The frame problem: what it is and what it tells us about the human mind

The Frame Problem it is a term which, as its words indicate, denotes a problem that has not yet been solved in the realm of cognitive science, philosophy of mind and artificial intelligence.

The attempt to solve this problem has been relevant to many previous disciplines, the boom has spread since the end of the twentieth century. Then, we will see what the “framework problem” consists of, what philosophical and scientific approaches have been tried to solve it and why it has been relevant for cognitive psychology.

    The frame problem: how to perform a task?

    Among the many things that philosophy of mind, cognitive science, and artificial intelligence have studied, there is the as human beings we have the ability to distinguish between different options when we need to solve a problem. It also made them wonder why until now it has not been possible for a machine to respond in the same way.

    And is differentiating between the different alternatives or possibilities, and then selecting the one that best suits the circumstances of the task we are about to accomplish, something that only human beings can do.

    In other words, in order to be able to perform a task, the first thing we do is understand the situation in which the task will be performed. It is about considering the possible consequences of the action that we are about to take, because it can always have side effects (effects that could prevent us from achieving the main goal).

    The latter is something that we humans do almost automatically, without realizing it. However, these are a number of very complex cognitive tools that have not been able to be replicated in computer systems so far.

    Indeed, although a computer can be programmed to respond specifically to a task, this planning may not be sufficiently flexible or voluntary to discern between the different options and decide which is the priority or the most prudent depending on the situation.

    We can’t anticipate everything

    The framework problem arises in a context where there are many attempts to understand and respond to the process described above. It’s a problem that brings back many other doubts on the functioning of the human mind; however, one of those doubts which has been crucial, is precisely the reflection on how the effects of an action can be represented without having to explain or anticipate all the effects that may derive from that action (since this is impossible even for man).

    Although the frame problem may involve different thinking, depending on the discipline that attempts to solve it, it can roughly be said that this is how the human mind determines the relevance of information when performing a task. specific task.

    This is a problem that hangs over the idea that not everything can be anticipated with certainty. Actions involve a number of contingencies, unexpected events that we cannot know in advance whether they affect us or not. In other words, while we can assess the consequences that each decision might have, our actions have limits and effects that we cannot predict or control. Thinking about the side effects of a task is something that may never end.

    For the same reason, we have not been able to program a machine to develop the ability to discriminate between different alternatives and their side effects, and at the same time perform an action on time and in the expected manner.

    Also because of this, the problem of the frame was initially posed by cognitive science, but rapidly evolved in the field of artificial intelligence, logic and philosophy of mind.

    Its importance in cognitive science

    In the realm of cognitive science study, the frame problem has focused on understanding how we perform certain automatic tasks necessary for our survival, e.g. making inferences, reasoning, problem solving, discerning between different alternatives, make decisions, among others.

    Providing answers to this problem is one of the main and most promising tasks of cognitive science today. In fact, there are those who consider that if they do not solve it, these sciences would have limited progress.

    It is for this reason that the problem of the frame remains in force in many philosophical and scientific debates. However, the frame problem has many connotations, which depend on the theory or discipline in which it is addressed and attempts to solve it. For example, he may have different answers in logic, epistemology, or metaphysics.

    Bibliographical references:

    • Silenzi, M. (2015). What’s wrong with the frame? Confluences between different interpretations. Eidos, 22: 49-80.
    • Silenzi, M. (2014). The duality of the framework problem: on interpretations and resolutions. Themes (Mexico). 47: 89-112
    • Silenzi, M. (2011). The problem of the framework and research in cognitive science. National University of the South. Department of Human Sciences. Accessed May 22, 2018.Available at
    • The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. (2016). The problem of the frame. Accessed May 22, 2018.Available at

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