Jan 17, 2024

Adversarial Collaboration featuring Lucia Melloni, Christof Koch & Daniel Kahneman (video)

Can collaboration among scientists with competing theories help research move forward? Learn how this innovative approach is impacting progress in consciousness research.

By Templeton Staff

Can collaboration among scientists with competing theories help research move forward? Get an introduction to this innovative approach and learn how it's impacting progress in consciousness research in this video featuring neuroscientists Lucia Melloni and Christof Koch, and psychologist, Daniel Kahneman.

Scientists often disagree with each other. They clash on "the interpretation of facts, and quite often they question the methods by which the other side is obtaining their facts," says Daniel Kahneman, Nobel-prize winning psychologist and author. The field of consciousness research is no exception — competing incompatible theories of how the brain produces consciousness abound.

"For a long time consciousness was completely outside scientific reality," explains Lucia Melloni, Research Group Leader at the Max Planck Institute for Empirical Aesthetics, but that began to change with Christof Koch's and Francis Crick's "influential paper" focused on the neural correlates of consciousness. "This idea led to a lot of research in the past 30 years and now we have many, many theories. The problem now is that they are contradictory. We have a fragmented field without a lot of confirmation," says Melloni. Koch, Meritorious Investigator, Allen Institute for Brain Science agrees and addresses the topic of biases in research. "When it comes to our own theories we look for confirmation," he says. "We want to find certain things because we believe in our own theories."

Adversarial collaboration is an innovative approach that may help advance science, despite fragmentation and bias. It involves bringing groups with opposing views on a certain topic together to design experiments that compare and test different hypotheses. A neutral third party usually conducts the experiment and analyzes results. Collaborating in this way can reduce or eliminate multiple forms of bias in scientific experiments.

In this video, several prominent researchers share how adversarial collaboration can foster constructive dialogue, transparency, and mutual respect among scientists.


Watch the above video to find out more.

Key Takeaways:

From "Angry Science" to Open Science"

Kahneman, known for his work in the psychology of judgment and decision-making, as well as in behavioral economics, is one of the creators of adversarial collaboration. He says practicing this approach provides a viable alternative to confrontational methods of addressing disagreements among conflicting ideas — or what he jests is "angry science." 

Virginia Cooper, an Advisor in Discovery Science at Templeton World Charity Foundation (TWCF) notes that adversarial collaboration enhances the "level of rigor to science because you have to be able to understand not just your theory but opposing theories as well." Cooper also points out how this approach ties into Open Science. She notes, with adversarial collaboration, all sides must publicly pre-register their hypotheses, making them "accessible to everybody, and if scientists were interested in trying to replicate them they could."

Adversarial Collaboration and Accelerating Research on Consciousness
Cooper and her colleagues at TWCF believe unlikely collaborators can make extraordinary discoveries. Toward this end, several structured adversarial collaboration projects were launched through TWCF's Accelerating Research on Consciousness (ARC) Priority, aiming to empirically test competing theories of consciousness.

Melloni directs one of these adversarial collaboration projects. She and her team designed an experiment to show which of two prominent theories of consciousness had more correct predictions, the Integrated Information Theory (IIT) or the Global Neuronal Workspace Theory (GNWT). Play the video to hear Koch touch upon some of the standards and protocols followed in the study.

The results of the experiment, presented at the Association of the Scientific Study of Consciousness Annual Event in June 2023, did not perfectly match up with the predictions for either theory. Read more about the outcome of the study in Science and Nature, or read the pre-print of the study. "It was clear after the event that we have not figured out yet what the neural correlates of consciousness are, but this doesn't mean that we haven't made progress," says Melloni. "I want to emphasize that we think that this is just one piece of a puzzle."

Adversarial Collaboration, Team Science, and Flourishing 
To make science "more robust," Melloni feels adversarial collaboration should be performed in all fields across the scientific community — period. "It certainly could make things better for scientists because it illustrates a joint commitment to the scientific method." She further notes "team science is a collective of individuals with different competences that that come together to approach a problem and solve it together. The answer is in the collective intelligence — it is more than the sum of the parts." 

Scientists featured in the video:
Daniel Kahneman, Eugene Higgins Professor of Psychology, Emeritus, Princeton University
Christof Koch, Meritorious Investigator, Allen Institute for Brain Science
Lucia Melloni, Research Group Leader, Max Planck Institute for Empirical Aesthetics

with Virginia Cooper, an Advisor for Programs in Discovery Science at TWCF.

Learn about TWCF's Accelerating Research on Consciousness (ARC) Priority.

Listen to the related podcast.

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.