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Towards understanding human consciousness: How internal brain states and environmental context shape our subjective experience

Objective

Consciousness is subjective experience, the ‘what it is likeness’, for example to perceive a certain scene or to feel joy. In the last three decades tremendous progress has been made in identifying the neural correlates of consciousness at the level of whole brain regions. Meanwhile, outside the field of consciousness, rapid progress has been made in understanding neural, biochemical and psychological factors that have to be accounted for to further understand human consciousness. Most importantly, we know much more about the neurotransmitter systems underlying basic sensory processes in animals (e.g. neurobiology), the mechanisms responsible for fluctuations in wakefulness and arousal (e.g. anesthetics/neurobiology), and how perception is constructed by the brain’s predictions about regularities in the world (e.g. neuroscience/psychology). This research has, however, been performed in relative isolation from studies of human consciousness and clear opportunities to link these different fields remain largely unexplored. Here I will establish this crucial link by combining state-of-the-art neuroimaging techniques with pharmacological interventions and computational modelling in humans performing novel experimental tasks gauging subjective perceptual experience. My project has 3 main aims. I will first test the hypothesis that excitatory and inhibitory neurotransmitters play central, albeit different roles in recurrent neural processes, crucial for conscious experience. Second, I will test how subjective experience is shaped by spontaneous fluctuations in arousal and levels of physical activity. Third, I will test how conscious experience is modulated by the interplay between predictions and sensory input. This research promises to provide an integrative framework for understanding the neural and biochemical mechanisms of consciousness, and will reveal how it is shaped and determined by being a human agent that interacts with, acts in, and predicts its environment.

Coordinator

UNIVERSITEIT VAN AMSTERDAM
Net EU contribution
€ 1 999 562,50
Address
Spui 21
1012WX Amsterdam
Netherlands

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Region
West-Nederland Noord-Holland Groot-Amsterdam
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
Other funding
€ 0,00