Saturday, August 09, 2014

Frederick Travis, PhD - We Create Our Reality

Frederick Travis, PhD, is the director of the Center for Brain, Consciousness, and Cognition at the Maharishi University of Management, an institution dedicated to promoting transcendental meditation (TM [image a copyright symbol here]) in all possible venues.

This talk was given at Stanford University.

We Create Our Reality

Published on Aug 1, 2014

Frederick Travis, PhD, director of the Center for Brain, Consciousness, and Cognition, explains that the concept "We create our reality" is more than a philosophical statement. It is a physical reality driven by neural plasticity—every experience changes the brain. Therefore, choose transcendental experiences and higher states of consciousness naturally unfold.

About the Center for Brain, Consciousness, and Cognition

The Center for Brain, Consciousness, and Cognition was created in 1972 when Maharishi University of Management was founded.  The purpose of the Brain Center was to delineate brain and physiological functioning during higher stages of human development. We have focused our research on practice of the Transcendental Meditation (TM) technique, because this meditation practice readily leads to the state of Transcendental Consciousness, pure self-awareness or inner wakefulness.  With regular TM practice, meditation experiences become integrated with waking, sleeping and dreaming.  The co-existence of these states is described in the Vedic tradition as the first stabilized state of enlightenment, called Cosmic Consciousness. 

Our research has delineated:

  1. sub-stages during Transcendental Meditation practice (Travis 2001);

  2. brain patterns and subjective experiences of Transcendental Consciousness, defined as “pure self-awareness” free from the processes and contents of knowing, a proposed fourth state of consciousness (Farrow and Hebert, 1982; Travis and Wallace 1997; Travis and Pearson 2000);

  3. distinction between TM and eyes closed rest (Travis and Wallace 1999);

  4. brain patterns and subjective experiences of  the first stabilized state of enlightenment called Cosmic Consciousness during sleep (Mason, Alexander et al. 1997) and during activity (Travis, Tecce et al. 2002; Travis, Arenander et al. 2004).

This research has culminated in a Brain Integration Scale that quantifies the progressive integration of experiences during Transcendental Meditation practice with waking—becoming more in touch with ones inner resources.  Scores on the Brain Integration Scale systematically increase with TM practice in college students (Travis and Arenander 2006; Travis, Haaga et al. 2009).  Brain Integration Scale scores are also higher in professional athletes who won medals in the Olympics, World Games or National Games for three consecutive years compared to professional athletes who did not consistently place (Harung, Travis et al. in press).   Thus, higher scores on the Brain Integration Scale may reflect greater connection with ones inner resources and so be more successful in life.   

Farrow, J. T. and J. R. Hebert (1982). "Breath suspension during the Transcendental Meditation technique." Psychosom Med 44(2): 133-53.
Harung, H., F. Travis, et al. (in press). "High Levels of Brain Integration in World-class Norwegian Athletes: Towards a Brain Measure of Mental Fitness." Scandanavian Journal of Exercise and Sport.
Mason, L. I., C. N. Alexander, et al. (1997). "Electrophysiological correlates of higher states of consciousness during sleep in long-term practitioners of the Transcendental Meditation program." Sleep. 20(2): 102-10.
Travis, F. (2001). "Autonomic and EEG patterns distinguish transcending from other experiences during Transcendental Meditation practice." International Journal of Psychophysiology 42(1): 1-9.
Travis, F. and A. Arenander (2006). "Cross-sectional and longitudinal study of effects of Transcendental Meditation practice on interhemispheric frontal asymmetry and frontal coherence." International Journal of Neuroscience 116(12): 1519-38.
Travis, F., A. Arenander, et al. (2004). "Psychological and physiological characteristics of a proposed object-referral/self-referral continuum of self-awareness." Consciousness and Cognition 13(2): 401-20.
Travis, F., D. A. Haaga, et al. (2009). "Effects of Transcendental Meditation practice on brain functioning and stress reactivity in college students." International Journal of Psychophysiology 71(2): 170-6.
Travis, F. and C. Pearson (2000). "Pure consciousness: distinct phenomenological and physiological correlates of "consciousness itself"." The International Journal of Neuroscience. 100: 77-89.
Travis, F. and R. K. Wallace (1997). "Autonomic patterns during respiratory suspensions: possible markers of Transcendental Consciousness." Psychophysiology. 34(1): 39-46.
Travis, F. and R. K. Wallace (1999). "Autonomic and EEG patterns during eyes-closed rest and transcendental meditation (TM) practice: the basis for a neural model of TM practice." Consciousness and Cognition 8(3): 302-18.
Travis, F. T., J. Tecce, et al. (2002). "Patterns of EEG Coherence, Power, and Contingent Negative Variation Characterize the Integration of Transcendental and Waking States." Biological Psychology. 61: 293-319.

Cause Is Not Everything in Mental Illness - David Adam in Nature

In trying to make sense of psychological distress, research has moved away from psychological and sociological factors and is now focused almost exclusively on bio-medical factors. Yet we have no biological with which to diagnose or treat psychological distress.
Psychiatric research has yet to provide a single reliable biomarker to aid diagnosis and treatment. Self-reported symptoms and their subjective interpretations remain the basis for clinical diagnosis. Drug companies have walked away. The task of unravelling the biological pathways that drive mental illness, which are needed before drug targets can be identified, has been declared too difficult and too expensive.
This brief "editorial" is a response to the recent news that researchers have identified 108 genes associated with schizophrenia. Knowing the markers is important, but it's only partial.

The REAL question is what happens to trigger these genes (either turning them on or off). Several studies have found schizophrenia often has neglect in childhood (moreso than abuse, either emotional, physical, or sexual) as an etiological factor. How does neglect impact gene expression in the developing brain (epigenetics)? That, and others like it, is the real question.

Cause is not everything in mental illness

Welcome steps have been made in uncovering a biological basis for schizophrenia, but for many, the question of ‘why’ is unimportant, says David Adam.

30 July 2014

The past week has been big for mental illness. As reported last week in this journal, psychiatric researchers have uncovered a spread of genetic clues to schizophrenia, potentially shedding some biochemical light on how this dreadful disease develops. At the same time, a leading US centre for research on mental-health disorders announced a record US$650-million donation from philanthropist Ted Stanley to boost that work (see Nature 511, 393; 2014).

Good news all round. And more could yet follow: genetic understanding of psychiatric disorders, together with more research on the unusual ebb and flow of circuits in the brain, promise a revolution. Researchers of brain disorders compare the current state of their science to knowledge of cancer a decade or so ago, before molecular approaches could stratify patients and select specific treatments.

The latest study on schizophrenia could be a small step forward in this march. Or it could be another false start in a field that has endured more than its fair share. Psychiatric research has yet to provide a single reliable biomarker to aid diagnosis and treatment. Self-reported symptoms and their subjective interpretations remain the basis for clinical diagnosis. Drug companies have walked away. The task of unravelling the biological pathways that drive mental illness, which are needed before drug targets can be identified, has been declared too difficult and too expensive.

Of course, some perspective is needed. Psychiatric research had a long and painful birth. Just a generation or two ago, at a time when physicists had split the atom and biologists were deciphering the structure of DNA, a common treatment for schizophrenia and other mental disorders was a metal spike hammered up through the top of the eye socket and waggled around. With such a history, a lag of a mere decade or so behind cancer research can be taken as a sign of rapid progress.

Whether or not the latest study on the genetics of schizophrenia takes that progress forward, it has already contributed to the public debate around mental illness and public understanding of the issues. It has raised and highlighted the ‘C-word’: cause.

I have obsessive–compulsive disorder (OCD). That used to be a secret, but in April I published a book about the condition and my experiences of it. Despite its frequent portrayal as a behavioural quirk, OCD is a vicious and debilitating mental illness, with some similarities to the experiences of schizophrenia. Simply put, people with OCD can have some of the same dark ideas, thoughts and images as someone with schizophrenia, but the person with OCD is fully aware that they generate the thoughts themselves. (The psychosis that defines schizophrenia is characterized by a lack of such insight, and people with the condition typically attribute the intrusions to an external source.)

I now give talks about my OCD. A frequent question from the audience is one that I am still ill-prepared to answer: “What caused it?”

I don’t know, and more to the point I don’t care. For 20 years or so I have battled the symptoms. More recently, I sought and received treatment for those symptoms — a high daily dose of the antidepressant sertraline hydrochloride and several months’ worth of weekly sessions of cognitive behavioural therapy. It seemed to work, and without anyone — psychiatrists, psychologists or me — trying to identify the cause.

Perhaps the question from others is down to simple curiosity. I tell a human story and it is natural to want to know how such stories begin. Maybe there is a degree of self-interest because people do not want to follow the path that I did. It could be me who is unusual in not caring about a cause, but when I find out that people have cancer or heart disease or have had a stroke, the cause of their suffering is pretty far down my list of enquiries. In the past two or three years, I have met lots of other people with OCD and other mental disorders. Many of them, like me, do not know and do not seem to care about the who, the where, the why and the when of their illness. There is only how.

The other questions are not sinister. Instead, I think that they reflect an enduring mystery of mental illness. We do not know enough about the mind and the brain to build the backstory. (And as I said earlier, existing treatments do not require it.) Into this unknown creep the myths, the misunderstandings and the agendas. In psycho­analysis, for example, as devised by Sigmund Freud, cause is everything and, sure enough, psychoanalysts usually find a sub­conscious cause for a mental disorder that can be conveniently addressed by — oh, psychoanalysis.

The latest schizophrenia study helps to plug that causation gap. Schizophrenia has problems in the way that it is portrayed in the wider media, but the condition does escape the worst of the trivialization that plagues other forms of mental illness such as depression and OCD. No ignorant and patronizing opinion pieces have been penned in light of these latest developments to claim (as happens with depression, for instance) that the scientists are wrong and that schizophrenia is actually all about societal context and drug-company conspiracy. It is clearly an awful illness, and it — and by extension, other mental disorders — clearly has biological roots.

To expose those roots might lead to new treatments in future, or it might not. Either way, it helps.

Nature; 511,509 (31 July 2014). doi:10.1038/511509a

Related stories and links

Polyunsaturated Lipids Boost the Brain

New research, published in the August 8, 2014 issue of Science, helps explain the mechanisms through which polyunsaturated fats improve brain health and function. We have known for years that omega-3 fats, in particular, are good for the brain (better memory, lower risk of stroke, and so on), but this study provides new information into these fats improve brain function.

Lipids boost the brain, study finds

Date: August 8, 2014
Source: CNRS (Délégation Paris Michel-Ange)

Consuming oils with high polyunsaturated fatty acid content, in particular those containing omega-3s, is beneficial for the health. But the mechanisms underlying this phenomenon are poorly known. Researchers have investigated the effect of lipids bearing polyunsaturated chains when they are integrated into cell membranes. Their work shows that the presence of these lipids makes the membranes more malleable and therefore more sensitive to deformation and fission by proteins.

Membranes containing monounsaturated (left) and polyunsaturated (right) lipids after adding dynamin and endophilin. In a few seconds membranes rich in polyunsaturated lipids undergo many fissions. Credit: © Copyright : Mathieu Pinot

Consuming oils with high polyunsaturated fatty acid content, in particular those containing omega-3s, is beneficial for the health. But the mechanisms underlying this phenomenon are poorly known. Researchers at the Institut de Pharmacologie Moléculaire et Cellulaire (CNRS/Université Nice Sophia Antipolis), the Unité Compartimentation et Dynamique Cellulaires (CNRS/Institut Curie/UPMC), the INSERM and the Université de Poitiers investigated the effect of lipids bearing polyunsaturated chains when they are integrated into cell membranes. Their work shows that the presence of these lipids makes the membranes more malleable and therefore more sensitive to deformation and fission by proteins. These results, published on August 8, 2014 in Science, could help explain the extraordinary efficacy of endocytosis in neuron cells.

Consuming polyunsaturated fatty acids (such as omega-3 fatty acids) is good for the health. The effects range from neuronal differentiation to protection against cerebral ischemia. However the molecular mechanisms underlying these effects are poorly understood, prompting researchers to focus on the role of these fatty acids in cell membrane function.

For a cell to function properly, the membrane must be able to deform and divide into small vesicles. This phenomenon is called endocytosis. Generally, these vesicles allow the cells to encapsulate molecules and transport them.. In neurons, these synaptic vesicles will act as a transmission pathway to the synapse for nerve messages. They are formed inside the cell, then they move to its exterior and fuse with its membrane, to transmit the neurotransmitters that they contain. Then they reform in less than a tenth of a second: this is synaptic recycling.

In the work published in Science, the researchers show that cell- or artificial membranes rich in polyunsaturated lipids are much more sensitive to the action of two proteins, dynamin and endophilin, which facilitate membrane deformation and fission. Other measurements in the study and in simulations suggest that these lipids also make the membranes more malleable. By facilitating the deformation and scission necessary for endocytosis, the presence of polyunsaturated lipids could explain rapid synaptic vesicle recycling.. The abundance of these lipids in the brain could then represent a major advantage for cognitive function.

This work partially sheds light on the mode of action of omega-3. Considering that the body cannot synthesize them and that they can only be supplied by a suitable diet (rich in oily fish, etc.), it seems important to continue this work to understand the link between the functions performed by these lipids in the neuronal membrane and their health benefits.

Story Source:
The above story is based on materials provided by CNRS (Délégation Paris Michel-Ange). Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

Journal Reference:
M. Pinot, S. Vanni, S. Pagnotta, S. Lacas-Gervais, L.-A. Payet, T. Ferreira, R. Gautier, B. Goud, B. Antonny, H. Barelli. (2014, Aug 8). Polyunsaturated phospholipids facilitate membrane deformation and fission by endocytic proteins. Science; 345(6197): 693. DOI: 10.1126/science.1255288
* * * * *

The full article is behind a paywall, so here is the abstract.

