Following the recent publication of their respective books on the brain and consciousness, this meeting offers a dialogue between these two eminent neuroscientists and thinkers in order to explore some points of contact, as well as some differences in their perspectives on the subject.
Consciousness is, for each of us, all there is. Without consciousness there is no world, no self: there is nothing at all. But we know surprisingly little about the material and biological basis of this most central feature of our lives. How do rich multisensory experiences, the senses of self and body, and volition, agency, and ‘will’ emerge from the joint activity of billions of neurons locked inside a bony skull? Once the province of philosophy and theology, understanding consciousness has re-emerged as a major scientific challenge for this century. In this talk I will give a fresh perspective on this new science of consciousness, drawing from my new book Being You. We will see that the brain is a kind of prediction machine, that experiences of the world – and of the self – are forms of ‘controlled hallucination’, and that consciousness is deeply rooted in our nature as living creatures, embodied and embedded in our environments.
Being You – A New Science of Consciousness
Please click here to access Professor Seth’s book.
I will begin by reviewing the ‘hard problem’ of consciousness. Then I will summarize clinico-anatomical and physiological evidence for the views (1) that consciousness is generated primarily in the brainstem and only secondarily in the cortex, and (2) that the form of consciousness which is generated in the brainstem is not lacking in content or quality, as is widely claimed. Furthermore, regarding (1) I will argue that the cortex can perform almost all of its information-processing tasks unconsciously — which raises the question as to why it ever processes information consciously — and regarding (2) I will argue that the brainstem form of consciousness is fundamentally affective in nature. This will lead me to the conclusion that affective consciousness is the fundamental form of consciousness and that it is prerequisite for all other forms, such as conscious perception and cognition. Against this empirical background, I will revisit the philosophical hard problem. Finally, I will consider afresh the biological function of affective consciousness and I will offer some hypotheses concerning the nature of the relationship between this (brainstem) form of consciousness and the cortical form.
The Hidden Spring: A Journey to the Source of Consciousness
Please click here to access Professor Solms’ book.