Jul 12, 2021

Accelerating Research on Consciousness with Lucia Melloni and Christof Koch (video)

Consciousness is a foundational concept for understanding human nature, but there is little agreement on what anatomical structures and physiological functions produce consciousness.

By Templeton Staff

Watch the above video featuring our grantees: Lucia Melloni and Christof Koch.

We know that we are conscious but we don't yet know how or why. The subjective nature of consciousness makes it difficult to study because only the individual has direct access. The search is on for a theory that helps us determine the presence of consciousness in humans and other scopes of life.

Prior to the Age of Enlightenment in the 18th century, the heart was considered to be the home of consciousness. Theories are always evolving and now the consensus is that the brain is where we should be looking. Christof Koch, PhD states that it is now believed that the footprint of consciousness is generated from a thin layer on the brain known as the Neocortex.

The study of thought and memory always leads down to the neuron. Within the human brain, there are 100 billion neurons with a quadrillion connections between them. Measuring the communication between neurons is an area of science that technology is seeking to understand.

TWCF’s Accelerating Research on Consciousness (ARC) is attempting to rule out current theories in an effort to narrow the scope of this search for self. A groundbreaking project led by Professor Lucia Melloni, PhD will test two rival theories simultaneously. The first test places Integrated Information Theory (IIT) alongside Global Neuronal Workspace Theory (GNWT).

Competing theories rarely share techniques and results. For this experiment, each side has agreed to share data with the other and open all to the public. It's hoped that the engagement of the public with this information could lead to personal investigations into all areas of the brain. "To my knowledge, there is nothing like this around, period," says Dr. Melloni, whose areas of research include domain-general cortical computations, neural mechanisms by which the brain predictively controls sensory processing and perception, brain mechanism subserving language comprehension, and the possibilities and limits of brain plasticity to restore cognitive functions.

Highlights from this installment of our award-winning “Stories of Impact” video series:

  • Research is often a closed environment. Experiments tend to move in the direction of proving hypotheses and discoveries in other areas are missed. The Accelerating Research on Consciousness initiative is moving forward with a spirit of adversarial collaboration, in which the competing theories share data and findings, breaking down barriers of classic research.
  • The protocols agreed on include FMRI, MEG, EEG, and intracranial recordings. This gathered data will attempt to track the footprint of consciousness within the brain.
  • The Open Science aspect of these experiments will connect the public to the protocols, experiments, data, and analysis from the project. Sharing this information widely, it is hoped, will lead to new discoveries in a variety of directions and from many sources.

Learn more about Our Priority related to this episode. 

Read the transcript from the full interview conducted by journalist Richard Sergay. Featuring: Lucia Melloni, PhD, researcher at Max Planck Institute for Empirical Aesthetics; Christof Koch, PhD, Chief Scientist of the Mindscope Program at the Allen Institute for Brain Science and co-developer of (along with Giulio Tononi) the Integrated Information Theory (IIT) of consciousness.

Templeton World Charity Foundation’s “Stories of Impact” videos by journalist and senior media executive Richard Sergay feature human stories and critical perspectives on breakthroughs about the universe’s big questions. The inspiring narratives and observations in these award-winning videos portray the individual and societal impacts of the projects that bring to life TWCF-supported research.