Sussex Centre for Consciousness Science

Past Events

The Sussex Centre for Consciousness Science is committed to conveying its research to a wider audience. Below are some highlights of our public outreach, as well as scientific meetings which have inspired exciting collaborations, leading to a range of new research projects and publications:

Thresholds of the Mind

Thresholds of the Mind was a photographic project by Barry Falk and David Schwartzman that explored the people and research being carried out at the Sackler Centre for Consciousness Science at the University of Sussex. The exhibition opened on Sunday 30th Sept. and ran through to Sunday 28th October 2018, at the Regency Town House, 13 Brunswick Terrace, Hove, in the basement annexe.

The exhibition sought to capture the mystery surrounding consciousness and how scientists at the Sackler Centre are attempting to capture and understand the nature of subjective experience.  It explored the ambiguity between what is seen in a photographic image and its psychological impact.

The theme of consciousness (how we explore and understand the world around us on both a physical and psychological level) and the pioneering nature of scientific enquiry at the Sackler Centre for Consciousness Science, bring into question the nature of perception, the artistic pursuit of photography and the sense of self.

Thresholds of the Mind

Selection of images from this exhibition

Consciousness at TED

Our conscious experiences of the world, and of being a self, have more to do with being alive than being intelligent, argues a leading expert in a “mind-scrambling” TED talk made available to the public onTuesday 18 July 2017.

Taking the stage at this year’s TED conference in Vancouver, Canada, Professor Anil Seth of the University of Sussex shares some key lessons he has learnt over nearly two decades trying to unravel the mystery of consciousness, with implications from new approaches to psychiatry to the possibility of conscious AI.

 He says: “My research is telling me that consciousness has less to do with pure intelligence and more to do with our nature as living, breathing organisms.

“Intelligence and consciousness are very different things.

“You don’t have to be smart to suffer, but you probably do have to be alive.”

This has important consequences for the AI debate, Professor Seth suggests. If consciousness is tied to having and being a living body, then no robot or machine – at least as we currently conceive of such things - could ever be truly conscious.

Professor Seth explains: “What it means to be me cannot be reduced to – or uploaded to – a software program running on an advanced robot, however sophisticated or intelligent.

“We are flesh and blood animals whose conscious experiences are deeply shaped by a biological drive to stay alive.

“Just making computers smarter is not going to make them sentient.”

Science writer Davey Alba described the talk as “mind-scrambling” and the highlight of her TED experience this year, ahead of talks by fellow speakers the Pope, Al Gore and Serena Williams. Writing for WIRED magazine, Ms Alba said: “What he said spoke to me: despite recent claims to the contrary, consciousness is uniquely intertwined with being human.

“All this handwringing about AI becoming conscious? About uploading your brain to a robot? You probably shouldn’t worry.

“As a human, I found this very comforting.”

Our conscious experiences, Professor Seth says, are essentially “controlled hallucinations, designed by evolution to keep us alive in worlds full of danger and opportunity”.

He says: “We’re all hallucinating all the time. It’s just that whenever we agree about our hallucinations, we call it reality.

“Imagine being a brain. There you are, stuck inside a bony skull, trying to figure out what’s out there in the world. There’s no light inside the skull – and no sound either. All you have to go on are streams of electrical signals, which are only indirectly related to things in the world, whatever they may be.

“Perception therefore has to be a process of ‘informed guesswork’… what we perceive is the brain’s ‘best guess’ of what’s out there.

“The world we experience comes as much from the inside-out, as from the outside-in. We don’t passively perceive our worlds. We actively generate them.”

Professor Seth goes onto show that this also applies to how we perceive our own bodies, and how the brain uses prediction to control and regulate the biological mechanisms that keep us alive.

And while robots and AI often grab the headlines (including this one), the underlying science of consciousness is also leading to real improvements to the lives of humans, helping us to better understand and treat neurological and psychiatric conditions, such as depression and schizophrenia.

