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INSERM Grand Prize

Stanislas Dehaene
Cet article est une traduction de :
Grand prix Inserm

Notes de la rédaction

Excerpts from the speech delivered on 2 December 2013 at the Collège de France
Source: La lettre, no. 38, June 2014

Texte intégral

1“I feel particularly fortunate to receive this INSERM award today, for my entire career as a researcher has taken place in this institution (with vital additional support from CEA and, for the last eight years, the Collège de France).

2Nearly a quarter of a century ago, Inserm hired me as a junior researcher. I had just turned 24 and completed my PhD, but had not yet done a post-doc, which would be inconceivable today. I am deeply grateful to the researchers who put their trust in me so early on, especially Jean-Pierre Changeux and Jacques Mehler, who supervised my PhD at the interface of the neurosciences and cognitive psychology.

3In 1996, I joined the Frédéric Joliot hospital service of the CEA to set up an Inserm team dedicated to the cerebral mechanisms of human cognitive functions. Thanks to brain imaging techniques, combined with cognitive psychology methods, we were entirely free to explore the most audacious ideas. Thus for the first time, Lionel Naccache and I attempted to measure the cerebral traces of invisible stimuli. Together, we demonstrated the neuro-
physiological reality of subliminal images. This was the first measurement of unconscious cerebral activity: invisible numbers went through the visual system, activated the sense of quantity in the parietal region, and even biased decisions in the motor cortex – all without consciousness.

4Spurred by this discovery, I then launched a research programme to compare the brain activity triggered by minimally different conscious and unconscious images. We discovered that consciousness of sensory information goes hand in hand with an intense activation of the prefrontal cortex and of its cerebral networks. Consciousness appears as a state of global communication in the brain: when a piece of information reaches a certain level of representation, long-distance connections make it available to the whole cortex. What we call “consciousness” is perhaps nothing more than the availability of a piece of information in this global neuronal workspace.

5Today, thanks to MRI, EEG, magneto-encephalography, and thanks to the creation of the NeuroSpin centre, which owes much to the vision of Profs André Syrota and Denis Lebihan, this quest for the “cerebral signatures of consciousness” is evolving very fast, driven by international competition. It is currently leading to clinical applications: with Jean-Rémi King and Jacobo Sitt, at the laboratory, we have just invented a mathematical measurement which, applied to EEG, is able to detect whether brain-lesioned patients in a vegetative state have a high probability of being conscious or of recovering consciousness in the next few weeks.

6I am not forgetting the Collège de France, which elected me as a professor in 2005 under the leadership of Jacques Glowinski, then Pierre Corvol, and now Serge Haroche. The impressive and intimidating Collège de France, through which whoever joins it grows – since it requires us to create a new lecture series every year, a vast synthesis of research in the making, available as a reference for everyone to follow online for years to come. Fortunate as they are in its premises, surrounded by a team of the highest level, professors cannot but feel inspired to give the best of themselves.

7Finally, my thoughts go to all the members of my laboratory, the Cognitive Neuroimaging Unit of the Inserm, the CEA and the Paris-Sud University, which I have headed for almost twelve years. Everyone knows that no research is carried out alone. This is even less so for brain imaging, which requires an arsenal of physicists, informaticians, mathematicians, psychologists, doctors, nurses, secretaries, etc. There are over fifty of us in the unit, and it is a real responsibility, but above all a constant joy, to explore, play, and create new science together. More than ever, I am aware of the extraordinary opportunity that we have of carrying out this research on the human brain during these key decades where everything is opening up, to the point where the skull has almost become transparent. I would like to thank the entire team that has been working with me for so long. There are too many people to be able to name them here, but I dedicate this Inserm Grand Prize to them.”

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Stanislas Dehaene, « INSERM Grand Prize », La lettre du Collège de France [En ligne], 9 | 2015, mis en ligne le 25 septembre 2015, consulté le 27 mars 2017. URL :

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Stanislas Dehaene

Experimental Cognitive Psychology

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