Is consciousness outside the head?
Yes! and let me explain why ...
The nature of the mind in the physical world is one of the key problems in science.
Currently, it is often held that the mind is secreted by the brain. So far, though, neuroscience has not been able to show any convincing motivations as to why consciousness should pop out of neural firings.
I pursue a different approach. I believe that the whole mind-body problem has been stubbornly ill-posed. We have never been able to find the mind inside the brain because the mind is not inside the body.
Consider this alternative hypothesis - the mind is a physical process but not a neural one. In this view, the neural activity is necessary but it is not the basis for the mind.
Therefore, I consider a radical hypothesis – namely that what is usually held to be inside our brain, our inner world, is rather the external world. According to this view, my experience is not an internal world secreted by neural activity, but rather the physical world surrounding our body (or a part of it). Thus I am literally spread around my body. This theory is called The Spread Mind.
The mind is like a rainbow.
The rainbow is outside of our body, but it is a piece of our mind.
Like a stream of water or a rainbow, the mind is physical but it is not neural.
Consider this example. I look at a red apple. What is my consciousness of the red apple? According to neuroscience, my conscious experience is the properties of the neural activity taking place inside my skull.
According to the Spread Mind, it is the red apple that is in front of my body. Thus, my experience is not inside my head, but rather it is in front of my eyes.
This approach suggests to look differently at more exotic forms of experience such as dreams, illusions, hallucinations, phosphenes and the like.
In short, I believe that notions such as consciousness, phenomenal experience, mental life are akin to fictitious entities like the (in)famous phlogiston – namely, concepts introduced as crutches to defend surpassed and wrong ideas. With a slogan, the view says that
The beauty has never been in the eye of the beholder, but,
without the eye, beauty would not have been anywhere.
Riccardo Manzotti, 19 May 2014
A few recent activities
In 2015, I have addressed the issue of negative afterimages and I have shown that 1) they do not conform to the traditional Harring's opponent color model, 2) they do not require any illusory mental image, 3) they are simply a case of locally filtered perception in the RGB space.
A recent talk at MIT (7 dec 2014), "Hallucinations as perception of spatiotemporally gerrymandered objects", MP4 (117Mb)
My recent talk at the Dept. Literature, Philosophy, and the Arts
(LPA), University of Michigan, Dearborn, MP3
A small program to generate color illusions here.
Here you can find a talk (2011) I gave in Jerusalem at the
PsychoOntology Conference in Jerusalem on the"Physical
foundations of the conscious mind",
This is a new interview on the Spread Mind in three parts I gave in Munich in 2011: Spread Mind A, Spread Mind B,Spread Mind C
The podcast (MP3, 32 Mb) of my Tucson 2010 talk about the spread mind.
I have been working to the BICAIK, a bilateral Italian-Korean project aiming at designing and implementing conscious agents (BICAIK).
A few videos with some lectures on various topics are available
- Shangai Lecture 2010
- Internalism vs. Externalism 2010
- Varieties of Externalism 2010
- The Spread Mind 2010
- Madrid Lecture on relational ontology 2008
A few cartoons about my standpoint are available
I am contributing with a journal on philosophy of Mind, AI,
robotics, cognitive science:
The International Journal of Machine Consciousness.
In 2009, I chaired an ESF Exploratory Workhop on Neuroesthetics.
During 2008, among the other things, I attended to a Workshop on Machine Consciousness at Nokia; I've been invited to give a talk at the Winter APA Meeting in Philadelphia. In Italy I had the pleasure to participate to the Infinita...mente Festival in Verona.
In 2008 I co-authored with Vincenzo Tagliasco the book "L'esperienza. Perché i neuroni non spiegano tutto" (The experience. Why neurons do not explain everything). As you can imagine, we look for an explanation of consciousness which goes beyond the sometime limited scope of neuroscience.
