Consciousness and its Place in Nature

christof koch

Consciousness and its Place in Nature

The Institute of Neuroscience Mind/Brain Lecture

Christof Koch, Chief Scientist and President, 
Allen Institute for Brain Science

When: Friday, May 31, 2 p.m.
Where: Straub Hall, Room 156


Human and non-human animals not only act in the world but are capable of conscious experience — to them, it feels like something to have a brain and be cold, angry or see red. Christof Koch, a German-American neuroscientist best known for his studies and writings exploring the basis of consciousness, will discuss the empirical progress that has been achieved over the past several decades in locating the footprints of consciousness in the posterior part of the neocortex, in the back of the brain.

Koch, the chief scientist and president of Seattle’s Allen Institute for Brain Science, will discuss “Consciousness and its Place in Nature” in the inaugural Institute of Neuroscience Mind/Brain lecture at 2 p.m. on Friday, May 31 in Straub 156.  

In his UO lecture, Koch will introduce the Integrated Information Theory, which explains in a principled manner which physical systems are capable of conscious, subjective experience. It also explains many biological and medical facts about consciousness and has been used to build a consciousness-meter to assess the presence of consciousness in neurological patients. The theory predicts that consciousness is much more widespread in biology than assumed in the Western canon. On the other hand, digital computers — though they may become as intelligent as humans — will not be conscious, even though they may be able to perfectly mimic human behaviors associated with consciousness. “Consciousness,” Koch says, “ Is not a clever hack, a form of computation, but is a causal power.” 

christof koch
Christof Koch, PhD

Christof Koch is a German-American neuroscientist best known for his studies and writings exploring the basis of consciousness. He is now Chief Scientist and President of the Allen Institute for Brain Science in Seattle, leading a ten-year, large-scale high throughput effort to build brain observatories. Koch likens the project to a Hubble Space Telescope for the brain. The online repository of 30 trillion bytes’ worth of brain-cell readings is being used to map, analyze and understand the mouse and human cerebral cortex.

Trained as a physicist, Koch was a professor of biology and engineering at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena for 27 years. On a quest to understand the physical roots of consciousness, he published his first paper on the neural correlates of consciousness with the molecular biologist Francis Crick more than a quarter of a century ago. Today, Koch is a vegetarian and cyclist who lives in Seattle, loves big dogs, biking, climbing and rowing. His upcoming book is “The Feeling of Life Itself – Why Consciousness is Widespread but Can’t be Computed.”