Consciousness has less control than believed, according to new theory

June 23, 2015
Credit: George Hodan/public domain

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 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.

Compare consciousness to the Internet, Morsella suggested. The Internet can be used to buy books, reserve a hotel room and complete thousands of other tasks. Taken at face value, it would seem incredibly powerful. But, in actuality, a person in front of a laptop or clicking away on a smartphone is running the show—the Internet is just being made to perform the same basic process, without any free will of its own.

The Passive Frame Theory also defies the intuitive belief that one conscious thought leads to another. "One thought doesn't know about the other, they just often have access to and are acting upon the same, unconscious information," Morsella said. "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."

The theory, which took Morsella and his team more than 10 years to develop, can be difficult to accept at first, he said.

"The number one reason it's taken so long to reach this conclusion is because people confuse what consciousness is for with what they think they use it for," Morsella said. "Also, most approaches to consciousness focus on perception rather than action."

The theory has major implications for the study of mental disorders, Morsella said. "Why do you have an urge or thought that you shouldn't be having? Because, in a sense, the consciousness system doesn't know that you shouldn't be thinking about something," Morsella said. "An urge generator doesn't know that an urge is irrelevant to other thoughts or ongoing action."

The study of is complicated, Morsella added, because of the inherent difficulty of applying the conscious mind to study itself.

"For the vast majority of human history, we were hunting and gathering and had more pressing concerns that required rapidly executed voluntary actions," Morsella said. "Consciousness seems to have evolved for these types of actions rather than to understand itself."

Explore further: Study finds our thoughts are susceptible to external influence even against our will

More information: "Homing in on consciousness in the nervous system: an action-based synthesis" Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 2015.

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OdinsAcolyte
5 / 5 (1) Jun 23, 2015
We have thoughts but we are not our thoughts.
I knew that.
OdinsAcolyte
not rated yet Jun 23, 2015
We have thoughts but we are not our thoughts.
I knew that.
dogbert
1.7 / 5 (6) Jun 23, 2015
It took Ezequiel Morsella and his team more than ten years to develop another theory that free will does not exist. A colossal waste of time which he published to waste others' time.
I Have Questions
4 / 5 (4) Jun 23, 2015
It took Ezequiel Morsella and his team more than ten years to develop another theory that free will does not exist. A colossal waste of time which he published to waste others' time.


A colossal waste of time? Why, you religious or something?
SkyPanther
5 / 5 (1) Jun 23, 2015
I actually see it more as an argument for compatibilism. (Soft determinism). Free Will exists, but only in the context of the information you have to act upon it.
SciTechdude
not rated yet Jun 23, 2015
I see this as a statement that Maslov was on to something regarding the pyramid of needs. The body knows what it wants, or has an idea. It pops some "random" thoughts into your conscious stream to try to prompt you. It says I crave something salty, I want some water, I need to get off, I want to stop being cold, etc, and then you act on that in the way you've been taught to satisfy or deny these needs. If you have all your basic needs met, your mind sort of wanders without purpose. If at that point you can apply yourself in a positive fashion, then you have the most active control, and the least distraction.
MrVibrating
5 / 5 (1) Jun 23, 2015
The perception of free will is the only form of its existence.

If it were anything more objective it'd constitute an acausal determinant - ie. a causality violation.

Still, life would be pretty depressing without it... :)
kochevnik
1 / 5 (1) Jun 23, 2015
Conscious does not exist. Free will does not exist. Quantum mechanics does not exist. It's just the man behind the curtain pulling strings. Asking who pulls his strings is a sin against the consensus, until further notice. Sin incidentally is a name for the moon
I Have Questions
5 / 5 (1) Jun 23, 2015
If you think about the universe in terms of how accurately we can predict where stars in the sky will be in the far future the answer is we can do it with amazing accuracy, it's just physics and mathematics. In a sense our universe is predestined to become what it will become by predictable laws of nature. Down at the human scale we may have some small degree of free will but it is a very small amount if any. I often think about how lucky I am to have been born in the USA instead of someplace like North Korea or the Middle East or even in the ghetto, but I had absolutely no control over that. You are not who you think you are because you are a hard working, god fearing, strong willed, wonderful intelligent human being, you are who you are because you are damn lucky you weren't born in North Korea.
dogbert
1 / 5 (2) Jun 23, 2015
I Have Questions,
Down at the human scale we may have some small degree of free will but it is a very small amount if any. I often think about how lucky I am to have been born in the USA instead of someplace like North Korea or the Middle East or even in the ghetto, but I had absolutely no control over that. You are not who you think you are because you are a hard working, god fearing, strong willed, wonderful intelligent human being, you are who you are because you are damn lucky you weren't born in North Korea.


