We are delighted to announce the establishment of the Linda G. O’Bryant Noetic Sciences Research Prize. The prize will be awarded annually to an individual or team whose research helps extend the science of consciousness beyond the confines of the materialistic paradigm. Realized and administered by the IONS team, the prize augments our global mission in fostering creative and leading-edge approaches to the scientific investigation of consciousness and life. We are profoundly grateful to IONS Board Member and longtime supporter Linda G. O’Bryant for her generosity in establishing this visionary science prize.
Prevailing neuroscience theories of consciousness are grounded 17th-century physics. The physicalist assumption purports that material substrates in the brain, like neurons, have evolved to attain a level of complexity that ultimately gives rise to the emergence of consciousness (or, subjective awareness). Although this stance remains a hypothesis, it has lead some to make excessive claims about consciousness and human existence (“You are a machine made of meat.” –Marvin Minsky; “You are nothing but a pack of neurons.” –Francis Crick).
The aim of the Linda G. O’Bryant Prize is to support research on non-physicalist models of consciousness. These do not assume that a physical substrate generates consciousness; may allow that consciousness is as fundamental as matter, energy, or spacetime; and consider that the physical world might arise out of consciousness rather than the other way around. These perspectives, while as yet marginal for Western science, nevertheless underlie most ancient, esoteric, and Eastern cultures. Could such a non-physicalist framework better explain the full range of reported human phenomenology? Scholars and scientists have debated this question for thousands of years with no clear resolution. New models, experiments and data are needed to inform the research and advance our scientific understanding of consciousness. The goal of the Linda G. O’Bryant Prize is to provide ongoing support for this endeavor.
2023 Prize Topic
The inaugural Prize is for an essay that addresses the topic: How can the viability of the non-physicalist hypothesis be empirically tested? Or, alternately: What empirical test can demonstrate the inadequacy of physicalist models of consciousness? The Prize will be awarded to the entry proposing the most incisive and clearly feasible experimental or empirical test of one or both of these questions. Proposals will describe in detail the development and execution of scientific tests of the hypothesis that subjective phenomenological awareness is more than an emergent brain property. Tests must be feasible using currently available scientific methods, and support the alternative to the materialist stance that consciousness originates solely from the (classical) physical structures of the brain.
- Consciousness means the subjective sense of being aware of oneself and the environment.
- Experiment means a rigorously designed scientific study, including conventional or novel instrumentation, predefined protocols, and statistical analyses, as appropriate.
- Testable means the proposed theory must be falsifiable.
- Practical means the proposed theory must be feasible, assuming adequate resources.
The winning essay will receive a cash prize of $100,000. The application for the 2023 prize is now closed.
This prize is administered by the Institute of Noetic Sciences (IONS) thanks to the generous gift from Linda G. O’Bryant, Chair of the IONS Board Development Committee.