Polyunsaturated phospholipids facilitate membrane deformation and fission by endocytic proteins

Mathieu Pinot, Stefano Vanni, Sophie Pagnotta, Sandra Lacas-Gervais, Laurie-Anne Payet, Thierry Ferreira, Romain Gautier, Bruno Goud, Bruno Antonny, Hélène Barelli

Editor's Summary:

Bending the benefits of polyunsaturates

We have often heard that it is beneficial to eat polyunsaturated fatty acids. We also know that some organelles such as synaptic vesicles are extremely rich in polyunsaturated lipids. However, what polyunsaturated lipids do in our body is unclear. Using cell biology, biochemical reconstitutions, and molecular dynamics, Pinot et al. show that polyunsaturated phospholipids can change the response of membranes to proteins involved in membrane curvature sensing, membrane shaping, and membrane fission. Polyunsaturated phospholipids make the plasma membrane more amenable to deformation; facilitate endocytosis; and, in reconstitution experiments, increased membrane fission by the dynamin-endophilin complex.

Science, this issue p. 693


Phospholipids (PLs) with polyunsaturated acyl chains are extremely abundant in a few specialized cellular organelles such as synaptic vesicles and photoreceptor discs, but their effect on membrane properties is poorly understood. Here, we found that polyunsaturated PLs increased the ability of dynamin and endophilin to deform and vesiculate synthetic membranes. When cells incorporated polyunsaturated fatty acids into PLs, the plasma membrane became more amenable to deformation by a pulling force and the rate of endocytosis was accelerated, in particular, under conditions in which cholesterol was limiting. Molecular dynamics simulations and biochemical measurements indicated that polyunsaturated PLs adapted their conformation to membrane curvature. Thus, by reducing the energetic cost of membrane bending and fission, polyunsaturated PLs may help to support rapid endocytosis.

Dr. Diane Poole Heller - Four Attachment Styles

In this video Dr. Diane Poole Heller goes through the four attachment styles and gives examples of each. Our attachment style is set by the time we are three years old (give or take) and barring any effort to change it remains fairly constant throughout the lifespan, shaping all of our relationships.

Four Attachment Styles

This is a pretty basic introduction, but it's solid information (even though my own sense of these styles is a little different from hers). Dr. Heller is the founder of Somatic Attachment Training & Experience (SATe), a series of groundbreaking somatic adult attachment workshops for therapists.

Friday, August 08, 2014

How to Tell a Sociopath from a Psychopath

This is a brief article in service of selling a book, but it's interesting. The article comes from Alternet but originally appeared at Psychology Today. One note from me: I am not convinced that psychopathy is only a genetic issue, or a physiological issue; I suspect relational failures in the first 6 months to 18 months also play a role.

How to Tell a Sociopath from a Psychopath

There are important differences.

July 31, 2014 | By Scott A. Bonn

Many forensic psychologists and criminologists use the terms sociopathy and psychopathy interchangeably. Leading experts disagree on whether there are meaningful differences between the two conditions. I contend that there are significant distinctions between them.

The fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), released by the American Psychiatric Association in 2013, lists both sociopathy and psychopathy under the heading of Antisocial Personality Disorders (ASPD). These disorders share many common behavioral traits which lead to the confusion between them.
Key traits that sociopaths and psychopaths share include:
  • A disregard for laws and social mores
  • A disregard for the rights of others
  • A failure to feel remorse or guilt
  • A tendency to display violent behavior
In addition to their commonalities, sociopaths and psychopaths also have their own unique behavioral characteristics as well.

Sociopaths tend to be nervous and easily agitated. They are volatile and prone to emotional outbursts, including fits of rage. They are likely to be uneducated and live on the fringes of society, unable to hold down a steady job or stay in one place for very long. It is difficult but not impossible for sociopaths to form attachments with others. Many sociopaths are able to form an attachment to a particular individual or group, although they have no regard for society in general or its rules. In the eyes of others, sociopaths will appear to be very disturbed. Any crimes committed by a sociopath, including murder, will tend to be haphazard and spontaneous rather than planned.

Psychopaths, on the other hand, are unable to form emotional attachments or feel real  empathy with others, although they often have disarming or even charming personalities. Psychopaths are very manipulative and can easily gain people’s trust. They learn to mimic emotions, despite their inability to actually feel them, and will appear normal to unsuspecting people. Psychopaths are often well educated and hold steady jobs. Some are so good at manipulation and mimicry that they have families and other long-term relationships without those around them ever suspecting their true nature. When committing crimes, psychopaths carefully plan out every detail in advance and often have contingency plans in place. Unlike their sociopathic counterparts, psychopathic criminals are cool, calm, and meticulous.

The cause of psychopathy is different than the cause of sociopathy. It is believed that psychopathy is the result of “nature” (genetics) while sociopathy is the result of “nurture” (environment). Psychopathy is related to a physiological defect that results in the underdevelopment of the part of the brain responsible for impulse control and emotions. Sociopathy, on the other hand, is more likely the product of childhood trauma and physical/emotional abuse. Because sociopathy appears to be learned rather than innate, sociopaths are capable of empathy in certain limited circumstances but not in others, and with a few individuals but not others.

Psychopathy is the most dangerous of all antisocial personality disorders because of the way psychopaths dissociate emotionally from their actions, regardless of how terrible they may be. Many prolific and notorious serial killers, including the late Ted Bundy and John Wayne Gacy, and Dennis Rader ("Bind, Torture, Kill") are unremorseful psychopaths.

~ My book Why We Love Serial Killers: The Curious Appeal of the World's Most Savage Murderers will be released on October 7, 2014 (pre-order now at Amazon and save 20%).

Michael White - How and Why Does the Social Become Biological?

This is a cool article from Pacific Standard. While this article focuses on math and reading, one of the clearest examples of the social becoming biological is attachment theory, which explains how relational experience becomes encoded in brain architecture and function.

How and Why Does the Social Become Biological?

By Michael White • August 01, 2014

(Photo: Syda Productions/Shutterstock)

To get closer to an answer, it’s helpful to look at two things we’ve taught ourselves over time: reading and math.

Every Friday this month we’ll be taking a look at the relationship between the social and the biological—specifically, how and why the former becomes the latter. Check back each week for a new installment.

It’s one of the most irresistible and controversial questions in science: “How and why does the social become biological?” The classic mind-body split is something we feel intuitively, a distinction between our “biology”—our anatomy or our physical health—and our social, decision-making minds. So it can be jarring to hear claims like this: “People differ in their intelligence, personality, and behavior, and a century of research in behavioral genetics leaves little doubt that some of this variation is caused by differences in their genomes.” No matter where we look, we always find the influence of genetics—the social is never entirely free of the biological. But what does it really mean to say that social or mental traits are influenced by genes?

Consider two traits that didn’t evolve “naturally,” but rather were completely invented by humans: the ability to read and do mathematics. Last month, a consortium of scientists sponsored by the Wellcome Trust published a study showing that “the correlation between reading and mathematics ability at age twelve has a substantial genetic component.” In other words, reading and math abilities aren’t merely the result of a decision to work hard at them, or an opportunity to learn; they also depend on DNA.

In one sense, this is trivially obvious. The reason that children learn to read and chimpanzees don’t has nothing to do with the chimps’ lack of educational opportunities; it’s entirely genetic. The physical nature of our brains allows us to develop mental skills that are hopelessly out of reach for other animals.

But when we say a mental trait is influenced by genetics, we clearly mean more than that; we’re also making a statement about the role of genetic differences among people. Learning to read and do math involves some very complex brain biology. New links are made between different specialized areas of the brain, and old parts are re-purposed to engage in something that human brains didn’t do until relatively recently. All of this brain rewiring depends intimately on the chemistry of our neural cells, chemistry that is subtly altered by thousands of genetic differences that change the properties of the molecules involved. Unlike the precision engineering that goes into the latest Intel chip, the human brain’s process tolerances are rather wide—nearly all of our molecular parts show some variation among the human population.

Genetic variation is an unavoidable and central fact of biology, and it is at the heart of the relationship between the social and the biological. There never was a master copy of the human genome; species nearly always exist as populations of genetically varied individuals. These genetic distinctions affect every chemical process in our cells, and because absolutely nothing we do happens without some cell chemistry, everything about us is potentially influenced by genetic variation.

The Wellcome Trust researchers studied the influence of genetic variation on math and reading skills, and the correlation between them. Using data collected from nearly 3,000 sets of twins who had taken standard reading and math tests, they used two methods to examine the role of genetics.

In the first method, they searched directly for an association between a specific DNA difference and scores on tests for math or reading. The idea behind this is fairly simple: Consider a place in the human genome where people differ—some people may have the chemical letter “A,” while others have “G.” Do people with an “A” have, on average, higher test scores than those with a “G?” You repeat this test for thousands or millions of different places in the genome and find the DNA differences with the strongest association. In practice, scientists don’t merely compare the averages of “A” versus “G”; they use a more powerful statistical procedure, but the point is the same: to find specific genetic variants that correlate with differences in test scores.

The second approach, using the resemblance between twins, is more indirect—it doesn’t involve knowing any of the actual DNA differences involved. Since twins share a common family environment, but identical twins are closer genetically than fraternal twins, it’s possible to quantify the genetic and environmental influences on a trait without saying specifically what those influences are.

From these analyses, the researchers came away with three big results that nicely illustrate what it means to say that a behavioral or mental trait has a genetic component. First, the twin analysis showed that genetics explains many of the differences in reading and math test scores in the studied population. But the researchers were unable to find any reproducible association between any specific DNA difference and reading and math ability, suggesting that the total genetic effect is the cumulative result of small changes in many different genes. And finally, they found that not only were reading and math scores influenced by genetics, but also that the correlation between reading and math scores showed a strong genetic influence, suggesting that these skills are influenced by “generalist genes.”

What is a “generalist gene”? The idea, proposed years ago by Robert Plomin, one of the study authors, and Yulia Kovas, is that many of the genes involved in cognitive processes don’t have highly specialized roles limited to one part of the brain. Instead, each generalist gene influences many different brain processes, and conversely, each brain process is the combined result of many different genes. Hence, common genetic variation in any one gene will have only a small effect, but on many different traits at the same time.

Importantly, genetic studies like this one also say something about the importance of the environment. The authors argue that “our results highlight the potential role of the learning environment in contributing to differences in a child’s cognitive abilities at age twelve.” They’re suggesting that when a child’s reading and math abilities—which should be correlated—diverge from each other, there is an opportunity to make a productive change in the learning environment.

Genetic variation influences every cellular process, and everything we do depends in some way on the processes in our cells; ultimately, the social and the biological are inseparable.

~ Michael White is a systems biologist at the Department of Genetics and the Center for Genome Sciences and Systems Biology at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, where he studies how DNA encodes information for gene regulation. He co-founded the online science pub The Finch and Pea. Follow him on Twitter @genologos.

More From Michael White

Medium Exposes Big Pharma's Corruption and Unethical Behavior

Two recent articles in the online magazine Medium expose the unethical behavior and internal corruption of Big Pharma - which is not new information, but in these cases (testing drugs on the homeless and disgraced, addict doctors running drug trials), the story is kind of frightening.

It's no wonder that so many of the Next Big Things in pharmacology end up, a few years later, being implicated in causing disease and even death.

The Best-Selling, Billion-Dollar Pills Tested on Homeless People

How the destitute and the mentally ill are being used as human lab rat

By Carl Elliott
Photographs by Jeffrey Stockbridge
Illustrations by Matt Rota

Two years ago, on a gray January afternoon, I visited the Ridge Avenue homeless shelter in Philadelphia. I was looking for poor people who had been paid to test experimental drugs. The streets outside the shelter were lined with ruined buildings and razor wire, and a pit bull barked behind a chain-link fence. A young guy was slumped on the curb, glassy-eyed and shaky. My guide, a local mental health activist named Connie Schuster, asked the guy if he was okay, but he didn’t answer. “My guess is heroin,” she said.

We arrived at the shelter, where a security guard was patting down residents for weapons. It didn’t take long for the shelter employees to confirm that some of the people living there were taking part in research studies. They said that the studies are advertised in local newspapers, and that recruiters visit the shelter. “They’ll give you a sheet this big filled with pills,” a resident in the shelter’s day room told me the next day, holding up a large notebook. He had volunteered for two studies. He pointed out a stack of business cards on a desk next to us; they had been left by a local study recruiter. As we spoke, I noticed that an ad for a study of a new ADHD drug was running on a television across the room.

If you’re looking for poor people who have been paid to test experimental drugs, Philadelphia is a good place to start. The city is home to five medical schools, and pharmaceutical and drug-testing companies line a corridor that stretches northeast into New Jersey. It also has one of the most visible homeless populations in the country. In Philly, homeless people seem to be everywhere: sleeping in Love Park, slumped on benches in Suburban Station, or gathered along the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, waiting for the free meals that a local church gives out on Saturdays.

* * * * *

Why Are Dope-Addicted, Disgraced Doctors Running Our Drug Trials?

By Peter Aldhous
Photographs by Grant Cornett

At around 7 p.m. on February 28, 2003, a 66-year-old woman showed up at the Pioneers Memorial Hospital in Brawley, a small Californian town not far from the Mexican border. She was seen by one of the doctors on duty in the emergency room that night, a man named Michael Berger. He learned that the woman, identified as “B.P.” in a later investigation, was in pain. A cramping sensation in her right thigh was radiating down her calf. Records show that she had a weak pulse in the same leg, and was short of breath. Her right foot felt numb.

Berger had options. He might have reviewed B.P.’s medical records, or tried to reach her primary care doctor to learn more about her history. He might have ordered an ultrasound or an x-ray. Either scan could have revealed the blockage in the artery in B.P.’s right leg. But Berger didn’t do those things. After consulting with a colleague, he sent B.P. home, with instructions to rest, drink plenty of fluids and take painkillers and blood-thinning meds. When she returned to the ER two days later, her leg was pale and cold—too far gone to save. She was flown to a larger hospital in San Diego, where surgeons removed the limb above the knee.

