Meaning, value, purpose, and their place in nature: toward a new, intrinsic scientific ontology
TWCF Number
Project Duration
June 19 / 2023
- June 14 / 2024
Core Funding Area
Big Questions
North America
Amount Awarded

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Giulio Tononi
Institution Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System

Giulio Tononi, director of Wisconsin Institute for Sleep and Consciousness (WISC) at the University of Wisconsin suggests there’s a problem with the standard empirical method — namely, that scientists look for objective explanations that will hold true regardless of who makes an observation. He recognized this as an issue for research on consciousness. Tononi made quite a contrarian splash in the field by proposing the Integrated Information Theory (IIT). In simple terms, IIT sees the subjective experience of a system’s consciousness as closely tied to its objective properties. Regardless of whether IIT is right or wrong, recognizing the need to explain phenomena within a subjective context offers a unique opportunity to capture nuances that are otherwise easy to miss.

Building on the theoretical framework of IIT, a project team, directed by Tononi, seeks to develop and apply an 'intrinsic ontology' for foundational concepts beyond consciousness.

The project has two aims:

  1. Developing the mathematical and computational tools to explore the implications for human flourishing of this new, intrinsic scientific ontology. This includes a series of research activities.
  2. Making these tools available to the community as an open-source toolbox, accompanied by a Wiki explaining the notions underlying the new ontology.

If successful, the project could provide a new kind of explanation and research avenues relating to spiritual concepts such as meaning, purpose, truth, and agency.

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