An Adversarial Collaboration to Test Predictions of First-Order and Higher-Order Theories of Consciousness​
TWCF Number
Project Duration
December 23 / 2020
- December 22 / 2023
Core Funding Area
Big Questions
North America
Amount Awarded
Grant DOI*

* A Grant DOI (digital object identifier) is a unique, open, global, persistent and machine-actionable identifier for a grant.

Biyu Jade He
Institution New York University Grossman School of Medicine

Consciousness is one of the most familiar phenomena in nature, but it is also one of the least understood.

What is the relationship between consciousness and the brain? Many theories have emerged in recent years, but there is no consensus. Led by project director Biyu Jade He from New York University Grossman School of Medicine as well as David Chalmers and Ned Block from New York University, this project aims to test two classes of theories of the brain basis of visual consciousness.

In first-order theories, visual consciousness involves a sensory representation of the external world, with a neural basis in the visual cortex. In higher-order theories, visual consciousness involves a higher-order representation of a sensory representation, with a neural basis in the prefrontal cortex. This project involves an adversarial collaboration between proponents of two leading higher-order theories of consciousness, the Higher-Order Representation of Representation theory (HOROR) and the Perceptual Reality Monitoring theory (PRM), and a leading first-order theory of consciousness, the Recurrent Processing Theory (RPT).

Theory leaders and team members have designed two experiments that attempt to falsify higher-order and first-order theories. Leaders of each theory have suggested an experimental paradigm that may falsify opposing theories by dissociating visual consciousness from its neural correlates according to those theories.

The experiments are designed to meet the high standards of open science. Whatever the result, this adversarial collaboration will lead to a higher level of rigor in the scientific study of consciousness and help narrow down the space of viable theories.

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