Berger’s career did not improve much afterwards. One day in 2004, he turned up for work impaired, a situation he blamed on taking sleeping pills. Other problems were noted when his employers asked a team of doctors to review his performance: failing to properly monitor patients after prescribing them dangerous drugs; prescribing excessive amounts of painkillers to his wife; a series of incidents while driving, which may have been related to his own drug use.

In 2008, the Medical Board of California put Berger on a seven-year probation. It was an unusually lengthy sanction, and it included limits on his ability to prescribe narcotics, and a requirement that he take regular blood tests to check for drug abuse. By then his career as an ER physician was effectively over: The California Emergency Physicians Medical Group, which employs ER doctors at Pioneers and dozens of other hospitals across the state, had handed him an indefinite suspension. Already his mid-60s, you might imagine that Berger would have taken these sanctions as a cue to slip into retirement.

But that’s not what happened.
Read the whole article.

Thursday, August 07, 2014

Pacific Standard Explains the Origins of the Chemtrail Conspiracy

Have you ever wondered where the nonsense about chemtrails comes from? I have, but I am too lazy to go searching around the wackadoodle-net in an attempt to sort it out. Fortunately for me, and for you, at Pacific Standard has done the work for us.

One kink in this conspiracy is that we have a LOT of photos of WWII-ear propeller-driven planes leaving engine exhaust. Unless the government has been poisoning us for much longer than anyone could imagine....

Contrails from propeller-driven aircraft engine exhaust, early 1940s

The Origins of the Chemtrail Conspiracy

By Katie Heaney • August 05, 2014 • Pacific Standard

(Photo: mendhak/Flickr)

Why would the American government be interested in poisoning its population by spraying vapor out of an airplane? That remains unclear.

A couple of months ago, a video titled “Busted: Pilot Forgets to Turn Off CHEMTRAILS Before Landing” was uploaded to YouTube. (The version seen here is not the original upload, which was later removed with copyright claims.) Because the original was taken down, the exact view count isn’t known, but it accumulated enough interest to be given the (admittedly nebulous) label “viral video” by Discovery News. Certainly, for a short and low-quality YouTube video about chemtrails, it was unusually popular.

The video is 40 seconds long, the first five of which are unintelligible. It quickly becomes clear (well, hazily clear) that we’re seeing footage of an airplane coming in low for a landing at night. Trailing behind it are several stripes of aircraft exhaust. The plane passes a few lampposts, and by the 25-second mark, it’s safely on the ground. At that point, the camera’s operator zooms out and shifts left and up, panning over a stream of condensation left in the sky.

To most, this condensation would seem to be a pretty standard byproduct of flying in what look to be fairly foggy conditions. Hot airplane exhaust mixes with the lower-temperature atmosphere around it, and in the process, creates water vapor.

(I should add that I did not know exactly how to describe that process off the top of my head. I read about it on the Internet, and it made sense to me, so I’m repeating it here.)

But to the person who posted it, these 40 seconds show something much more sinister. It’s not that he or she does not believe that the meeting of hot and cold air produces moisture, or that (though I wouldn’t want to take words out of his or her mouth) every airplane that emits exhaust is up to no good. No, it’s that real condensation shouldn’t hang around so long, and that some airplanes are releasing a lot more than hot air.

THE BIRTH OF THE CHEMTRAIL conspiracy (the word “chemtrail” being a combination of chemical and contrail, and the word “contrail” a combination of condensation and trail) is generally pinpointed to a few-year window surrounding 1996. It was that year when the U.S. Air Force was first accused of using military aircraft to “spray” American citizens with mysterious substances, evidenced by the unusual contrail patterns left in the sky.

Probably not coincidentally, 1996 was also the year that a report called “Weather as a Force Multiplier: Owning the Weather in 2025” was presented (and made public) by students of the Air University. As an assignment, the Air Force chief of staff asked the study’s authors to “examine the concepts, capabilities, and technologies the United States will require to remain the dominant air and space force in the future.”

Though the paper’s introduction clearly specifies that it does not reflect official government policy, and that the weather modification and control scenarios described within it are “fictional representations of future situations/scenarios,” some took it as evidence that the government was actively working to control and manipulate the Earth’s climate.

Unfortunately for the Air Force, the third-best way to fan the flames of a conspiracy is to say you were only speaking hypothetically. The second-best way is to say, unequivocally, that any given practice isn’t government policy. And the first-best way is to then say you’ve investigated people’s concerns, and found them to be untrue—which the Air Force did in 2002. And in 2005.

In the years since, the chemtrail conspiracy has spawned dozens of semi-activist websites and forums, like and Most recently, many have latched on to this summer’s Snowpiercer, a movie in which the government sprays chemicals into the sky in order to stop global warming, but instead “accidentally” creates a new ice age, killing everyone except a select few who are on board a perpetually moving train. The allegations from chemtrail activists are both broad and vague—it’s not particularly clear why the United States government would be poisoning its own people, for example, and, if they were, why they wouldn’t use a method more effective than spraying something in our general direction from 35,000 feet and hoping for the best—but one common, predominant thread is that chemtrails are making us sick.

One of the symptoms often said to be caused by chemtrails is very gross, and odd, and I’m sorry to write it here because upon reading you’ll almost certainly feel like it’s happening to you too: Many people who believe they’ve been infected by chemtrails also begin to believe that small, thread-like fibers are crawling out of their skin.

MORGELLONS DISEASE IS PROBABLY not a real disease. At least not in the way its sufferers think of it. It’s a strange name, in that it’s used both by people who believe they have it, and by people who say that believing they have it is all that it is. Many (if not most; though likely most) doctors and scientists consider it a form of delusional parasitosis, a kind of psychosis in which patients believe they’re infested by parasites or other organisms that are not actually present.

Pressured by an Internet-based community of supporters (started by a mother who diagnosed her two-year-old son with the condition), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention undertook an investigation into the supposed disease, publishing its results in 2012. Researchers found no “causative medical condition” or infectious agent, and they instead attributed patients’ symptoms to delusional parasitosis. (Some of the patients likely had other potential contributing factors—50 percent tested positive for drugs.)

Still, several swaths of the Internet continue to reference the disease—and the health threat presented by so-called chemtrails in general—in earnest. This page even presents preventive dietary recommendations and a recipe for something called “Spring Hepatic Detox” tea, which the author writes is “Good to do, if you have been tested for heavy metals.”

Many of these sites’ authors and forum contributors post pictures of themselves taken from microscope slides: pieces of skin and specks and fibers, all thread-y looking and strange-colored, the way all hyper-zoomed-in images of things are. I could look at them forever (not that I’m volunteering—this is a hypothetical), but it wouldn’t make a difference. That’s all a conspiracy theory really needs, isn’t it? I admit, I like them for their reliability: Two opposing teams looking at the exact same thing, each convinced the other is missing it for what it really is.

Katie Heaney is a writer and an editor at BuzzFeed and author of Never Have I Ever. Follow her on Twitter @KTHeaney.

More From Katie Heaney

Kirk Schneider - Why Are Humans Violent? The Psychological Reason We Hurt Each Other

Kirk Schneider is the author of The Polarized Mind: Why It’s Killing Us and What We Can Do About It (2013), as well as The Paradoxical Self: Toward an Understanding of Our Contradictory Nature (1990), Rediscovery of Awe: Splendor, Mystery and the Fluid Center of Life (2004), and several textbooks on humanistic psychology, including Existential-Integrative Psychotherapy: Guideposts to the Core of Practice (2007).

Here is some biographical background from his Amazon page:
KIRK J. SCHNEIDER, Ph.D., is a leading spokesperson for contemporary existential-humanistic psychology. Dr. Schneider is the recent past editor of the Journal of Humanistic Psychology (2005-2012), vice-president of the Existential-Humanistic Institute (EHI), and adjunct faculty at Saybrook University, Teachers College, Columbia University, and the California Institute of Integral Studies. A Fellow of the American Psychological Association (APA), Dr. Schneider has published over 100 articles and chapters and has authored or edited nine books (now 10). Dr. Schneider is the recipient of the Rollo May Award from Division 32 of the APA for "Outstanding and independent pursuit of new frontiers in humanistic psychology," the "Cultural Innovator" award from the Living Institute, Toronto, Canada, a psychotherapy training center which bases its diploma on Dr. Schneider's Existential-Integrative model of therapy, and an Honorary Diploma from the East European Association of Existential Therapy. Dr. Schneider is also a founding member of the Existential-Humanistic Institute in San Francisco, which in August, 2012 launched one of the first certificate programs in the "foundations" of Existential-Humanistic practice ever to be offered in the U.S.A.
This is an interesting article, but I suspect his most recent book is something I really need to read. 

Why Are Humans Violent? The Psychological Reason We Hurt Each Other

Terror management theorists explain how when we feel small and humiliated, we'll do anything to feel big.

July 30, 2014 | By Kirk Schneider

Photo Credit:

From the crises in the Middle East to mass shootings in U.S. schools to the reckless striving for wealth and world domination, there is one overarching theme that almost never gets media coverage—the sense of insignificance that drives destructive acts. As a depth psychologist with many years of experience, I can say emphatically that the sense of being crushed, humiliated and existentially unimportant are the main factors behind so much that we call psychopathology.

Why would it not follow that the same factors are at play in social and cultural upheavals? The emerging science of “terror management theory” shows convincingly that when people feel unimportant they equate those feelings with dying—and they will do everything they can, including becoming extreme and destructive themselves to avoid that feeling.

The sense of insignificance and death anxiety have been shown to play a key role in everything from terrorism to mass shootings to extremist religious and political ideologies to obsessions with materialism and wealth. Just about all that is violent and corrupt in our world seems connected to it.

So before we rush to judgment about the basis of violence in our world, we would do well to heed the terror management theorists and consider missing pieces of the puzzle. Economic, ideological and biological explanations take us only so far in unpacking the bewildering phenomenon of slaughtering people in cold blood, or playing recklessly with their health, safety or livelihoods. Granted, some violence is defensive and perhaps necessary to protect the lives of sovereign individuals and states. But too often violence is provocative, and when it becomes so betrays a common thread of psychological destitution—the sense of insignificance, the sense of not counting, of helplessness, and of emotional devaluation. We have stories daily about both lone gunmen and soldiers who seek vengeance and “prestige” to cover over their cultural and emotional wounds. Correspondingly, such stories parallel the kind of psychopathy of some in the corporate sector who speculate, pollute and militarize at will.

How do we prevent such terrorizing cycles from continuing to arise? How do we transform people who feel so utterly estranged and stripped of value that they are willing to do virtually anything to redress perceived injustices? That transformation is not likely to occur through political or military coercion (as is now being contemplated in Iraq), nor through the ingestion of pills nor anger management programs (as was the case with several mass shooters), nor through the usual hand-wringing about stricter gun laws and increased diplomacy, which are imperative, but don’t go far enough.

What is needed is no less than a “moral equivalent of war,” to echo the philosopher William James, but at a fraction of the cost. The rampant sense of insignificance needs to be addressed at its root, and not with simplistic bromides. This means that alongside providing affordable short-term public mental health services, we also need to provide affordable long-term, in-depth mental health services. Such services would emphasize the transformative power of deeply supportive, subtly attuned relationships over short-term palliatives and would likely be life-changing (as well as life-saving) in their impact.

We could (and should) also provide cadres of group facilitators to optimize encounters between people in power. These encounters could include heads of state, members of diplomatic corps and legislators. Such facilitators could be schooled in well-established approaches to mediation, such as nonviolent communications, and would likely be pivotal in the settlement of intractable disputes. While the most hardened extremists may be unreachable, there are many others who might surprise us and engage the opportunity.

There is no theoretical reason why such practices would not work with the appropriate adaptations; we see these practices work every day in our clinics and consulting rooms, and often with the most challenging personalities.

The range of violent upheaval in the world is alarming. The quick fix, militarist solutions to this problem are faltering. In many cases, they are making situations worse (as we have seen with recent military operations). The time for a change in societal consciousness is at hand. By focusing our resources on the root of the problem, the many people who feel they don’t count, we not only bolster individual and collective lives, we provide a model that others will find difficult to ignore.

~ Kirk Schneider is president-elect of the Society for Humanistic Psychology of the American Psychological Association, and author of “The Polarized Mind: Why It’s Killing Us and What We Can Do About It.”

Heather Hansman - Are You Really as Happy as You Say You Are?

Researchers have been trying to quantify "happiness" for a long time, but now a group at the University of Virginia thinks they have found a way to do so, using language.

Are You Really as Happy as You Say You Are?

By Heather Hansman • July 30, 2014Pacific Standard
(Photo: KieferPix/Shutterstock)

Researchers find a universal positivity bias in the way we talk, tweet, and write.

Would you say that you’re happy?

That’s actually a leading question; you already do. Or at least people in general do. In different languages, and across different modes of communication—from Twitter to A Tale of Two Cities—we use more positive words than negative ones. We talk, write, and tweet with glee, and we always have.

A group of applied mathematicians and computer scientists at the University of Vermont that is fascinated with tracking happiness just published a study that quantifies how much more frequently we use happy words than sad ones. As it turns out, it’s a lot. In the recent study, the group looked at 100,000 words in 24 classic novels across 10 languages and found that we have a global, long-term tendency toward positivity.

They’re not the first people to look at a universal positivity bias. In the late 1970s two psychologists, Margaret Matlin and David Stang, put forward a theory they called the Pollyanna principle, which holds that we subconsciously lean toward positive thinking and language, even when we’re consciously focusing on negative things. Basically, our brains want to be happy. It’s a nice idea, but, since happiness is abstract, Matlin and Stang never settled on any widely accepted way to prove it.