During 2007, I co-chaired a symposium on the relation between consciousness and artificial intelligence at the AAAI Fall Symposia, Washington DC. Together with Antonio Chella, I am one of the editors of the book Artificial Consciousness (Imprint Academic, 2007).
In 2005 I coorganized the International Workshop on Artificial Consciousness held in Agrigento. In the same year, I've been co-editor of a special Networks issue on consciousness. I also took part to the TSC2005 Copenhagen where a special special plenary session was devoted to externalism (Ted Honderich, Francois Tonneau and myself were the key speaker). If you want to know more click here.
Currently, I am assistant professor of Psychology at the IULM University (Milan).
- 28-29-20 July, "Approcci fisicalisti alla coscienza. Teorie dell'identità", at Scuola di filosofia Praxis, Forlì, Tecnica e Vita, 2016
- 30-31 May, "Where and what is conscious experience? A mind-object identity approach", at "Inside out: Assessing the extended mind. Mind, language and material culture”, University of Catania May 30-31 2016
- 14 April, "Verso una teoria dell'identità mente-oggetto" Dipartimento di Filosofia, Genova
- 23 March, "Verso una teoria dell'identità mente-oggetto" Dipartimento di Filosofia, Pavia
- 3 March, "Che cos'è l'esperienza? Verso una teoria dell'identità mente-oggetto" Dipartimento di Scienze Umane dell'Università degli Studi dell'Aquila, Aquila
- 2 March, "La mente cosciente tra filogenesi e ontogenesi: specie, ambiente, corpo e cervello" ", Darwin Day, Università degli Studi dell'Aquila, Aquila
- 13 November, "Negative Afterimages as filtered perception", The Trieste Symposium on Perception and Cognition, Video, MP3, Department of Life Sciences, University of Trieste.
- 18-19 July, "Etica, tempo e mondo. Oltre la mente estesa", CoDisco, "Origini, Etiche, Immaginari", Noto, Università di Messina. MP3
- 18-19 July, "L'ontologia delle immagini tra storia dell'arte, psicologia e neuroscienze", Tra percezione e mondo dell’arte: relativismo vs universalismo, Facoltà di Scienze Umanistiche, Genova (Italia), MP3.
9-13 July, Hallucinations as perception of gerrymandered objects",
TSC 2015, Helsinki.
A MP4 video of my talk and an MP3 audio file too.
- 10 December, "Hallucinations as perception of gerrymandered objects", LLAMM, MIT, MP4, Department of Linguistic and Philosophy.
- 4 December The Spread Mind, EMPAC @ Rensselaer, Troy (NY)
- 4 December, "The Spread mind" , EMPAC, Troy, NY
- 7-9 November, Symposia on Robot Self Consciousness, BICA2014, MIT (video)
- 18 July, Tutorial on"Robot consciousness", IAS 13, Padova
- 21 May, "Appearance is Reality. The Spread Mind", LLAMM, Department of Linguistic and Philosophy, MIT, Cambridge (MA), MP3, PDF
- 25 April, "The Argument from Hallucination Debunked", TSC2014, Tucson (AZ)
- 27 March,"What are the boundaries of consciousness?", Dept of Literature, Philosophy, and the Arts (LPA), University of Michigan, Dearborn, MP3
- 12 March,"Is the brain any closer to the mind than the surrounding environment?", Sinha Laboratory for Vision Research, MIT, MP3, PDF, PPT
- 22 January, "Supersaturated Red & Afterimages debunked", LLAMM seminars, MIT, Cambridge (Mass)
- 12 december, MIT Phil Dept. WIP seminar, "God and the book. Perception and hallucination"
- 10-13 September, Tutorial on Machine Consciousness, ICIAP 2013, Naples
- 16 April,"Machine Consciousness. Theoretical and Empirical Issues", Università degli studi di Cagliari
- 16 May,"Tra estetica e potere", Università Statale, Milano (mp3)
- May-June,"What stuff are images made of?", Palazzo Ducale, Genova
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