You made two choices (so far) to comment in this thread. No one compelled you to do that and no one dictated your comments except you. Free will is evident in everything you do.

The notion that we do not have free will is demonstrably insane.
Steve 200mph Cruiz
5 / 5 (2) Jun 23, 2015
Dogbert,
I disagree, is it really such a strange thing that he is doing? Seems like thinking deeply about something is a perfectly natural psychological phenomenon. As a human, he was born to think that.
Why does someone think something?
Everyone has a personality, where does your personality come from?
I would argue my parents and various adults I've looked up growing up. I didn't choose my parents or the culture I live in. Does anyone actually pick their personality or is it a byproduct of up bringing and psychology?

If free will exists, humans would be fundamentally unpredictable, if we are fundamentally unpredictable, why does history repeat itself?
KBK
not rated yet Jun 23, 2015
The point of conflation and confusion, seems to be that the internal voice is somehow the consciousness. The internal voice is the voice of the collective of consciousness, but it is not the consciousness itself.

The reflection is not the thing it's self, it is merely the reflection.

This is something that esoterica has been trying to gently teach people for thousands of years.

The distinction may seem unimportant for some, but in the end, it is critical.

'I think, therefore I am', is only the beginning of self realization, it is not the end of self realization. It is the realization of the concept of the internal voice, the reflection of the collective of and as ego.

Since it exists in the past, it is not the now, it is only the record of the now. The internal voice is historical record, it is not the impetus itself.

Thus, unrealized people exist in the unknowing self, the unconscious projection of ego, they are not self aware.

Ergo: 'seek detachment'.
Aleon
1 / 5 (1) Jun 24, 2015
They overcomplicate things. The consciousness is guided by primitive as well as evolved instincts. You can learn exactly how the mind functions using a model of minimal sophistication yet fully explanatory on human behavior here: aleon.info
I Have Questions
not rated yet Jun 24, 2015
I Have Questions,
Down at the human scale we may have some small degree of free will but it is a very small amount if any. I often think about how lucky I am to have been born in the USA instead of someplace like North Korea or the Middle East or even in the ghetto, but I had absolutely no control over that. You are not who you think you are because you are a hard working, god fearing, strong willed, wonderful intelligent human being, you are who you are because you are damn lucky you weren't born in North Korea.


You made two choices (so far) to comment in this thread. No one compelled you to do that and no one dictated your comments except you. Free will is evident in everything you do.

The notion that we do not have free will is demonstrably insane.


Demonstrably insane? OK, demonstrate it.
I Have Questions
not rated yet Jun 24, 2015
This is pretty interesting and easy to understand dogbert since you are interested in the topic I thought you might like it.

https://www.youtu...fmZlC72g
a_boeglin67
5 / 5 (1) Jun 24, 2015
The notion that we do not have free will is demonstrably insane.


As far as we know, everything in the universe results from physical and chemical interactions. That is what biology is, it is a whole lot of chemical reactions happening all the time, as well as physical say for movements, blood pressure and such.

If you let a pen fall, considering you have every information of the system ( pressure, air composition, heat, pen's mass, and so on ), you can exactly determine where the pen will be at rest, in what position, and you can predict the position/orientation/velocity of the pen at any time t.

I believe in the same way you can predict what you will say in 30 seconds, from the initial state, that we know of as "big bang" for now. From this on, everything that has happened ever after is the result of predictable physical and chemical reactions.

I don't say we can calculate it because the amount of data is too big. But it is "predictable" and has been rolled.
Squirrel
not rated yet Jun 24, 2015
Prof Ezequiel Morsella has put a prepint online http://online.sfs...sBBS.pdf Unfortunately the full corrected version with commentaries is behind a paywall at CUP.
MrVibrating
5 / 5 (1) Jun 24, 2015
@a_boeglin67

Yes, you're a "determinist", and this is determinism, which i also subscribe to. If something's indeterminable, it's due to an unavailability of information, or else an ability to process it.

This is simply the inevitable conclusion of causality; a view which holds that anything truly indeterminant must be a causality violation - an uncaused effect, or "acausal determinant", which by definition is a contradiction in terms.

You're right that our micro-scale physical and chemical processes control our minds and we cannot control them. We cannot "will" how or when an electron tunnels across a junction, for example, which may then determine whether we "choose" a cup of tea or coffee.