That’s where the UVM math nerds come in. Since 2009, they’ve been looking at ways to quantify happiness, and have decided that language is the most tangible way to do so. Chris Danforth, a mathematician with a background in chaos theory, who leads the team along with Peter Dodds, whose research focuses on sociotechnical problems, says that his team is trying to measure population-scale happiness as a baseline to improve quality of life. They think happiness is just as important as GDP, or other frequently tracked measurements of well-being. They’re essentially trying to solve a social problem with a math problem. “Happiness is a hard thing to quantify,” Danforth says. “It’s quite hard to improve something you can’t measure, so we’re trying to create an instrument capable of quantifying happiness on a large scale.”

To track happiness they had to figure out what signaled the feeling and then decide how best to measure that. That ability to track emotion, which is part of a broader field called sentiment analysis, is a nut that everyone from Facebook to the National Security Agency (NSA) is trying to crack, and Dodds and Danforth believe they have found a granular way to do it.

First, they sorted out the 5,000 most commonly used words in English. They asked people to rate how positive those words were on a scale of one to nine. Subjects were given a list of words, and images of 10 stick figures, which showed a range of emotion from sad to happy, and asked to correlate them. Words like “amazing” and “summer” rated highly positive, while “terrorist” rated negative. With that information in hand they could easily track how frequently positive words showed up in large bodies of language.

Deciphering word happiness isn’t exactly straightforward because language is a moving target—“sick,” for instance, can be highly negative or positive—which is why the team looked at a large pool of words, and why drawing on books made sense for their most recent study. They needed a big sample size to draw any significant conclusions. “The math behind it is actually quite basic,” says Kameron Decker Harris, one of the grad students who worked on the project.

Before their most recent study, the team looked at songs, blog posts, and State of the Union speeches, because those transcripts were easily available. Then, as Twitter became popular, they turned to that, to access a huge volume of real-time data. Using Twitter, the group can track levels of positivity, as well as where people are using those positive words, and what they’re talking about. They built what they call a hedonometer, which is a daily report of the geography and timing of happiness. Recently, negativity spiked around the conflict in Israel and Germany beating Brazil in the World Cup. Vermont is currently the happiest state, they might argue, because the hedonometer shows Vermonters are using more positive words than anyone else in the country. For instance, statewide use of the word “shit” is way down this month.

The group’s most recent study, the one that looks specifically at books—from Moby Dick to The Adventures of Tom Sawyer—solves a few different problems they had discovered in their data. They wanted to track happiness over a longer period of time, and outside of outward facing social media and blogs, where people might project happiness to maintain an image. Danforth says they also wanted to branch out beyond America. “We were looking to sharpen the resolution of our instrument by compiling a large list of happiness ratings for words in many languages,” he says says. So they mined 24 books in 10 languages to see if we’ve always had a positivity bias, and if people in Germany or Japan are less effusive.

The happiness lean showed up consistently in all languages, and in books ranging from Alice in Wonderland to Ulysses. Using books, the group was also able to track the shape of stories, an old Vonnegut trope that proves to be true. Word choice reflects the emotional content of the books.

Danforth says that he was surprised at how consistent and widespread the positivity bias they found was. “I knew about the Pollyanna principle, our tendency to be subconsciously optimistic, but didn’t expect it to be so deeply ingrained in our modes of communication. I find it surprising that positive words are used more frequently not only in social media, where people may put on a positive face, but also in books, news articles, music lyrics, movie subtitles, etc. And the phenomenon appears to be independent of language. It really is baked in.”

So, if that positivity bias is ingrained, what’s the point of tracking happiness? And how does knowing how happy we say we are make us happier? Danforth says that his group has found that word usage frequencies correlate strongly with various health and demographic measures. When we say we’re happy we actually are happy, so by tracking when, where, and why people are happy, they can, theoretically, up those factors. Now that they have a baseline they’re looking at the long game. “I think the most practical application will be in measuring changes in societal health at a time scale relevant to policymakers,” he says.

~ Heather Hansman is a Seattle-based freelance writer and a former editor at Powder and Skiing. Follow her on Twitter @hhansman.
* * * * *

Here is the abstract to the full paper, via arXiv:1406.3855v1 [physics.soc-ph]. You can download the PDF of paper at that link.

Human language reveals a universal positivity bias

Peter Sheridan Dodds, Eric M. Clark, Suma Desu, Morgan R. Frank, Andrew J. Reagan, Jake Ryland Williams, Lewis Mitchell, Kameron Decker Harris, Isabel M. Kloumann, James P. Bagrow, Karine Megerdoomian, Matthew T. McMahon, Brian F. Tivnan, Christopher M. Danforth

(Submitted on 15 Jun 2014)
Using human evaluation of 100,000 words spread across 24 corpora in 10 languages diverse in origin and culture, we present evidence of a deep imprint of human sociality in language, observing that (1) the words of natural human language possess a universal positivity bias; (2) the estimated emotional content of words is consistent between languages under translation; and (3) this positivity bias is strongly independent of frequency of word usage. Alongside these general regularities, we describe inter-language variations in the emotional spectrum of languages which allow us to rank corpora. We also show how our word evaluations can be used to construct physical-like instruments for both real-time and offline measurement of the emotional content of large-scale texts.

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Brian Earl - The Biological Function of Consciousness

This hypothesis and theory article from the open access journal Frontiers in Theoretical and Philosophical Psychology is very in-depth and thought provoking. The main sticking point for me, however, is the first of the three primary premises Earl sets forth:
(1) contrary to one's intuitive understanding, consciousness does not have an active, executive role in determining behavior
(2) consciousness does have a biological function
(3) consciousness is solely information in various forms
I continue to be a proponent of free will, however limited that may be for most people. More importantly, however, several researchers of considerable stature (Stanislas Dahaene, Michael Gazzaniga, Evan Thompson, Daniel Siegel, Alva Noë, and many others) all support our ability to make decisions that shape or determine behavior; and Siegel, Noë, and Rick Hanson believe that (with practice, i.e., mindfulness) we can increase that control.

Still, this is a very interesting and informative article.

Full Citation:
Earl, B. (2014, Aug 5). The biological function of consciousness. Frontiers in Theoretical and Philosophical Psychology; 5:697. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2014.00697

The biological function of consciousness

Brian Earl
Independent Researcher, Formerly Affiliated with the School of Psychological Sciences, Monash University, Melbourne, Australia

This research is an investigation of whether consciousness—one's ongoing experience—influences one's behavior and, if so, how. Analysis of the components, structure, properties, and temporal sequences of consciousness has established that, (1) contrary to one's intuitive understanding, consciousness does not have an active, executive role in determining behavior; (2) consciousness does have a biological function; and (3) consciousness is solely information in various forms. Consciousness is associated with a flexible response mechanism (FRM) for decision-making, planning, and generally responding in nonautomatic ways. The FRM generates responses by manipulating information and, to function effectively, its data input must be restricted to task-relevant information. The properties of consciousness correspond to the various input requirements of the FRM; and when important information is missing from consciousness, functions of the FRM are adversely affected; both of which indicate that consciousness is the input data to the FRM. Qualitative and quantitative information (shape, size, location, etc.) are incorporated into the input data by a qualia array of colors, sounds, and so on, which makes the input conscious. This view of the biological function of consciousness provides an explanation why we have experiences; why we have emotional and other feelings, and why their loss is associated with poor decision-making; why blindsight patients do not spontaneously initiate responses to events in their blind field; why counter-habitual actions are only possible when the intended action is in mind; and the reason for inattentional blindness.

1. Introduction

Consciousness science has been the subject of considerable research effort in recent decades, and this has led to the creation of very many theories about consciousness, but none has broad acceptance within the scientific community (Pereira et al., 2010; Katz, 2013). Katz commented that the profusion of theoretical approaches suggests there is a profound problem in this domain. A central problem in consciousness science is that we still do not know the biological function of consciousness1 —we do not know why we have experiences (Bayne, 2009; de Gardelle and Kouider, 2009; Seth, 2009). When the function of consciousness is known, that knowledge is likely to have a significant effect on our understanding of consciousness, and on future directions in research.

Of the very many theories of consciousness proposed in recent decades, most attempt to explain how consciousness arises. Some examples are: higher-order thought (Rosenthal, 1986, 2000), integrated information (Tononi et al., 1998; Tononi, 2004), neural correlates of consciousness (Crick and Koch, 1990; Koch, 2004), re-entrant interaction (Edelman, 1992, 2003), quantum coherence (Hameroff, 1994; Hameroff and Penrose, 1996), and sensorimotor (O'Regan and Noë, 2001) theories. All of these theories, and many others, are concerned primarily with how consciousness arises, and only secondarily, if at all, with the biological function of consciousness.

The other main category of consciousness theories is those that describe how consciousness and its associated neural processes interact with other systems in the brain. Examples are global workspace theory (Baars, 1988, 1997), and supramodular interaction theory (Morsella, 2005). Each of these two theories also includes a statement of how consciousness arises.

Several of these theories refer to the biological function of consciousness, with statements ranging from the general comment that consciousness is adaptive, to statements that consciousness functions as a form of workspace with input from and output to various kinds of unconscious processing (Baars, 1997), or that its function is to produce a single representation and make it available to the parts of the brain that choose between different plans for action (Crick and Koch, 1998). These and many other theories have proposed a similar function for consciousness to the present paper; to contribute to responding more flexibly when automatic actions are unsuitable. What is new about the approach presented here is that I have examined the properties of consciousness and concluded from them that consciousness can only have biological value as input to a mechanism, or mechanisms, that determine behavior.

Consciousness can only have biological value if it benefits the organism by changing its behavior. In general, an evolved property of an organism can be adaptive as a result of changes to its body, or its behavior, or both its body and its behavior, that enhance the organism's ability to survive, reproduce, and perpetuate its genetic material through subsequent generations. Such changes may assist in the avoidance of predators, getting food, digestion, healing injuries, sexual function, and so on. The evolution of conscious neural structures2 did not involve physical changes outside of the nervous system that could confer physical advantages such as improved camouflage, quicker movement, or improved organ function. Therefore, if consciousness is adaptive, its biological value must result from allowing improved behavioral choices for its possessors. Hence, consciousness can only have adaptive value and a biological function by virtue of its being able to influence behavior.

The purpose of this research was to establish the biological function of consciousness—the actual role of consciousness in the selection and control of certain behaviors—and then to demonstrate that this biological function leads to an explanation for the known properties of consciousness. The research begins with consideration of three topics: the evidence that one experiences no mental3 processes4, the evidence that consciousness is adaptive, and the evidence that consciousness is solely information5. The logical sequence of this research, and the principal lines of evidence and conclusions are represented in the flowchart (Figure 1).

Figure 1. Establishing that consciousness is input to a mechanism which generates thoughts, intentional actions, plans, decisions, and so on.

The research has two parts. The first part, shown above the broken line in the flowchart, is concerned with establishing that consciousness has a biological function, and that its function must consist in being the data input to processes for determining behavior. The second part of the research, represented below the broken line in the flowchart, is a collection of evidence pointing to consciousness being the input to a mechanism for manipulating data to generate responses in situations where automatic programs are likely to produce less than optimal behavior. This mechanism, the flexible response mechanism (FRM), is the source of thoughts, intentional actions, decisions, plans, daydreams, and so on.

2. Evidence that Consciousness has no Executive Function

Some of the many published claims that consciousness incorporates no processing at all, or is not involved in particular kinds of processing, are listed in Section 2.1. In Section 2.2, I provide evidence from introspection and experiments that demonstrates, in relation to the principal mental activities, that there is no processing of information in consciousness.

2.1. Published Claims That Consciousness Includes no Mental Processes

Lashley (1958, p. 4) wrote that “No activity of mind is ever conscious” (emphasis in original). His examples were that we do not experience how our perceptions are created, or how sentences are produced. He also wrote that acts of will, decisions, logic, and the formation and manipulation of abstractions, are all nonconscious neural processes.

Miller (1962) also made an early contribution to arguments that none of the processes of the conscious mind are experienced. He wrote that thinking is a preconscious process, for example when one recalls something from memory “consciousness gives no clue as to where the answer comes from; the processes that produce it are unconscious. It is the result of thinking, not the process of thinking, that appears spontaneously in consciousness” (p. 72, emphasis in original). Miller wrote that processes leading to perception are complex, and we have no awareness of them; perception is an unconscious process. “What is true of thinking and of perceiving is true in general. We can state it as a general rule: No activity of mind is ever conscious” (p. 72).

Nisbett and Wilson (1977) were the first to provide evidence, based on a review of published experimental work, that we never really know why we do the things we do, why we choose the things we choose, or why we prefer the things we prefer. When people are questioned about these matters, both the questioner and the questioned are ordinarily unaware that the answers given are necessarily fabrications. The conclusions of Nisbett and Wilson were supported by the research of Johansson et al. (2005, 2006).

In a now classic study, Velmans (1991) examined information from a variety of sources in search of evidence of processing in consciousness, and found none. After reviewing the relevant literature, and other considerations, Velmans reported that:

• Analysis and selection of information for entry to consciousness is unconscious—one is not aware of any of this analysis as it happens.
• Control of attention is unconscious—consciousness cannot select what is to enter itself.
• Learning and memory are unconscious processes—processes that create and retrieve memories are not accessible to introspection.
• Planning—for example, formulating ideas and translating them into a suitable form for speech are not conscious—one is only aware of exactly what one is going to say after one has said it.
• Creativity is not a conscious process.
• Organizing our responses is unconscious—we respond to a skin stimulus long before it has entered consciousness.
• Determining priorities is unconscious—what is important at any given moment requires continuous updating in a constantly changing world, and we are not aware of this occurring.
• Production of voluntary responses is unconscious—there is no awareness of any of the processing needed to execute a response.

Velmans concluded that data for entry into experience are preselected unconsciously; there was no direct evidence of data processing in consciousness—no choices or control of behavior occur in consciousness; and, post-conscious data processing is entirely unconscious—behavior that follows on from events in consciousness is under automatic control.