Professor Seth says: “These are major shifts in how we understand ourselves and they should be celebrated.

“As so often happens in science, from Copernicus and Darwin to the present day, with greater understanding comes a greater sense of wonder, and a greater realisation that we are part of, and not apart from, the rest of nature.”

From Body to Being, September 9th 2017

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

In Touch with Reality, October 7th 2016

In Touch with Reality was an evening with the Sackler Centre for Consciousness Science, University of Sussex (led by Dr. David Schwartzman and Dr. Keisuke Suzuki) held at the Wellcome collection as an outreach event to the popular exhibition States of Mind. On the evening we attracted over 100 members of the public of all ages for this two hour event. The event has also inspired this article, "Cracking Consciousness"  from James Hakner of the University of Sussex.

In Touch with Reality investigated how our brains create the feeling of having a body, and how malleable this feeling is.  The exhibition showcased the Sackler Centre’s cutting-edge research straight from the lab, including multiple virtual and augmented reality exhibits, interactive displays exploring how our experience of the world is shaped by the body and how body-experience itself is actively constructed, moment-to-moment, by the brain.

These videos show how the event stretched attendees' minds with demonstrations that altered their experience of the body and shifted how their world was perceived:

In Touch With Reality Photo Gallery

Friday 7th October 2016. Wellcome Collection, 83 Euston Road, London NW1 2BE
A range of demonstrations by members of the Sackler Centre for Consciousness Science. Photos courtesy of James Hakner, Anil Seth.

The virtual reality exhibits, based on work by Dr. Keisuke Suzuki, allowed participants to ‘swap bodies’ with another person, have an out of body experience and even seamlessly swap realities while taking a journey around and outside the Wellcome trust without even leaving their chair. The evening also included a programme of talks which featured the Sackler Centre's Co-Director, Anil Seth, speaking on consciousness and the embodied self. Professor Seth's presentation outlined his approach to researching the brain basis of consciousness, exploring how experiences of embodied selfhood are complex constructions of the brain. The recurring theme and message to take home from this talk was: "I predict (myself), therefore I am". There were also many opportunities for visitors to talk with the scientists from the Sackler Centre about the exhibits and consciousness in general. An additional VR exhibit was created by Harry Brenton, Bespoke VR.

Emotion, Memory and the Mind. July 7th & 8th 2016

The Human Mind Project teamed up with the Sackler Centre for Consciousness Science at the University of Sussex to present an exciting workshop exploring the human experience of emotion and memory.

States of Mind: Tracing the Edges of Consciusbess, October 2015


In 2015 we were part of a highly successful collaboration between the Sackler Centre for Consciousness Science and the Wellcome Trust. Anil Seth and David Schwartzman were the main scientific advisors to the curator Emily Seargant in producing a major exhibition on consciousness, States of Mind: Tracing the Edges of Consciousness, at the Wellcome Collection, in central London.  States of Mind examined perspectives from artists, psychologists, philosophers and neuroscientists to interrogate our understanding of the conscious experience. The exhibition ran for one year, from October 2015 until October 2016. States of Mind targeted the general public and proved to be an ideal outreach program attracting a wide cross section of society capitalizing on the public’s inherent interest in consciousness and new technologies to engage and educate, while also showcasing the research being carried out at the Sackler Centre.


Exploring phenomena such as somnambulism, synaesthesia, and disorders of memory and consciousness, it examined ideas around the nature of consciousness, and in particular what can happen when our typical conscious experience is interrupted, damaged or undermined.


Alphabet in Colour: Illustrating Vladimir Nabokov’s grapheme-colour synaesthesia, by Jean Holabird.

David Schwartzman and Anil Seth also created a bespoke interactive iPad application that introduced key questions about consciousness science and demonstrated simple visual illusions that demonstrate different aspects of our conscious experience. The app was used by visitors waiting to enter ‘yellowpinkblue’.  There were over 30,000 visitors to ‘yellowpinkblue’ most of whom interacted with this application, highlighting the Sackler Centre and the University of Sussex to a wide audience.


