own consciousness as sifting through urges, thoughts, feelings and physical actions, people understand their consciousness to be in control of these myriad impulses.
But in reality, Morsella argues, consciousness does the same simple task over and over, giving the impression that it is doing more than it actually is.
"We have long thought consciousness solved problems and had many moving parts, but it's much more basic and static," Morsella said. "This theory is very counterintuitive. It goes against our everyday way of thinking."
According to Morsella's framework, the "free will" that people typically attribute to their conscious mind, the idea that our consciousness, as a "decider," guides us to a course of action, does not exist. Instead, consciousness only relays information to control "voluntary" action, or goal-oriented movement involving the skeletal muscle system.