This project proposes a new approach to one of the hardest and most controversial scientific questions: Why are we conscious, and how does consciousness relate to neural counterparts. Some previous projects have attempted to compare theories of consciousness and its neural correlates directly but without any increased consensus or progress in the consciousness research field. In this project, a number of assumptions are identified that divide the waters between theories of consciousness, and which makes direct comparisons difficult. More specifically, these assumptions regard: 1) Whether consciousness is rich or sparse, 2) whether it is gradual or dichotomous, 3) whether neural correlates of consciousness are specific or universal, and 4) whether they are stable or dynamic. Through a series of experiments and theoretical development, the project will target and attempt to falsify and validate these underlying assumptions, thus informing the collective body of theories of consciousness. The project will be realized based on already existing collaborations, and will create new interdisciplinary collaborations as well as attract younger researchers interested in the field. The project will lead to new large-scale applications to e.g. ERC and the Lundbeck Foundation.
From the beginning of my career in science my work has been focussed on questions and unbound by disciplinarity, tradition and methods.
Today, this approach has led to different recognized contributions to the understanding of human consciousness. I have developed methods to study subjective conscious experience more precisely than the mere ’absence or presence’ of consciousness. My research has cast doubts on the existence, or at least the amount, of unconscious perception and cognition. From a theoretical perspective, I have been part of developing models that attempt to relate mental states to neural states without assuming reductionism or function-substrate identity. The same models show how mental states can be said to be ’localizable’ in the brain at one level of analysis and non-localizable at others. From a clinical perspective, I have been part of discovering conscious experience in vegetative patients, which may lead to new diagnosis systems in coma research.
Science and subjectivity - testing the implicit assumptions in theories of the neural correlates of consciousness
Area of research:
1 Oct 2020 - 30 Sep 2021
Jens Christian Skou fellow
This fellowship has received funding from The Aarhus University Research Foundation.