David Schwartzman also created an interactive exhibit based on research at the University of Sussex, which showed that non-synaesthetes can be trained to “see” letters of the alphabet in colour in a way that simulates how people with synaesthesia experience their world (Scientific Reports, 2014, 4:7089).

This exhibit allowed participants to try some of the training tasks used in this study to give visitors a glimpse of what it might be like to be synaesthetic.

Wiston House Retreat. September 10th & 11th 2013
The Sackler Centre for Consciousness Science hosted a two day meeting at the beautiful country estate of Wiston House in East Sussex to set the agenda for new developments in consciousness science.

The majority of researchers associated with the Sackler Centre attended as well as selected external collaborators and stakeholders.

The event involved:

  • overview talks by Sackler Centre faculty on key topics within consciousness science.
  • short research talks by postdocs and students.
  • workshop sessions on key consciousness science research themes, aimed at facilitating new ideas, collaborations and research proposals.
  • involvement of executive coach Magdalena Bak-Maier on how get the most out of the meeting.
  • brain storming about new grant and research ideas.
  • archery

To view the program: New Developments in Consciousness Science clickhere

Wiston House:

Located at the foot of the South Downs in the Sussex countryside, Wiston House is an impressive sixteenth century Grade I Listed building, surrounded by over 6000 acres of parkland with magnificent views and a stunning mile-long driveway through the park.

Wiston 1

Wiston House, first mentioned in the Domesday Book, has been home to the world renowned Wilton Park conference organisation since 1951, hosting events on key international policy challenges. It was created in 1946 to help re-establish peace and democracy in Europe as part of an initiative inspired by Winston Churchill. Visitors come from all over the world: They include leading figures from Government, Parliaments, business, international institutions, universities, the media, and from non-governmental institutions.

Wiston 2

A house has stood here since the middle of the fourteenth century and parts of the present building date back to 1576 – in particular the Great Hall, with a splendid double hammer beam roof.  During the English Civil War, Wiston House was occupied, first by forces loyal to King Charles I, then by parliamentarian soldiers. Sir John Fagge purchased the estate in 1649 and his grand-daughter, Elizabeth, became heiress to the Estate in 1740.  She married Sir Charles Goring, a neighbouring landowner and the house has been owned by the Goring family ever since.


Dr. Lionel Barnett - Post doctoral researcher (Sackler Centre for Consciousness Science)

Dr. Adam Barrett - Post doctoral researcher (Sackler Centre for Consciousness Science)

Dr. Dan Bor - Post doctoral researcher (Sackler Centre for Consciousness Science)

Acer Chang - PhD student

Prof. Mara Cercignani - Professor in Medical Physics

Dr. Ron Chrisley - Reader of Philosophy

Stephanie Clayton - Intern - Sackler Centre for Consciousness Science

Prof. Hugo Critchley - Co-Director of the Sackler Centre for Consciousness Science

Prof. Zoltan Dienes - Professor in Experimental Psychology

Dr. David Gamez - Research Fellow (Informatics)

Dr.Sarah Garfinkel - Research Fellow (Clinical Medicine)

Cassandra Gould - PhD student

Dr. Ryota Kanai - Reader in Psychology

Prof. Leon Lagnado - Professor of Neuroscience (Neuroscience)

Andy Mealor - Research Fellow (Psychology)

Dr. Nick Medford - Senior Lecturer (Honorary Consultant) in Psychiatry

Daniel Osorio - Professor of Neuroscience

Dr. Marte Otten - Post doctoral researcher (Sackler Centre for Consciousness Science)

Dr. Jim Parkinson - Post doctoral researcher (Sackler Centre for Consciousness Science)

Dr. Yair Pinto - Post doctoral researcher (Sackler Centre for Consciousness Science)

