The neuroscience of disorders of consciousness: from laboratory to clinics

The instrumental investigation and assessment of consciousness have witnessed an astonishing progress over the last years. The result of this progress is the passage from a monolithic way of looking at severe brain damages to a more graded nosology based on a quantitative assessment of consciousness and on functional neuroimaging technologies.

The so-called "neuro-technologies", especially the application of technology to the assessment and investigation of consciousness, lead to relevant and unpredicted results with important theoretical and practical consequences.


Working within the framework of the European Human Brain Project, the project aims at:

  • Reviewing the recent development in the scientific explanations and description of consciousness, particularly focusing on disorders of consciousness (DOCs).
  • Setting the scientific stage, that is the potential and actual clinical application of neuro-imaging for diagnosing and assessing DOCs
  • Describing the theoretical and technical premises of the application of neurotechnologies (i.e., "mind-reading" and "externalization of mind") for communicating with patients with DOCs
  • Analyzing the ethical issues emerging from the clinical application of neuroimaging technologies
  • Assessing the issue of the role of uncertainty in neuroscience, particularly in neuroscientific investigation of DOCs
  • Assessing the issues of pain, suffering and pleasure in DOCs both from a scientific and ethical point of view
  • Outlining the high rate of misdiagnosis of DOCs emerging from the behavioral assessment of consciousness
  • Setting prospects and limitations of the instrumental diagnosis of DOCs
  • Analyzing the ethical issues arising from the misdiagnosis of DOCs
  • Suggesting improvements strategy for diagnosing DOCs


Farisco M, Laureys S, Evers K, Externalization of Consciousness. Scientific Possibilities and Clinical Implications, in: Geyer M, Ellenbroek B, Marsden C (eds), Current Topics in Behavioural Neurosciences, 2014, doi: 10.1007/7854_2014_338


European Union Flagship: The Human Brain Project

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PhD Student

Michele Farisco, PhD Ethics & Anthropology, Associate Professor of Moral Philosophy, PhD Student


Neuroethics & Philosophy of the Brain

The CRB neuroethics research team is an international, multi-disciplinary group. Our backgrounds allow us to approach these issues from theoretical, philosophical, social, bio-political and clinical perspectives. We collaborate closely with neuroscientists to understand the ethical and philosophical questions that neuroscience brings. In this report, we provide a summary of our research. The report was updated in November 2016. We are planning an update in the autumn 2020. 

Download our Neuroethics report

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