In this episode, I had the honor of speaking with Dr. Berit Brogaard. We discussed science and consciousness, brain waves and neural correlates of consciousness, and her work with synesthesia and savant syndrome. Dr. Berit “Brit” Brogaard is a Professor of Philosophy and the Director of the Brogaard Lab at the University of Miami. Her areas of research include philosophy of perception, philosophy of emotions, and philosophy of language. She is the author of several books, including Transient Truths and The Superhuman Mind.

Dr Berit Brogaard

We had a great conversation and covered topics ranging from philosophy to hard science, all in the context of mind-brain duality. Please enjoy this episode with Dr. Berit Brogaard.

Questions we explored: 

  1. You come at this with a varied background – from philosophy to neuroscience. Maybe we can start with your overview of what consciousness is and how it works. I saw part of your interview with Deepak Chopra and you touched on panpsychism. Is that part of your view (definition of) on consciousness?
    1. What makes you think Science WILL explain it?
    2. What about dualism? Physicalism?
    3. Survival after physical death?
    4. Uploading consciousness?
  2. Neural Correlates of Consciousness/Brain Waves:
    1. What’s happening in our brain when we have thoughts and/or phenomenal experiences? 
    2. How do these relate to brain waves? Delta, Alpha, Beta, Theta, Gamma, etc. Maybe first tell us what those brain waves are?
      1. Altered states of consciousness, meditation?
    3. How do these brain waves affect neurons? Microtubules?
  3. How does this relate to phenomenal consciousness? Can you correlate brain activity with ‘something it is like’-ness?
  4. Are you able to separate (mathematical) components of these brain waves in such a way that you can observe ‘consciousness’?
    1. Does this relate to memory and schema — groups of neurons firing together to form a memory?
  5. I think about Giulio Tanoni’s Integrated Information Theory (IIT) research when we discuss brain waves. What are your thoughts on their work with IIT and brain waves? Christof Koch mentioned in our interview that they might be able to measure the consciousness of a stone one day. Thoughts on that?
  6. What has your work shown you about mind-brain duality (or alternately, physicalism)?
    1. You believe that science will be able to explain consciousness? How/why?
  7. What have you observed in your laboratories regarding consciousness and traumatic brain injuries (TBI)?
  8. You study Synesthesia and savant syndrome, among other things. What has that taught you about consciousness?
    1. What is happening in the brain with a synesthete?
    2. Does this provide insight into the neural correlates of consciousness?
  9. Anything else you’d like to share, anything that I missed?
  10. What will you be working on in the near future?
  11. Do you see any breakthroughs coming in our understanding of phenomenal consciousness?

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?