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Dr. Anil Seth, University of Sussex, UK

Dates of visit: November 2013, November 2012, March 2011 Host: Victor Lamme

Dr. Anil Seth is director of the Sackler Center for Consciousness Science at the University of Sussex, in Brighton, UK. He is an internationally renowned expert in the field of consciousness, and has advanced our knowledge of the mind-brain relation with numerous conceptual, theoretical and methodological advances. His work on the application of Granger Causality analysis (GCA) to brain signals like MEG, EEG and fMRI has made it possible to look at high level cognitive functions in terms of brain dynamics and complexity. Most pertinent is the calculation of Causal Density as an independent measure of consciousness, which can be used to verify theories on consciousness but likewise can be applied to non-communicating patients, animals or even machines.

During his stay at the CSCA, Dr. Seth gave a two-day workshop for staff and PhD students (about 35 people) on how to apply GCA to brain data, how to properly interpret these analyses, and what the future directions of these applications are.The workshop was tailor-made on the basis of an inventory of the staff’s questions and whishes, and hence was of extreme practical use.

Following this workshop, Dr. Seth spoke with a large number of staff and students about potential ways of analyzing data, preparing experiments and future collaborations. This was not only with researchers of the inviting research priority program (Lamme and Pennartz group: Sligte, Fahrenfort, Vandenbroucke, Meuwese, Van Loon), but also with a wide range of people from other programs, such as those working on cognitive control (Cohen, Fortsmann), perception (Donner, Knapen), synesthesia (Rouw), fMRI (Scholte), image statistics (Scholte, Ghebreab, Groen) and methodology (Waldorp, Wagenmakers). Also, there was a keen interest from people at the Netherlands Institute for Neuroscience (Roelfesema, Kerkoerle, Poort) who would like to apply these methods to the data recorded from different regions of the cortex in monkeys.

With Dr. Lamme, three projects were planned for direct collaboration. In these projects, MEG/EEG and fMRI signals will be recorded in tasks that enable a dissociation between phenomenal and access consciousness, reveal the mechanisms underlying illusory percepts, and distinguish between successive stages in making decisions about perceptual input.

To wrap things up, Dr. Seth gave a well received general lecture on the topic of consciousness entitled ‘Measuring consciousness: from behaviour to neurophysiology’. Some 150 people attended. Finally, Dr. Seth spoke to a journalist from NRC Handelsblad about his work.

Dr. Seth’s visit clearly made a huge difference and will have a large impact on the work that is planned for the future. What needs to be worked out are details about how exactly to staff and finance the plans that have been made. Future visits of Dr. Seth or his staff members are eagerly anticipated.