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CONSCIOUSNESS IRREDUCIBLE
GIOULO TONONI
PSYCHIATRY DEPARTMENT
WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 20, 2013

LECTURE ABSTRACT

Every night, when we fall into dreamless sleep, consciousness fades. With it fades everyone’s private universe - people and objects, colors and sounds, pleasures and pains, thoughts and feelings, even our own selves dissolve - until we awake, or until we dream. What is consciousness, and what does it mean? How is it related to the world around us? What it is made of, and how is it generated inside the brain? Are newborns conscious, and to what extent? Are animals conscious, how much, and which way? Can a conscious machine be built? To address such questions, empirical observations need to be complemented by a principled theoretical approach. This lecture will outline integrated information theory (IIT), an approach that starts from phenomenology - what consciousness is and how each experience is structured; accounts for many empirical facts about consciousness and the brain; and leads to measures of consciousness that can be applied to humans, animals, and machines. According to IIT, conscious experiences are maximally irreducible information structures generated by physical systems that are organized in very special ways, as are some parts of our brain. In fact, experience itself is an intrinsic property – one that exists ‘in and of itself’ independent of external observers. This theory of consciousness has several implications for our view of ourselves and our place in the world, as it implies that the growth of consciousness is the only way that the universe becomes endowed with meaning. This can be achieved by investigation (exploration and scientific discovery), by imagination (creation and inventi
on in engineering and art), and finally by the integration of the ensuing concepts within a single experience (development, education, and social interactions).

Giulo's Biography (from his webpage)

Giulio Tononi is a psychiatrist and neuroscientist who has held faculty positions in Pisa, New York, San Diego and Madison, Wisconsin, where he is Professor of Psychiatry. Dr. Tononi and collaborators have pioneered several complementary approaches to study sleep. These include genomics, proteomics, fruit fly models, rodent models employing multiunit / local field potential recordings in behaving animals, in vivo voltammetry and microscopy, high-density EEG recordings and transcranial magnetic stimulation in humans, and large-scale computer models of sleep and wakefulness. This research has led to a comprehensive hypothesis on the function of sleep, the synaptic homeostasis hypothesis. According to the hypothesis, wakefulness leads to a net increase in synaptic strength, and sleep is necessary to reestablish synaptic homeostasis. The hypothesis has implications for understanding the effects of sleep deprivation and for developing novel diagnostic and therapeutic approaches to sleep disorders and neuropsychiatric disorders. Another focus of Dr. Tononi's work is the integrated information theory of consciousness: a scientific theory of what consciousness is, how it can be measured, how it is realized in the brain and, of course, why it fades when we fall into dreamless sleep and returns when we dream. The theory is being tested with neuroimaging, transcranial magnetic stimulation, and computer models. In 2005, Dr. Tononi received the NIH Director's Pioneer Award for his work on sleep mechanism and function, and in 2008 he was made the David P. White Chair in Sleep Medicine and is a Distinguished Chair in Consciousness Science.

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