Tuesday 23 December, 18:00

Science at Christmas

Lectures by Ricard Solé, Carles Lalueza Fox and Gustavo Deco

A responsible, critical society must incorporate scientific knowledge into its educational system as well as into everyday discussion. It is necessary to uphold knowledge and rational thinking as an essential part of our culture. As Carl Sagan said, “Science is light in the darkness”, and it is a light that must be kept burning. This is the spirit of the second “Science at Christmas” lecture series, which, with the support of the Botín Foundation, is to be held at the CCCB for the first time this year.


6.00 p.m.: Ricard Solé - From Ants Nest to the Turing Test: Is a Conscious Machine Possible?
Historically speaking, the problem of the origins of consciousness is frequently linked with the question of whether it is possible to construct a machine that is able to think. From Rene Descartes to Alan Turing, and from mechanical automats to modern cognitive science, the possibility of understanding the origins and nature of conscious experience has inspired metaphors, many kinds of speculation and even fear. What is consciousness? Where does it reside? Are there different levels of consciousness? None of these questions has an answer yet, but scientific advances might change this situation in a not too far distant future.

6.30 p.m.: Carles Lalueza Fox - Origins of Human Symbolic Thought: Tools, Ornaments and Language
It has often been thought that self-awareness is an exclusive trait of our species, and data pertaining to the origin of symbolic thought have been presented very recently. However, throughout the fossil record there is evidence of production of increasingly complex tools, of non-figurative art and personal ornaments among species that predate our own, for example the Neanderthals. One essential feature in the evolution of the human mind, namely language, also seems to have been present in the human lineage for hundreds of thousands of years.

7.40 p.m.: Coffee and pastries

8.00 p.m.: Gustavo Deco - The Networking Brain: What does the Human Connectome Tell Us about Consciousness?
New neuroimaging technologies have brought about a huge change in our ability to study the structure and functional organisation of the human brain, the architecture of which may be represented by means of a network known as the connectome. Starting from study of the brain in a state of repose (when “it is not doing anything”), it is possible to begin to understand how it processes information when “it is doing something”. On the basis of this knowledge one can then proceed to engage in quantitative research on the neuronal foundations of consciousness. In order to advance in the study of neuroscience of the mind and its alterations, a synthesis of experiments and mathematical models is needed.