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The Intrinsic Activity of the Brain and Its Relation to Levels and Disorders of Consciousness
Uppsala University, Disciplinary Domain of Medicine and Pharmacy, Faculty of Medicine, Department of Public Health and Caring Sciences, Centre for Research Ethics and Bioethics. (Bioethics)ORCID iD: 0000-0002-3298-7829
University and University Hospital of Liège, Liège, Belgium.
Uppsala University, Disciplinary Domain of Medicine and Pharmacy, Faculty of Medicine, Department of Public Health and Caring Sciences, Centre for Research Ethics and Bioethics.
2017 (English)In: Mind and Matter, ISSN 1611-8812, E-ISSN 2051-3003, Vol. 15, no 2, p. 197-219Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

Science and philosophy still lack an overarching theory of consciousness. We suggest that a further step toward it requires going beyond the view of the brain as input-output machine and focusing on its intrinsic activity, which may express itself in two distinct modalities, i.e. aware and unaware. We specifically investigate the predisposition of the brain to evaluate and to model the world. These intrinsic activities of the brain retain a deep relation with consciousness. In fact the ability of the brain to evaluate and model the world can develop in two modalities, implicit or explicit, that correspond to what we usually refer to as the unconscious and consciousness, and both are multilevel configurations of the brain along a continuous and dynamic line. Starting from an empirical understanding of the brain as intrinsically active and plastic, we here distinguish between higher cognitive functions and basic phenomenal consciousness, suggesting that the latter might characterize the brain’s intrinsic activity as such, even if at a very basic level. We proceed to explore possible impacts of the notion of intrinsic cerebral phenomenality on our understanding of consciousness and its disorders, particularly on the diagnosis and management of patients with disorders of consciousness.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Imprint Academic, 2017. Vol. 15, no 2, p. 197-219
Keywords [en]
Brain, Consciousness, Neuroscience, Philosophy
National Category
Philosophy Ethics Neurology
Research subject
Philosophy; Neuroscience
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:uu:diva-339292OAI: oai:DiVA.org:uu-339292DiVA, id: diva2:1175391
Funder
EU, Horizon 2020, 720270Available from: 2018-01-17 Created: 2018-01-17 Last updated: 2019-08-30Bibliographically approved
In thesis
1. Brain, consciousness and disorders of consciousness at the intersection of neuroscience and philosophy
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Brain, consciousness and disorders of consciousness at the intersection of neuroscience and philosophy
2019 (English)Doctoral thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

The present dissertation starts from the general claim that neuroscience is not neutral, with regard to theoretical questions like the nature of consciousness, but it needs to be complemented with dedicated conceptual analysis. Specifically, the argument for this thesis is that the combination of empirical and conceptual work is a necessary step for assessing the significant questions raised by the most recent study of the brain. Results emerging from neuroscience are conceptually very relevant in themselves but, notwithstanding its theoretical sophistication, neuroscience is not sufficient to provide a complete interpretation or an appropriate understanding of their impact. Consequently, the present thesis starts from the need for an interdisciplinary and hybrid field of research, i.e. fundamental neuroethics.

Within this framework, the thesis takes consciousness and related disorders (i.e. Vegetative State/Unresponsive Wakefulness Syndrome, Minimally Conscious State and Coma) and the addicted brain as illustrative cases of the potential fruitful collaboration between empirical and conceptual investigations.

The general goal of the thesis is to contribute to the overall development of bridging the gap between empirical and conceptual understandings of consciousness. The first paper sets the theoretical framework, providing an empirically-based description of the brain with significant philosophical implications for an understanding of consciousness. The last three papers of the thesis try to apply the theoretical framework to illustrative cases. Papers II and III analyse the possible application of science and technology for an easier detection and clinical care of patients with disorders of consciousness, with particular attention to communication mediated by neurotechnology and the simulation of the conscious brain, respectively; paper IV provides a potentially new ethical analysis of addiction within the elaborated general conceptual framework.

The conclusion of the thesis is that the impact of neuroscientific results needs that a dedicated conceptual approach reveals and investigates their conceptual meaning. This conceptual analysis is not exclusive but integrative and complementary to the empirical science. The case of consciousness, analysed from both an ethical and conceptual point of view, is highly illustrative in this respect. In the end, a conceptual/linguistic work of clarification is urgently needed.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Uppsala: Acta Universitatis Upsaliensis, 2019. p. 63
Series
Digital Comprehensive Summaries of Uppsala Dissertations from the Faculty of Medicine, ISSN 1651-6206 ; 1597
Keywords
Brain; consciousness; disorders of consciousness; neuroethics; neurophilosophy
National Category
Neurology Medical Ethics Philosophy Ethics
Research subject
Philosophy; Neuroscience
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:uu:diva-392187 (URN)978-91-513-0749-7 (ISBN)
Public defence
2019-10-30, Sal IX, Universitetshuset, Biskopsgatan 3, Uppsala, 09:00 (English)
Opponent
Supervisors
Projects
Human Brain Project
Funder
EU, Horizon 2020, 785907
Available from: 2019-10-07 Created: 2019-08-30 Last updated: 2019-10-15

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Farisco, MicheleEvers, Kathinka

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