A NEW DEFINITION OF CONSCIOUSNESS
Start date: 01 Mar 2009,
End date: 28 Feb 2014
The study of consciousness is considered one of the final frontiers in science. After centuries of introspection, philosophy, and psychology it is thought that neuroscience will now answer the age-old questions like who is conscious, when, and what of. This will take more, however, than the current approach of finding the neural correlate of consciousness (NCC). We need a new science of consciousness. What is the problem? Behaviour is considered the gold standard of consciousness: when someone says he is conscious, he is, and when he says not, he isn t. But it is impossible to reliably gauge the presence or absence of conscious sensations from behaviour. We will always conflate consciousness with cognitive functions enabling the report, such as attention, working memory or language. Finding the NCC is doomed to fail. Instead, arguments from neuroscience should be allowed to reshape the definition of consciousness. Behavioural or introspective ideas may be a starting point, but ultimately, neural arguments should be allowed to overrule behavioural evidence. I will show how a new neuro-behavioural definition of consciousness can dissociate consciousness from cognition, explains key features of conscious experience, and allows us to understand consciousness at a much more fundamental level. Experiments in man and monkey will test essential predictions of the new definition of consciousness, using techniques such as intracortical recording, EEG, fMRI and pharmacological intervention, combined with psychophysics, learning paradigms or manipulations of consciousness. If these confirm the idea, the new definition of consciousness should be adopted. This means we are in for a change. The new definition of consciousness will move our notion of mind towards that of brain. The sacred first person perspective on consciousness has to be given up. What we may gain, however, is a much better science of consciousness.
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