Accelerating Research on Consciousness: An Adversarial Collaboration to Test Contradictory Predictions of Global Neuronal Workspace and Integrated Information Theory
September 1, 2019 - December 1, 2022
Core Funding Area:
Director: Dr. Lucia MelloniInstitution: Max Planck Gesellschaft zur Foerderung der Wissenschaften e.V.
Our lives dwell in our conscious experiences: this is where love, hate, regret, deliberation, and thinking reside. Every day, we lose and regain consciousness as we fall asleep and wake up. Yet consciousness is one of the least understood aspects of human nature—perhaps even nature at large.
What mechanisms give rise to consciousness? Extensive research has explored this question, leading to several prominent theories. But so far, the focus has been on testing each theory independently. A crucial question remains: which theory has higher explanatory power when tested against each other directly? Led by Lucia Melloni, this project aims to bridge that gap. In the context of an adversarial collaboration, it will test two prominent theories of consciousness: the Global Neuronal Workspace theory (GNW), first developed by Bernard Baars and later championed by Stanislas Dehaene, and the Integrated Information Theory (IIT) proposed by Giulio Tononi. It will conduct two studies to test incompatible predictions of the theories, with the aim to accelerate progress in the field by producing legitimate evidence in support of one theory over the other. The team follows core principles of open science: adversarial collaboration, powered studies, replication, and outsourcing of testing to impartial, highly qualified labs. This approach will ensure the highest standard of scientific practices, reducing potential biases in data analysis and assuring robustness of the findings.
If successful, this project will accelerate research on consciousness by providing decisive, field-transformative evidence in favor of one theory and against the other. It will also establish a groundbreaking model for scientific practices in cognitive neuroscience at large, by demonstrating the impact of team-based adversary research and open data. This will address major riddles in the field, much like established practices in other fields such as physics and genomics have done. Thus, this project may dramatically change the landscape of research—that is, the social practices and norms—in the field of cognitive neuroscience.
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