A Podcast on Human Consciousness!

Hear from experts in neuroscience, philosophy and related fields discuss the human mind and consciousness.

This week, I had the pleasure of speaking with Dr. George Mashour. Dr. Mashour is an anesthesiologist and neuroscientist who is internationally recognized for his study of consciousness. He approaches the question of consciousness using computational models, experimental models, translational studies in healthy volunteers, and clinical research in surgical patients.He thinks a lot about the universe and how it came to be, about the brain, how it produces consciousness and how the sentient mind emerges from the physical brain. We covered those topics and more, so please enjoy my conversation with Dr. Mashour.

  1. How did you come to study consciousness? Is that a natural part of being an anesthesiologist? Is it part of understanding what your patients are experiencing?
  2. How do you define consciousness? What is consciousness?
  3. You mention anesthesiology with ‘other states of consciousness.’ What are those states and what have you learned about them from your work?
  4. What is ‘cognitive binding’, and the binding problem?
  5. How is it a crucial event for consciousness itself?
  6. I see you mentioned this binding to altered states of consciousness. Are those the states you mentioned above?
  7. How do anesthetics play into these bindings? Is the administering of anesthetics ‘cognitive UNbinding’?
  8. What else, if anything, can cause this ‘unbinding’ and create similar effects on consciousness?
  9. Simultaneity, what is it, can you explain that real quick? How does simultaneity (temporal binding) play into this, relative to consciousness?
  10. Have you observed the actual emergence of consciousness, as one moves from unconscious to consciousness under anesthesica and vice versa? Does that provide any insight into what might be the initial emergence of consciousness in a maturing human (animal), or even that within a species?
  11. Can one measure consciousness, especially as it relates to anesthetics administered to a patient?
  12. Does your work, your study relate, or even help answer, the ‘hard problem of consciousness’?
  13. How does your work incorporate the philosophy of Kant?
  14. What does the brain know or not know at different levels of consciousness?
  15. I saw in your video from The Science of Consciousness event, that you mention ego dissolution with Ketamine. What does that mean to you, in terms of ‘ego’, consciousness, and the dissolution of the ego? What happens during ego dissolution?
  16. What lessons can we take from your studies? How do you think we’ll see consciousness differently from our current view? Do you think there will be a way that we can use your this knowledge to affect our own consciousness, to exercise it, to expand it, to connect it to others’? Do you see any SciFi in your work?
  17. Is there anything else that you would like to share regarding your studies?

This week, I had the pleasure of speaking with Theoretical Quantum Physicist, and Quantum Activist,  Dr. Amit Goswami. Dr. Goswami is a retired full professor from the University of Oregon’s Department of Physics where he served from 1968 to 1997. He is a pioneer of the new paradigm of science called “science within consciousness,” an idea he developed in his seminal book, The SelfAware Universe. Dr. Goswami has written many other popular books based on his research on quantum physics and consciousness, including ,his latest book, The Everything Answer Book, in which his basic premise is that quantum physics is the key to understanding consciousness, life, death, God, psychology, and the meaning of life. In short, quantum physics is indeed the theory of everything.

It was an insightful discussion, so please enjoy my conversation with Dr. Amit Goswami.

Get his latest book on Amazon:

 

  1. First of all, please give us a little background on your studies and theories, especially as it relates to consciousness.
  2. I like to ask this of my guests: how do you define consciousness?
  3. You describe a ‘quantum consciousness’. Are you describing a causal relationship, an underlying physical explanation, of consciousness?
    1. Can consciousness be measured? Are there strange, quantum effects from conducting these measurements?
  4. You mention the need to integrate science and spirituality. How do you integrate those two, and how does quantum physics come in there?
  5. In your view, consciousness exists outside of the brain. Can you expand on that a bit?
    1. You mention scientific evidence of the survival of consciousness after death. Can you provide some examples?
  6. What is the notion you mention of ‘evolution of the mind’?
    1. Is that something we can play an active part in, individually? Can we change/modify/exercise/expand our own consciousness?
  7. You include the ‘meaning of life’ in your book. How is the meaning of life tied to consciousness, or is it?
  8. You mention that ‘Materialism is like an epidemic disease that has to be healed. And quantum science can be part of the healing.’ How can quantum science, quantum physics, be part of that healing? How does that work, exactly?
  9. Given the quantum nature of consciousness, where do you stand on panpsychism? Do you think all living things are conscious? How about a rock?
    1. What about Cosmic Consciousness, the idea that there’s a larger, ubiquitous consciousness that can be tapped into?
  10. Please tell us how creativity plays a role in what you describe as a ‘discontinuous creative insight’. It sounds as if you’re talking about freeing consciousness from the constructs of the mind/ego?
  11. As quantum theory expands to include ‘field theory’ as opposed to particle theory, how does that play into your ideas of quantum physics and consciousness?
  12. I know that this conversation has been focused, obviously, on Consciousness. Before we leave, I’d like to give you an opportunity to discuss any other topic. I know your book covers, well, literally, ‘Everything.’ Is there anything else you’d like to bring up? Quantum activism? Anything?

