Sackler Centre for consciousness science opens at University of Sussex

A new research centre at the University of Sussex that will tackle mysteries of the conscious mind and help to us to better understand déjà vu, synaesthesia, amnesia, depression and schizophrenia is to be officially opened next week (21 April 2010).

Researchers from neuroscience, psychology, philosophy and psychiatry will be brought together in the Sackler Centre, where they will study the conscious state using a unique combination of theory,  clinical investigations and hard science. 

The Centre is the result of a substantial grant by the Dr Mortimer and Theresa Sackler Foundation, which funds pioneering research into the brain. The Sackler Foundations support the advancement of education of the public in the UK and elsewhere in the fields of art, science and  medical research.

Sadly, the neurologist, biochemist and philanthropist Dr Sackler, who was the benefactor behind many significant requests to British universities, died in March this year, before he could see his latest bequest realised.

The Sussex Centre is one of only five in the world funded by the Foundation, alongside Sackler research centres at the universities of Edinburgh and Glasgow in the UK and Columbia and Cornell in the USA.

The Sackler Centre scientists will be using neuroimaging, mathematics and computer science to cast fresh light on questions such as:


  • What is consciousness?


  • How is consciousness generated?


  • What is consciousness for?


  • How does consciousness go wrong?


  • Can we recognise a conscious mind (e.g. in animals or infants)?

The researchers believe that in applying a cross-disciplinary approach to these questions, they will generate groundbreaking new findings. The application of basic science research should also help unravel unusual experiences such as déjà vu, synaesthesia and feelings of detachment and clinical conditions such as anxiety, amnesia, depression and schizophrenia.


Dr Sackler’s widow, Theresa Sackler, who is also co-founder of the Sackler Foundation, will attend the launch of the Sackler Centre for Consciousness Science at the University of Sussex on 21st April 2010.


Dr Anil Seth and Professor Hugo Critchley, Co-directors of the Centre and principal researchers at Sussex, say: “Our joint aim is to characterise the biological underpinnings of consciousness in its varied expressions in a way that ultimately has practical clinical relevance. The Centre will integrate theoretical models of consciousness with both real-world clinical observations  from psychiatry, and experimental observations from psychology, neuroimaging and computer simulations to address what is undoubtedly one of the ‘big questions’ for 21st-century biological science. The generous and inspirational support from the Dr Mortimer and Theresa Sackler Foundation will enable us to employ leading experts from around the world to help progress new research in the field.”


One part of the research will focus on psychiatric patients with dissociative symptoms that include feelings of unreality, periods of  memory loss and depersonalisation. Many of us experience these in a mild way now and again, but for some people these symptoms represent a crippling and persistent breakdown in conscious integration and sense of self. Researchers from psychology, psychiatry and informatics will work together combining computer tests, brain scans and mathematical modeling to understand more about what these symptoms tell us about the assembly of the 'conscious self' and its potential for repair.


The establishment of the cross-disciplinary Centre is the latest of a long line of cross-disciplinary projects at Sussex.


The University is continuing to promote this type of collaboration through the establishment of six new research themes: Mind and Brain, Digital and  Social Media, Culture and Heritage, Citizenship and Democratisation, Global Transformations and Environment and Health.

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For press information contact: Danielle Treanor, University of Sussex.  t. 0774 0099325


Last updated: Tuesday, 20 April 2010