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Are you experienced? An exploration into the functions and value of consciousness

Project description

Consciousness and the experience behind it

What is consciousness? Studies point to a person’s perception or awareness of something in themselves or the world. But why do we have it? The EU-funded EXPERIENCE project will explore this intriguing mystery by introducing an interdisciplinary programme that is based on cognitive neuroscience methods and an integrative philosophy of mind – the study of the nature of the mind, its functions, events and properties. The project will target interactions between consciousness and affect in both perception and action via four work packages addressing: intrinsic subjective experience; valenced phenomenal field; subjective experience and intentional action; and subjective experience and functional effects. The findings will offer insight into why subjective experiences are important.


Why would we do anything at all if the doing was not doing something to us? In other words: What is consciousness good for? Here, reversing classical views according to which subjective experience is a mere epiphenomenon that affords no functional advantage, I propose that the core function of phenomenal experience is to enable subject-level valuation: “What it feels like” is endowed with intrinsic value. Thus, I argue that it is only in virtue of the fact that conscious agents experience things and care about those experiences that they are motivated to act in certain ways and that they prefer some states of affairs vs. others. Conscious experience functions as a mental currency of sorts that makes it possible for agents to compare vastly different states of affairs in a common subject-centred mental quality space — a feature that explains that consciousness is unified. While my previous work was focused on the how question of consciousness, here, I propose to focus on the even more challenging question of the why of consciousness. EXPERIENCE will address this issue by pursuing a rich interdisciplinary program rooted in integrative philosophy of mind and in innovative cognitive neuroscience methods applied to the interactions between affect and consciousness in perception and action. The project is articulated over four work packages, each addressing a specific claim: (1) Subjective experience has intrinsic value, (2) The phenomenal field is valenced, (3) All intentional action is motivated by subjective experience & (4) Subjective experience has functional effects. EXPERIENCE is high-risk, for the function of subjective experience is largely unexplored territory, and high-gain, for it promises to question entrenched distinctions and to move the scientific approach of conscious a step closer to what we all know: That subjective experience matters. In fact, in many respects, it is the only thing that matters, as without it, life would simply not be worth living.


Net EU contribution
€ 2 303 531,00
Avenue franklin roosevelt 50
1050 Bruxelles / brussel

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Région de Bruxelles-Capitale/Brussels Hoofdstedelijk Gewest Région de Bruxelles-Capitale/ Brussels Hoofdstedelijk Gewest Arr. de Bruxelles-Capitale/Arr. Brussel-Hoofdstad
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
Other funding
€ 0,00