Dr. Nicolas Rothen - Visitor Honorary Research Fellow (Psychology)

Maxine Sherman - PhD student

Michael Schartner - PhD student

Dr. David Schwartzman - Lab Manager (Sackler Centre for Consciousness Science)

Dr. Ryan Scott - Lecturer in Psychology

Prof. Anil Seth - Professor of Cognitive and Computational Neuroscience, Co-Director of the Sackler Centre for Consciousness Science

Murray Shanahan - Professor of Cognitive Robotics

Natasha Sigala - Senior Lecturer in Neuroscience

Dr. Keisuke Suzuki - Post doctoral researcher (Sackler Centre for Consciousness Science)

Prof. Jamie Ward - Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience

Zombielab at the Science Museum. February 2013

The Sackler Centre was out in force to take part in ZombieLab at the Science Museum. Its aim was to draw the public in to discuss the science of consciousness to the backdrop of a zombie outbreak. Sackler members Anil Seth, Daniel Bor and Sarah Garfinkel discussed research in the field of consciousness science to answer if zombies are conscious.

Keisuke Suzuki exhibited an Out of Body demo using his virtual reality setup, and other members of the Sackler Centre were on hand to answer key questions about the nature of consciousness all weekend.

Media Coverage:

ASSC16 June 30th-July 7th 2012. Brighton Dome and Corn Exchange

ASSC16, was hosted by the Sackler Centre for Consciousness Science, University of Sussex. It took place in The Brighton Dome and Corn Exchange, in the heart of the city.

Brighton Corn ExchangeThe annual ASSC meetings have long been a prominent forum for the dissemination, discussion, and advancement of empirical and conceptual studies of consciousness; ASSC16 continued firmly in this tradition.  Now in its 16th year, the science of consciousness while still young, is no longer new.  This growing maturity is reflected both by an effective  reaching out to other more established disciplines, and by an increasing delivery on its own core questions concerning the nature, biological basis, and functions of consciousness, in health and in disease. While no-one would claim that the mystery of consciousness is yet solved, it is increasingly evident that much progress is being made and there seems every reason to be optimistic. Equally important is that developments in consciousness science are now yielding clinical insights of real practical importance across a wide range of neurological and psychiatric conditions. A true test of the value of science is its ability to enhance the human condition and the study of consciousness is now contributing here as well.  The scientific content of ASSC16, and the discussions it fostered, well reflected these advances.

ASSC16 was extremely successful, with many participants considering it the best ASSC in the history of the meetings.  The main academic meeting (July 2-6) attracted 505 participants who collectively submitted 403 abstracts, setting new records for ASSC meetings by some distance.  The scientific content was divided among keynote lectures, plenary symposia, concurrent talk sessions, and poster sessions. Attendees were drawn from students, researchers, faculty, as well as the interested media and public. The participation was truly international in scope.  The academic content of the meeting was extremely impressive, combining breadth and depth, and has already been reported in prestigious outlets such as Nature, New Scientist, and The Guardian (links below).

Sackler Centre research was particularly well represented at the meeting, with Sackler researchers presenting 19 separate research projects, many of which were highlighted by the New Scientist (see below).  More than 50 student volunteers drawn from a variety of departments helped at the meeting, allowing them to interact with researchers and experience consciousness science at its exciting frontiers and helping shape the next generation of consciousness researchers.  Overall, both the scientific reputation and name recognition of the Sackler Centre for Consciousness Science was significantly enhanced by successfully hosting ASSC16.

Continuing the ASSC tradition, many events were organized by and for the student body.  There were two social evenings, a poster competition, and perhaps most usefully a ‘mentor lunch’ at which about 40 students sat down with senior researchers, in small groups, to discuss both research and the practical business of pursuing an academic career.

