Consciousness and brain states: neuroscience studies and conceptual innovation (ConsciousBrainConcepts)

We combine conceptual, psychological and neuroscientific tools to make progress on fundamental issues in consciousness research.

Project leader: Sebastian Watzl, Associate Professor, Department of Philosophy, Classics, History of Art and Ideas, Faculty of Humanities, UiO

Principal investigators:

  • Johan Frederik Storm, Professor, Physiology section, IMB, Faculty of Medicine, UiO
  • Rene Huster, Professor, Department of Psychology, Faculty of Social Sciences, UiO
  • Solveig Aasen, Researcher, Department of Philosophy, Classics, History of Art and Ideas, Faculty of Humanities, UiO


One of the most remarkable phenomena emerging from the evolution of living organisms is the brain’s capacity to generate consciousness, subjective experience of the world and itself.

How consciousness (awareness) arises from and relates to material brain processes (the “mind-body problem”) has been pondered by thinkers for centuries, and is seen as one of the deepest unsolved problems in science, with wide-ranging theoretical and practical (clinical, ethical) implications. However, consciousness was largely seen as a purely philosophical topic until two decades ago, when Francis Crick and other pioneers of modern life sciences, argued for a science of consciousness. Since then, advances in neuroscience methods and theories have yielded remarkable results, opening up the field for scientific and clinical progress.

In this interdisciplinary project, we will address the problem of consciousness from both neurobiological and philosophical perspectives. In particular, we will draw on the philosophical methodology of conceptual engineering, which not merely analyzes our current concepts, but proposes new and improved ones. We will apply this methodology to to the neuroscientific research of consciousness, in order to boost its progress. We believe this effort is crucial and timely, because consciousness research is growing rapidly, but lack of conceptual clarity is currently a major obstacle for progress both within the neuroscience of consciousness and philosophy of mind, and for communication between these and other disciplines.

This effort can have substantial practical, technological, clinical, ethical, and societal implications, in medicine (including diagnosis and treatment of disorders of consciousness after brain injury, during surgical anesthesia, and in psychiatric disorders), psychology, information theory, computer science, artificial intelligence, robotics, and neurotechnology (such as brain-machine interfaces, and neuroprostheses).

We aim at establishing an interdisciplinary master program in consciousness research at UiO, and a center for interdisciplinary consciousness research in Oslo.

Primary objectives

The project will contribute to one of most novel and rapidly expanding branches of the life sciences, consciousness research, by combining empirical neurobiological, psychological, and conceptual/philosophical approaches, insights, and perspectives.

 (1) To propose and develop conceptual clarifications and revisions within the field of consciousness research, by combining novel insights and methods both from the emerging neuroscience of consciousness and from conceptual engineering, a new method of philosophy.

(2) To employ the improved concepts to design, refine, and perform key experimental tests within the field of consciousness research, to resolve fundamental issues such as the relationships between perception, attention, and consciousness, building upon our previous experimental results, as well as those of others.

Secondary objectives

  • Experimentally distinguishing and testing main theories of consciousness.
  • Testing: is consciousness needed for perception?
  • Testing: is attention needed for consciousness?


  1. Johan F. Storm, Physiology section, Dept. of molecular medicine, IMB, Medical Faculty
  2. Rene Huster, Department of Psychology, Faculty of Social Sciences
  3. Sebastian Watzl, Solveig Aasen, Department of Philosophy, Classics, History of Art and Ideas, Faculty of Humanities

External Consortium Members:

Published Mar. 26, 2019 10:29 AM - Last modified May 20, 2022 3:33 PM