Consciousness: Program Overview

Program Director: Nicholas Rosseinsky


"Consciousness" can describe at least three related phenomena: conscious experience (e.g. the experience you are having right now of the shapes and colors on this screen); conscious function (any cognitive or psychological function - such as memory or decision-making - that occurs within experience); and self-consciousness (the experience of thoughts and perceptions such as "I exist").

A modern attempt to explain consciousness within an orthodox scientific framework gained momentum in the 1990s, following the pioneering initiative of Crick and Koch, and foundational contributions from Chalmers. The field is presently in a rather curious state. Some commentators (e.g. Dennett) absolutely deny that there can be a meaningful science of consciousness, and their apparently-persuasive objections have not yet been decisively refuted. Despite this unsatisfactory state of affairs, a strong mainstream movement continues to advance the view that consciousness is simply an emergent property of the brain, and that standard experimental methods will eventually be able to unravel the details of this mechanism. To some unaffiliated commentators, the momentum of this movement - and its apparent lack of concern for foundational problems - are somewhat troubling.
The Center's Consciousness Program makes a fresh start: no preconceptions - just an interest in clarity and rigor. We begin by developing a curiously-absent symbolism for the phenomena involved, This enables a novel integration of the neuroscience of consciousness with theoretical physics. A number of critical and unresolved problems with the mainstream approach are revealed, in the domains of methodology, computational neuroscience, and physical theory.
A constructive phase then develops an entirely new hypothesis concerning the physical and biophysical basis of consciousness, which resolves mainstream problems newly-identified by this Program.  The new hypothesis -  unlike the mainstream program - identifies a range of fundamental predictions amenable to genuine experimental tests.

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