This week, I had the pleasure of speaking with Dr. Christof Koch, and the topic, I would say, was panpsychism, but we covered so much of his work in human consciousness, including the Integrated Information Theory and a breaking new way to measure consciousness. It was a great conversation, one which has me thinking of some great new Science Fiction ideas based in some amazing reality.

Christof is the Chief Scientific Officer of the Allen Institute for Brain Science in Seattle, Washington. From 1986 until 2013, he was a Professor of Biology and Engineering at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. While born in Kansas City, he grew up in Amsterdam/Holland, Bonn/Germany, Ottawa/Canada, and Rabat/Morocco. His education includes the Lycée Descartes with a French Baccalaurèat, studies in Physics and Philosophy in Tübingen, Germany, where he earned his PhD from the Max-Planck-Institut. He spent four years as a post-doctoral fellow at the Artificial Intelligence Laboratory and at the Brain and Cognitive Sciences department at MIT.

He thinks a lot about the universe and how it came to be, about the brain, how it produces consciousness and how the sentient mind emerges from the physical brain. We covered that and much more, so please enjoy my conversation with Christof Koch.

Get his book on Amazon:

We discussed:

  1. ‘What is consciousness?’
    1. The more a system can affect itself, the more it is conscious. Is this measurable, quantitatively? Is that what Phi is?
  2. You don’t agree with the concept of human exceptionalism (a la religion). I wonder though, if studying consciousness has given you any insight into afterlife and the survival of consciousness? 
  3. With the idea of panpsychism, do you think the individual consciousnesses are connected to each other? Do you think, with consciousness being common to ‘all God’s creatures’ that they could be tapping into a larger, cosmic consciousness?
    1. How does this influence your idea of dualism and physicalism?
  4. What about rocks and trees? Do they have consciousness? Using the Integrated Information Theory, would that extend to any form of matter? 
  5. Integrated information theory of a system: Significant that a computer’s stored information is disconnected bits, not interconnected like our conscious minds. However, lately, these bits have been intelligently connected by computers (machine learning). Do you think this might give computers consciousness, somehow? How close is the internet to waking up? Do you think you’ll be able to measure the Internet’s Phi?
    1. Unity of consciousness, different parts of the brain. Consciousness goes away in deep sleep. Curious, but not sure what to ask here. Is it both the complexity and integratedness of the brain that render consciousness?
  6. In 2013, you spent time with Buddhist monks in India. You debated the Dalai Llama for a full day on ‘consciousness’? What did you learn from him? What do you think he learned from you?
  7. Using what we’ve discussed today, is there a way for an individual to exercise/improve/develop his/her consciousness? Is there a way to access deeper levels of our consciousness?

This week, I had the pleasure of speaking with Dr. Edward Kelly, and our topic was Survival of Consciousness after death. It was a great conversation, one which has stayed with me and has me contemplating everything from cosmic consciousness to quantum field theory to heaven and souls. Ed is currently a Professor in the Division of Perceptual Studies (DOPS) at the University of Virginia. He received his Ph.D. in psycholinguistics and cognitive science from Harvard, and spent the next 15-plus years working mainly in parapsychology, initially at J. B. Rhine’s Institute for Parapsychology, then for ten
years through the Department of Electrical Engineering at Duke and finally through a private research institute in Chapel Hill. You may be familiar with his books, Irreducible Mind and Beyond Physicalism. He has now returned to his central long-term research interest – the application of modern functional neuroimaging methods to intensive psychophysiological studies of psi and altered states of consciousness.

