Seminar Series

Predicting consciousness

The simplicity and directness with which we have conscious experience of the world around us belies the complexity of the underlying neural mechanisms, which remain incompletely understood. This talk will review recent work from our laboratory that focuses on using spatial patterns of activity in visual cortex to predict conscious and unconscious perception. This type of approach can be used successfully to derive direct measures of orientation-specific processing for both visible and invisible stimuli in primary visual cortex even at the low spatial resolution of conventional MRI. Such observations establish the presence of unconscious feature-specific processing in early visual cortex, as predicted by influential theories of consciousness. Moreover, we can also use such spatial patterns of activity to track rapid and spontaneous fluctuations in the stream of consciousness induced by binocular rivalry. It is therefore possible to predict the dynamically changing time course of subjective experience relying on brain activity alone. Taken together, these findings point to new and potentially exiting possibilities for how functional MRI might be used to study both human consciousness and cognition more generally.