Unfortunately things get rocky however when we look for the causes of why that electron's wavefunction collapsed as it did - there must be non-local hidden variables, but most folks don't believe in them and their existence remains elusive..
Eikka
5 / 5 (1) Jun 24, 2015
I believe in the same way you can predict what you will say in 30 seconds, from the initial state, that we know of as "big bang" for now. From this on, everything that has happened ever after is the result of predictable physical and chemical reactions.


Except we can't, because it's impossible to know the position and speed of every particle at any one point instant, as per the uncertainty principle.

There's a certain fundamental "fuzziness" to reality, because knowing something to infinite precision would also mean having infinite information about it, which would need infinite energy density because the object you're trying to measure needs to have a physical representation of that information.

So no object can be -exactly- somewhere at -exactly- some time.
MrVibrating
not rated yet Jun 24, 2015
You made two choices (so far) to comment in this thread. No one compelled you to do that and no one dictated your comments except you. Free will is evident in everything you do.

The notion that we do not have free will is demonstrably insane.


You were compelled to make this response, and then rationalised it as a spontaneous choice.

In reality however we enjoy the perception of constituting "first causes" and you were simply urged to defend this privileged belief.

But a true first cause would be divine inspiration. It would literally grant us the power of gods. If the universe ever had a first cause, everything in it, including our "decisions", remain subservient to its effects.

There is incontrovertible evidence that effects have causes, whereas any notion of uncaused effects is intrinsically impossible to test!

Consciousness cannot be a first cause. The sensation's nice enough, but that's all it is.

"Free will" is an inherently unfalsifiable hypothesis.
MrVibrating
5 / 5 (1) Jun 24, 2015
I believe in the same way you can predict what you will say in 30 seconds, from the initial state, that we know of as "big bang" for now. From this on, everything that has happened ever after is the result of predictable physical and chemical reactions.


Except we can't, because it's impossible to know the position and speed of every particle at any one point instant, as per the uncertainty principle.

There's a certain fundamental "fuzziness" to reality, because knowing something to infinite precision would also mean having infinite information about it, which would need infinite energy density because the object you're trying to measure needs to have a physical representation of that information.

So no object can be -exactly- somewhere at -exactly- some time.


Yes but unavailablity of information doesn't mean it's not there, so this doesn't really challenge strict causality. Indeterminability is not indeterminism.
a_boeglin67
not rated yet Jun 24, 2015

Except we can't, because it's impossible to know the position and speed of every particle at any one point instant, as per the uncertainty principle.

There's a certain fundamental "fuzziness" to reality, because knowing something to infinite precision would also mean having infinite information about it, which would need infinite energy density because the object you're trying to measure needs to have a physical representation of that information.

So no object can be -exactly- somewhere at -exactly- some time.


It needs not to be predicted by humans, I just say the system is predictable, not that we are able to predict it. I just say the state of the universe at time t is the result of the initial state. That's the nuance I always have a hard time to make people understand. I'm not speaking about gathering the metrics of every sub particle in the universe, which obviously we can't.
Eikka
not rated yet Jun 24, 2015
Yes but unavailablity of information doesn't mean it's not there, so this doesn't really challenge strict causality. Indeterminability is not indeterminism.


It needs not to be predicted by humans, I just say the system is predictable


And I say the system isn't predictable, even on a fundamental point, because the nature of reality is fundamentally imprecise. Otherwise you run into infinite regresses and other absurdities like infinite energy in trying to have this absolutely precise universe.

This has implications for causal chains, because as the chain gets longer and longer, it runs out of information to act on and falls into simple patterns - unless there's a constant generation of new causes - a sort of causal noise - that keeps the show rolling.
dogbert
1 / 5 (1) Jun 24, 2015
I Have Questions,
Down at the human scale we may have some small degree of free will but it is a very small amount if any. I often think about how lucky I am to have been born in the USA instead of someplace like North Korea or the Middle East or even in the ghetto, but I had absolutely no control over that. You are not who you think you are because you are a hard working, god fearing, strong willed, wonderful intelligent human being, you are who you are because you are damn lucky you weren't born in North Korea.


You made two choices (so far) to comment in this thread. No one compelled you to do that and no one dictated your comments except you. Free will is evident in everything you do.

The notion that we do not have free will is demonstrably insane.


Demonstrably insane? OK, demonstrate it.


I just did by pointing out your own free will choices.
KBK
not rated yet Jun 24, 2015
Labeling the outside universe exclusively, is the hallmark of the unaware and inept mind. For the larger part, this is all that is seen in this comments area.

A sign of the literal mind, one that is quite far off balance. One cannot understand the outer world if the inner world is not aware of what it is and how it operates. It cannot know the outer world if it is not of a self knowing and corrected nature.

