Sackler Centre for Consciousness Science

From Body to Being

From Body to Being was an afternoon event hosted by the Sackler Centre for Consciousness Science (University of Sussex) and led by Drs. David Schwartzman and Keisuke Suzuki. It was held in the foyer of the Brighton Dome as part of the 2017 British Science Festival. On the day we attracted over 1200 members of the public of all ages to experience the cutting edge of consciousness science and virtual reality.

From Body to Being allowed members of the public to explore how experiences of the world are shaped by the body, and how bodily-experience itself is actively constructed, moment-to-moment, by the brain. While all of the exhibits involved fun experiences, they also encouraged visitors to learn scientific concepts through these experiences, and to discuss the science and personal relevance of these questions with Sackler Centre researchers.

Visitors could experience 11 different installations, occupying the whole ground floor of the foyer – with each installation managed by dedicated Centre researchers. Many installations were based on Dr. Suzuki’s research into conscious selfhood. For example, people could ‘swap bodies’ with another person, having an out-of-body-like experience, and even seamlessly swap ‘realities’ while taking a journey around and outside Brighton, even taking a thrilling rollercoaster ride – without leaving their chair!

 

The Sackler Centre is at the forefront of a multidisciplinary approach to understanding consciousness and developing new approaches to diagnosing and treating psychiatric disorders. One of our primary goals is to understand the role of the body in experiences of selfhood and of the external world, by combining innovative virtual reality with psychophysics and physiology. We are at the leading edge of showing how signals from within the body (so-called ‘interoceptive’ signals) interact with our other senses to shape experience of ‘being’ and ‘having’ a body. We are also revealing how experiences of volition and agency (what people sometimes call ‘free will’) are shaped by how we perceive our bodies.  Our bodies also shape our experiences of the world – and some of our research again uses VR to investigate how this happens. Altogether our research examines how experiences of being a self – just like experiences of the world around us – are active constructions that depend on the brain, body, and environment together. This creates a sense of wonder at our everyday experience of being a person, while shedding new light on a range of psychiatric and neurological disorders.

Many visitors to From Body to Being went on to listen to Professor Anil Seth (Sackler Centre Co-Director) talk about the science of consciousness to a packed audience at the Sallis Benney Theatre. Prof. Seth is the 2017-18 President of the British Science Association (Psychology Section) and his Presidential lecture described how the new science of consciousness is transforming how we understand our experiences of the world, and or ourselves within it.

From Body to Being