Smith (1999) stated that it is logically impossible to consciously choose one's next word or one's next experience, because they would have to be conscious already. Therefore, they are not consciously determined and must be generated by processes in the brain of which one is not conscious. And, when trying to think of the next word to write, one is occasionally conscious of a “waiting period for the next word that will appear… an unconscious ‘incubation’ process takes place ending when the next word appears” (Smith, 1999, p. 426). And, one is not conscious of the computations done by the brain, but only of its decisions or plans; Smith wrote that consciousness has no computational powers.

Edelman and Tononi (2000, p. 58) wrote, “when we consciously add two numbers together, it seems that we simply pass a request to our brain, the brain carries it out, and the answer is delivered…. When we search for an item in memory, we formulate the question in our consciousness. Unbeknownst to us, the brain seems to search for a while, and suddenly the response is made available to consciousness.”

Dehaene and Naccache (2001, p. 16) wrote that “we can never be conscious of the inner workings of our cerebral processes, but only of their outputs. A classical example is syntax: we can become conscious that a sentence is not grammatical, but we have no introspection on the inner workings of the syntactical apparatus that underlies this judgment.”

Wegner (2002) wrote that creative insights are unexpected and appear to be involuntary; adding two numbers occurs unconsciously; highly skilled actions happen without involving consciousness (driving a car, playing a musical instrument). He stated that “unconscious and inscrutable mechanisms create both conscious thought about action and the action, and also produce the sense of will we experience by perceiving the thought as the cause of the action” (p. 98).

Pockett (2004) wrote that problem solving is unconscious—only the solution is presented to the conscious mind, and “the creator tends to have the eerie feeling that ‘It wasn’t me who did it”' (p. 31); “I know what I think only when I see what I write” (p. 31); and that the experience of volition is not necessary for the performance of actions that would normally be considered volitional.

Umiltá(2007, p. 328) wrote that “we are never conscious of the inner workings of our cognitive processes, but only of their outputs.”

In summary, according to these researchers: The processes leading to perception are nonconscious6 (Lashley, 1958; Miller, 1962). Control of attention, and analysis and selection of information for entry to consciousness are nonconscious (Velmans, 1991; Smith, 1999). Intentional actions are under nonconscious control (Velmans, 1991; Wegner, 2002). Choices and decisions are nonconscious processes (Lashley, 1958; Nisbett and Wilson, 1977; Velmans, 1991; Smith, 1999; Johansson et al., 2005, 2006). Thoughts are determined nonconsciously (Miller, 1962; Velmans, 1991; Smith, 1999; Wegner, 2002; Pockett, 2004). Before speaking or writing, one may know what one is going to speak or write about, because the thought has already been nonconsciously determined, but the selection and articulation of the words are nonconscious processes (Lashley, 1958; Smith, 1999; Velmans, 2002; Libet, 2004; Pockett, 2004). Problem solving and creativity are nonconscious (Velmans, 1991; Wegner, 2002; Pockett, 2004). Skilled actions are nonconsciously controlled (Wegner, 2002). Numerical addition is a nonconscious process (Edelman and Tononi, 2000; Wegner, 2002). Memory storage and recall are nonconscious processes (Miller, 1962; Velmans, 1991; Edelman and Tononi, 2000). Logic, and the formation and manipulation of abstractions, are nonconscious processes (Lashley, 1958). There is no evidence of any data7 processing in consciousness (Miller, 1962; Velmans, 1991; Smith, 1999; Dehaene and Naccache, 2001; Umiltá, 2007). This is not a complete list of such claims, but I hope it is sufficient to establish that many researchers have come to the conclusion either that one experiences no mental processes, or that at least some of what are regarded, according to commonsense, as mental processing functions of consciousness are, in reality, never experienced.

In what follows, I examine a number of these claims in more detail. My aim is to present evidence that supports these claims, and refutes other claims, which continue to appear in scientific and philosophical publications, that our thoughts or feelings choose, initiate or control our actions, or that one can observe every stage in a “conscious” choice or decision.

2.2. Introspective and Experimental Evidence that One Experiences no Mental Processes

Rosenthal (1986, p. 356) commented that “relative to what we now know about other natural phenomena, we still have strikingly scant understanding of the nature of the mental. So introspection looms large as a source of information, just as sense perception was a more central source of knowledge about physical reality before the flourishing of the relevant systematic sciences.” For those who have developed the necessary skills, introspection can be an important source of information about consciousness, and such information is especially valuable when there is a convergence between subjective and objective measures (Jack and Shallice, 2001; Jack, 2013).

In the following subsections, I describe evidence from both introspection and experiments and, as will be apparent, these two lines of evidence are mutually confirmatory whenever both are available for similar situations. This evidence supports the view of the researchers listed in the previous section who stated that one does not experience the actual mental process during any mental activity, and it demonstrates that consciousness cannot have an executive role. One may experience the starting conditions, stages during processing, or the final outcome of mental processes, but there are always gaps in one's experience, and one never experiences the actual data manipulation that generates the outcome.

2.2.1. Intentionally initiating an action is a nonconscious process

When I decide to pick up a cup and do so, I may believe that my thought initiates my action, but what I observe is I have the thought of picking up the cup and then reach out and take the cup. I do not experience the information manipulations that must occur to initiate my action, and I have no evidence that my action is consciously initiated. One tends to assume one's intentional actions are consciously initiated, but as Wegner and Wheatley (1999) reported, we may perceive our actions as consciously caused if the thought occurs before the act and is consistent with the act, and there are no other likely causes.

Libet and coworkers (Libet et al., 1983; Libet, 1996) described a series of experiments in which subjects were instructed to move a finger at a moment of their own choosing, and to note the time of awareness of “wanting,” “urge,” “intention,” or “decision” to move. Libet and coworkers recorded the time of intention to move and the time of onset of the related readiness potential (RP), a scalp-recorded negative potential, which was known to precede physical actions. They found that the RP preceded the conscious intention to act by about 350 ms. They wrote that, “the brain evidently ‘decides’ to initiate or, at the least, prepare to initiate the act at a time before there is any reportable subjective awareness that such a decision has taken place. It is concluded that cerebral initiation even of a spontaneous voluntary act, of the kind studied here, can and usually does begin unconsciously” (p. 640, emphasis in original). Keller and Heckhausen (1990) replicated the experiment of Libet and co-workers and confirmed their conclusions.

Haggard and Eimer (1999) repeated the Libet experiments but, in some trials, they allowed free choice which index finger to move. They also recorded the lateral readiness potential (LRP), which is a measure of the difference between levels of premotor activation on the active and inactive sides. Their data showed that the LRP was a more appropriate observation than the RP, and that the LRP preceded the intention to move, but by less time. They claimed that the experienced intention to move reflected neural events associated with implementation of the movement. Haggard (2005) wrote that the frontal and parietal lobes prepare motor actions and produce the experience of intention.

Trevena and Miller (2002) measured RPs and LRPs, and employed statistical methods to analyze their measurements. They found that LRP is the relevant indicator, and that some perceived decisions occurred before the LRP, though on average they were after the LRP. They concluded that “inferring the direction of mind-body causation on the basis of temporal discrepancy alone is complicated by the difficulty of precisely timing both neural onsets and subjective experiences” (p. 132).

Banks and Pockett (2007) reviewed all these studies, and other relevant work, and concluded that the evidence appeared to support the view that the decision to act is prepared nonconsciously before the conscious decision. Thus, the evidence from introspection and experiments supports the view that consciousness does not cause the action, but merely indicates what the action will be (Wegner and Bargh, 1998; Pockett, 2006).

Evidence from experiments that involve the subjective timing of decisions always has an element of inconclusiveness because of the difficulty of determining the exact moment of the decision. However, the conclusion from them that actions are always initiated nonconsciously is supported by the results of Hansen and Skavensky (1985), discussed below, and it is supported by introspective observations, and from the fact that a decision when to act is similar in character to other decisions for which there is evidence they are nonconsciously determined.

2.2.2. Intentional control of actions is a nonconscious process

When I slowly and attentively reach out and pick up a book, I may believe my movements are consciously controlled, but what I experience is an intention to control the movements plus consciously monitoring my arm movements (Smith, 1999). There is no experience of consciously controlling the movement. For example, if I see my hand is reaching toward the wrong book my hand moves to the correct location, but the processes that adjust its movement are unknown to me; control of the motor systems is not accessible to consciousness.

When one strikes a nail with a hammer, one pays close attention to the task and might think the movement of the hammer is under conscious control. However, Hansen and Skavensky (1985) reported evidence that the hammer is controlled nonconsciously. They described an experiment in which they used a hammer to hit a briefly illuminated point of light arranged to occur somewhere on a line from left to right in front of them. At the same time, their saccadic eye movements were recorded. During saccades, they were not consciously aware of seeing the light but they swung the hammer in response to the light, and their hits were as fast and accurate as when they reported they had seen the light. Since their speed and accuracy were the same, the mechanism would appear to have been the same whether or not they were conscious of the light. The initiation and control of the hammer movement were both nonconscious processes.

Correct adjustment of hand movement toward a target that has changed position can occur under conditions where participants are not consciously aware the target has moved, and therefore their hand movement could not be under conscious control (Bridgeman et al., 1979; Goodale et al., 1986; Pélisson et al., 1986; Prablanc and Martin, 1992). Intentional movement toward a target object is corrected within 100–120 ms after hand movement begins, or after the target has changed position (Smith and Bowen, 1980; Soechting and Lacquaniti, 1983; Zelaznik et al., 1983; Castiello et al., 1991; Prablanc and Martin, 1992), but this is less than the time taken to experience movement of the hand or target, which is about 150–300 ms for most adults at ordinary stimulus intensities (Libet et al., 1964, 1991; Libet, 1965, 1985; Meador et al., 1996; Ray et al., 1998, 1999). Therefore, these intentional actions must be nonconsciously controlled.

Nonconscious visual systems can accurately control intentional behavior even when the conscious visual representation is in error, because behavior is controlled on the basis of nonconscious representations that are generally less prone to error than our perceptual representations (Bridgeman et al., 1997; Rossetti, 1998; Bridgeman, 2002; Umiltá, 2007).

The vast majority of experiments investigating the control of behavior related to whether conscious or nonconscious visual information was employed to control behavior, and they consistently found that control is nonconscious. However, Paillard et al. (1983) showed that unperceived tactile information could also control behavior. They studied a person who had suffered neurological damage that resulted in the total loss of experienced sensation on her right side. They described an experiment in which the woman was blindfolded and then touched at points on her right hand. She had no conscious awareness of the contact, but when asked to touch the point of contact with her left hand was able to do so without difficulty. The woman's action in touching the point of contact was a voluntary movement, which ordinarily would be assumed to be under conscious control. But the fact that she was unable to experience the contact showed that her movement was controlled nonconsciously. Since she had no difficulty using her nonconscious tactile information for controlling her movements it is likely that she was using the same system as she used before her injury (see Rossetti, 1998, for evidence on tactile and proprioceptive data for action).

It seems that action control is always nonconscious, whatever the data source. Evidence that consciousness does not directly control actions has been reviewed (for example, Rossetti, 1998; Rossetti and Pisella, 2002; Goodale and Humphrey, 2005; Umiltá, 2007).

2.2.3. Choices and decisions are nonconscious processes

As an example of a “conscious” decision followed by action, I am engrossed in a particularly interesting article when a sound momentarily distracts me. Having broken the spell of the article, I ask myself whether I will return to it immediately, or have a coffee first. Shall I continue reading to find where the article is taking me, or shall I stop and enjoy a drink? I am aware of a kind of tension, of opposing impulses. Then I get up from my chair and make myself a coffee. I know the choice has been made, but I experienced no decision process.

Another way one becomes aware of the outcome of one's decision is by one's feelings about the issue under consideration. Depending on the nature of the choice that one faces, one's feeling of knowing the outcome may come quickly, or there may be an intervening period of uncomfortable uncertainty or indecision. And the feeling of decision may come suddenly or it may be a slow realization. When it comes, the feeling could be of preference for a particular object, or an inclination toward a particular action. One may have thought about an issue long and hard, working through all the various considerations, perhaps even writing them down. Then, at some point, one knows one's “conscious” choice.

When making a choice or decision, the step from awareness of the various options to one's decision is a nonconscious process (Nisbett and Wilson, 1977; Johansson et al., 2005, 2006). In an investigation of the decision process, Petitmengin et al. (2013), enhanced their subjects' recollection of decisions by an elicitation interview method, so as to access their decision processes. Their subjects recovered much of the sequence of events surrounding their decisions, but there was no reference to their reporting all the data manipulations central to a decision. Their reports are much as one observes when taking careful note of events during the course of a decision; experiencing the sensory and emotional information prior to the decision, followed, perhaps after some delay, by an awareness of one's decision (which has been nonconsciously determined). The experience of becoming aware of the outcome of the nonconscious decision process may be what Petitmengin et al. were reporting (p. 665) when they referred to “an internal criterion informing the subject of the fact that his decision has been made (sense of relief, of determination…).” Petitmengin et al. did not report the actual mental process central to their subjects' decisions, and therefore their research results do not contradict the evidence that the core process of making a decision is not experienced; only events before and after this process are accessible to consciousness.

Haggard and Eimer (1999) investigated the relationship between the timing of neural events and the perceived time of choosing to make one of two alternative voluntary actions (whether to move the left or right index finger). They demonstrated that the decision, “left or right” was apparent from the LRP before the perceived intention to move. They wrote (p. 132) that “the LRP is a relatively late event in the physiological chain leading to action,” but it appeared to precede conscious awareness of an intention to move, therefore the decision was made nonconsciously. In a report of functional magnetic resonance imaging studies during decision processes, Soon et al. (2008, p. 545) wrote that “two specific regions in the frontal and parietal cortex of the human brain had considerable information that predicted the outcome of a motor decision the subject had not yet consciously made.” Both these reports support the view that decisions are nonconscious processes.

2.2.4. The control of attention is always nonconscious

There are two forms of attention control: exogenous automatic orienting, and endogenous voluntary control. Orienting is automatic and nonconscious, but voluntary control of attention must also be nonconscious because we have no awareness of choosing what we will attend to Velmans (1991).

