We are happy to announce that Axel Cleeremans has received a second ERC Advanced Grant!
The 5-year project EXPERIENCE will investigate why we would do anything at all if the doing was not doing something to us, or, in other words: What is consciousness good for? Reversing classical views according to which subjective experience is a mere epiphenomenon that affords no functional advantage, Axel proposes that the core function of phenomenal experience is to enable subject-level valuation: “What it feels like” is endowed with intrinsic value. Thus, he argues that it is only in virtue of the fact that conscious agents experience things and care about those experiences that they are motivated to act in certain ways and that they prefer some states of affairs vs. others. Conscious experience functions as a mental currency of sorts that makes it possible for agents to compare vastly different states of affairs in a common subject-centred mental quality space — a feature that explains that consciousness is unified. While his previous work was focused on the how question of consciousness, in EXPERIENCE, he proposes to focus on the even more challenging question of the why of consciousness. EXPERIENCE will address this issue by pursuing a rich interdisciplinary program rooted in integrative philosophy of mind and in innovative cognitive neuroscience methods applied to the interactions between affect and consciousness in perception and action. The project is articulated over four work packages, each addressing a specific claim: (1) Subjective experience has intrinsic value, (2) The phenomenal field is valenced, (3) All intentional action is motivated by subjective experience & (4) Subjective experience has functional effects. EXPERIENCE is high-risk, for the function of subjective experience is largely unexplored territory, and high-gain, for it promises to question entrenched distinctions and to move the scientific approach of conscious a step closer to what we all know: That subjective experience matters. In fact, in many respects, it is the only thing that matters, as without it, life would simply not be worth living.