A conceptual framework for consciousness

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This article argues that consciousness has a logically sound, explanatory framework, different from typical accounts that suffer from hidden mysticism. The article has three main parts. The first describes background principles concerning information processing in the brain, from which one can deduce a general, rational framework for explaining consciousness. The second part describes a specific theory that embodies those background principles, the Attention Schema Theory. In the past several years, a growing body of experimental evidence-behavioral evidence, brain imaging evidence, and computational modeling- has addressed aspects of the theory. The final part discusses the evolution of consciousness. By emphasizing the specific role of consciousness in cognition and behavior, the present approach leads to a proposed account of how consciousness may have evolved over millions of years, fromfish to humans. The goal of this article is to present a comprehensive, overarching framework in which we can understand scientifically what consciousness is and what key adaptive roles it plays in brain function.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere2116933119
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number18
StatePublished - May 3 2022

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General


  • attention
  • awareness
  • consciousness
  • evolution
  • theory of mind


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