Behavioral Sciences, Cognitive & Experimental Psychology; qualia; consciousness; emission theories; perception; event-related brain potentials; P600 or late posterior positivity; N400
We take what we see, hear, smell and feel for the reality. However, as neuroscientists, we know that this reality, that is, our perceptual world, is in fact made up by the brain from the processing of the nerve impulses coming from receptors. Ancient Greeks used to think that this perceptual world, sometimes called our 3D movie (Chalmers), is emitted and has its own physical nature. Given how real the 3D movie looks to us, it is still difficult today to consider that all we would be dealing with would be patterns of brain activity The present study thus aimed at testing whether the perceptual world could have some physical existence in addition to that of the neural patterns responsible for it. To achieve that goal, we tried to see whether brains could be sensitive to the 3D movie of others. This, admittedly unusual, operational hypothesis was based on two assumptions. First, brains are sensitive to the 3D movie, as our experience includes reactions to our perceptual world. Second, the physicality at stake does not differ across individuals. We recorded the event-related brain potentials (ERPs) evoked by stimuli of the international affective picture system in pairs of closely-related participants. Most importantly, they could neither see the stimuli simultaneously presented to their partners nor their reactions to them. As in Bouten et al. (2015), around 400 ms after the onset of the stimuli, ERPs started being more positive in inconsistent conditions. Namely, when the two subjects of each pair were presented with the same stimulus whereas they were told it would be a different one and vice-versa (i.e., different-stimuli expected to be same). ERPs were less positive when the two subjects of a pair were presented with the same stimuli and were told they were the same and conversely (i.e., different-stimuli expected to be different). The same experiment was then run in pairs of strangers. No significant effect of consistency on ERPs was observed even though participants could, this time, see, in the very periphery of their visual field, the reactions of their partner to the stimuli. We thus use the results of both studies to support a new version of the emission theory of consciousness and to suggest that the sensitivity to the perceptual world of others may depend on their prior familiarity with it.