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On the nature of consciousness: an EEG-fMRI study and transdisciplinary perspectives

The project presupposes a fundamental distinction in the study of consciousness: While in the humanities, namely in the scientific reflection of spiritual and philosophical traditions of all times, consciousness is principally approached from the subjective internal perspective, in the neurosciences it is approached from the intersubjective (i.e. empirically surveyed) external perspective. The spiritual and philosophical practice and theory of consciousness also differs from the neuroscientific in that the latter always assumes "consciousness of something" when it comes to consciousness, whereas the latter have the concept of a "pure" consciousness, freed from any content, and also attest to it as reality. This experience of a pure consciousness represents, in the applicant's judgement, a minimal basic form of conscious experience and opens up "a new and unique direct access to understanding the minimal neural correlate of the conscious state itself". This neuronal correlate will be examined more closely in an experiment with 15 experienced meditation experts from different Buddhist traditions: The neuronal correlate of the meditation experts will be compared both in the state of consciousness with content and in that of pure consciousness. The same will be done in a control group with meditation novices. With the help of the most modern neuroscientific methods, an attempt will be made to find differences in the neuronal correlates of both states of consciousness. Special attention will be paid to differences in the synchronisation of the activity of different areas of the brain. The experimental research will be accompanied by interdisciplinary dialogues with researchers and practitioners who have worked on the phenomenon of consciousness in very different fields. 

Funding: Cogito & BIAL Foundation

Director: Prof. Dr. phil. Stefan Schmidt

Research assistants:   Dipl. Psych. Ulf Winter Dr. Isabel Ofer