Velmans (1991, 2009) wrote that it is logically impossible for consciousness to select what enters itself, unless it is already being experienced. This argument must be valid for the very many occasions when our attention moves to something that was not already in mind, but it is not valid for some of our movements of attention. For example, I am hearing a noise, and I attend to it because I am curious where it is coming from; or I look more closely at an insect on a wall; or my attention moves from one flower to an adjacent one in the garden. I was experiencing these things before I chose to focus on them, so are these movements of attention consciously determined?

First, it is likely that the same mechanisms of selection apply whether or not the object was being perceived prior to the movement of attention, which would suggest they are nonconscious. Second, voluntary control of attention amounts to intentionally choosing which information will be experienced and adjusting one's attention accordingly. In relation to the control of attention (just as with other choices, decisions, and control of action) some aspects of the prior information may be conscious, but the crucial decision and control processes are never observed. Voluntary and involuntary movements of attention are both controlled nonconsciously.

2.3. Summary and Conclusions

In any intentional action, one never experiences the complete sequence of events from the starting conditions to completing the action. Bowers (1984, p. 249) wrote that “one can introspectively notice and/or recall antecedents of one's behavior but the causal connection linking the determining antecedents and the behavior to be explained is simply not directly accessible to introspection. Rather, the causal link between antecedents and their consequences is provided by an inference, however implicit and invisible.”

There are gaps in every experience of intentional choice, intentional initiation of responses, intentional control of attention or behavior, and in thinking, speaking, problem solving, creativity, and every other action with which consciousness is associated; and in each of these activities the executive mental process is missing from consciousness. However, since we never experience mental processes, we cannot know what it would be like to experience them. One can only know that one does not experience these processes by the fact that a stage in the events is absent, though, in the ordinary course of events, one generally does not notice this. All the “real work” associated with consciousness is actually not conscious; all behavior (and experiences) of conscious organisms are under nonconscious control.

The absence of data processing in consciousness was assumed by Velmans (1991, 2002) and others (Pockett, 2004; Robinson, 2012) to imply that consciousness had no biological function. However, in the words of Smith (1999, p. 426), “being unable to ‘act’… does not, however, imply serving no purpose.” Or as Gomes (2005, p. 78) wrote, “consciousness may usefully be considered to influence the other brain systems that directly cause behavior.” Consciousness could be biologically valuable in a non-executive role associated with the generation of behavior. In fact, the evidence that consciousness does have biological value is strong, and this is detailed in the next section.

3. Evidence that Consciousness has Biological Value

An issue that is important when assessing the evidence for consciousness being adaptive, is whether or not consciousness could be considered as functionally separable from the conscious neural structure of which it is a property. This question is important because much of the evidence that consciousness is adaptive depends upon information that is common to consciousness and the conscious neural structure. There have been claims that the conscious neural structure has biological value but consciousness is functionless (Pockett, 2004; Blakemore, 2005; Robinson, 2007). This amounts to a claim that, in terms of its functioning, consciousness is separable from the conscious neural structure. There have also been counter claims that consciousness is integral to the conscious neural structure (for example, Gomes, 2005).

There are reasons to believe that consciousness cannot exist without the conscious neural structure, and that the neural structure by its nature produces consciousness, so one cannot have the neural structure without having consciousness (Loorits, 2014). Therefore, the conscious neural structure and consciousness, as its property, are functionally inseparable, and any evidence that consciousness is adaptive is evidence that both consciousness and the conscious neural structure are adaptive.

3.1. The Complexity Argument that Consciousness is Adaptive

A number of scientists have commented that consciousness appears to be so complex it must be adaptive (for example, Gray, 1971, 1995; Nichols and Grantham, 2000). Consciousness is certainly complex, incorporating several sensory modalities, each with a number of variants, interrelated with various felt experiences.

When one considers the complexity of visual perception, one appreciates that this aspect of consciousness must have evolved in many stages, sufficient to establish that visual consciousness does have biological value. According to Reber (1992), cerebral achromaticity is rare, but dark–light blindness is much rarer, and Jackson's Principle states that evolutionarily older functions are more robust than more recent functions. This suggests that dark–light experience developed separately and earlier than color experience. Additionally, a system has evolved whereby the colors that one experiences are adjusted so as to give maximum differentiation between objects (Gouras and Zrenner, 1981; Gouras, 1991; Thompson, 1995).

Light–dark contrast, in combination with the color spectrum, as it is employed in consciousness, is a rather complex method for differentiating objects within our visual experience. This almost certainly arose in stages over a significant period of evolutionary time, which could not have occurred without it offering survival advantages. If visual experience provides survival advantages, consciousness, of which visual experience is an integral part, must also provide survival advantages. But, the total complexity of consciousness is much greater because it includes many other interrelated components8: auditory experiences of pitch and loudness; tastes and odors representing chemical information; internal awareness of contact with objects; awareness of one's own bodily position and movements; perception of one's emotions and other internal states, and one's feelings about people objects, and events. And each of these is normally appropriately positioned within a three-dimensional array. Consciousness is an extremely complex phenomenon that could not have evolved without having an important biological function.

3.2. Evidence From the Evolution of Accessory Systems Associated with Consciousness

The existence of accessory systems that have evolved in association with consciousness is evidence that consciousness has biological value and can influence behavior:

(1) The vision for perception system has evolved in addition to the vision for action system (reviewed in Rossetti and Pisella, 2002; Glover, 2004; Goodale and Milner, 2004; Goodale and Humphrey, 2005; Goodale, 2007; Umiltá, 2007). The fact that a second visual system with different properties has evolved to provide suitable information for conscious perception must mean there is biological value in perceptual systems.
(2) “Explicit” or “declarative” memory, associated with consciousness, has evolved in addition to “implicit” or “nondeclarative” memory systems that serve fully nonconscious mechanisms (Graf and Schacter, 1985; Schacter, 1987; Berry, 1993; Zola-Morgan and Squire, 1993; Eichenbaum, 1994; Squire, 1994), and this could only have occurred because consciousness is adaptive.
(3) Experimental evidence that nonconscious systems have evolved for extraction of suitable external data for consciousness (McCauley et al., 1980; Marcel, 1983; Groeger, 1984, 1986). This could only have occurred because consciousness has biological value.
3.3. Evidence From the Correlation Between Consciousness and Actuality

James (1879) wrote that we evolved pleasant feelings toward what is generally good for us and unpleasant feelings toward what is generally bad for us. He said that if consciousness had no effects, we could quite easily have evolved with pleasant feelings toward what harms us and unpleasant feelings toward what is good for us, but we did not, therefore it is likely these feelings, and hence all experiences, are adaptive.

James' argument can be extended from feelings to all of our experiences. When we are about to do something, if it is not a fully automatic response, we are conscious of our intended action. Why would it be necessary to know our intentions unless our experiences have some influence on our behavior? Also, whenever we are actively involved with events, consciousness is fairly well correlated with the facts of the situation. This is ensured by a mechanism for reality monitoring of experiences in our ordinary waking states, whenever that is necessary (Johnson and Raye, 1981). If consciousness had no effects on behavior, it would not matter if our experiences were completely fantastical and had no correlation with reality. But our experiences have evolved so as to represent reality fairly accurately whenever that is necessary, and this is evidence that consciousness can influence behavior, and is adaptive.

3.4. Evidence From the Special Treatment of Self-Related Information in Consciousness

In general, there is a very clear separation between self-related information and external sense information in consciousness. Bodily sensations like pain, coldness, hunger or tiredness; emotional and other feelings, like anger, confidence or pleasure; knowledge of our own choices; and awareness of our own physical boundaries, are normally well differentiated from exogenous information.

In normal conditions, self-related information from diverse internal sensors is always perceived as self-related, and always located together. If consciousness had no biological function, it could easily have been otherwise—it would have made no difference in terms of one's survival if self-related information were scattered across one's experience. The fact that the perception of self-related information has evolved so as to be experienced as grouped together, and to have the special quality of personally relating to oneself, is evidence that consciousness has biological value.

3.5. Consciousness Can Directly Influence Actions

Conscious information can have a dominant influence on responses. We tell others about our experiences, write about our experiences, and think about our experiences, so consciousness must contribute to the generation of these behaviors (for example, Blackmore, 2004; Gomes, 2005). In everyday situations, one is aware of an intention to do something, and then does it. Or our feelings may interrupt our thoughts and alert us to another priority, and we may change what we are doing.

REM atonia—the blocking of messages to major muscles during REM dreams, when reality monitoring is switched off—prevents us acting out our dreams (Hobson, 1988; Jouvert, 1999), and could only have evolved because our experiences can provoke actions.

Persaud and Cowey (2008) reported experiments with a blindsight patient, GW, in which he was asked to report on a stimulus present either in his blind field or his normal field. GW was asked to say “Up” if the stimulus was in a lower quadrant of his visual field, or his blindsight field; or “Down” if it was in an upper quadrant. He correctly reported the opposite location to that of the stimulus in his sighted field, but significantly more often than chance he incorrectly reported the actual quadrant when the stimulus was in his blind field. He was only able to do as instructed, and override his automatic tendency to report the actual quadrant the stimulus was in, when the stimulus was consciously detected.

There is considerable experimental evidence for the dominance of conscious events over automatic action programs (for example, the experimental data in McCauley et al., 1980; Marcel, 1983; Groeger, 1984, 1986; Merikle and Joordens, 1997; Rossetti, 1998; Haggard and Johnson, 2003). In each of these experiments, when non-conscious processes extracted multiple interpretations, the single interpretation that consciousness was able to access had a dominant influence on subjects' responses.

3.6. Evidence From the Existence and Rareness of Qualia9

Important evidence that consciousness has biological value is provided by the existence of qualia. Consciousness evolved as an array of qualia of various kinds that has the capability to represent visual properties such as relative size, location, movement, shape and texture, and quantitative and qualitative properties of information from other sensory modalities. This contributes to the breadth of conscious information, and thereby to the complexity argument.

If qualia were a property of all neural states, every neural event would be conscious, which is obviously not so. Qualia are a very rare property of neural states; and how they arise is, at present, unknown. The fact that qualia exist but are such a rare phenomenon indicates that they have evolved with special properties for a particular function (see Section 4.2).

3.7. Summary of Evidence that Consciousness has Biological Value

Consciousness is a function of living organisms, and it is unsurprising that it is adaptive, since most functions of organisms have evolved to enhance their biological fitness. In summary, the evidence that consciousness has biological value is:

(1) Consciousness is very complex.
(2) Various ancillary systems have evolved in association with consciousness.
(3) Whenever one is actively involved with events, one's experiences are representations of them.
(4) Self-related information, which is obviously very relevant to survival, is treated differently from all non-self information.
(5) Consciousness appears to directly influence behavior.
(6) We have consciousness because we have qualia, which are very unusual properties of neural states and appear to have evolved for their ability to convey important information.

We can conclude that consciousness does have biological value, though it includes no mental processes. Therefore, consciousness must have a nonexecutive biological function—a secondary or supporting role to associated neural mechanisms that do have executive functions. In the next section, I demonstrate that consciousness is a changing array of various types of information, and, incidentally, that when we analyze consciousness into its components, we find no processes of any kind.

4. Evidence that Consciousness is Solely Information

4.1. The Components of Consciousness are all forms of Information

A number of researchers have claimed that consciousness—one's experience from moment to moment—consists of information in various forms (Battista, 1978; Dretske, 1995, 2003; Tye, 1995; Chalmers, 1996; Lycan, 1996; Mangan, 1998; Armstrong, 1999; Smith, 1999). In this section, I discuss the interrelated components of consciousness that together constitute one's experiences. Analysis of the components (listed in Table 1) and the way they are structured, demonstrates they are all information and that consciousness is solely information of various kinds in a continuously changing array. 
Table 1. The components of conscious experience.

As noted previously (in Footnote 5), I use the term “information” to mean data or facts, which is a broader meaning than the usage in information theory as reduction in uncertainty. Some examples should help clarify my usage: The fact that I know something is information, and what I know is information. The fact that I am in pain is information, but the pain itself is information about possible bodily damage (Chapman and Nakamura, 1999). The fact that I am angry is information, but my feeling angry is itself information about my own response to events (Schwarz and Clore, 1996). Each of these statements does more than simply reduce uncertainty; it establishes the meaning or context of the information.

External sense experiences are information about real, imagined, or remembered external objects or events, represented as colors, shapes, sounds, smells, and so on.

Transitional feelings are based upon external sense data detected via sensors in the skin or musculature. Experiences such as contact with surfaces, awareness of surface texture, and awareness of the hardness or weight of an object, are primarily based upon exogenous data, but they are mediated by cutaneous and muscle receptors. These feelings incorporate both exogenous and endogenous information; to varying degrees they convey information about the external situation and information about the associated internal state (Katz, 1925/1989).

Physical state feelings represent information about internal physical conditions (Schwarz and Clore, 1996). For example, pain is a representation of bodily disturbance (Tye, 1997); it is normally a “message of peripheral tissue trauma” (Chapman and Nakamura, 1999, p. 392); and hunger informs consciousness of a need or desire for food.

Emotional feelings are representations (Damasio, 2001)—information (Schwarz and Clore, 1996)—concerning our state of physical and psychological responding to actual events, or to memories, thoughts, or imaginings (Kleinginna and Kleinginna, 1981; Scherer, 1984; Lazarus, 1991; Izard, 1993).

Mood feelings represent emotional states that are not tied to a particular situation, and are less well differentiated than other emotional feelings (Clore and Bar-Anan, 2007; Isbell and Burns, 2007). They inform consciousness concerning one's pre-existing psychological state or response bias (Schwarz, 2002). Therefore, these feelings are information (Schwarz and Clore, 1996).