The viewer, the interpreter, the internal self.... must be equal to the outer task at hand ---and the objective scientific mind clearly illustrates that it is not.

That it is wholly incapable of the task it purports to give itself.That this high level of Internal illiteracy illustrates that the scientific objective mind does not even understand the shaping of the question, as it does not even remotely know itself.

It babbles, it is an illiterate child.
Manitou
not rated yet Jun 24, 2015
The article does not explain what is new about the theory. This is am active area of research: https://en.wikipe...ree_will
gkam
1 / 5 (3) Jun 24, 2015
It was not "free will" which caused our scared conservatives to send our sons and daughters to become the killers of Iraqi civilians. It was emotion, which drives us whether we know it or not.

They were played like a cheap kazoo.
TheGhostofOtto1923
1 / 5 (2) Jun 24, 2015
There's a certain fundamental "fuzziness" to reality, because knowing something to infinite precision would also mean having infinite information about it, which would need infinite energy density because the object you're trying to measure needs to have a physical representation of that information
I don't think quantum reality has much to do with the macroscopic material world we operate in. Up here causality reigns. It is the basis of our interaction with the world.

As to consciousness, the word implies something metaphysical. That's why it was invented. And as our brains are entirely physical, as is everything else that exists, then consciousness is an illusion. See Dan dennett.
gkam
1 / 5 (3) Jun 24, 2015
Look up "mind organs", and get an appreciation of what the ductless glands do to control us and give us the false feeling of "free will".
I Have Questions
not rated yet Jun 24, 2015
I Have Questions,
Down at the human scale we may have some small degree of free will but it is a very small amount if any. I often think about how lucky I am to have been born in the USA instead of someplace like North Korea or the Middle East or even in the ghetto, but I had absolutely no control over that. You are not who you think you are because you are a hard working, god fearing, strong willed, wonderful intelligent human being, you are who you are because you are damn lucky you weren't born in North Korea.


You made two choices (so far) to comment in this thread. No one compelled you to do that and no one dictated your comments except you. Free will is evident in everything you do.

The notion that we do not have free will is demonstrably insane.


Demonstrably insane? OK, demonstrate it.


I just did by pointing out your own free will choices.


That does not prove anything. Did you enjoy the movie?
dogbert
1 / 5 (1) Jun 24, 2015
I understand the futility of convincing someone of their ability to freely make decisions when that person denies that their decisions were made freely when it is obvious that no one and no agency compelled those decisions.

If you want to argue that you did not make those decisions or that you were not free to make them, then the burden of proof is on you to show how you are constrained and what agency is constraining you.
rufusgwarren
not rated yet Jun 24, 2015
So what you are saying is something you are not conscious of~
rufusgwarren
not rated yet Jun 24, 2015
Our senses, breath, heart rate, reflection. information transference are refined responses from our lizard brain and allows us to rise above repetition, i.e. human consciousness. First define concise, simple control theory would require a minimum of a feedback loop. Information is translated and action is initiated ~ is the the conscience, defined response to self by self.
rufusgwarren
not rated yet Jun 24, 2015
There might be a slight delay before you get it! Typically you are conscience of an event in about 15 ms, sense you are unaware of your "conscience" it might take a little longer.
rufusgwarren
not rated yet Jun 24, 2015
Did I say concise? I meant precision, we can build this loop to be whomever we please, given proper data. Most of it is simple human nature, i.e. what is true? So do a simple cluster, or focus on a single individual for a while, factor this against the population, built-in self programming self adjusting ...

I like a fuzzy controller as a fuzzy neural net, i.e. each node has a set of attributes, how deep must we go, details ... No, most of us are not conscious, look how we take care of our world?
TheGhostofOtto1923
1 / 5 (4) Jun 26, 2015
Look up "mind organs", and get an appreciation of what the ductless glands do to control us and give us the false feeling of "free will".
There is no such term. You made it up as usual.

Look up 'mouth organ' and see what you ought to be doing with your spare time on a dock somewhere.
moimeme
not rated yet Jun 26, 2015
did they ever think that consciousness means moral sense and moral intuition and NOT formal thought? what they say it's just old Hume wearing a different hat - that thoughts are not causally connected. this is outrageous and it just promotes Psychology who is in danger because of Freud's failure in explaining everythign by 'Unconscience'. So we should cancel entire history of humanity and to explain ourselves how well we could function through this new theory.
TheGhostofOtto1923
1 / 5 (2) Jun 27, 2015
Moral sense and moral intuition as you call them are aspects of the tribal dynamic, that being internal altruism in conjunction with external animosity. Those tribes which which could maximize this dynamic could be expected to prevail over others in competition.

