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MNS Webinar: The real problem of consciousness and the promise of psychedelics.

Wednesday, February 10, 2021, 12:00 PM until 2:00 PM
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There are 2 CEs available for this talk. Anil Seth, Co-Director, Sackler Center for Consciousness Science, University of Sussex, UK Explaining consciousness is one of the greatest remaining challenges for science. In neuroscience, the dominant experimental approach to this challenge has been to look for the ‘neural correlates of consciousness’, or NCCs, which are those brain regions or patterns of activity which strongly correlate with properties of consciousness. Yet because correlations do not entail causation, and often fall short of explanation, suspicions of an ‘explanatory gap’ between the physical (or biological) and the phenomenological (the world of experience) remain strong. I will show how the limitations of the NCC approach can be overcome – and suspicions of an explanatory gap diminished – by addressing what I call the ‘real problem’ of consciousness. This means going beyond correlations to explain, predict, and control properties of conscious experience in terms of mechanisms in the brain and body. I will illustrate this approach by distinguishing between conscious level (how conscious you are), conscious content (what you are conscious of, when you are conscious), and conscious self (the specific experience of ‘being you’, or ‘being me’). For each of these properties of consciousness, I will show how new combinations of theory and experiment are helping to bridge from mechanism to phenomenology, ‘real problem’ style. I will focus on two issues in particular: (i) how conscious selfhood depends on control-oriented predictions about the interior of the body, and (ii) how psychedelics are providing new insights into the neural dynamics underpinning conscious experience. The neuroscience of consciousness and therapeutic use of psychedelics