At a Glance

SupportersAzrieli Foundation The Henry White Kinnear Foundation Richard M. Ivey Michael and Sonja Koerner The Lawrence and Judith Tanenbaum Family Foundation
PartnersBrain Canada Foundation through the Canada Brain Research Fund
Western University
Neuroscience, including cognitive neuroscience; biological and cognitive psychology; computer science, including artificial intelligence; genetics; anthropology; philosophy, including ethics; law

CIFAR Contact

Rachel Parker, Senior Director, Research

Where does human consciousness come from, and why is it important?

The quality of our consciousness is what sets us apart from other species, and seems to be one of the defining traits of being human. And yet the nature of consciousness remains a mystery. The program grapples with the fundamental underpinnings of consciousness, and relates the findings to biology on the one hand and to philosophical questions on the other.

The Azrieli Program in Brain, Mind & Consciousness is currently accepting applications for its Winter School. Find out more here.

Our unique approach

Recent technological advances in medical imaging make it possible to see the brain in action. The new technology for the first time gives an opportunity to scholars from fields as different as genetics, cognitive neuroscience, artificial intelligence, and philosophy of mind to come together and work to understand consciousness. By creating the opportunity for deep collaborations, the CIFAR program will allow fellows to solve one of the most profound questions about human nature.

Why this matters

In addition to providing insights into the human experience, results could also cast light on mental illnesses that include disorders of consciousness, for example schizophrenia and autism. They will provide insights into improving understanding of how we learn. They will help us understand creativity, create better anaesthetics and other drugs, and even help us explore better ways of interacting with machines.

In depth

Consciousness is perhaps the most intimate of human mental experiences, and yet the hardest to explain. It allows us to remember past events, to experience pleasure in the moment, and to think about tomorrow. But it is also mysteriously altered or eliminated when we go to sleep.

Exactly what consciousness is and how it can be explained is an old question. Why do we have the experience of consciousness at all? What brain processes are at work? Do animals have consciousness? Do babies? Could machines?

Fellows will use advances in brain imaging, computational neuroscience and other fields to answer these questions. Advanced neuroimaging studies have already shown strong evidence for a close link between consciousness and observable activity in the brain. Fellows will further develop ways to isolate conscious and unconscious processes in the brain, and determine just how important interactions among the subsystems of the brain are in creating consciousness.

The program brings together researchers from a broad range of disciplines, including cognitive neuroscientists, neurologists, geneticists and other biologists, anthropologists, psychologists, computational scientists, philosophers, artists, and other scholars. The program is developing a fundamental framework to help all of these disciplines interact in order to understand how our brains give rise to consciousness and our unique perspective on the world around us.

Research themes include the nature of consciousness, its function, biological basis, origins, and the disorders that arise in consciousness.

Contact the program’s senior director, Rachel Parker at


Fellows & Advisors

Photo of Melvyn Goodale

Melvyn Goodale

Program Co-Director

Melvyn Goodale’s research explores how humans process visual information and use it to interact with their environment. He has proposed a ‘duplex’ organization of high-level vision, involving separate but complementary…

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Photo of Adrian M Owen

Adrian M Owen

Program Co-Director

Adrian Owen is best known for his work assessing consciousness of patients in vegetative states, using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and electroencephalography (EEG) technology to observe their brain activity.…

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Tim Bayne

Senior Fellow

Monash University


Axel Cleeremans

Senior Fellow

Université Libre de Bruxelles


Stanislas Dehaene

Senior Fellow

Collège de France, Inserm-CEA


Atsushi Iriki

Senior Fellow

RIKEN Brain Science Institute,


Sheena A. Josselyn

Senior Fellow

Hospital for Sick Children


Sid Kouider

Senior Fellow

École Normale Supérieure


Rafael Malach

Tanenbaum Fellow

Weizmann Institute of Science


Marcello Massimini

Senior Fellow

University of Milan


Aniruddh Patel

Senior Fellow

Tufts University

United States

Lisa M Saksida

Senior Fellow

Western University


Anil K. Seth

Senior Fellow

University of Sussex

United Kingdom

Laurel Trainor

Senior Fellow

McMaster University


Nicholas Turk-Browne

Senior Fellow

Princeton University

United States

Robert Zatorre

Senior Fellow

McGill University



Daniel Dennett


Tufts University

United States

David K Menon


University of Cambridge

United Kingdom

Janet Werker

Advisory Committee Chair

University of British Columbia


Global Scholars

Craig Chapman

CIFAR Azrieli Global Scholar

University of Alberta


Alona Fyshe

CIFAR Azrieli Global Scholar

University of Victoria


Katherine McAuliffe

CIFAR Azrieli Global Scholar

Boston College

United States

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