Monday, June 1, 2015


Yesterday a live event from the World Science U took place at the Advanced Science Research Center Auditorium of City College, CUNY. The title "Evolution of Mind and Matter" anticipated the fusion of cosmology and neuroscience announced as exploration of "humankind's grandest mysteries, from our accelerating universe to human consciousness" led by some of the foremost experts in cosmology, neuroscience, anthropology, philosophy". 
The event started with Brian Greene's introduction of World Science U, a online educational platform devoted to science. The live events part of the World Science Festival are an exception as the content of the World Science is delivered usually delivered online with video and animations. 

The first lecture "The Accellarating Universe" was delivered by Adam Riess,  Professor of Astronomy and Physics, Johns Hopkins University. Reiss shared the 2011 Nobel Prize in Physics with Saul Perlmutter and Brian P. Schmidt "for the discovery of the accelerating expansion of the Universe through observations of distant supernovae". Reiss introduced the audience to topics including the accelerating Universe, the measure of astronomical distances, the Hubble constant and the Einstein cosmological constant, the role of supernovae, and shared his journey of discovery which led him to the Nobel Prize.

Einstein's Gravitational  Constant κ 

The following lecture "From Chemistry to Life: On Earth and Abroad" was presented by Dimitar Sasselov, Phillips Professor of Astronomy, Harvard University. Sasselov started with an interdisciplinary approach expanding physics questions to the realm of philosophy and asked the audience: "What is life?" anticipating that such a question does not have an agreeable definition. The presentation continued with the definition of life as a chemical system. He included concepts of dark matter and energy and emphasized the importance of water for life and efforts to find life in the universe. 

The focus shift from the cosmos to the self, from astrophysics to neuroscience with "The Biology of Consciousness" presented by Christof Koch, President and Chief Scientific Officer of Allen Institute for Brain Science. Koch introduction started with statements from philosophy, in the Descartes and the mind-body dualism "I am exist because I am conscious". He introduced the hard problem of consciousness in the explanation of our phenomenal experiences and perceptions. how sensations acquire characteristics, such as colors and tastes. He emphasized how consciousness is challenging to be explored, perhaps more than black holes and brains, for its lack of objective areas of explorations. He introduced a neurobiological approach to consciousnes associated to the neuronal correlates of consciousness (NCC). Digital consciousness is also a subject of interest, brought by technology: Apple Siri is an example, amplified in the science fiction movie "Her". Finally Koch introduced  the theoretical framework IITC integrated information theory of consciousness— developed by neuroscientist Giulio Tononi.

The afternoon sessions was opened by Alfred Mele, William H. and Lucyle T. Werkmeister Professor of Philosophy at Florida State University with "Free Will and Neuroscience"
Mele introduced three neuroscientific arguments for free will and mentioned that fMRI imaging can show that how human brain makes decisions.

Lee Berger, Paleoanthropologist and Explorer, at the University of the Witwatersrand presented "Exploring Our Humanity". The narration focused on his discovery of fossils of hominidsin  the Rising Star Cave, South Africa. Berger communicated his Passion of discovery and gave, as final suggestion to the audience, to "avoid backyard syndrome" and leave the computer desk: technology is a tool but fieldwork should be revaluated.
Rising Star Cave (25°55′S 27°47′E)
It was an unusual line-up of speakers, from so many different fields, but the results, even if sometimes seemed uncoordinated, was quite interesting and somehow inspiring.