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Comparing theories of consciousness: Why it matters and how to do it

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  • Simon Hviid Del Pin, Jagiellonian University in Kraków
  • ,
  • Zuzanna Skóra, Jagiellonian University in Kraków
  • ,
  • Kristian Sandberg
  • Morten Overgaard
  • Michał Wierzchoń, Jagiellonian University in Kraków

The theoretical landscape of scientific studies of consciousness has flourished. Today, even multiple versions of the same theory are sometimes available. To advance the field, these theories should be directly compared to determine which are better at predicting and explaining empirical data. Systematic inquiries of this sort are seen in many subfields in cognitive psychology and neuroscience, e.g. in working memory. Nonetheless, when we surveyed publications on consciousness research, we found that most focused on a single theory. When 'comparisons' happened, they were often verbal and non-systematic. This fact in itself could be a contributing reason for the lack of convergence between theories in consciousness research. In this paper, we focus on how to compare theories of consciousness to ensure that the comparisons are meaningful, e.g. whether their predictions are parallel or contrasting. We evaluate how theories are typically compared in consciousness research and related subdisciplines in cognitive psychology and neuroscience, and we provide an example of our approach. We then examine the different reasons why direct comparisons between theories are rarely seen. One possible explanation is the unique nature of the consciousness phenomenon. We conclude that the field should embrace this uniqueness, and we set out the features that a theory of consciousness should account for.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberniab019
JournalNeuroscience of Consciousness
Number of pages8
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2021

    Research areas

  • consciousness, strong inference, theoretical comparison, theories and models

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