A bet made 25 years ago between neuroscientist Christof Koch and philosopher David Chalmers about the discovery of the mechanism by which neurons produce consciousness has concluded, with both agreeing the quest continues and declaring Chalmers the winner. The wager was settled based on a key study, presented at the annual meeting of the Association for the Scientific Study of Consciousness (ASSC), which tested two leading theories on consciousness and found neither perfectly accurate.
- In 1998, Koch, optimistic about emerging technologies like fMRI and optogenetics, bet Chalmers that the mechanism through which neurons produce consciousness would be discovered by 2023. At the recent ASSC meeting, they declared the bet unsettled, and the quest for understanding consciousness is still ongoing.
- Both scientists were involved in a project supported by the Templeton World Charity Foundation, aiming to accelerate research on consciousness by conducting ‘adversarial’ experiments to test various hypotheses. The experiment included testing two leading hypotheses: Integrated Information Theory (IIT) and Global Network Workspace Theory (GNWT).
- The study involved six independent laboratories using complementary methods to measure brain activity. The results, which haven’t yet been peer-reviewed, indicated that both IIT and GNWT need revision as they did not perfectly align with the observed data.
- The results suggested that the IIT ‘structure’ in the posterior cortex may be observable, but the sustained synchronization between different brain areas predicted by the theory was not found. The GNWT fared slightly worse, with some aspects of consciousness identifiable in the prefrontal cortex and evidence of broadcasting is found only at the beginning of an experience, not also at the end as the theory predicts.
- Despite the inconclusive results, both Koch and Chalmers continue to be involved in further studies testing these and other theories of consciousness. Koch even expressed willingness to wager again, believing that continued advancements in scientific techniques will lead to a discovery within another 25 years.
Continue reading at https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-023-02120-8