Monday, July 15, 2013

Symposium 3: Beyond the contrastive method

Monday July 15 09:30-11:30

Beyond the contrastive method: How to separate the neural correlates of consciousness from its precursors and consequences

Chair: Lucia Melloni (Dep’t of Neurophysiology, MPI Frankfurt, DE/Columbia University)

The most prevalent approach to study the neural correlates of consciousness (NCC) today is to contrast conditions in which conscious perception occurs with conditions in which it does not. Here, conscious- ness is treated as the dependent variable and then correlated with brain activity. This “contrastive method” has brought about important insights into the NCC. However, despite this apparently straight- forward approach, results are inconclusive and contradictory (e.g., it is still debated whether the NCC occurs early or late, or whether it is expressed in local or distributed brain activity). This discord can be understood when considering a methodological pitfall in the contrastive method: The contrast between conscious perception and unconscious processing confounds the NCC with processes that necessarily precede and follow conscious perception (pre-NCC and post-NCC, respectively) without directly contrib- uting to subjective experience.

It is not straightforward to arbitrate which previous results address the NCC-proper and which reflect other processes. In this symposium we will outline the shortcomings of the contrastive analysis, put forward a new taxonomy that differentiates the processes besetting the NCC- proper, and propose novel experimental approaches to dissociate the NCC-proper from its antecedents and consequences. We review M-EEG and ECOG studies that have employed these new approaches to probe which neural process directly correspond to the NCC. This evidence suggests that previous results may have indeed missed the NCC and reported pre-NCC/post-NCCs. Finally, we will discuss how this new taxonomy relates to prevalent theories of consciousness, arguing that some theories might be about post-NCCs instead of NCC.

Distilling the Neural Correlates of Consciousness
Lucia Melloni (Dep’t of Neurophysiology, MPI Frankfurt/Columbia University)

Using MEG to track conscious access and its non-conscious consequences
Stanislas Dehaene, Lucie Charles (Inserm-CEA Cognitive Neuroimaging Unit, Paris, FR)

Isolating NCCs that are necessary and sufficient for visual awareness
Michael Pitts (Dep’t of Psychology, Reed College)

Core vs. Total NCC
Ned Block (Dep’t of Philosophy, New York University)

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