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April 1 Mind Brain Lecture: What is Consciousness?

Giulio tononi featured

Scientists have long wondered what consciousness is and where it lives in the brain. Are newborns, animals and intelligent computers conscious? Does consciousness fade when patients become unresponsive after brain damage, during general anesthesia or even in deep sleep?

Dr. Giulio Tononi
Dr. Giulio Tononi

This year’s Mind Brain Lecture on Monday, April 1, at 4 pm in the Staller Center features Giulio Tononi, David P. White Chair in Sleep Medicine and Distinguished Chair in Consciousness Science at the University of Wisconsin. Dr. Tononi’s laboratory studies consciousness and its disorders as well as the mechanisms and functions of sleep.

In this lecture, Dr. Tononi will share how integrated information theory (IIT) attempts to answer the questions posed above. IIT starts not from the brain but from consciousness itself — the world of experience — and derives from it what it takes for a system to be conscious. He will also discuss how IIT has stirred the development of promising tests to evaluate consciousness in non-communicative subjects.

This is a free presentation intended for a general audience. A reception will follow the lecture. The Mind/Brain Lecture Series is hosted by Stony Brook University’s Department of Neurobiology and Behavior and is supported by the Swartz Foundation.

About Giulio Tononi

For his work on sleep, Dr. Tononi has received the NIH Director’s Pioneer Award (2005) and Harvard Medical School’s Farrell Prize in Sleep Medicine (2017) for his outstanding lifetime contributions to the field. For his work on consciousness, he has received the Max Planck Institute’s Klaus Joachim Zülch Prize (2017) and the Leibniz Institute for Neurobiology’s Leibniz Chair (2018). Dr. Tononi is also the recipient of the Academy of Sleep and Consciousness’s Bernese Sleep Award (2018) and the Humboldt Foundation’s distinguished Humboldt Research Prize (2018). His main contribution in the study of sleep has been the development of a comprehensive hypothesis about the function of sleep, the synaptic homeostasis hypothesis. According to the hypothesis, sleep serves to renormalize synaptic strength, counterbalancing a net increase of synaptic strength due to plasticity during wakefulness. Dr. Tononi’s main contribution in the study of consciousness has been the development of the integrated information theory. This is a comprehensive theory of what consciousness is, what determines its quantity and quality, and how it emerges from causal structures such as neural networks.

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