Neuroscientists have reexamined hundreds of conflicting experiments on the relationship between brain activity and conscious experience. In the world of science today there are four leading and conflicting theories that deal with the study of awareness and the relationship to brain activity. In the study, the researchers re-examined hundreds of experiments that support the conflicting theories and discovered that the contradictions in the experimental findings are mainly due to methodological differences - that is, to a large extent, the form of the experiment predetermines its results
Researchers from Tel Aviv University re-examined 412 previous experiments with the help of artificial intelligence - and found that the methodological choices actually determined the outcome of the experiment, so much so that the algorithm allowed them to predict with 80% success which theory would support which experiment.
The surprising research was conducted under the leadership of Prof. Liad Modrik and Ithi Yaron from the School of Psychological Sciences and the Segol School of Neuroscience at Tel Aviv University, in collaboration with Prof. Lucia Maloney from the Max Planck Institute in Germany and Prof. Michael Pitts from Reed College in the USA. The study was published in the journal Human Behavior from Nature.
"The big question is how awareness is born from brain activity, or what distinguishes conscious processing from unconscious processing," explains Prof. Modric. "For example, if I see a red rose, my visual system processes the information and reports that there is a red stimulus in front of me. But what allows me - unlike a computer for example - to also experience this color? know how he feels In recent years, several theories have been proposed in the field of neuroscience that try to explain how conscious experience is born from brain activity. And although the theories contradict each other, each of them managed to gather empirical evidence for its justification with the help of experiments that were conducted. We re-examined all these experiments, and showed that the parameters of the experiment actually determine its results. In other words, the artificial intelligence we used was able to predict with an 80% success rate which theory the experiment would support, solely based on the researchers' methodological choices."
There are currently four leading theories in the study of awareness - and they contradict each other. The global neuronal workspace theory holds that there is a central neuronal network, and when information enters it, it transmits it across the brain and it becomes conscious. The high order thought theory claims that it is a specific area of the brain that points to other areas, marking this content as conscious. A third theory called recurring processing theory sees awareness as a type of re-feeding, meaning information that is processed once more in the sensing areas themselves, while the fourth theory - integrated information theory - defines awareness as the amount of unified information in the brain, and claims that posterior areas are responsible for creating the conscious experience.
Prof. Modric: "Each of these theories presents convincing experiments, yet the researchers are unable to reconcile them. Doctoral student Itai Yaron performed an in-depth analysis of all 412 experiments designed to test the four leading theories and found that the theories were simply not constructed in the same way. For example, some experiments focused on states in which awareness changes, such as a coma or a dream, and others investigated changes in the states of consciousness of healthy subjects. In some experiments measures of connectivity were tested, in others not. Researchers actually make a series of decisions when they build their experiment, and we have shown that these decisions alone - without the results of the experiments even being known - already predict which theory will be supported by those results. That is, these theories were tested in a different way, even though they try to explain the same phenomenon."
"Another finding is that the vast majority of the experiments we analyzed supported one of the theories, and did not rule it out. In other words, we seem to have a built-in bias to confirm theories and not disprove them, despite the fact that the philosopher of science Karl Popper said that science advances by disproving theories, not by confirming them," Prof. Modric adds. "Furthermore, when you put together all the findings reported in these experiments, it seems as if almost the entire brain is involved in the creation of the conscious experience, which does not correspond to any of the theories. In other words, the real picture seems to be more complex and complete than any of the existing theories. Apparently they are all wrong, and the truth is somewhere in the middle."
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