The unit aims to understand the neural correlates of human conscious awareness. Understanding consciousness remains one of the greatest mysteries for science to solve. How do our minds work? Will we ever be able to read thoughts? How can we know if persons who are anesthetized or in coma might feel pain or have any perceptions and how could we have access to these? What is brain death? What are near-death experiences? What happens in our brains during daydreaming, hypnosis or meditation? At present, nobody understands how matter (our trillions of neural connections) becomes perception and thought.
Our 3 laboratories study human consciousness and it’s physiological modifications. While philosophers have pondered upon the mind-brain conundrum for millennia, scientists have only recently been able to explore the connection analytically through measurements and perturbations of the brain’s activity. This ability stems from recent advances in technology and especially from emerging functional neuroimaging and electrophysiology studies.
The mapping of conscious perception and cognition in health (e.g., mind-wandering, hypnosis, hallucinatory drugs and anesthesia) and in disease (e.g., coma, “vegetative” unresponsive wakefulness, minimally conscious states, locked-in syndrome) is providing exiting new insights into the functional neuroanatomy of human consciousness. Our perception of the outside world (sensory awareness; what we see, hear, etc.) and our awareness of an inner world (self-awareness; the little «voice» inside that «speaks» to ourselves) seemingly depend on two separate networks we could recently identify.
Some might argue that the subjective aspect of the mind will never be sufficiently accounted for by the objective methods of reductionist science. We here prefer a more pragmatic approach and remain naively optimistic that technological advances might ultimately lead to an understanding of the neural substrate of human consciousness. We also address the ethical consequences of these scientific advances which offer the medical community unique ways to improve the clinical management and quality of life of patients.