Publication 4458

Le Van Quyen M. & Petitmengin C. (2002) Neuronal dynamics and conscious experience: An example of reciprocal causation before epileptic seizures. Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences 1(2): 169–180. Fulltext at
Neurophenomenology (Varela 1996) is not only philosophical but also empirical and experimental. Our purpose in this article is to illustrate concretely the efficiency of this approach in the field of neuroscience and, more precisely here, in epileptology. A number of recent observations have indicated that epileptic seizures do not arise suddenly simply as the effect of random fluctuations of brain activity, but require a process of pre-seizure changes that start long before. This has been reported at two different levels of description: on the one hand, the epileptic patient often experiences some warning symptoms that precede seizures from several minutes to hours in the form of very specific lived events. On the other hand, the analyses of brain electrical activities have provided strong evidence that it is possible to detect a pre-seizure state in the neuronal dynamics several minutes before the electro-clinical onset of a seizure. We review here some of the ongoing work of our research group concerning seizure anticipation. In particular, we discuss experimental evidence of upward (local-to-global) formation of conscious experience and its neural substrate, but also of the downward (global-to-local) determination of local neuronal activity by situated conscious activity and its substrate large-scale neural assemblies. This causal role of conscious experience may lead to new kinds of therapy for epileptic patients.

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