A Podcast on Human Consciousness!

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

Listen to Part 2 of this interview.

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?
      1. Let’s narrow the focus to psychedelics and consciousness.
    1. 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.
    1. 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
        1. 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
        1. 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
        1. THERAPEUTIC BENEFITS OF EGO DISSOLUTION
      1. Why are you studying this? Why is it important to you, to anyone?
    1. 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
    1. 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.
    1. 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?
        1. Is it a ‘rough and ready’ model of predictive processing (mentioned later)?
      1. 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?
    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? [SEE ABOVE]
    1. 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
    1. 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?
    1. 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?)
        1. Can we predict the psychedelic altered state of consciousness and maybe even mold it to our needs?
      1. Perception is a ‘controlled hallucination’? Where is the line between reality and the models in our brains?
  1. 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.

Listen to Part 2 of this interview.

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