Delegates were particularly impressed with the venue and overall organization of ASSC, with the environment of  Dome and Corn Exchange complex significantly improving upon most academic conference venues.  Having the conference in the city centre proved to be a popular decision for participants, fostering a sense of excitement and engagement throughout the week.

ASSC16 PosterASSC16 introduced several innovations.  We took advantage of social network media, with a dedicated Facebook page, an ASSC blog/forum, and a widely used Twitter tag (#ASSC16); many sessions were live-tweeted and twitter feeds were displayed prominently throughout the meeting. We are collating a database of #ASSC16 tweets in order to assess the ongoing impact of the meeting.  Perhaps more importantly, ASSC16 reached out beyond the academic community to actively involve and engage the wider public.  Halfway through the meeting this public engagement took the form of an informal ‘consciousness salon’ with Prof. Peter Naish, but by far the greatest effort was focused on a unique 1-day ‘consciousness expo’ event, State of Mind (  This event took place on June 30th in the Corn Exchange and attracted more than 1800 members of the public of all ages and backgrounds within its 7 hours of opening.  The expo featured an interactive showcase of new technologies exploiting and exploring many aspects of consciousness, perception, and human experience.  As well as interactive exhibits, there were short talk sessions on creativity, art and neuroscience, and consciousness science, as well as ‘pop-up cinema’ events and real experiments in which people could take part.  About 40 student volunteers, abetted by Sackler Centre faculty and researchers, ensured that attendees came away both enlightened and engaged.  The event proved extremely popular and many more could have attended given more time; at one stage people were queueing around the block hoping to gain admittance.  As an example of ‘widening participation’ with respect to cutting-edge science, the Expo must be regarded as a resounding success.  A short video of the event can be seen here:

All in all, ASSC16 more than lived up to its objective of being a citywide celebration of consciousness science.  We look forward to future ASSCs with optimism.

ASSC16: Continue the conversation
Twitter: #ASSC16

ASSC16: Media coverage (as of 12 July 2012):

State of Mind, ran for just a single day, was a free-entry event and attracted more than 1800 members of the public of all ages and all backgrounds. It was hosted by the Sackler Centre for Consciousness Science, University of Sussex as part of the first ever public outreach and engagement program in the 16 year history of the Annual Meeting of the Association for the Scientific Study of Consciousness (ASSC16), which this year was also hosted by the Sackler Centre.

State of Mind ( was held in the Brighton Corn Exchange in order to  explore and make accessible the exciting new science of consciousness. It was part of the Sackler Centre’s public-facing events program towards making ASSC16 not just an academic event but a 'true citywide celebration of consciousness science'.

State of Mind showcased a fantastic range of new technologies and exhibits, developed by members of the Sackler Centre and colleagues from around the country, which exploited and explored the many aspects of consciousness, perception, and human experience.

The array of extraordinary exhibits drew from all aspects of consciousness science and included virtual reality environments, neuro-interactive films, mind-bending visual illusions, striking scientific images of the brain, eye tracking demonstrations, a Turing test, artificial intelligence, sensory substitution devices, impossible objects as well as real experiments in which visitors could take part in. Many of the exhibits had a strong interactive component, allowing visitors to be immersed in, and to learn about, different aspects of their own conscious experience.  There were also many opportunities for visitors to talk with the scientists, technologists, and artists currently investigating the biology of consciousness, as well as roaming experts on consciousness – drawn from the Sackler Centre - that visitors could approach with their queries.

State of Mind also ran three very popular short talk sessions Zen, Art and Creativity, Art and the Scientific Study of Consciousness and Consciousness: The Final Frontier all of which were packed to  capacity, generating vibrant Q&A sessions. In-between the talks we also had a ‘pop-up cinema’ showing short films relevant to consciousness science.