Evaluative feelings are based upon nonconscious evaluations of things, and innate responses or learned associations in relation to them (Zajonc, 1980; Tesser and Martin, 1996; Smith and DeCoster, 2000; Seager, 2002; Slovic et al., 2002; Velmans, 2002; Northoff, 2008). These feelings qualify objects, events, people, ideas, and so on, with regard to their meaning for us, our attitudes to them, or our judgments about them, and result from nonconscious and immediate evaluation processes (Arnold, 1960, 1970; Dixon, 1981; LeDoux, 1987; Lazarus, 1991; Tesser and Martin, 1996; Bargh and Ferguson, 2000). “People's feelings inform them about what they like, want and value” (Clore and Bar-Anan, 2007, p. 14), but also what they understand, distrust, are familiar with, and so on; they are information about one's personal valuation of things (Schwarz and Clore, 1996).

Information that lacks qualia, such as the identities of objects or knowledge of one's own intentions, constitutes another component of experience. Evidence for conscious information without associated qualia is discussed in Section 4.3.

We can draw two conclusions about the components of consciousness from these observations:
(1) All the components of consciousness are solely information in various forms; consciousness is a changing three-dimensional perceptual array of information. It follows that, since consciousness is solely information but is adaptive, and therefore can influence behavior, it must function as input data to a process, or processes, that determine behavior.
(2) Consciousness includes no mental processes; we experience the results of mental processes, we do not experience the actual processes. The only experiences that might superficially seem like processes are transitions from one group of sensations to the next, from one feeling to the next, from one experienced emotion or mood to the next, or from one thought to the next. But each of these is merely a change in the experienced information, which is generated by processes outside of consciousness. These transitions correspond to changing information in conscious neural structures, and result from nonconscious processes. They are analogous to events on a TV screen that merely reflect the changing outputs of unseen electronic processes elsewhere in the TV. Consciousness includes no processes.
4.2. Qualia Incorporate Qualitative and Quantitative Information into Consciousness

Consciousness is information, and the information of consciousness is represented or encoded as qualia; as sounds, colors, feelings, and so on. Because we have a perceptual array of qualia, we are conscious and this is important to us. But (as noted in Section 3.6), qualia are also important because they permit information about various qualitative properties, such as color or texture, and quantitative properties, such as relative size and location, to be incorporated into the information of consciousness. The ability to incorporate these properties is a feature of qualia; and no qualia have evolved to represent data that do not have these properties (Section 4.3). Therefore, the ability to incorporate qualitative and quantitative properties would seem to be the reason that qualia evolved.

4.3. Information Lacking Qualia that is Experienced

There appears to be information associated with consciousness, such as the identities or functions of things, and our own intentions, which has no qualitative or quantitative properties, lacks qualia, and has no location in the perceptual array. If I am given an object whose function is unknown to me, and I examine its colors, shape and size, I learn about its qualia. Perhaps I also recognize that it is made of timber and metal. The qualia array gives me clues to the identities of the materials from which it is made, but my recognition of these materials depends upon my past experience and is not a property of the qualia, as such. When someone informs me of the purpose of the object, I learn something new about it, but its qualia remain unchanged. Initially, its purpose is represented in words, but later I know what it is for without putting that knowledge into words. The function of the object and the materials from which it is constructed are knowledge that is additional to what is directly conveyed by the qualia array, and when these facts are well known they cease to be represented by words, so they are no longer represented by qualia of any kind.

The existence of agnosias supports the view that the identities of people and objects are normally associated with consciousness. Agnosias are defects of awareness, failure of certain forms of information to be experienced (Farah, 1992, 2004; Behrmann and Nishimura, 2010). In the associative agnosias, certain information associated with items being experienced, such as the meanings of words or the identities of objects or faces, are not consciously accessible, though there is evidence they are nonconsciously known. Since those of us with normal perceptual systems are able to consciously remember and tell others about the identities of objects or people, these facts are normally associated with consciousness when necessary.

There have been previous reports that some thoughts lack qualia. Siewert (1998) gave examples of what he called “noniconic thinking,” everyday events when he considered his thoughts were neither expressed in pictures nor in words: suddenly realizing he might have missed an appointment; discovering he did not have his house key in its usual pocket, then remembering he had transferred it to his coat pocket; or approaching a green traffic light, and wondering if it was about to change. If thoughts are not expressed in words or pictures; in sounds or images; and if they have no associated feelings of any kind, they lack qualia.

Hurlburt, Heavey and Akhter (Heavey and Hurlburt, 2008; Hurlburt and Akhter, 2008a,b) state there are well-defined experiences, such as unspoken thoughts, wonderings, musings, and unspoken knowledge of where we are, or what we are looking at, that are conscious without qualia. They refer to these experiences as “unsymbolized thinking,” and reported that about one quarter of the randomly sampled experiences of 30 students included unsymbolized thinking.

Qualia incorporate quantitative and qualitative properties of things into consciousness, and that appears to be their function. Unsymbolized thought, such as knowledge of the identities of objects or people, one's location, what one is doing, where one is going, or one's intentions, solutions to problems, and so on, often have no associated quantitative and qualitative properties, and no qualia. One experiences such information by “just knowing it,” because it has none of the properties that information represented by qualia have. Various unsymbolized thoughts may be experienced, depending on what one is attending to, in much the same way as, for example, various sensory information may be experienced, depending on what one is attending to.

5. Evidence that Consciousness is the Input Data to a Flexible Response Mechanism

Consciousness is information, it is adaptive, and it is associated with intentional behavior. In this section I present evidence that the biological function of consciousness is input data to a mechanism that generates flexible, intentional responses.

5.1. Consciousness is Associated with a Flexible Response Mechanism

A list of various consciousness-related mental activities is provided in Table 2. Inevitably, there are some overlaps between the listed categories, and not every activity may be included, but they cover the great majority of activities associated with consciousness, sufficient to provide a basis for investigating the biological role of consciousness. When we examine this range of intentional behaviors associated with consciousness, we find that consciousness is primarily associated with flexibility of behavior.

Table 2. Mental activities associated with consciousness.

The last two categories in Table 2, mind wandering and dreams during sleep, are anomalous because they do not have the volitional or controlled quality of the other activities in the table, and are generally disconnected from any definite tasks. The anomalous processes have no obvious behavior-related function, though it has been reported that various functions related to preparation for future adaptive behavior are associated with dreaming (Hobson, 2010) and passive mental states, such as mind wandering (Greicius et al., 2003; Buckner and Vincent, 2007). At this stage, the anomalous processes seem unlikely to contribute to our understanding the biological role of consciousness.

All of the activities in Table 2, apart from the anomalous processes, are associated with generation of, or preparation for, nonautomatic behaviors to deal with current, expected, or possible future situations. The situations may be internal or external physical conditions, or social conditions, so the actions could be related to personal safety, social status, homeostasis, or other considerations. These activities are all relatively flexible compared to the stimulus-response structure of automatic actions such as the orienting reflex or looming reflex (Schiff, 1965; Ball and Tronick, 1971), fixed action patterns (for example, Raven and Johnson, 1992), unintended motor mimicry (Bavelas et al., 1986; Chartrand and Bargh, 1999), classically or instrumentally conditioned responses, and learned behavior that has become automatized. Consciousness is associated with relatively flexible responding (Baars, 1988), that is, with a flexible response mechanism, or possibly a combination of such mechanisms (the FRM).

The FRM selects or devises responses to current situations, causes the automatic initiation and control of behavior (Bargh, 1992), prepares for possible future events, solves problems, and makes choices. Each of these must be achieved by integration and manipulation of relevant data. The FRM must arrive at nonautomatic solutions to problems and determine behavior by information processing of some kind, and therefore must consist of a processor operating with relevant data.

5.2. The Flexible Response Mechanism Operates with Selected Information

Automatic programs determine most of our responses, and initiate and control all of our actions (Bargh, 1992; Bargh and Chartrand, 1999). The FRM is an alternative system for determining behavior that functions quite differently from automatic programs.

An example of the operation of automatic and intentional systems is the two modes of attention control: automatic detection and orienting, and controlled search (Posner and Snyder, 1975; Shiffrin and Schneider, 1977; Posner, 1980; Norman and Shallice, 1986). A second example of the operation of these systems is the two processes that contribute to reasoning: automatic, intuitive or associative processes; and deliberative or controlled processes (Sloman, 1996; Bargh and Ferguson, 2000; Smith and DeCoster, 2000; Stanovich and West, 2000; Kahneman and Frederick, 2002; Evans, 2003; Evans and Stanovich, 2013). The duality of mechanisms for attention control and reasoning are aspects of the broader duality of mechanisms for generating all our behavior: automatic action programs and the FRM.

As noted in Section 5.1, automatic action programs include innate responses, conditioned responses, and action sequences that were once intentional but have become automatized, and each of these is released by a specific stimulus. Thus, when driving, if a child runs into the road, one's foot hits the brake automatically and very quickly; the automatized driving program ignores all other information, and responds to the external sense data about the emergency. The same principle applies, though less obviously, as we automatically and continuously respond to sense data indicating some more minor adjustments to our driving are needed. In general, automatic action programs, whether innate or learned, respond very rapidly to a relevant stimulus and ignore all other information (Bargh, 1992; Kihlstrom, 1993), and this involves minimal processing of the sense data.

The flexible response mechanism operates differently from automatic programs; it manipulates a selection of relevant information in search of an appropriate response to a particular event or problem. The input to the FRM has to include all essential information so as to maximize the possibility of an optimal response, but must exclude or inhibit information that is irrelevant to the task (Tipper, 1985; Allport, 1987; Tipper et al., 1994; Wühr and Frings, 2008). Exclusion of irrelevant information minimizes unproductive information manipulations that might increase the time taken to arrive at a response, or cause the FRM to switch to a different task. The need to control its input data means the FRM must employ an information selection system of some kind. The operations of the FRM use the selected information, and are generally isolated from all other information.

The suggestion that there is a mechanism associated with the FRM that selects its input data is supported by the work of Leopold and Logothetis (1999). In their review of research on multistable perception, they found evidence of “direct intervention in the processing of the sensory input by brain structures associated with planning and motor programming” (p. 254), and concluded that the brain areas involved are “those that ultimately use and act upon the perceptual representations” (p. 261). A more recent review of multistable perception by Sterzer et al. (2009, p. 317) agreed; they wrote that “high-level frontoparietal processes continuously re-evaluate the current interpretation of the sensory input and initiate changes in subjective perception.” Subjectively, perceptual switches during multistable perception appear to be automatic, and one might not expect that systems associated with planning and motor programming, which use and act upon the perceptual representations, would be involved in sensory data selection or interpretation, were it not for the fact that these operations are necessary for the FRM, which logically must have an associated mechanism for selecting its input data. Therefore, these reviews provide some support for the view that consciousness is the data input to the FRM.

In concluding his review of studies of attentional responses to visual data, Theeuwes (2010, p. 97) wrote, “during the first sweep of information through the brain (<150 ms) visual selection is completely stimulus-driven. Initial selection is based on the salience of objects present in the visual field…. Only later in time (>150 ms)… volitional control based on expectancy and goal set will bias visual selection in a top–down manner.” The sequence and timing Theeuwes reported are as would be expected on the basis that a mechanism associated with the FRM selects data for attention but, because the FRM operates by manipulating relevant data, it is slower than automatically triggered responses.

5.3. The Input Data Requirements of the Flexible Response Mechanism Correspond to the Properties of Consciousness

The flexible response mechanism requires a restricted data input, and consciousness, which is closely associated with operations of the FRM, is a limited information flow. This suggests that consciousness could be the input data to the FRM. Support for this view is provided by the fact that the properties of consciousness correspond to the necessary properties of the input data to the FRM:
(1) In order to select or devise responses to events, the FRM requires access to relevant exogenous and endogenous data. Consciousness incorporates these as sights, sounds, etc., feelings of various kinds, and unsymbolized thoughts.
(2) The FRM requires knowledge of various qualitative and quantitative properties of things, such as size, shape and location; and the qualia array of consciousness has apparently evolved to meet this need (Section 4.2).
(3) The FRM requires input data that is a restricted representation of events, because information that is irrelevant to its computations has to be excluded. Any actions following on from the work of the FRM are controlled by sensorimotor systems specialized for those actions, which employ accurate and continuously updated data for action (Rossetti and Pisella, 2002; Goodale and Milner, 2004; Goodale and Humphrey, 2005; Goodale, 2007; Umiltá, 2007). Consciousness is an incomplete representation of events, as is demonstrated by inattentional blindness (Neisser, 1979; Mack and Rock, 1998; Simons and Chabris, 1999). The fact that our experiences are incomplete representations of reality is sometimes noticeable in ordinary life.
(4) Some operations of the FRM require information to be held longer than the brief period that data for action are held. In order to make a complex choice or decision, the input data may need to be retained for some time whilst the FRM processes the options and arrives at an outcome. And, when an intended action is delayed, when an action extends over time, or when there is an intended sequence of actions, the input to the FRM may need to be held for an extended period to ensure the action is completed appropriately. Complex decisions and complex intentional actions may require that relevant data be held much longer than the very brief period that data for action are held, and this is a characteristic of consciousness (Darwin and Turvey, 1972; Tiitinen et al., 1994; Damasio, 1995; Rossetti, 1998; Dehaene and Naccache, 2001).
(5) Bridgeman et al. (1997, p. 468) found that the “cognitive map,” that is visual consciousness, “can achieve great sensitivity to small motions or translations of objects in the visual world by using relative motion or relative position as a cue.” By comparison, data driving visually guided action “does not have the resolution and sensitivity to fine-grained spatial relationships that the cognitive map has.” Input data allowing increased sensitivity to movement would be an asset to the FRM, in that it could permit enhanced responding in situations of slowly emerging danger or opportunity, in unusual or unpredictable situations, or in some social interactions.
(6) The data input to the FRM needs to have a variable correlation with current reality. When responding to a current external situation, the input information has to be closely aligned with the actual events, but when the FRM is reviewing past events, planning future actions, or solving a problem, the required information may have little or no correspondence with current external reality. Consciousness can be information about one's current situation, or it can be information about something quite different that is receiving one's attention.
(7) Input to the FRM needs to be primarily context-related unlike data for action, which are self-related. For example, planning future action requires that the context be specified. When driving on an unfamiliar route I need to know the contextual features of a particular side road that I must take to reach my destination. However, at the road junction, I will need to make movements that take into account external factors but are determined in relation to the relevant parts of my own body; the data for action system must precisely determine my limb movements to control the vehicle. Data for action are instructions to automatic programs that move parts of the body, whereas input to the FRM needs to be a representation of the event that includes the context of the perceiver (Rossetti and Pisella, 2002; Goodale and Milner, 2004; Milner and Goodale, 2008). Consciousness has sensory data in context as would be expected of the input to the FRM.

