“Sentience: The Invention of Consciousness” with Professor Nicholas Humphrey

Sentience Book Reviewed on Bridging the Gaps

We experience, thus we exist. Our conscious perceptions form the foundation of our self-awareness. They play a vital role in shaping our understanding of ourselves as sentient beings: present, alive, and significant. However, what is the origin of consciousness, and how does the process of experiencing sensations and developing a sense of awareness contribute to its emergence? Is this capacity limited solely to humans? Do other animals share this ability? And what about the potential for future machines?

In his book “Sentience: The Invention of Consciousness” neuropsychologist Professor Nicholas Humphrey uncovers the evolutionary history of consciousness and argues that consciousness evolved to make us feel that life is worth living. Drawing upon his groundbreaking research on social intelligence, as well as his intriguing findings on blindsight in monkeys and profound insights into the philosophy of mind, Professor Humphrey outlines a fascinating narrative to unveil the evolutionary origins of consciousness. In this episode of Bridging the Gaps, I speak with Professor Nicholas Humphrey.

Nicholas Humphrey, Emeritus Professor of Psychology at the London School of Economics, is a theoretical psychologist, who studies the evolution of intelligence and consciousness. He was the first to demonstrate the existence of “blindsight” in monkeys. He has also studied mountain gorillas with Dian Fossey in Rwanda, and proposed the celebrated theory of the “social function of intellect,”. His research holds profound significance in exploring and unravelling the mysteries of the mind and its evolutionary underpinnings.

We start off by discussing the enigma surrounding the emergence of consciousness and the challenges encountered when attempting to understand its nature and origins. Professor Nicholas Humphrey’s book introduces the intriguing concepts of cognitive consciousness and phenomenal consciousness, which we thoroughly explore during our conversation. We then discuss in detail the concept of sentience as presented and explained in this book. We delve into the evolutionary perspective, examining why consciousness became an adaptive trait and how it evolved within living organisms. An intriguing question arises: if our early animal ancestors possessed cognitive consciousness, how did it transition into phenomenal consciousness? Could there exist an observable threshold, such as brain size, neuron count, or processing capacity, at which cognitive consciousness transforms into phenomenal consciousness? We then discuss the fascinating notion of blindsight and its relevance to the theory of consciousness presented in the book. We then delve into the complex concept of sensations, exploring how the firing of neurons and the movement of electric signals within the brain give rise to our subjective experience of consciousness. Lastly, we explore the possibility of consciousness emerging within machines, contemplating its potential evolution beyond organic life.

Complement this discussion with The Case Against Reality” and The Hard Problem of Consciousness with Professor Donald Hoffman and then listen to From Consciousness to Synthetic Consciousness: From One Unknown to Another Unknown with David Chalmers

By |July 15th, 2023|Artificial Intelligence, Neuroscience, Podcasts, Research|

“Zero to Birth: How the Human Brain Is Built” with Professor William Harris

Zero to Birth reviewed on Bridging the Gaps

A single fertilised egg generates an embryo. Different cell types in this embryo develop into various organs of a new human being, including a new human brain. Everything starts with a single fertilised egg, and in the embryo, some embryonic cells develop into neural stem cells that construct the brain. By the time a baby is born, its brain is already made up of billions of precisely designed neurons that are connected by trillions of synapses to form a small, compact but incredibly powerful supercomputer. In his recent book “Zero to Birth: How the Human Brain Is Built” pioneering experimental neurobiologist professor William Harris takes the reader on an incredible journey to the very edge of creation, from the moment an egg is fertilised to every stage of a human brain’s development in the womb — and even a bit beyond. In this episode of Bridging the Gaps, I speak with Professor William Harris the process of how the brain is built.

William Harris is professor emeritus of anatomy at the University of Cambridge. He is the coauthor of Development of the Nervous System and Genetic Neurobiology and the co-editor of Retinal Development. He is a fellow of the Royal Society.

We begin by examining the evolutionary history of the brain, which spans billions of years and in the Proterozoic eon, when multicellular animals first descended from single-celled organisms, and then we discuss how the development of a fetal brain over the course of nine months reflects the brain’s evolution through the ages. We discuss the emergence of first neural stem cells and how the formation of the neural plate and then its progress to the neural tube give the first glimpses of the development of the brain in an embryo. We discuss in detail how cells divide and create neural stem cells and then how these stem cells start producing neurons. A fascinating topic that we then cover is how individual neurons form connections with other neurons. Professor Harris explains how comparative animal studies have been crucial to understanding what makes a human brain human, and how advances in science are assisting us in understanding many qualities that don’t manifest until later in life. This has been a fascinating discussion on an intriguing topic.

Complement this discussion with The Spike: Journey of Electric Signals in Brain from Perception to Action with Professor Mark Humphries and then listen to The Self-Assembling Brain” and the Quest for Artificial General Intelligence with Professor Peter Robin Hiesinger

By |October 15th, 2022|Biology, Neuroscience, Podcasts, Research|

“The Case Against Reality” and The Hard Problem of Consciousness with Professor Donald Hoffman

What is the true nature of reality? Does the objective reality reported back by our senses paint a complete picture of the true reality? Is it possible that the world we see is not objective reality and it is just an interface to a deeper, true reality. In his book “The Case Against Reality: Why Evolution Hid the Truth from Our Eyes” cognitive scientist Donald Hoffman Challenges leading scientific theories that claim that our senses report back objective reality. He argues that while we should take our perceptions seriously, we should not take them literally. He presents the evolutionary concept of “Fitness Beats Truth” to demonstrate that evolution very probably moulded our minds for fitness rather than accuracy, resulting in the mismatch between “things-in-themselves” and our perceptions of them. In this episode of Bridging the Gaps I speak with professor Donal Hoffman; we discuss his “Interface Theory of Perception” and dig deep on latest research in cognitive science and perception, and how it relates to our understanding of the true nature of reality.

Donald Hoffman is a professor of Cognitive Sciences at the University of California, Irvine. He is a cognitive psychologist and popular science author. His research focuses on perception, evolution, and consciousness.

We begin by discussing the present understanding of the hard problem of consciousness. Then we talk about Hoffman’s view that all main scientific theories, such as Einstein’s theory, theories and our present understanding of Quantum Physics and the theory of natural selection, all inform us that our present approach of trying to understand reality is not working. I then ask him that why in his view we have evolved in a manner that we don’t see the real underlying reality and we just perceive a superficial realty. We then discuss in detail his theory and ideas about the nature of reality. We touch upon the question that do we live in a simulation. We also discuss Panpsychism. Finally I ask that how the research on the question of the true nature of reality should proceed.

Complement this discussion with From Consciousness to Synthetic Consciousness: From One Unknown to Another Unknown with David Chalmers and then listen to Why You Are Not Your Brain? A Conversation on Consciousness with Alva Noe.

By |July 19th, 2022|Neuroscience, Physics, Podcasts|