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Brain, consciousness and disorders of consciousness at the intersection of neuroscience and philosophy
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
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 [en]
Brain; consciousness; disorders of consciousness; neuroethics; neurophilosophy
National Category
Neurology Medical Ethics Philosophy Ethics
Research subject
Philosophy; Neuroscience
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:uu:diva-392187ISBN: 978-91-513-0749-7 (print)OAI: oai:DiVA.org:uu-392187DiVA, id: diva2:1347252
Public defence
2019-10-30, Sal IX, Universitetshuset, Biskopsgatan 3, Uppsala, 09:00 (English)
Opponent
Supervisors
Projects
Human Brain Project
Funder
EU, Horizon 2020, 785907Available from: 2019-10-07 Created: 2019-08-30 Last updated: 2019-10-15
List of papers
1. The Intrinsic Activity of the Brain and Its Relation to Levels and Disorders of Consciousness
Open this publication in new window or tab >>The Intrinsic Activity of the Brain and Its Relation to Levels and Disorders of Consciousness
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
Keywords
Brain, Consciousness, Neuroscience, Philosophy
National Category
Philosophy Ethics Neurology
Research subject
Philosophy; Neuroscience
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:uu:diva-339292 (URN)
Funder
EU, Horizon 2020, 720270
Available from: 2018-01-17 Created: 2018-01-17 Last updated: 2019-08-30Bibliographically approved
2. Externalization of Consciousness: Scientific Possibilities and Clinical Implications
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Externalization of Consciousness: Scientific Possibilities and Clinical Implications
2015 (English)In: Ethical Issues in Behavioural Neuroscience / [ed] G. Lee-J. Illes-F Ohl, Springer Berlin/Heidelberg, 2015, p. 205-222Chapter in book (Refereed)
Abstract [en]

The paper starts by analyzing recent advancements in neurotechnological assessment of residual consciousness in patients with disorders of consciousness and in neurotechnology-mediated communication with them. Ethical issues arising from these developments are described, with particular focus on informed consent. Against this background, we argue for the necessity of further scientific efforts and ethical reflection in neurotechnological assessment of consciousness and ‘cerebral communication’ with verbally non-communicative patients.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Springer Berlin/Heidelberg, 2015
Series
Current Topics in Behavioural Neuroscience, ISSN 1866-3370 ; 19
Keywords
Consciousness Disorders of consciousness Neurotechnology Informed consent
National Category
Neurology
Research subject
Neuroscience; Bioethics
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:uu:diva-245265 (URN)10.1007/7854_2014_338 (DOI)978-3-662-44866-3 (ISBN)
Projects
Human Brain Project
Funder
EU, FP7, Seventh Framework Programme, 604102
Available from: 2015-02-26 Created: 2015-02-26 Last updated: 2019-08-30
3. Large-scale brain simulation and disorders of consciousness: Mapping technical and conceptual issues
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Large-scale brain simulation and disorders of consciousness: Mapping technical and conceptual issues
2018 (English)In: Frontiers in Psychology, ISSN 1664-1078, E-ISSN 1664-1078, Vol. 9, article id 585Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

Modelling and simulations have gained a leading position in contemporary attempts to describe, explain, and quantitatively predict the human brain's operations. Computer models are highly sophisticated tools developed to achieve an integrated knowledge of the brain with the aim of overcoming the actual fragmentation resulting from different neuroscientific approaches. In this paper we investigate plausibility of simulation technologies for emulation of consciousness and the potential clinical impact of large-scale brain simulation on the assessment and care of disorders of consciousness (DOCs), e.g. Coma, Vegetative State/Unresponsive Wakefulness Syndrome, Minimally Conscious State.Notwithstanding their technical limitations, we suggest that simulation technologies may offer new solutions to old practical problems, particularly in clinical contexts. We take DOCs as an illustrative case, arguing that the simulation of neural correlates of consciousness is potentially useful for improving treatments of patients with DOCs.

Keywords
Consciousness, Consciousness Disorders, brain modeling, Neuroethics, brain simulation
National Category
Computer Systems Ethics Philosophy Neurology Bioinformatics and Systems Biology
Research subject
Neuroscience; Philosophy
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:uu:diva-347782 (URN)10.3389/fpsyg.2018.00585 (DOI)000430833800001 ()29740372 (PubMedID)
Projects
The human brain project
Funder
EU, Horizon 2020, 720270
Available from: 2018-04-06 Created: 2018-04-06 Last updated: 2019-08-30Bibliographically approved
4. Drug addiction: from neuroscience to ethics
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Drug addiction: from neuroscience to ethics
2018 (English)In: Frontiers in Psychiatry, ISSN 1664-0640, E-ISSN 1664-0640, Vol. 9, article id 595Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

In the present paper we suggest a potential new ethical analysis of addiction focusing on the relationship between aware and unaware processings in the brain, i.e. on what is consciously and what is non-consciously perceived by the individual. We take the case of the opioids epidemics to argue that a consideration of both aware and unaware processings provides a more comprehensive ethical framework to discuss the ethical issues raised by addiction.Finally, our hypothesis is that in addition to identified Central Nervous System’s neuronal/neurochemical factors contributing to addictive dynamics, the socio-economic status, i.e. the individual background, plays a causal role through epigenetic processes, originating the need for additional reward in the brain. This provides a strong base for a socio-political form of responsibility for preventing and managing addiction crisis.

Keywords
Addiction, Ethics of addiction, Unaware processing, Opioids Epidemics, Drugs addiction
National Category
Psychiatry Ethics
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:uu:diva-364429 (URN)10.3389/fpsyt.2018.00595 (DOI)000450456300001 ()30524319 (PubMedID)
Projects
Human Brain Project
Funder
EU, Horizon 2020, 785907
Available from: 2018-10-26 Created: 2018-10-26 Last updated: 2019-08-30Bibliographically approved

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