Morality is therefore wholly biological. We were selected for it. Moralists can struggle to find the source of altruism while entirely ignoring the phenomenon that moral crimes against a perceived enemy are not considered immoral.

This is why it is deemed honorable for organized crime to victimize others in support of la familia, or for gangs to butcher one another. This behavior is moral in the context of the tribal dynamic.

Religion discovered ways of extending this dynamic over larger agglomerations of people. Western society seeks to extend it over the entire human race, hence the notion of a 'universal morality'.
gkam
1 / 5 (3) Jun 27, 2015
Once again, look up the term "mind organs", and see how little of our "consciousness" is really conscious.
TheGhostofOtto1923
1 / 5 (4) Jun 27, 2015
Once again, look up the term "mind organs", and see how little of our "consciousness" is really conscious.
Oh I did retard. Why dont you actually google it and see what comes up? You should really check your garbage before posting it.

But you would just decide that everything that disagrees with you is wrong so I can understand why you wouldnt want to waste the time.

You know, like all those bosses who got fed up with your incompetence and fired you.
koitsu
not rated yet Jun 28, 2015
I didn't see any science in this article.
GaryB
not rated yet Jun 28, 2015
Who cares about such theories? I want to be able to control my goofing off better ... that led me to read this article.
Roj
not rated yet Jun 29, 2015
The article did not differentiate between "conscious", and the very different conscience (ie) intellect & rational, or individual variability in control of one's actions. It simply implies a strict definition for the literal term of conscious.

Some particle physicists borrow the term "conscious" to dispense with the necessity of parallel universes, as a solution to dealing with more than 4 dimensions in quantum theory.

Removing psychological complexity with a physiological function, or perhaps biologically derived definition of "conscious" may help inform the interdisciplinary study of particle physics; where measurements or consciousness is expected to alter events at the point where measurement or awareness occurs.

The aforementioned "lack of free will" is also a point of Calvinism, a theological tenant of predestination. Search the term "5-points of Calvinism" for further details.
ayesdi_fdesay
5 / 5 (2) Jun 29, 2015
http://www.ncbi.n...22617656

Literally the first google result, so to say that the term was "made up" by gkam is nonsense. Pretty sure you just don't like gkam (as evidenced by your interactions in other threads and your insults) and so you disingenuously suggest he is some loon making up theories on the spot while knowing most people will be too lazy to actually google the term.

Whether or not it's a sound theory isn't what I'm debating.
jalmy
not rated yet Jun 29, 2015
Wow, what a brainstorm of science this is. Forget that all martial science has been preaching this for oh I don't know a thousand years or so. Research some Asian martial science philosophy if you want some insight into how the mind really works. Their have been many philosophers who spent a great deal of time thinking about the mind, body, and spirit. And how they interact. They understood muscle memory. They understood the conscious mind was little more than a shot caller. They understood that you also need to be spiritually strong. Today we use words like focus, determination, willpower. "pressing concerns that required rapidly executed voluntary actions". This is why the path through strenuous and complicated physical activity may lead to higher stats of consciousness.
gkam
3 / 5 (2) Jun 29, 2015
"Literally the first google result, so to say that the term was "made up" by gkam is nonsense."
----------------------------------

That was probably penned by otto, who got his feelings hurt once by me, and now follows me around with nasty personal attacks. I do not see them, since he is on Ignore. I got my VA advisors interested in his maladjustment at first, until they saw the silly adolescent nonsense and said he was just a kid at home.
gkam
3 / 5 (2) Jun 29, 2015
The point of "mind organs" is we are the result of secretions by ductless glands, and not rationality. The number and quality of endorphins and other secretions are what govern us, not what we want to think.

If we are to develop AI, it will not be like us, for we so far cannot duplicate the qualities of those secretions in non-living matter.

If you think we are governed by rationality, just remember "WMD!", and how the folks were fooled, taken, suckered.
Tangent2
not rated yet Jun 29, 2015
I believe that a lot of confusion on this article stems from the assumption that consciousness = thinking/mental activity. What this article is describing is in reality just mental activity, or thoughts, and confuses this with consciousness, as so many people do. The truth about the matter is that they are not one and the same. There are plenty of people on this planet that do not think at all and yet are conscious still. If I stop thinking and just be aware, do I lose consciousness? No. Science still cannot explain the origins of consciousness, only best guesses which are as helpful as this BS theory.

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