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

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A few recent activities

I've been involved in the devlopment of a theory of consciousnss.

A recent talk at MIT,"Appearance is Reality. The Spread Mind", LLAMM, Department of Linguistic and Philosophy, MIT, Cambridge (MA), MP3, PDF

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.


A recent talk at Palazzo Greppi (Milan, 2013), in Italian, on"Lo spazio politico della bellezza
A recent talk at the Cagliari University (Cagliari, 2013), in Italia, on machine consciousness.

These are two recent articles on the Spread Mind:
- Tim Parks' article on the New York Review of Books Blog
- ContraInfo's article in Spanish on the Spread Mind (la Conciencia Esparcida).

A talk (in Italian) I gave at the University of Cagliari on Machine Consciousness (pictures, audio (68 Mb)).

A recent overview of my view (in Italian) as part of a talk I gave in Trento (2012)
- Ontologia della mente cosciente (audio, 58 Mb)
- Ontologia della mente cosciente (video, 200 Mb)

This is my tutorial on machine consciousness at SMC2012, Seoul, October 2012
- Machine Consciousness A
- Machine Consciousness B

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", Youtube version
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 here
- Shangai Lecture 2010
- Internalism vs. Externalism 2010
- Varieties of Externalism 2010
- The Spread Mind 2010
- Madrid Lecture on relational ontology 2008

A few cartoons on my standpoint are available here.

Since 2008 I've been teaching two courses each year:
- Neuroscienze della cognizione e della percezione at the University of Genova
- Psicologia della Percezione Artistica at the IULM University.

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 2006, I published two papers on Journal of Consciousness Studies and on Mind and Matter. They both presents a new view on consciousness from two slightly different perspectives.

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.

Here you can find an interview of mine on the website of the Hybrid organization.

If you want to see a few pictures of mine, as well as a few personal details you can click here. And some old drawings of mine too.

What's up

As of September and until July 2014, I will be at the MIT, Dept of Linguistic and Philosophy as a Fulbright Scholar working on "A radical externalist view of consciousness"

Currently, I am assistant professor of Psychology at the IULM University (Milan).

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