We discussed:

  1. What exactly is psi, especially as it relates to your experiments and studies?
  2. What is materialism?
    1. Why is a discussion of materialism important regarding consciousness?
      You started off as a materialist. What was the central ‘discovery’ that moved you, or convinced you otherwise? Examples from Irreducible Mind (Amazon)
    2. Would you like to share some of the examples from Irreducible Mind that show that physicalism is false?
  3. Psi phenomena are real (“take it to the bank”). What are some examples of psi-phenomena?
  4. Does a crisis apparition have consciousness? Does the apparition’s original, material body’s consciousness survive in this apparition?
  5. A discussion of near-death experiences (NDE) and how they relate to consciousness. What are your thoughts as to what’s going on with a person’s consciousness during an NDE?
    1. You mention that there are physical requirements in the brain, according to neuroscientists, for consciousness to exist. But, with an NDE, those requirements are not there. Can you expand a little on consciousness and the NDE?
  6. How do you define ‘self’? Is there such a thing in your view?
  7. You mention Mrs. Piper and mediums and how they can connect with the deceased. How do you think that happens? There is so much there, in the context of consciousness. The deceased person’s consciousness persists, and is accessible somehow, somewhere. The medium is able to connect, even communicate with this consciousness. Can you share your thoughts on this process and how it happens?
  8. So, you mention that a picture is coming together of how the mind and brain work together. I guess, obviously, you believe in the duality of mind/brain. Would you mind giving us your description or definition of this duality? The mind is a ‘larger something.’ What is that something?
  9. The brain anchors this consciousness. Aldous Huxley says it also filters a common, universal knowledge and memory (my interpretation). Any thoughts on that, the brain as a filter or portal into a ‘cosmic consciousness’?
  10. Beyond Physicalism (Amazon): Toward Reconciliation of Science and Spirituality. To paraphrase: we are connected to something bigger that is expressing itself through our [consciousness] evolution. Can you speak to that a little bit?
  11. You mention that we’re approaching a major inflection point in our intellectual (growth) history. What kind of leap are you predicting/envisioning? How is this tied to our consciousness?
    How does DOPS play into that?

 

This week, we pick up where we left off with my conversation with Raphaël Millière, and our topic was Psychedelics and Consciousness.

It was a great conversation. So, please enjoy the conclusion of my time with Raphaël Millière.

We begin with a discussion on the boundary between self and ‘the world’ once ego dissolution begins.

This week, I had the pleasure of speaking with Raphaël Millière, and our topic was Psychedelics and Consciousness. Raphaël Millière is a third-year PhD student in philosophy at the University of Oxford and an Ertegun  Scholar, working under the supervision of Martin Davies. He is also affiliated to the Center for Subjectivity Research of the University of Copenhagen, as part of an external co-supervision agreement with Dan Zahavi. Additionally, he is a research member and coordinator of ALIUS, an interdisciplinary research group on altered states of consciousness and organized an interdisciplinary conference in Oxford on The Sense of Self.

We discussed:

  1. As an introduction, tell us about ALIUS and it’s mission. 
    1. What are altered states of consciousness
      1. Any relation between dreaming and psychedelic-induced states of consciousness?
    2. Let’s narrow the focus to psychedelics and consciousness.
  2. First of all, Looking for the Self: Phenomenology, Neurophysiology and Philosophical Significance of Drug-induced Ego Dissolution, is amazing and way above my own cognitive abilities, but it presents quite a few questions.
  3. Drug Induced Ego Dissolution (DIED, coincidentally): Can you please describe for us what that is and how this relates to consciousness? RENAISSANCE OF DRUG RESEARCH
    1. SCIENTIFICALLY MEASURING THE DIED EXPERIENCE
    2. Is this what psychonauts, those who partake in psychedelic drugs, call ego death?
      1. You know, Timothy Leary did some real damage to the study of psychiatry and psychedelics. Do you and your peers make an effort to avoid mistakes he and his team made? TIMOTHY LEARY, EGO DEATH AND THE DISSOLUTION OF PSYCHEDELIC RESEARCH
    3. What could be some possible benefits from experiencing ego dissolution? What could one take away from that experience? A CHALLENGING EXPERIENCE LATER ON BECOMES PROFOUND, TRANSFORMATIVE
    4. THERAPEUTIC BENEFITS OF EGO DISSOLUTION
    5. Why are you studying this? Why is it important to you, to anyone?
  4. I’d like to know more about what you have discovered in the bridging of the phenomenology and neurophysiology behind a DIED experience.
    1. I’d also like learn more about meditation and psychedelics and why those two are mentioned together. SELF EXPERIENCE IS ALTERED; ALTERS DMN (Default Mode Network in the brain) SIMILARLY; ISOLATING NEUROCORRELATES OF THE SELF IS DIFFICULT
      1. IMPORTANT DISTINCTIONS; PSYCHS HIGHLY SENSORY AT BEGINNING; MEDITATION IS PURE AWARENESS, LESS DRAMATIC SENSORY INPUTS; MINIMAL AND NARRATIVE SELF
  5. The challenge to the notion that consciousness always involves self awareness is interesting. Where do you stand on that? (Is this a good time to ask how you define/describe consciousness?)
    1. Are you breaking away from the central self awareness test, “Something it is like to be…”? THERE IS NOTHING IT IS LIKE TO BE AN IPAD; BRAIN STATES THAT ARE NOT CONSCIOUS; SOMETHING IT IS LIKE ‘FOR ME’…; REDNESS, WRONGNESS. SELF AWARENESS = SELF CONSCIOUSNESS, OF ONESELF. SOMETHING IT IS LIKE TO BE ME. BACKGROUND SENSE OF SELF.
  6. Can I assume that you believe there is a ‘self’? [versus Hume’s ‘flow of experiential moments’] NO SELF, NO EGO, NOT INTERESTED SOUL – SELF IS ORGANISM, BODY, STREAM OF CONSCIOUSNESS; HALLUCINATIONS OF ANIMALS AND WHAT IT ‘FEELS’ LIKE – SELF IS SIMILAR – WE FEEL IT; SURPRISES ME WITH HIS VIEW ON ‘SELF’
    1. Is this tied to the default mode network? How does that relate to consciousness?
    2. Is it a ‘rough and ready’ model of predictive processing (mentioned later)?
    3. So, what IS that ‘boundary’ between self and world? Is it phenomenological, neurophysical? MIND ALWAYS TRYING TO MAKE SENSE OUT OF THE INPUTS; WHERE DO I FIT INTO THIS WORLD; SHIFT IN PERSPECTIVE; CREATION OF MODELS (ALTERED MODELS); BINDING INFO INCORRECTLY, NOT TO SELF. PERIPERSONAL SPACE, AROUND ME; DO PSYCHEDELICS BREAK THIS DOWN, ALTER IT?
  7. You know, Timothy Leary did some real damage to the study of psychiatry and psychedelics. Do you and your peers make an effort to avoid mistakes he and his team made? [SEE ABOVE]
  8. You mentioned Micro-phenomenology. How does that concept fit into a discussion on consciousness, and your work on DMT? ELICITING DETAILED EXPERIENCES OF DMT, ACCURATE ACCOUNTS; 4 STAGES – ACCELERATION; VISUAL (HALLUCINATIONS); THE BREAKTHROUGH, CONTACT WITH ENTITIES, NO LONGER GEOMETRIC;BECOMING CLEOPATRA; CONSCIOUS TRIANGLE
  9. Your machine learning analysis of the Erowid trip reports is interesting. My son worked with machine learning as well. I know results are still to come, but any surprises or insights so far?
  10. The “predictive processing theory of cognition”, which “views the brain as a prediction machine that models the causal structure of the world to anticipate future inputs”…Do these predictions happen before we’re aware of them? How does that play into consciousness?
    1. How does the psychedelic experience play into that? Do these drugs alter that processing and modeling? (aid in depression and anxiety?)
    2. Can we predict the psychedelic altered state of consciousness and maybe even mold it to our needs?
    3. Perception is a ‘controlled hallucination’? Where is the line between reality and the models in our brains?
  11. Most of the discussion about psychedelics and consciousness so far has been around ego dissolution. Do you have other observations on how these drugs can or do affect consciousness?

It was a great conversation. So, please enjoy Part 1 of our time with Raphaël Millière.

This week, I had the pleasure of speaking with Dr. Elaine Chew, who is a Professor of Digital Media at Queen Mary University of London’s School of Electronic Engineering and Computer Science, where she is affiliated with the Centre for Digital Music. In addition to her several advanced degrees from MIT and Stanford, Dr. Chew is a pianist, and has performed internationally as soloist and chamber musician. Her work has been featured on the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s Inside the Music series, and in an exhibit on Beautiful Science at the Huntington Library in California.

Please enjoy my conversation with Dr. Elaine Chew.

