Science Festival Event: Consciousness: Explored and Explained

Consciousness is a terrible curse. Or so says a character in screenwriter/director Charlie Kaufman’s Being John Malkovich. Part theater of the absurd and part neuroscience fiction, the Oscar-winning filmmaker’s work captures the splintering between what we perceive and what we feel as our brains grapple with multiple layers of reality. Neuroscientist Giulio Tononi, one of the world’s leading sleep researchers, casts new light on the science of the mind, probing where and how consciousness is generated in the brain. Watch this spellbinding conversation between Kaufman, Tononi, and moderator Alan Alda as they explore and explain the art, science, and mystery of consciousness.


  • What is consciousness? What you lose when you go to deep sleep.
  • We define consciousness, like we define GOD, in terms of what it is not.
  • Brain has the ability to disconnect all inputs and outputs and create a universe all by itself. It does that during our dreams.
  • Thomas Huxley wrote, “[H]ow it is that anything so remarkable as a state of consciousness comes about as a result of irritating nervous tissue, is just as unaccountable as the appearance of the Djinn, when Aladdin rubbed his lamp.”
  • Some facts:
    • When bottom part of the brain is removed, which is done in some cases of tumor, there is no affect on consciousness.
    • When top part of the brain is removed, a person ceases to exist.
    • Brain activity in top part doesn’t differ during deep sleep and conscious activity.
    • Discussion about vegetative state. Some experiments show that people in vegetative state may also be conscious.
  • Giulio Tononi very briefly explains his Integrated Information Theory.
  • Selective Attention Test: Gorillas go unnoticed while counting volley passes by white team (video)
  • Sleep is a biological mystery.


Science Festival Event: Infinity

“The infinite! No other question has ever moved so profoundly the spirit of man,” said David Hilbert, one of the most influential mathematicians of the 19th century. A subject extensively studied by philosophers, mathematicians, and more recently, physicists and cosmologists, infinity still stands as an enigma of the intellectual world. Thinkers clash over questions such as: Does infinity exist? Can it be found in the physical world? What types of infinity are there? Through an interdisciplinary discussion with some of the world’s leading thinkers, this program will delve into the many facets of infinity and address some of the deepest questions and controversies that mention of the infinite continues to inspire.

This program is part of the Big Ideas Series.


  • Keith Devlin

    Known as the “Math Guy” on National Public Radio and author of 30 books and over 80 published research articles, Keith Devlin is a recognized mathematician.More »


  • Raphael Bousso

    PhysicistRaphael Bousso is recognized for discovering the general relation between the curved geometry of space-time and its information content, known as the “covariant entropy bound.”More »

  • Philip Clayton

    Philosopher, TheologianPhilip Clayton is the dean of Claremont School of Theology (CST) and provost of Claremont Lincoln University. He also holds the Ingraham Chair at CST.More »

  • Steven Strogatz

    MathematicianSteven Strogatz is the Jacob Gould Schurman Professor of applied mathematics at Cornell University. A renowned teacher and one of the world’s most highly cited mathematicians, he has blogged about math for the New York Times and has been a frequent guest on RadioLab.More »

  • W. Hugh Woodin

    MathematicianWilliam Hugh Woodin is a set theorist at University of California, Berkeley. He has made many notable contributions to the theory of inner models and determinacy.More »

60 second adventures in thought


1 Achilles and the Tortoise  Ancient mathematical trickery proves that a mighty hero cannot overtake a tortoise. Play now Achilles and the Tortoise
2 The Grandfather Paradox  A well known story that questions the logic of time travel. Play now The Grandfather Paradox
3 The Chinese Room  An argument against computers ever being truly intelligent. Play now The Chinese Room
4 Hilbert’s Infinite Hotel  A never-ending hotel, always full of guests, helps to explain the nature of infinity. Play now Hilbert’s Infinite Hotel
5 The Twin Paradox  An identical twin in space illustrates Einstein’s special theory of relativity.Play now The Twin Paradox
6 Schrödinger’s Cat  This famous experiment tackling quantum theory involves a cat in a potentially lethal box. Play now 

The Problem of Evil (Greg Ganssle)

Part 1 of a trilogy. Greg lays out a classic argument that God does not exist, called ‘The Problem of Evil’. He distinguishes two versions of that argument, which are sometimes called ‘the deductive’ and ‘the evidential’ version. He goes into some details on the deductive version.

Part 2 of a trilogy. Here, Greg gives a response to the deductive version of the Problem of Evil on behalf of someone who believes that God exists. In thinking about this response, we need to think about whether God can make contradictions true, and whether God can have good reasons for allowing bad things to happen.

Part 3 of a trilogy. Greg considers the evidential version of the Problem of Evil, and gives a response on behalf of someone who believes that God exists. This involves considering whether God might have a good reason to allow bad things to happen.


In part 3, two reasons are mentioned which could justify evil in the world.

  • Ensuring Human free will
  • Having Regular cause and effect universe

Can Science teach us everything?

Caspar asks: can science tell us everything there is to know about the world? He tells us about a famous argument that it can’t, sometimes called ‘the knowledge argument’ or ‘the Mary argument’, due to philosopher Frank Jackson. If the argument is right, then there are certain aspects of the world that we can’t learn about through science. In particular, we can’t use science to learn what it is like to see red, or taste coffee, or have other experiences.

Can Science teach us everything

Free-will and Predetermination – Javed Ghamidi (Urdu)

  • Before modern period, Philosophy and Science were chiefly concerned with speculation about the ultimate questions of reality and human existence. But once the focus shifted towards the practical side, endeavors of philosophers and scientists became extremely fruitful. This shift is what gave rise to the modern science. Similarly in the matter of Free-will and Predetermination the focus should be on the practical side and it is a mistake to involve in too much speculation on this subject.
  • Practically we make decisions about free-will and predetermination on daily basis in our lives. Regarding the actions of other humans, we judge all the time whether they were made with freewill or not. We do it in our courts, we do it at our home with kids. Most of the time we do it with such an ease that we don’t even think of problem of freewill as a problem in practical terms.
  • Now to understand the philosophical questions related to the problem of freewill, Islamic position is to avoid getting involved in these speculations. These issues are beyond our comprehension till we are in this world, we have to wait till next life.