Dr. Selen Atasoy - The Consciousness PodcastIn this episode, I discussed Connectome Harmonics and neural correlates of consciousness, specifically under the influence of LSD, mindfulness meditation and dream sleep with Dr. Selen Atasoy. Dr. Atasoy’s research explores brain dynamics in different states consciousness, including sleep, meditation, and psychedelic states, as well as in psychiatric disorders, by analysing fMRI and MEG data within the mathematical framework of harmonic waves. She has extensive experience working in experimental and computational neuroscience exploring neural correlates of consciousness. Currently, she is working as a postdoctoral researcher at Hedonia Transnational Research Group, University of Oxford.

We had a great conversation.. Please enjoy this episode with Dr. Selen Atasoy.

Questions we discussed: 

  1. I often ask my guests to share their own ‘definition’ of consciousness. Given your studies, including those on LSD and the brain, what have you learned about consciousness and do you have a definition or description of what consciousness is?
  2. Let’s talk about your theory, “Connectome harmonics”
    1. First, can you give us a high level, layman’s overview of the theory and the studies behind it? 
      1. What’s vibrating in the brain, what are these waves and their substrate?
      2. You measured energy and power of the brain states using connectome harmonics, yes?
      3. You mentioned, ‘when you silence the mind, you increase the power and energy of brain activity.’ What’s going on in the brain when you ‘silence the mind’? Is that the ‘intrinsic energy’ of a brain state?
      4. You found that low frequencies decrease in energy with LSD, high frequencies increase in energy with LSD? Is that right?
        1. Low frequencies showed reduced energy > ego dissolution and emotional arousal? [default mode network — that gives more evidence to the idea that the DMN is the ‘ego’?]
        2. Higher frequencies showed increased energy > positive moods
        3. You mention that LSD appears to be activating more brain states simultaneously, that it’s a reorganization of brain states, as the brain enters ‘criticality’, that barrier between order and chaos. Example: marching soldiers > playing kids, group of people dancing individually but interacting, flexibility, organization
          1. Order and chaos of what? Harmonics? Energy?
        4. LSD shifts the brain towards criticality?
        5. What are the forces in the brain that keep it on the ‘order’ side of criticality? What happens if/when the brain passes over criticality into chaos? Is that where we see brain disorders or mental illness/disease?
    2. Using your ‘Connectome Harmonics’ model, what kind of predictions can you make? Or, how else can that modeling be applied to consciousness as you defined it earlier?
    3. You also observed the minds of meditators, right? What did you find there? Any similarities to psychedelics?
      1. What did you learn from these observations? Any surprises?
      2. Any significant differences between the two? Any significance in the differences?
  3. You mentioned in a video that you use Cahart-Harris’ fMRI data. I laughed at ‘tripping in a scanner’.  I don’t think when Timothy Leary coined ‘set and setting’ with LSD that he had going through a scanner in mind for the setting. Did anybody have a ‘bad trip’ during the experiments? If so, were any scans and observations made of these ‘bad trips’. I wonder if they crossed over criticality into chaos?
  4. What’s in your future, what else will you be studying? [psychiatry, patients] Any implications of your studies, models, and theories?
  5. Anything I haven’t asked you? Anything else you’d like to share or spread the word on?

My guest is Dr. Scott Husband of The University of Tampa. Dr. Husband’s primary field of study is Dr. Scott Husband: Neuroscience and Consciousness in Animalsbehavioral neuroscience with an emphasis on comparative neuroanatomy and cognition. He has studied higher-level visual processing, the role of dopamine in attention, and dopamine-hormone interactions in various species of birds.

His research goals are to contribute to the understanding of how neural circuits and neurochemistry contribute to complex perception and cognition, and to investigate brain evolution by studying the brain and the behavior of non-mammalian species.

We had a great conversation, touching on brain architecture, asking the philosophical question, is there ‘something it is like to be a human’, and the effect of language on the evolution of consciousness. Please enjoy this conversation with Dr. Scott Husband.

We discussed:

  1. How is the neural architecture of human brains both similar and different from other animal brains?
    1. Do these similarities and differences have effects on consciousness? If so, how?
    2. What role may consciousness have played in evolution, from fish to mammals to humans? At what point do different states, or layers, of consciousness appear? Is there a correlation between emerging consciousness and brain evolution (e.g. neocortex)?
  2. What can we say about brain structures and circuits and whether there is a certain requirement for consciousness?
  3. What kinds of experiments are being done in comparative cognition in other animals to try and get inside the “black box” of animal minds, and draw conclusions about their mental lives?
    1. What are your current hypotheses on the consciousness of animals? Some have it, some don’t? Which ones? Which ones are really intriguing? How about the ‘degree’ of consciousness?
    2. How is that observed or measured? What have you identified in your own work?
  4. Any special insight into the ‘hard question’ of consciousness given your studies of animals?
  5. Nagel: ‘Something it is like’ to be a bat. Maybe the question should be, “Can a bat…or a bird…or a bee…understand something it is like to be another conscious being?” Is there some kind of reflexive condition here necessary to establish that a creature is conscious?
  6. What are some of your personal thoughts and opinions on consciousness in general given your studies? Where do you stand, philosophically, on consciousness?
  7. What will you be working on in the future? 
  8. Do you see any significant outcomes or discoveries coming in the study of animal consciousness?