For centuries, scholars have been struggling with the problem of consciousness. What is consciousness? How is it related to physical events, and, more specifically, to neural ones? And, no less importantly, what does it do?
Below we describe a list of questions aimed at exploring the possible functions of consciousness (and, as a result, estimate the scope of unconscious processing).
In parallel to that, we are trying to explore possible answers to the primary question presented above – how does consciousness come about. We are interested in the Neural Correlates of Consciousness (NCC), and in finding ways to arbitrate between leading theories in the field.
In the last decades, several theories of consciousness have been raised; new theories continue to emerge without other theories being eliminated, possibly hindering progress towards convergence into a unified account.
In the lab, we focus on leading theories of consciousness, and look for ways to test them. In parallel, we are trying to identify the factors that might drive the current state of the field.
By synthesizing a large corpus of experiments (>400) and interpreting their findings in light of these theories, we provided an interactive and open overview of the field.
Check it out: http://ContrastDB.tau.ac.il/
In recent years, more and more evidence suggest that conscious awareness may not be necessary for different types of high-level processing.
One of the most interesting venues of research focuses on consciousness’ role in information integration – may that be spatiotemporal, multisensory or semantic integration.
This is of great importance to the study of consciousness, given the critical tie that is commonly assumed between consciousness and integration.
Using different experimental paradigms, we aim at testing the strength of this tie, and unravel the neural substrates of high-level integrative processes in the absence of awareness.
We further strive to delineate the limits of high-level unconscious processing, in an attempt to find the unique contribution of consciousness to high-level functions.
Adapted from Mudrik*, Fivere* & Koch, 2014, TiCS
Even after centuries of theoretical effort and decades of experimental research, the functions of consciousness are still unknown.
And the findings we do have, are mostly based on psychophysical manipulations that are well controlled and highly elegant, yet their external validity is unclear: do they capture the same processes which take place during every-day, real life unconscious processing?
In the lab, we seek for novel approaches to study unconscious vs. conscious processing. For example, using augmented reality to suppress real-life, actual objects (‘real-life CFS’), using virtual reality to simulate real-life scenarios or trying to decode unconscious events in real-time.
Adapted from Korisky, Hirschhorn & Mudrik, 2018, Behavior Research Methods
Out of the possible functions of consciousness, of special interest is its potential role in voluntary action: does our conscious experience of deliberating and deciding play an actual causal role in the processes leading to action?
This question evoked wide scientific and philosophical debates, as it pertains to the controversy around free-will.
One of the key findings which sparked this debate in the 20th century was Benjamin Libet’s finding that the readiness potential, an ERP component preceding voluntary action, actually precedes subjects’ conscious intention to move.
Yet we have shown – in collaboration with Dr. Uri Maoz – that this is only found for meaningless, arbitrary decisions, and not for meaningful, deliberate ones, and we are now continuing to explore the possible role of consciousness in voluntary action.
Adapted from Maoz, Yaffe, Koch & Mudrik, 2019, elife
Another key research question of our lab pertains to the possible effects cognition may have on perception.
While some researchers and philosophers consider the two to be modular and encapsulated from one another, we take the opposite stand and look for cases where cognition affects perceptual processing.
We have previously shown how semantic relations between objects and the scenes in which they appear constrain object processing, and we are still looking into these processes, as well as exploring other instances where semantic knowledge affects perception.
We study the neural underpinnings of these effects, as well as their relations with other phenomena like attention and consciousness.
Taken from the ObjAct stimulus-set (Shir et al., 2021)