Multiple drafts theory

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[Original contributed by Gerardo I. Simari]

The Multiple Drafts Theory proposes the Multiple Drafts Model of Consciousness. It was formulated by Daniel Dennett in (Dennett, 1991), where he provides a high level explanation of consciousness. The premise is that all mental activity is accomplished by multiple, parallel, interpretive or editorial elaborations or revisions. The following quote from (Dennett, 1991) explains this in terms of publishing:

  "all varieties of thought and mental activity are accomplished in the brain 
  by parallel, multi track processes of interpretation and elaboration of 
  sensory inputs. Information entering the nervous system is under 
  continuous 'editorial revision'."... the Multiple Drafts model avoids the 
  mistake of supposing that there must be a single narrative (the 'final' or 
  'publishable' draft, you might say) that is canonical..."

Some things are "edited out", such as the movements of the eyes as they dart about. On the other hand, some things are "edited in"; for instance, if we believe that we are looking at our own hand (when in reality we are not), we actually feel pressure preventing "our hand" from moving in order to explain the inability to move. According to the model, multiple drafts of various stories are in a different state of draft.

Dennett sustains that our understanding of consciousness is influenced by Rene Descartes, and he presents the Phi Illusion as a frame for his discussion. This illusion involves lights that are separated by a short distance, one on the left being of color green and one of the right of color red. First, the green light turns on, then off, and after less than a second the red light turns on. Observers of these events are under the illusion that the green light moved to the right, and changed color. The following figure shows the same phenomenon, in the familiar arrangement of lights in a marquee.

Image:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:Phi_Phenomenon.gif

Why, asks Dennett, do we say that the light changed color before seeing the second light turn on? He states that conventional explanations are either "Orwellian" or "Stalinesque". In the former type, the subject concludes one thing, and then changes this conclusion after witnessing new events. In the latter type, the two events are combined and a conclusion is reached before even entering into the subject's consciousness. This special time and place where unconscious processing becomes part of the conscious experience is what Dennett calls the "Cartesian Theater". He refutes this hypothesis, and claims (Dennett, 1991):

  "The Multiple Drafts model makes [the procedure of] "writing it down" in memory 
  criterial for consciousness: that is what it is for the "given" to be "taken"... There 
  is no reality of conscious experience independent of the effects of various vehicles 
  of content on subsequent action (and hence, of course, on memory)."

Among other things, this view has the consequence that time appears to, in Dennett's words, "smear" because consciousness of different features takes place in different parts of the brain. This smear can therefore explain the Phi Illusion. For a broader treatment of this topic, we refer the reader to the following sources.

References and Further Reading

- Dennett, D. (1991). "Consciousness Explained" - Little, Brown & Co.

- Chappell, R. (1994). "Philosophy, et cetera" - http://pixnaps.blogspot.com/2004/12/multiple-drafts.html

- UNC Charlotte Department of Philosophy web page on the Multiple Drafts theory: http://www.philosophy.uncc.edu/faculty/Phi_Multi_Draftt.html

- Wikipedia on the Multiple Drafts Model: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Multiple_Drafts_Model

- Dennett, D. and Kinsbourne, M. (1992). "Time and the Observer: the Where and When of Consciousness in the Brain." - Behavioral and Brain Sciences (15): 183-247.

- Velmans, M. (1992) "Is Consciousness Integrated?" - Behavioral and Brain Sciences (15): 229-230.(commentary on Dennett & Kinsbourne "Time and the observer", BBS, 1992, 15(2): 183-201) Copyright Cambridge University Press

- Chalmers, D (1992). "The Conscious Mind". Oxford University Press.

- Block, N. (1993). "Book review of Dennett's Consciousness Explained" - Journal of Philosophy 90, 181-193.

- Bogen, J.E. (1992). "Descartes' fundamental mistake: Introspective singularity" - Behavioral and Brain Sciences (15): 184-247. Commentary on Daniel C. Dennett and Marcel Kinsbourne (1992) Time and the observer: The where and when of consciousness in the brain.