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- Towards a Translational Neuroscience of Consciousness

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If you have a question about this talk, please contact Tristan Bekinschtein.

The cognitive neuroscience of conscious perception has seen considerable growth over the past few decades. Confirming an influential hypothesis driven by earlier studies of neuropsychological patients, we have found that the lateral and polar prefrontal cortices play important causal roles in the generation of subjective experiences. However, this basic empirical finding has been hotly contested by researchers with different theoretical commitments, and the differences are at times difficult to resolve. To address the controversies, I suggest one alternative venue may be to look for clinical applications derived from current theories. I outline an example in which we used closed-loop fMRI combined with machine learning to nonconsciously manipulate the physiological responses to threatening stimuli, such as spiders or snakes. A clinical trial involving patients with phobia is currently taking place. I also outline how this theoretical framework may be extended to PTSD , chronic pain, and hallucinations (for example in schizophrenia, as well as in cases without psychosis, such as in Parkinson’s disease and Lewy body dementia). Ultimately, a truly meaningful understanding of the fundamental nature of our mental existence should lead to useful insights for our colleagues on the clinical frontlines. If we use this as a yardstick, whoever loses the esoteric theoretical debates, both science and the patients will always win.

This talk is part of the Zangwill Club series.

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