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Previous Programs

2020 Consciousness in the Physical World
Awardees

2019 Intelligence in the Physical World
Awardees

2019 Information as Fuel
Awardees

2018 Agency in the Physical World
Awardees; RFP download

2016 Physics of the Observer
Awardees; RFP download

2015 The Physics of What Happens
Awardees; RFP download

2013 Physics of Information
Awardees; RFP download

2010 The Nature of Time
Awardees; RFP download

2008 Foundational Questions in Physics and Cosmology
Awardees; RFP download

2006 Foundational Questions in Physics and Cosmology
Awardees; RFP download

Aviva Berkovich-Ohana
University of Haifa

Project Title

Studying the boundaries of self-consciousness using a unique MEG-neurophenomenology setup

Project Summary

One approach for tackling the hard problem of consciousness starts with experience and then asks how can physical systems, such as brains, generate it. While rarely implemented, rigorous mapping of subjective experience, i.e. phenomenology, is a pre-condition for cognitive and neural models of it. Leveraging the highly-trained abilities of long-term meditators for examining and manipulating inner experience, we have provided proof-of-concept neural and phenomenological evidence that the boundaries of self-consciousness can be non-chemically and volitionally manipulated to the point of dissolution in laboratory settings. These findings open possibilities for addressing foundational questions of what are the boundaries of the self? Can self-boundaries be volitionally dissolved, expanded or enhanced? Is it possible to specify cognitive models linking experiential parameters to neurocognitive processes? And does flexibility in self-boundaries impact other mental qualities such as existential resilience, well-being and prosociality? Using a unique MEG-neurophenomenology setup, a multidisciplinary team and in collaboration with 50 meditators and matched controls, the proposed project employs neural, behavioral, self-report and phenomenological measures for an in-depth study of the nature and boundaries of human self-consciousness. Anticipated outcomes have topical implications beyond cognitive neuroscience, potentially providing new data on whether states of consciousness devoid of a sense-of-self are even possible.



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