What is consciousness?

This event is a debate featuring neuroscientist Christof Koch, philosopher Bernardo Kastrup and spiritual teacher Rupert Spira. It's happening over zoom.

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we all know what consciousness is: it’s our direct experience of the present moment, our window into the external world, the feeling of what it is like to see, smell, taste, touch, hear, think, emote, and more. Yet it also seems to be the case that we have no idea what consciousness is. Consciousness has baffled neuroscientists and philosophers alike for centuries; indeed, for many people, there seems to be a fundamental, perhaps even unbridgeable, gap between the subjective, felt sensation of, for example, pain, and the electrochemical activity of our brains. How then could consciousness arise from the brain?

In this event, three extraordinary experts on consciousness will debate each other about their answers to this question. Christof Koch is a legendary neuroscientist who has collaborated with Francis Crick, the co-discoverer of dna, to uncover the “neural correlates” of consciousness. Since Dr Crick’s death, he has continued in this line of research and developed, along with another neuroscientist, Integrated Information Theory, which is arguably the leading scientific account of consciousness. Bernardo Kastrup is a philosopher who also boasts an impressive background in science; he worked at the high-energy particle collider in Cern before pursuing a career in analytical philosophy of mind, where he argued for the idea that reality itself is an extended form of consciousness. Finally, Rupert Spira is a spiritual teacher who belongs to the tradition of Advaita Vedanta, a “non-dual” school of Hindu philosophy that believes that an infinite, pure, divine consciousness underlies the apparent duality between the perceiving self and the perceived universe. Each of the speakers will give a brief “opening statement” about his view on consciousness, and then our president, Kenneth Shinozuka, will begin moderating the debate between them. The debate will last an hour, and then we will conclude the event with a 30-minute Q&A with the audience.

Why is the Oxford psychedelic society putting on an event about consciousness, you might ask? Each of the three speakers will comment on psychedelics and their implications for our understanding of consciousness; they have all written or spoken publicly about psychedelics, and Christof Koch has even incorporated psychedelics into his research program on consciousness. Furthermore, psychedelics and the study of consciousness are inextricably linked to each other; the essence of the psychedelic experience is a profound change in a person’s state of consciousness.

Kenneth Shinozuka & the OPS committee