The Consciousness, Cognition & Computation Group of the Center for Research in Cognition & Neurosciences at the Université Libre de Bruxelles seeks applicants for two four-year Ph.D. positions and two post-doc positions funded under the EXPERIENCE Advanced Grant from the European Research Council (ERC) awarded to Axel Cleeremans.
These positions open on January 1st, 2023.
EXPERIENCE is an ambitious, five-year project dedicated to addressing a fundamental question in the broad domain of consciousness science: Why would we do anything at all if the doing was not doing something to us? 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, EXPERIENCE proposes that the core function of phenomenal experience is to enable subject-level valuation: “What it feels like” is endowed with intrinsic value. Thus, 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. EXPERIENCE will address the “why” question of consciousness 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 promises to question entrenched distinctions and to move the scientific approach of consciousness 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.
For further background on the ideas behind this project, applicants are invited to consult this open-access article.
While the specific contents associated with each of the two positions is open to discussion, the following is envisioned:
Position 1 (Post-Doctoral Associate) is aimed at developing the core philosophical argument that phenomenal experience has intrinsic value. This will entail laying the groundwork necessary to support this core claim, and will involve integrative philosophical analysis and argument. What difference does it make to feel things? Could it be that the very function of consciousness — what it does — is precisely to make us experience things — what it feels like?
Successful applicants for this position are expected to hold a Ph.D. in Philosophy of mind (strongly preferred) or in Cognitive Science, to have a deep interest in consciousness research, and to show acquaintance with the relevant empirical literature. Excellent knowledge of English is expected. The successful applicant will be expected to oversee and drive the project with the PI and the other post-doc, and to be involved in supervising the work of a philosophy Ph.D. student (Position 3) who will also be involved in developing this aspect of EXPERIENCE.
Position 2 (Post-Doctoral Associate) is aimed at overseeing and developing the empirical aspects of EXPERIENCE with the PI and in coordination with Post-doc 1. This will involve about 17 empirical studies dedicated to (1) demonstrating that all conscious perception is valenced, (2) demonstrating that only conscious perception is valenced, (3) showing that motivation requires awareness, and (4) exploring the effects of subjective experience on performance.
The successful candidate will hold a Ph.D. in Psychology, Cognitive Science, Neuroscience or related disciplines. An interest in consciousness research, experience conducting behavioural research, including experimental design and data analysis skills, are essential. Because the project will appeal to computational methods such as Representational Similarity Analysis and to brain imaging, prior expertise with cognitive neuroscience computational methods and neuroimaging (i.e., RSA, PCA, MVPA, Bayesian modeling, ANNs) are strong advantages. Excellent knowledge of English and basic knowledge of French is expected. Successful applicants will be involved in the supervision of several Ph.D. Student (Position 4), who will be in charge of developing the empirical aspects of EXPERIENCE. At the beginning of the project, the relevant experiments will essentially be focused on exploring the idea that all conscious perception is valenced, and that valuation requires awareness.
The two Post-Doc positions will be funded for up to five years, and are remunerated in line with Belgian salaries in comparable positions (approx. 31K € / year net, as well as social security benefits). Applicants cannot have resided or worked in Belgium for longer than 24 months during the 36 months preceding the start of the position, nor hold their PhD for more than 8 years at the start of their contract.
Position 3 (Ph.D. in Philosophy). Successful applicants will hold a master’s degree or equivalent in philosophy, cognitive science or a related field. They will work in close connection with Post-Doc 1 and the PI to develop the conceptual core of EXPERIENCE.
Position 4 (Ph.D. in Psychology / Neuroscience / Cognitive Science). Successful applicants will hold a master’s degree or equivalent in psychology, neuroscience, cognitive science or a related field. They will work in close connection with Post-Doc 2 and the PI to develop the relevant empirical aspects of EXPERIENCE.
Both candidates will have great to excellent knowledge of English, and basic knowledge of French is a plus. The two Ph.D. positions will be funded for four years and are remunerated according to Belgian Ph.D. standards (approx. 22K € / year net, as well as social security benefits).
Successful applicants will join the extant CO3 lab (about 7 members) and form the EXPERIENCE team, which will be enriched by two further Ph.D. students hired in 2024.
Informal enquiries accompanied by a CV and a short statement of interest may be sent to Axel Cleeremans (firstname.lastname@example.org) with the following subject: ARE YOU EXPERIENCED?
Applications will continue to be examined until the positions are filled. Starting dates can range from January 2023 to March 2023, but preference will be given to qualified applicants who can begin on January 2nd, 2023.
About the Center for Research in Cognition & Neurosciences of the Université Libre de Bruxelles:
The CRCN is presented in detail on this website. In short, the CRCN unites five teams active in these different domains: The Consciousness, Cognition & Computation Group (CO3, directed by Axel); the Neuropsychology and Functional Imaging Research Group (UR2NF, directed by Philippe and Charline); the Laboratoire Cognition Langage et Développement (LCLD, directed by Fabienne); the Unité de Recherche en Neurosciences Cognitives (UNESCOG, directed by Régine) and the Action Bias & Control Group (AB&C, directed by Wim). Together, the five teams represent about 60 active members who collectively explore a wide range of research topics. The CRCN organises its activity in close collaboration with the ULB Neuroscience Institute (UNI), of which it is a component. The research activity of the CRCN is focused on different domains of the cognitive neurosciences, in particular: The study of consciousness and of the differences between conscious and unconscious processing, the study of memory consolidation processes and of sleep, the study of learning mechanisms, in particular as they take place in spoken language and in reading, and the study of cognitive control. In many cases, our approach combines behavioural experimentation, imaging methods, and clinical research. The CRCN benefits from a state-of-the-art technical platform which, in addition to numerous individual or collective testing booths dedicated to behavioural experiments, includes (1) an electroencephalography (EEG) and electromyography (EMG) lab, (2) a Near Infrared Spectroscopy (NIRS) platform, (3) a dedicated babylab, (4) an eye-tracking platform, and (5) a dedicated sleep lab (forthcoming in 2015). Thanks to the ULB Neuroscience Institute, the CRCN also enjoys privileged access to the imaging platform of the Laboratoire de Cartographie Fonctionnelle du Cerveau (LCFC) at the Erasme University Hospital. This includes a 3T fMRI scanner, a magnetoencephalography (MEG) platform, and a Positron Emission Tomography (PET) scanner.