On the day, State of Mind attracted more than 1800 members of the public of all ages and backgrounds within just 7 hours, with queues at times stretching round the block as the Corn Exchange reached capacity. The informal feedback we have received has been uniformly excellent, with people saying how enthralled they had been by all the exhibits and wondering why the expo was only on for a single day. Our goal of attracting a very broad cross-section of the public was undoubtedly achieved, with people of all ages and backgrounds attending the Expo as well as plenty of school-age and younger children participating and getting-to-grips with the interactive exhibits.

The event was organized by David Schwartzman and Hazelle Woodhurst, both of whom are attached to the Sackler Centre, ably assisted by an army of about 40 student volunteers, Sackler Centre faculty and researchers.

State of Mind proved to be extremely popular and many more people could/would have attended given more time. As an example of ‘widening participation’ with respect to cutting-edge science, the Expo must be regarded as a resounding success and we look forward to organizing similar events in the future.

State of Mind 2012 Gallery

A short video of the event filmed by Anil Seth can be seen here:

For more information about State of Mind please visit, the Sackler Centre website at, and for details of the academic conference.

State of Mind is grateful to the University of Sussex, the Brighton Dome, and the Dr.  Mortimer and Theresa Sackler Foundation, as well as to the many volunteers and exhibitors, for their essential support.

Neuroscience and the Guitar. Ropetackle Centre, Shoreham-by-Sea. October 22nd 2010

To illuminate these complex questions in a fascinating lecture for the Ropetackle Art of Life Science series, neuroscientist Anil Seth has called on the creative talents of guitar virtuoso Richard Durrant and animator Kate Genevieve.

Dr Seth, who specialises in the study of consciousness, has taken as his inspiration the Spanish Nobel laureate Santiago Ramón y Cajal, the father of modern neuroscience, whose work coincided with the golden age of Spanish classical guitar as composed and played by Albeniz, Barrios, Torrega, and Granados at the beginning of the 20th century. 

Dr Seth says: "Ramon y Cajal was first to understand that the brain works by communication between neurons - and he did so by combining scientific insight with an extraordinary gift for illustration, generating beautiful images of the brain that we still use and wonder at today."

The act of learning and playing music serves as an excellent demonstration of how the brain learns, remembers and generates experiences: all of which can be shown by examining brain data produced by an actual musician - in this case, Richard Durrant.

Brain activity in Richard's brain was recorded while he was playing, then listening, to music he composed especially for the lecture. The resulting brain wave readings and brain scan images have been turned into some beautiful drawings and animations by Kate Genevieve, inspired both by the subject of the lecture - the artistic style of Ramon y Cajal - and the nature of the data: brain waves become musical notes and staves, then birds, then waves in the sea. Projection and installation artist Malcolm Buchanan-Dick uses his skills to complete the picture for the audience."

Kate, an independent digital animator and co-director of the upcoming 'Dream Machine' project for Brighton's White Night festival, says: "We want the music and animation to make the entire evening an immersive exploration of the elements making up a conscious experience."

But there is more to Richard Durrant's brain waves than pleasing pictures, as Dr Seth explains:

"Richard's musicianship demonstrates the amazing capabilities of the brain and how a neural mechanism underpins responses to music. When you compare Richard's brain images with those of a non-musician, you see that the area of his brain that controls motor functions is stimulated when he both plays and listens to the music. It's almost as if he is re-enacting the experience. A non-musician listening to the piece doesn't show any of this motor activity. As Richard is a practised musician the motor function that controls his fingers will take on more brain 'real estate'. This is what is known as muscle memory."

Richard Durrant says: "The point of these collaborations is that the academic and the artist are taken out of their comfort zones - it's great fun."

The evening will go on to explore how neurons (brain cells) talk to each other and how music and memory are related in how our conscious selves persist over time.  All accompanied by dramatic visuals and evocative performances from Richard.

Dr Seth says:

"I think this is an excellent idea to find new ways to communicate different scientific ideas. I hope people will enjoy the evening and share with us the fascination for one of science's big questions - 'What's the biological basis of consciousness?'"

A video of Kate's animation 'encephalo//graphic', created for the event, is here: