The Minimal Phenomenal Experience Project:

Towards a minimal-model explanation for consciousness

MPE is the abbreviation for “minimal phenomenal experience”. The main goal of this research project is to develop a minimal model of conscious experience, by focusing on awareness “as such”. One background assumption is that self-consciousness, time representation, and self-location in a spatial frame of reference are not necessary conditions for consciousness to occur. Currently, members of the network use an investigation of the phenomenology and neural correlates of specific subjective experiences in meditation as its main entry point, experiences which are later often described as episodes of “pure consciousness”.

General Introduction

A philosophical paper

Introducing some aspects of the general research strategy
(PMS 2020)

A first psychometric study

“Pure awareness” experiences in meditators
(PLOS ONE 2021)

Thomas Metzinger

The first two Pufendorf lectures about MPE
(October 2021)

Minimal Phenomenal Experience

An overview talk plus discussion
(September 2020)

The Elephant and the Blind

By Thomas Metzinger

In “The Elephant and the Blind”, influential philosopher Thomas Metzinger, one of the world’s leading researchers on consciousness, brings together more than 500 experiential reports to offer the world’s first comprehensive account of states of pure consciousness. Drawing on a large psychometric study of meditators in 57 countries, Metzinger focuses on “pure awareness” in meditation—the simplest form of experience there is—to illuminate the most fundamental aspects of how consciousness, the brain, and illusions of self all interact.

Date of publication: February 6, 2024

The MPE Network

Professor Emeritus
Philosophisches Seminar
Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz, Germany
National Academy of Sciences Leopoldina

Project partners

Postdoctoral Researcher,
Centre for Philosophical Psychology (CSPE),
University of Antwerp, Belgium
Former project manager of the MPE-network

Research Assistant Professor,
Department of Psychology,
The University of Texas at Austin, USA

Assistant Professor,
Department of Neurology,
Center for Sleep and Consciousness, University of Wisconsin, USA
Head of Philosophy,
Monash University, Australia

Visiting Researcher,
Department of Psychosomatic Medicine and Psychotherapy, Faculty of Medicine, University of Freiburg, Germany
Former project manager of the MPE-network

Principal investigator,
Donders Sleep & Memory Lab,
Radboud University, Netherlands

Alex Gamma

Independent Researcher

Research Fellow,
Tsadra Foundation,
NYC, USA

Lars Sandved-Smith

PhD candidate,
Cognition and Philosophy Lab,
Center for Consciousness and Contemplative Studies,
Monash University, Melbourne, Australia

Senior Scientist,
Social, Cognitive & Affective Neuroscience Unit,
University of Vienna, Austria

Director,
Cognition & Plasticity laboratory,
University of Amsterdam, Netherlands

Professor of Philosophy,
University of British Columbia,
Vancouver, Canada

Research fellow,
Department of Psychosomatic Medicine and Psychotherapy,
University of Freiburg, Germany

Postdoctoral Research Fellow,
Monash Centre for Consciousness and Contemplative Studies,
Melbourne, Australia

Subprojects

Psychometrics of pure awareness

Here, we use measurement and quantification, for example by applying statistical methods to descriptions of pure awareness. Psychometrics is concerned with the objective measurement of latent constructs (like “pure awareness”) that cannot be directly observed, for example by using mathematical models to infer from responses to items on tests and scales.

Pure awareness during dreamless deep sleep

Here, we want to try and demonstrate in the lab that the experience of pure consciousness can actually occur during dreamless deep sleep. This phenomenon has been called “clear light sleep” or “witnessing sleep” in the past, but it has almost never been researched using the tools of modern science.

Computational phenomenology of pure awareness

Here, we want to use formal methods of computational modelling to describe the phenomenology of pure awareness in a way that is, first, conceptually much more precise and fine-grained than would be possible in natural language. Second, computational phenomenology tries to achieve this goal in a “substrate-independent” manner, abstracting away from the physical realization of the system undergoing the experience.

Discover Our
Multilingual Questionnaire

The phenomena that this questionnaire focuses on are all experiences that involve “awareness of awareness itself” or “consciousness of consciousness itself”. The object of our investigation is a subjective experience called “consciousness as such”. This state is also sometimes called “pure awareness” or “pure consciousness”.

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