In the first phase of a $20 million dollar project, six laboratories are going to run experiments
with more than 500 participants to test two of the primary theories of consciousness:
The first two contenders are the global workspace theory (GWT), championed by Stanislas Dehaene of the Collège de France in Paris, and the integrated information theory (IIT), proposed by Giulio Tononi of the Uni-versity of Wisconsin in Madison. The GWT says the brain’s prefrontal cortex, which con-trols higher order cognitive processes like decision-making, acts as a central computer that collects and prioritizes information from sensory input. It then broadcasts the infor-mation to other parts of the brain that carry out tasks. Dehaene thinks this selection pro-cess is what we perceive as consciousness. By contrast, the IIT proposes that conscious-ness arises from the interconnectedness of brain networks. The more neurons interact with one another, the more a being feels conscious—even without sensory input. IIT proponents suspect this process occurs in the back of the brain, where neurons con-nect in a gridlike structure...Tononi and Dehaene have agreed to pa-rameters for the experiments and have reg-istered their predictions. To avoid conflicts of interest, the scientists will neither collect nor interpret the data. If the results appear to disprove one theory, each has agreed to admit he was wrong—at least to some extent
The labs, in the United States, Germany, the United Kingdom, and China, will use three techniques to record brain activity as volun-teers perform consciousness-related tasks: functional magnetic resonance imaging, electroencephalography, and electrocortico-graphy (a form of EEG done during brain sur-gery, in which electrodes are placed directly on the brain). In one experiment, research-ers will measure the brain’s response when a person becomes aware of an image. The GWT predicts the front of the brain will suddenly become active, whereas the IIT says the back of the brain will be consistently active.
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