Consciousness: according to Science magazine the second most important question facing science over the next quarter-century. How can something so inherently private and subjective be produced by the physical properties and organisation of neurons in the brain? What is the secret for turning matter into consciousness? From 2006 until 2009 the EUROCORES programme "Consciousness in a Natural and Cultural Context (CNCC)" offered a valuable framework for researchers from the humanities, social and natural sciences to build joint research projects to approach this question.
The problem of consciousness has long been the exclusive domain of philosophers. Nowadays, consciousness research is becoming an interdisciplinary enterprise, with researchers from the humanities, social and natural sciences working in close collaboration. The EUROCORES Programme CNCC intends to lead this revolution in consciousness studies, offering a powerful platform for international and interdisciplinary research on the nature, origins, and dynamics of consciousness.
The leading idea behind the CNCC programme is that consciousness is both a cultural and a biological phenomenon. This implies overcoming the debate between dualism - according to which consciousness cannot be reduced to physical phenomena - and neurophysiological reductionism - maintaining that the central nervous system is the sole physical cause of conscious experience. There is more to consciousness than just brain activity, but this does not make consciousness something apart from physical reality. On the contrary, we must broaden the scope of our theoretical and empirical models, investigating consciousness as emergent from complex interactions across different dimensions: the neurophysiology of consciousness is embedded in skillful body activity, ongoing interactions with relevant features of both natural and social environments, and processes of cultural transformation.
All CNCC Collaborative Research Projects share this novel perspective on consciousness, and develop it in greater details tackling specific features of conscious experience: the interplay between phenomenology, neurophysiology and intersubjectivity (BASIC), the role of the extended mind hypothesis for understanding the effects of reconceptualization (BOUNDARIES), the ways in which spatial perception and sensory-motor dynamics influence each other (CEWR), the processes by which skillful interaction with natural and social environments can enable conscious experience (CONTACT) and the study of different forms of metacognition as a precursor to self-consciousness (METACOGNITION). These large-scale interdisciplinary projects, involving 33 research teams from 11 countries and running for 3 years (November 2006 – November 2009), constitute one of the major research initiatives on consciousness studies ever attempted.