The mechanisms of semantic integration
How are able to understand the relations between objects or concepts? What are the neural mechanisms of understanding both abstract and categorical relations?
Imagine not being able to comprehend the relations between bananas and apples, to judge whether a fork is more likely to be found in a kitchen or in the garage, or to understand how a guitar can gently weep – all different types of semantic integration. Semantic integration involves the association of distinct meaningful signals, or representations (e.g., of objects, words or concepts) into an abstract, non-perceptual new one. In the lab, we strive at understanding the cognitive and neural underpinnings of this exceptional ability, by manipulating the relations between objects, scenes and words, and looking for the differences in performance and in neural activity. More specifically, we look for the cognitive prerequisites of semantic integration, for its temporal course and for its underlying neural mechanisms.
High-level processing in the absence of awareness
What are the limits of unconscious processing? How deep does it run? And which high-level processes do not necessitate conscious awareness?
In recent years, more and more evidence suggest that conscious awareness may not be necessary for different types of high-level processing. One of the most interesting venues of research focuses on consciousness’ role in information integration – may that be spatiotemporal, multisensory or semantic integration. This is of great importance to the study of consciousness, given the critical tie that is commonly assumed between consciousness and integration. Using different experimental paradigms, we aim at testing the strength of this tie, and unravel the neural substrates of high-level integrative processes in the absence of awareness. We further strive at delineating the limits of high-level unconscious processing, in an attempt to find the unique contribution of consciousness to high-level functions.
Studying the functions of consciousness in realtime
What is the function of consciousness? What advantage does it add, over and above unconscious processing? And how can this advantage be experimentally shown?
Even after centuries of theoretical effort and decades of experimental research, the functions of consciousness are still unknown. In the lab, we take a novel approach that addresses this fundamental psychological question by capitalizing on neuroscientific development. We are developing a real-time system that analyses intracranial and EEG data and presents it to the subject as sensory feedback. The system will be trained to detect unconscious neural events as they unfold, and present them to the subject online, hereby turning these unconscious events into consciously accessible ones. The effect of this manipulation on performance can then be measured, revealing the unique contribution of consciousness to the function of interest.
Neuroscience and the mind-body problem
What does neuroscience teach us about the mind-body problem? What are the relations between the brain’s operations and what we commonly refer to as ‘the soul’? And how do neuroscientific writings shape our views about the problem?
The mind-body problem has been sought after by generations of philosophers and scholars. In the last few decades, neuroscientists have entered the arena, with suggestions, theories and data that may (or may not) be relevant to this ontological problem. As part of our research on high-level cognition and its neural substrates, we are also interested in the influences of neuroscientific findings and theories on discussions over the mind-body problem, and on everyday conceptions of it. For example, we examined neuroscientific texts and found many that assign (often opposite) psychological predicates to both the person and the person’s brain – a type of writing that reflects, in our opinion, hidden dualistic assumptions.