Morsella 1


I keep an eye on the Less Wrong site because it often prods me into different ways of looking at things. Recently I ran across a reference there to a P. Watts post on paper by E. Morsella, ‘The Function of Phenomenal States: Supramodular Interaction Theory’. (here)

Morsella gives an interesting list of consciousness theories.

… contemporary findings in fields as diverse as cognitive psychology, social psychology, and neuropsychology have demonstrated that, contrary to what our subjective experience leads us to believe, many of our complex behaviors and mental processes can occur without the guidance of phenomenal processing. That is, they can occur automatically, determined by causes far removed from our awareness. … It seems that the processes that once served as the sin qua non of choice and free will – goal pursuit, judgment, and social behavior – can occur without conscious processes, raising again the thorny question, What is consciousness for?…

Regarding the function of these states, many hypotheses and conjectures have been offered. For example, Block (1995) claimed that consciousness serves a rational and non-reflexive role, guiding action in a non-guessing manner; and Baars (1988,2002)has pioneered the ambitious conscious access model, in which phenomenal states integrate distributed neural processes. Others have stated that phenomenal states play a role in voluntary behavior (Shepherd 1994), language (Banks 1995, Carlson 1994, Macphail 1998), theory of mind (Stuss & Anderson 2004), the formation of self (Greenwald & Pratkanis 1984), cognitive homeostasis ( Damasio 1999), the assessment and monitoring of mental functions (Reisberg 2001), semantic processing (Kouider & Dupoux 2004), the meaningful interpretation of situations (Roser & Gazzaniga 2004), and simulations of behaviour and perception (Hesslow 2002).

A recurring idea in recent theories is that phenomenal states somehow integrate neural activities and information-processing structures that would otherwise be independent…This notion, here referred to as the integration consensus, has now resurfaced in diverse areas of research… Many of these theories speak of a central information exchange, where dominant information is distributed globally…regarding the integration consensus, a critical issue remaining pertains to which kinds of dissemination require phenomenal states and which kinds do not.

Morsella’s theory is an elaboration of integration theories. Why and under what circumstances is integration required?

…the difference between the two kinds of processes (conscious and unconscious) cannot simply be one of controllability, for reflexes are controlled, sometimes in highly sophisticated and dynamic ways. In addition, the difference cannot simply be one of complexity because reflexive processes can be highly complex but unconscious…Faced with these difficulties, perhaps it is then fair to conclude that conscious processes, unlike reflexes, are consciously controlled, but this obviously provides nothing more than a circular explanation for why the two kinds of processes are different.

… I propose that the difference between conscious and unconscious processes lies in the kinds of information that have to be taken into account in order to produce adaptive behavior. Whenever the most adaptive response entails considering certain different kinds of information, phenomenal states are called into play….I review the task demands of some representative conscious and unconscious conflicts…

More on his theory next post.

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