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.


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