"The neurophysiological mechanisms of conscious perception are a major unsolved scientific riddle. Since linking brain activity and qualia is currently difficult, the common strategy in neuroscience is first to identify the ""Neural Correlates of Consciousness"" (NCC). A major insight is that consciously versus not consciously perceived stimuli differ not so much on an early sensory level, but mainly in that only consciously perceived stimuli involve a network of frontoparietal regions recurrently connected to sensory cortex. Yet, the studies adhere to the mainstream approach in cognitive neuroscience that relevant brain activity starts with stimulus onset, degrading ongoing fluctuations as irrelevant noise. The present proposal follows an alternative strategy by regarding the history of neuronal activity preceding the stimulus as in integral part of the NCC, i.e. as a window for consciousness. Central to this novel framework, is the extent to which relevant sensory regions are functionally connected to the frontoparietal system prior to stimulus arrival, constituting brain-states that open or close the ""window"" for specific contents. Different strategies will be pursued using advanced time-sensitive electrophysiological methods: 1) Offline experiments will be conducted focussing on the functional connectivity state prior to stimulus onset. 2) A novel online approach will be pursued in which relevant features / signals derived from 1) will be used to control perception experiments in realtime. 3) Cortical stimulation (via TMS) will be applied to selectively modulate ongoing states of functional coupling and to test their effects on conscious perception. While 1) would establish the prestimulus functional network state as important part of the NCC, 2) and 3) would go beyond the correlative level, testing for their causal implication. Overall, including the prestimulus state into the NCC constitutes a paradigm shift in the neuroscience of consciousness."
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Funding SchemeERC-SG - ERC Starting Grant