Lecture by Christof Koch (PhD Chief Scientist and President Allen Institute for Brain Science, Seattle), organized with the support of the Paris IAS
Human and non-human animals not only act in the world but are capable of conscious experience. That is, it feels like something to have a brain and be cold, angry or see red. I will discuss the empirical progress that has been achieved over the past several decades in locating the footprints of consciousness to the posterior part of cortex, in the back of the brain.
I will introduce Integrated Information Theory. IIT explains in a principled manner which physical systems are capable of conscious, subjective experience. The theory explains many biological and medical facts about consciousness and has been used to build a consciousness-meter to assess the presence of consciousness in neurological patients.
Integrated Information Theory predicts that consciousness is much more widespread in biology than conventionally assumed. It also predicts that digital computers cannot be conscious, even if they perform tasks that in humans would be associated with conscious experience and even if they were to simulate a human brain. Consciousness cannot be computed but must be built into the basic architecture of the system.
Christof Koch is a German-American neuroscientist best known for his studies and writings exploring the basis of consciousness. Trained as a physicist, Koch was for 27 years a professor of biology and engineering at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. He is now Chief Scientist and President of the Allen Institute for Brain Science in Seattle, leading a ten year, large-scale, high through-put effort to build brain observatories to map, analyze and understand the mouse and human cerebral cortex.
On a quest to understand the physical roots of consciousness, he published his first paper on the neural correlates of consciousness with the molecular biologist Francis Crick more than a quarter of a century ago.