Thus, there is a correlation between the properties of consciousness and the properties required of input data that will allow the FRM to compute responses to a range of actual or expected situations. For this situation to have arisen, mechanisms that determine the various properties of consciousness and of the FRM (and its data selection mechanism), must have evolved in a complementary manner over very long evolutionary time. This could only have occurred because consciousness is the data input to the FRM.

5.4. Information Missing From Consciousness May Adversely Affect the Output of the Flexible Response Mechanism

Whenever any important information relevant to the computations of the FRM is missing from consciousness, the output from the FRM tends to be adversely affected:
(1) People with blindsight do not spontaneously respond to data in their blindfield, even though they have nonconscious knowledge of it (Marcel, 1986; Weiskrantz, 1997; Dietrich, 2007; Persaud and Cowey, 2008). Blindsight patients lack visual consciousness in their blindfield, and therefore lack the necessary inputs to the FRM for making spontaneous intentional responses. The blindsight patient who worked with Persaud and Cowey (2008) was unable to follow instructions in relation to data in his blindfield. Analogously, “Dee,” in Goodale and Milner (2004), who has visual agnosia, cannot state the orientation of a slot but she can post a letter through it, and cannot state the shapes of obstacles but can walk up a rough track. Intentional action, in the form of responses to questions, is not possible for her because the necessary visual properties of objects are missing from consciousness, though they are nonconsciously known and acted upon.
(2) Damasio (1995) reported that patients with damage to brain regions involved in the generation of emotional and other feelings consistently exhibit dysfunctional reasoning, decision-making and behavior. This would be expected if consciousness is input to the FRM, because people who lack emotional and other feelings lack the nonconscious evaluations these feelings represent, which are sometimes needed to get the best outcomes from complex or difficult decisions (Clore et al., 2001; Clore and Huntsinger, 2007).
(3) If one intends a non-habitual action, one is only able to act on one's intention if it is remembered, if it is experienced, at the appropriate time. And, if one begins an intended non-habitual sequence of actions but starts thinking about something else part way through, one may end up completing an unintended habitual action sequence if part of the non-habitual action sequence coincides with it (Reason, 1979; Norman, 1981). Without the necessary input data at each stage, the FRM may not keep the action sequence on track.

The adverse effect on the output of the FRM when significant information is missing from consciousness is further evidence that consciousness is input data to the FRM.

5.5. Consciousness is Input to the Flexible Response Mechanism

In summary, consciousness has biological value and therefore must influence behavior. But consciousness is solely information in various forms, and, as such, can only influence behavior if it is input to processes that determine behavior. Evidence supporting the proposition that consciousness is the input data to the FRM is provided by the following facts:
(1) Consciousness is associated with actions of the FRM.
(2) To function effectively, the FRM requires a selected data input, and the properties of consciousness correspond to the requirements for the input data to the FRM.
(3) There is experimental evidence that experienced information influences the outputs of the FRM.
(4) When important information relevant to the task of the FRM is missing from consciousness the FRM tends to malfunction in some way.
(5) Our subjective experience is that when we are attending to a novel or interesting event, paying close attention to a task, interacting with people, learning a skill, or thinking about a problem or an expected event, our perceptions are knowledge about events that activates mental processes which devise, prepare, initiate, adjust, or control our actions, or determine the direction of our thoughts.

However, it is common experience that consciousness can be stages in processing by the FRM, such as when one is thinking through a problem or mentally rehearsing an expected future event. A stage in processing is both output from one stage and input to the next stage, but the functional role of consciousness can only be as input to further processing. One sometimes perceives that consciousness is the output from decisions, planning, creative processes, or logical thought, but these are probably always inputs to further processing, such as thoughts, determining present actions or intended future action, telling other people, or committing to memory for possible future use. Consciousness is inevitably output from some process of data selection or manipulation, but its biological function is the data input to subsequent processes of data manipulation, determining action, interaction with people, and so on, and it would appear that is why it evolved.

6. Central to the Theory are Three Claims that May be Testable

This theory makes three claims that may prove to be testable, and if any of these claims were shown to be wrong, the theory, in its present form, would have been disproved.

First, the theory states that consciousness is the data input to a nonconscious mechanism, or combination of mechanisms, (the FRM) which determines every aspect of one's life that is not determined by an automatic program or mechanism. (In some circumstances, conscious information may become input data to automatic programs. It is also possible that nonconscious information may influence the processes of the FRM directly, and not just via its effects on consciousness, but I have been unable to find any evidence of this).

Second, consciousness functions solely as input data; every component of consciousness is information in some form, and no part of one's experience is ever not information.

Third, all mental processing is nonconscious; one does not experience any mental process. Therefore, one cannot have direct knowledge of the reasons for one's actions, intentions, choices, or decisions; or of how one's thoughts or feelings originated. According to the theory, direct knowledge of these is not possible because consciousness has no access to the processes that determine them. One can only know the reason for any of one's actions, intentions, choices, decisions, feelings and thoughts, by indirect means such as an inference or a guess.

7. Conclusions

The behavior of all organisms is principally determined by automatic response programs: innate responses such as orienting and fixed action patterns, classical and operant conditioning, and other learned behaviors. Each of these is automatically released, or triggered, by a predetermined type of stimulus.

However, organisms that possess only automatic responses may sometimes have no response to match a situation that confronts them, and some kind of best choice response, no response, or a random response is used, any of which could result in a missed opportunity or a risk to the organism. Because of this vulnerability, a flexible response mechanism (FRM), which may perhaps be a combination of mechanisms, has evolved to generate responses to novel situations, and consciousness is a component of this mechanism.

The FRM manipulates relevant incoming data, in conjunction with previous learning, in search of an appropriate response to a situation. This can result in suitable behavior being generated, which, if it is repeated, may eventually become automatized (Shiffrin and Schneider, 1977; Bargh and Chartrand, 1999).

The FRM needs access to all information relevant to the situation to which it is seeking to respond, but any information that is unnecessary or irrelevant to the task needs to be excluded from its input because it could increase the complexity of operations and the time taken to achieve an outcome. Hence, a data selection system appears to have evolved, in conjunction with the FRM, which permits access to necessary information and inhibits access to irrelevant information. The operations of the FRM are generally isolated from information that has not been selected.

In order for the FRM to function optimally, its input data need to include qualitative and quantitative information, such as the size, shape, location, and movement of objects. Qualia as a perceptual array allow such information to be incorporated into the input data, and they make the input data conscious. Other forms of information (unsymbolized thoughts) that are relevant to the task of the FRM but do not have quantitative or qualitative properties, such as knowledge of the identities or functions of objects, or of one's own intentions, are also included in the input data, but without qualia.

The FRM utilizes consciousness as its input data and generally cannot access other information, therefore relevant endogenous information has to be included in consciousness. Endogenous information may be experienced as felt sensations, emotions, moods, and evaluative feelings, such as liking or disbelief. And when endogenous or exogenous information is particularly important, a measure of its importance is included in consciousness as experienced emotionality or affect strength.

One's ongoing experience is often an intermediate stage of processing or an output from processing in the FRM, but it is possible that in every case these are inputs to further processing or to other tasks of the FRM. When the FRM has no definite task, it continues to be active with dreams, fantasies and mind wandering. Whether these operations have biological value, and in what way consciousness might contribute, is not yet clear.

The theory that consciousness is input data to a mechanism for generating nonautomatic responses, leads to explanations for the following central features of consciousness, experimental observations, and everyday properties of consciousness:
(1) The existence of consciousness as a qualia array (Section 4.2) plus unsymbolized thoughts (Section 4.3).
(2) The representation of endogenous information as experienced sensations and feelings of various types (Section 4.1).
(3) The experience of the importance of events as affect strength or emotionality.
(4) Consciousness is an incomplete representation because irrelevant information is excluded from the input to the FRM, and this explains experimental observations of inattentional blindness (Section 5.3).
(5) Distractions interfere with efforts to solve a difficult problem because they represent information that is irrelevant to the problem, which may slow the operations of the FRM, or provoke a task switch away from the topic it is working on (Section 5.2).
(6) The FRM is generally isolated from nonconscious information, leading to observations that blindsight patients do not intentionally and spontaneously initiate responses to events in their blind field; and to the everyday observation that an intended counter-habitual action is only possible when the intention is in mind (Section 5.4).
(7) If one is distracted during a non-habitual action sequence, one's actions may be captured by a habitual action sequence and completed in an unintended way. This can be understood in terms of the FRM needing appropriate input to continue the intentional action whenever part of the new sequence coincides with an established habitual action (Section 5.4).
(8) Damage to brain regions involved in the generation of emotional and other feelings is consistently associated with dysfunctional reasoning, decision-making and behavior. Because these feelings are missing, the input to the FRM is incomplete, and dysfunctional responses are likely when information that would have been represented by the missing feelings is necessary for an appropriate outcome (Section 5.4).

Prior to the first appearance of the FRM in organisms, all of their systems for selecting and initiating behavior were entirely nonconscious, automatic programs (Reber, 1992; Evans, 2008). The FRM is also a functionally nonconscious response system, but with its information input mostly in the form of an array of qualia that provides its possessors with experiences.

The material presented here constitutes the essential elements of a theory that consciousness is the data input to a flexible response mechanism, but there remain many unanswered questions: What is the relationship of the FRM with automatic response programs and with action control systems; what are the mechanics of information selection and data manipulation in the FRM; is the FRM a unitary system or a number of “flexible modules” for decisions, oversight of intentional actions, planning, problem solving, and so on, which separately access consciousness as their input; and why did an array of qualia evolve as the method for qualitative and quantitative data entry to the processes of the FRM?

One would like to know how the FRM operates in non-human species, how its presence can be detected with confidence in non-human species, and whether the FRM has independently evolved in different taxonomic groups (such as cephalopods), which one might expect, since the FRM is a valuable asset that enhances biological fitness. If the FRM has independently evolved in different taxonomic groups, it is possible, though perhaps unlikely, that the problem of representing quantitative and qualitative data may have been solved in ways that do not require a qualia array and do not confer consciousness on their possessors. When we better understand how the FRM evolved and how it functions, we may have more insight into such matters.

It is my hope that this research will open up new directions in the study of the minds of humans and other animals, and that the FRM theory of consciousness may be of use to some of the many researchers who seek to alleviate mental disability and suffering.

Conflict of Interest Statement

The author declares that the research was conducted in the absence of any commercial or financial relationships that could be construed as a potential conflict of interest.


My sincere thanks to the associate editor Jeffrey Yoshimi, and the review editors, for their many comments and suggestions, which led to significant improvements in my presentation, and especially for the associate editor's suggestion that I include a flowchart of the research. I am grateful to Max Jory, of Monash University, for his unwavering support, and to the School of Psychological Sciences at Monash University, for granting access to the university library services for this research. Special thanks to my wife Nina Earl for encouraging my research over many years, and for her detailed comments on various drafts of this document.


1. ^Consciousness is used in the sense of phenomenal consciousness (Block, 1995); one's ongoing experience.

2. ^Conscious neural structure: Consciousness is a property of neurons in a certain state or a certain structure, and I refer to this neural structure as a “conscious neural structure.”

3. ^Mental refers to events or information in the mind; and mind refers to what thinks, feels, reasons, and so on, and which is the seat of consciousness. Mind includes consciousness, the conscious neural structure of which consciousness is a property, and nonconscious mechanisms that manipulate information in reasoning, planning, and determining behavior. I assume all these components of mind are physical properties of events in the brain, based on the view, standard across the natural sciences, that all phenomena are physical phenomena.

4. ^Process is used in the sense of an action, or actions, that lead to a change in something. Any change in what one experiences is a result of mental processes, that is, the action of manipulating information in the brain.

5. ^Information, as used here, is data, or facts; it may include data or facts from physical and other measurements or observations, or from any other source, and the results of calculations, inferences, and mental processes, or outputs from other data processing, and their conscious or nonconscious representations. (This usage of “information” is different from the information theory usage as reduction in uncertainty, which is the quantification of a property of information, as I use the term. “Information” as I use it is a broader term; the difference could be expressed by saying that as used here, information also has meaning, or each piece of information establishes a context within which it may reduce uncertainty).

6. ^Nonconscious refers to information or events in the brain that are not being experienced, some of which are experienceable, some not; it is synonymous with one meaning of “unconscious.”

7. ^Data, as used here, are primary information, such as information from the external senses; or are information that is input to, being processed in, or output from a mechanism for manipulating, or processing, information.

8. ^I use the expression components of consciousness rather than the commonly used contents of consciousness for two reasons. First, components suggests parts that contribute to some structure or whole, which seems appropriate in a metaphor for consciousness, whereas contents does not imply any connection or structure between the parts. Second, contents implies the existence of some sort of container, which must be “empty consciousness.” Consciousness is one's experiences, but empty consciousness would be consciousness with no experiences, which is a contradiction in terms. Therefore, it would seem that contents of consciousness is not a good metaphor, and components of consciousness is preferable.

9. ^Qualia are the elements that together constitute ones experiences: sensory experiences, such as colors or sounds; bodily sensations, such as pain, hotness, or thirst; experienced emotions; felt moods; and evaluative feelings, such as belief or liking.

References available at the Frontiers site