Manuela Kirberg

I have an interdisciplinary academic background combining anthropology, philosophy and cognitive science. Currently, I am developing a philosophically informed method for the experimental investigation of phenomenal consciousness in dreaming and waking wandering minds.

The contention of my thesis is that dreaming and mind wandering constitute a continuum of spontaneous conscious experiences across the sleep-wake cycle. Spontaneous experiences are defined as dynamic mental states in which thoughts and transitions occur freely and under minimal cognitive and external constraints. Dreaming, mind wandering and creative thinking overlap therefore in their dynamic production on a neurocognitive level, which highlights the flow of thoughts rather than their content. Consequently, this project goes against the received view of sharp wake-sleep differentiations and distinctions between conscious states. It rather investigates the extent to which mental activity is state-independent, cutting across the behavioural states of wakefulness and sleep as commonly defined. The initial task is to differentiate the multiple dimensions along which spontaneous states could be classified and compared in phenomenological, cognitive and neurophysiological terms. This process will be realised by taking into account characteristics that have been thought of as central for either defining dreaming (e.g. dream bizarreness) or mind wandering (e.g. detachment from environment) in previous research, and investigate the ways in which they characterize spontaneous experience across sleep-wake states. The philosophical aim of the project is to develop a new multidimensional model of spontaneous thought that overcomes current controversies and results in a comprehensive taxonomy of spontaneous cognition.

Twitter: @KirbergManuela