MMCR Seed Funding

Contributing to consciousness research, Jan 2020

As part of our commitment to the contribution of consciousness research across science, philosophy, engineering and the arts, the MMCR network offered seed funding to Early Career Researchers and graduate students.

The funding facilitates new cross disciplinary research collaborations and brings together diverse expertise to address research questions and topics that relate to consciousness. Projects with a creative focus or component, facilitating broader engagement and communication, were regarded favourably in the selection process.

The successful recipients for 2020 are announced below, accompanied by a short summary of their projects. More information will be available on our News page over coming months.

Project Title: ‘Music to my ears – real-time sonification of brain activity as an artistic performance and personal experience’

Julian Matthews: Cognitive Neurosience, Monash University, Mitch Catterall: Fine Arts, University of Melbourne, Thomas Andrillon: Psychology, Monash University, Patrick Cooper: Psychology, Monash University and William Wong: Psychology, Monash University

Have you got a song in your head? This project will demonstrate that everyone can make music if they put their mind to it. Our brains produce electrical activity as a natural product of observing and acting on the world. This team of neuroscientists and musical artists has come together to transform, in real-time, the electrical activity of the brain into a real musical banger. The team will monitor ongoing electrical activity from the scalp using a non-invasive neuroimaging cap. Key features of this activity will be converted into musical data and, with the power of the mind, you too can conduct a symphony.

Project Title: ‘Understanding the impacts of environmental exposure on epileptic seizures’

Zhuying Chen: Biomedical Engineering, University of Melbourne, Rongbin Xu: Medicine, Monash University and Wenhua Yu: Medicine, Monash University

Epilepsy is known to induce striking temporary changes in a person’s conscious experience and cognitive functions. The characterisation of neural activation patterns accompanying seizures is improving, yet there is still a lot to understand in terms of how an individual’s environment impacts these activity patters to increase the likelihood of a seizure event.

This project aims to evaluate whether epileptic seizures are related to two important environmental factors, ambient temperature and air pollution. We will answer this question by comparing the environmental conditions right before the seizure and the periods without the seizure. The seizures will be collected from the world’s first-in-man clinical trial of an implantable seizure advisory system. This study will inform evidence-based prevention of epileptic seizures, e.g., to avoid high air pollution levels and adverse ambient temperature among epileptic patients.

Project Title: ‘Prediction in consciousness: action guided conscious experience’

Andrew Corcoran: Philosophy, Monash University, Tessel Blom: Psychology, University of Melbourne, Kelsey Perrykkad: Philosophy, Monash University, Youjia Lu: Fine Arts, University of Melbourne, Mitch Catterall: Fine Arts, University of Melbourne, Dr Jonathan Robinson: Philosophy, Monash University and Dr Daniel Feuerriegel: Psychology, University of Melbourne

Consciousness has traditionally been studied by measuring passive experience in tightly-controlled laboratory conditions. However, what makes consciousness so fascinating is the rich flow of experience created by our interactions with the world. This project aims to shed new light on the dynamic interplay between action and conscious awareness. Using a variety of experimental techniques, we will examine how the consequences of our voluntary actions influence our brain states and conscious experiences. Beyond the lab, we will investigate how these phenomena play out during real-time participation in interactive performance pieces. These studies will serve as a platform for creating novel artworks that may inspire new questions about the nature of consciousness.

Project Title: ‘Auditory Pitch Intervals – a potential case of mismatching between physical and phenomenal similarity’

Angus Leung: Psychology, Monash University, Mitch Catterall: Fine Arts, University of Melbourne, Elise Rowe: Psychology, Monash University, Yota Kawashima: Psychology, Monash University Qianchen Liang: Psychology, Monash University and Jasmine Walter: Psychology, Monash University

The search for the neural interactions underlying conscious experience involves finding a one-to-one correspondence between perception and neural activity. Importantly, similar neural activity should underlie similar experiences, regardless of similarities in the physical world. In this project, we aim to 1) investigate perceived similarities among sequences of musical notes (tunes), with the expectation that physically similar tunes may not necessarily sound similar, and 2) compare the similarities among neural activities recorded when listening to the tunes to both the perceived and physical similarities, with the anticipation that they will correspond more to the perceived similarities.

Project Title: ‘Connection and Consciousness – an interpersonal multi-sensory experience’

Regan Gallagher: Neuroscience, Monash and Joanna Buckley Visual Arts, University of Melbourne

Our project applies principles from neuroscience and psychology into an abstract-art experience. The project will use visual, auditory, and neural feedback to induce a state of shared experience between people. We will make use of illusions, sensory distortions, and eye-gaze meditation to create a physical space for the public to learn about (and experience) changes in conscious states. We aim to produce an immersive art exhibit with both neuroscientific significance and public appeal.

Project Title: ‘Global States in Artificial Intelligence ’

Andrew McKilliam: Philosophy, Monash, Ariel Zeleznikow-Johnston: Neuroscience, Florey – University of Melbourne and Augustus Hebblewhite: Electrical and Computer Systems Engineering, Monash University

Dreaming, drunkenness, and delirium are examples of global states of consciousness: states that characterise an organism’s overall conscious condition. It is normal, perhaps even necessary, for conscious organisms to occupy a range of such states over the course of a single day. Nonetheless, little is known about the cognitive parameters that regulate global states and their relation to consciousness-making. We are addressing this issue from a novel direction: by considering parameters that govern network-wide behaviour in artificial systems. In addition, we are exploring whether the capacity for a range of global states might be necessary for genuinely intelligent artificial systems.

Why does consciousness research matter?

An understanding of consciousness, and the mechanisms that create our experience of the world and our place within it, is more important than ever before. Significant to our everyday lives, consciousness research has far reaching implications for: