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Consciousness is now a well-established field of empirical research. A large body of experimental results has been accumulated and is steadily growing. In parallel, many Theories of Consciousness (ToCs) have been proposed. These theories are diverse in nature, ranging from computational to neurophysiological and quantum theoretical approaches. This contrasts with other fields of natural science, which host a smaller number of competing theories. We suggest that one reason for this abundance of extremely different theories may be the lack of stringent criteria specifying how empirical data constrains ToCs. First, we argue that consciousness is a well-defined topic from an empirical point of view and motivate a purely empirical stance on the quest for consciousness. Second, we present a checklist of criteria that, we propose, empirical ToCs need to cope with. Third, we review 13 of the most influential ToCs and subject them to the criteria. Our analysis helps to situate these different ToCs in the theoretical landscape and sheds light on their strengths and weaknesses from a strictly empirical point of view.


This article was originally published in Cognitive Neuroscience in 2020.


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Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.



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