Highlights:

  • Definitions of consciousness can change over the course of a consciousness conference
  • Doctors make it easy: you’re either conscious or unconscious
  • More reflexivity
  • Music results from human consciousness. The very act of creating music is a consciousness
  • Music helps us explore our consciousness and truly be conscious
  • Can music take on its own consciousness or create a collective consciousness?
  • Consciousness, music and multiplayer games!
  • Conscious torture with unresolved musical phrases
  • Music, comedy, and expectations
  • You’ll never see the task of listening to music the same again! And, you might hear Pink Floyd’s Echoes with a new level of consciousness
  • Deconstructing analysis of music and from there, consciousness

This week, I had the pleasure of speaking with Jacob Lucas, and our topic was Buddhism and the rebirth of consciousness. Mr. Lucas is an AHRC-funded PhD candidate at the University of Exeter and jointly supervised at the University of Bristol, Buddhist Studies, where he is researching arguments in support of the traditional Buddhist account of rebirth to see whether these are accessible to non-Buddhists who are engaging with practices like mindfulness in broadly secular contexts.

We discussed how consciousness moves from one entity to another, the concept of ‘self’ in Buddhist traditions, making ships appear, and even got a little into dreaming and consciousness.

It was a great conversation and included some of these highlights:

  • The mind witnessing the awareness of the world around you
  • A Buddhist, multi-life perspective on consciousness
  • Clearing out old assumptions on the existence of consciousness after the body dies
  • Mind/body, Mind/World, and a cup of tea
  • Pow! There’s a ship!
  • Three explanations within Buddhism of how consciousness moves from one ‘body’ to another
  • Is there a self? What is consciousness without Self?
  • Consciousness after death, and knowledge and memories
  • Dreaming and consciousness

This week, I had the pleasure of speaking with Dr. Leonid Perlovskly. Dr. Perlovsky is a Visiting Scholar at Harvard’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences and is a Principal Research Physicist and Technical Advisor at The Air Force Research Laboratory at Hanscom AFB.

Our topic was Music and Consciousness, but I’d say it ended up being more about Music, PHYSICS, and Consciousness, covering a wide range of topics from Beauty and the Pursuit fo Knowledge, to the fundamental laws of consciousness to unrequited love. It was a great conversation.

In this episode, we discussed:

  • How music aided the evolution of human consciousness
  • How music helped synthesize the conscious and unconscious mind
  • How music can help one further explore his/her own consciousness
  • Understanding of own knowledge…that is what consciousness is
  • The goal of science is to explain the mechanism of the brain in order to explain consciousness
  • Quantum, schmantum
  • The Unity of Knowledge
  • Beauty, our Instinct for Knowledge, Meaning, ,and our purpose in life and how music aids this
  • Music (and Comedy?) facilitates acquiring of knowledge by helping humans overcome cognitive dissonance. The Fox and the Grapes.
  • “Perlovsky’s” Fundamental Laws of the Mind
  • Can we describe and measure the Mind with mathematical models in a lab?

Get Dr. Perlovsky’s book, Music, Passion and Cognitive Function on Amazon.

This week, I had the honor of speaking with Dr. Uriah Kriegel. Dr. Kriegel is a research director at the Jean Nicod Institute in Paris, where he heads the “Consciousness & Self” team. He works mostly in philosophy of mind and metaphysics, but is also interested in cognitive science, metaethics, epistemology, early analytic philosophy, and a number of other research areas. He received his PhD from Brown University in 2003, whereupon he started teaching at the wonderful philosophy department at the University of Arizona, where he was tenured in 2010. He moved to Nicod in 2012.

It was a fascinating conversation, where we touched on topics from the Awareness Principle to eating one’s brain to learn what chocolate tastes like (hint: you can’t do that) to Arizona’s connection with Asthma to being ‘nobody’s dog!’  

Go buy Uriah’s books on Amazon:

Subjective Consciousness: A Self-Representational Theory

The Varieties of Consciousness (Philosophy of Mind)

The Sources of Intentionality

And many more!

Some topics covered:

  • Manifest image of the world versus the scientific image of the world
  • One can’t eat your brain as you eat chocolate and know what chocolate tastes like
  • Does consciousness fit into the scientific world?
  • The Awareness Principle: can we be wrong about our awareness of our awareness?
  • The Scientific Theory of Everything and Reflexive Awareness
  • Are dreams an exception to the Awareness Principle?
  • Memories aren’t an essential part of consciousness.
  • Meditation, dreaming and allocating your awareness resources
  • Is all consciousness intentional? What the heck does that mean, anyway?
  • The near-perfect correlation between the physical brain and consciousness
  • Does Arizona cause Asthma?
  • Morality, Consciousness and Free Will offer similar challenges — will the Humanities help us find our reason for being, our purpose in life?
  • Undiscovered building blocks of consciousness