Neuroimaging approaches to the stream of consciousness: Problems lost and found

M. Gruberger*, E. Ben-Simon, T. Hendler

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


The experience of mind-wandering, a fundamental element of the "stream of consciousness", is among the most basic and permanent expressions of conscious awareness. It forms the narrative aspect of our self awareness and occupies nearly a half of our waking mental lives. Though the phenomenon of mind-wandering has intrigued philosophers and psychologists for centuries, its unique fleeting and subjective character did not allow for a direct scientific examination. However, recent evidence in neuroscience may possibly put forward the neural basis of this important phenomenon and open the door to promising research in the field of consciousness in general. A decade ago the neuroscientific discovery of rest related brain activity was formulated. This newly discovered default-mode neural network (DMN) exerts higher activity levels during rest than during task performance and thus serves as a compelling candidate in the search for the neural basis of mind-wandering. In accordance, several studies have found correlations of DMN activity and subjective reports of mindwandering. Nevertheless, accepted modus operandi in mind-wandering research is scarce, generating a bottle neck for associating it with DMN rest-related activation patterns and pinpointing its neural correlates. The current chapter overviews existing literature from the fields of philosophy, psychology and neuroscience in order to define five methodological strategies for studying mind-wandering within a functional neuroimaging paradigm. Each strategy is further discussed in terms of its suitability for various neuroimaging and data analysis paradigms. These strategies could serve as the building blocks of mind-wandering research and advance our ability to scientifically explore this unique feature of our daily conscious experience.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationConsciousness
Subtitle of host publicationIts Nature and Functions
PublisherNova Science Publishers, Inc.
Number of pages17
ISBN (Print)9781620810965
StatePublished - Nov 2012


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