Sussex neuroscientist reveals his ‘life scientific’ delusions for BBC Radio 4
What is consciousness – and will we ever be able to understand it?
These were among the questions put to Anil Seth, Professor of Cognitive and Computational Neuroscience at the University of Sussex, during a live recording of BBC Radio 4’s ‘The Life Scientific’ at this year’s Hay Festival.
His answers - as well as his thoughts on philosophy, artificial intelligence, and the purpose of dreamless sleep “when consciousness disappears” – will be broadcast on Tuesday, 16 June at 9am (repeated 9pm).
Listeners will hear presenter Professor Jim Al-Khalili ask Professor Seth how, after first studying physical sciences at the University of Cambridge, he turned his mind to consciousness.
Professor Seth admits: “I was under the spell of physics as the ‘queen of sciences’, thinking that the deep problems of mind and brain could best be approached purely through physics. I no longer suffer from this kind of delusion – though physics still has a vital role to play, alongside the brain sciences and philosophy.
“Science seemed to be all about finding out how things worked. But I remember thinking about consciousness: how does it happen?”
Following an MSc and PhD at Sussex, followed by several years of postdoctoral research at the Neurosciences Institute in San Diego (where the Nobel Prize-winner Gerald Edelman was his mentor), Professor Seth says he returned to Sussex because of its multi-disciplinary ethos and its strong tradition in researching artificial intelligence, psychology and neuroscience.
Now, as co-director of the Sackler Centre for Consciousness Science, he says his work focuses on investigating the brain basis of consciousness, which could help in the understanding of psychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia and delusions of body ownership.
He is also enthusiastic about outreach and public engagement, particularly in helping to explain the concepts of neuroscience – and especially the scientific study of consciousness - to a non-science audience.
During the Hay Festival, as well being profiled for ‘The Life Scientific’, Professor Seth also recorded a video to explain the colour confusion over Taylor Swift’s blue/black dress that caused a twitter debate #thedress; co-presented a sold-out session to talk about the children’s book Eye Benders, for which he was a consultant, and a discussion on his co-edited lay person’s guide to neuroscience The 30-Second Brain; and recorded a three-minute video for ‘Hay Levels’, aimed at A-level students.
- Professor Seth is the third Sussex scientist in the past year to be profiled on ‘The Life Scientific’, joining artificial intelligence specialist Professor Maggie Boden and bee expert Professor Dave Goulson in the BBC’s archive of the programme.