On Consciousness & the Brain with Bernard Baars

On Consciousness & the Brain with Bernard Baars

Open-minded conversations on some new ideas about the scientific study of consciousness & the brain. Join Bernard Baars - originator of Global Workspace Theory (GWT), acclaimed author in psychobiology and one of the founders of the modern science of consciousness - to discover the conscious brain.


March 27, 2023 66 mins

How do we regulate our impulsive emotions, resist temptation, break bad habits, and come up to our best potential - and why do we sometimes run short? Is willpower anything like muscle power? 


In this episode, we welcome prominent social psychologist Roy F. Baumeister, who has published some 700 scientific works, including 40 books. A recipient of many awards, in 2013 Roy received the highest award given by the Association for Ps...

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Neurobiologist Stuart Firestein, one of the world's leading experts on olfaction, joins Bernard Baars to discuss the similarities and surprising differences of smell and taste in relation to vision, hearing and somatosensory systems, like touch. The olfactory system presents us with alternative views of how sensory stimuli are parsed in the brain and how we integrate those into some sort of conscious worldview.


Dr. Stuart Fireste...

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In this episode, we examine Human Consciousness and AI, and particularly the popular idea that AI will become conscious at some point. 

Because conscious brains are the product of enormous periods of evolution and environmental conditions that keep changing in basic ways, the popular idea that machine consciousness is just around the corner is questioned by Bernard Baars. But very important ethical and practical questions are alrea...

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The home of the late Nobel Laureate, Gerald Edelman, is the setting for this elevated discussion on human consciousness. In this episode, Bernie is joined by Gerald's son and neuroscientist David Edelman, developmental neuropsychiatrist Dr. Jay Giedd, and professional magician Mark Mitton.

What level of biology is relevant to the study of conscious processing? Is it a matter of molecules? Or cells? Or networks?


Talking Points

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We think of the cortex in terms of anatomical regions, but the cortex works as a whole. Static, gross anatomical divisions are superseded by the dynamical connectome of cortex.

This holistic viewpoint is detailed in the recent paper in the Journal Frontiers in Psychology: Consciousness Research, titled "Global Workspace Theory & Prefrontal Cortex: Recent Developments" (Baars, Geld & Kozma, 2021), which we discuss in this episode. 


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“Can consciousness be seen as the key to understanding our surroundings and organizing our actions?” — David Edelman, PhD, Neuroscientist and Visiting Scholar in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences at Dartmouth College

Ep 22: Consciousness Has an Integrative Function with Neuroscientist, David Edelman


Episode 22 of our podcast On Consciousness brings back neuroscientist David Edelman, who graciously hosted this d...

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"Subjectivity and consciousness are the two main mysteries that science is still faced with. I'm an optimist. I believe that in the next half a century we might make progress on understanding consciousness."


- Stanley A. Klein, psychophysicist, professor of Vision Science and Optometry at the University of California, Berkeley and a member of the Berkeley Visual Processing Laboratory.

Episode 21: The Duet of Physics & Psycholog...

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The brain seeks meaning and patterns. It would be very adaptive to do so in nature, because you need to know how to predict danger and to develop social ties. So our brains are very good at recognizing patterns, but also at creating them, even when they're not there.

- Dr. Jay Giedd, Chair of Child Psychiatry at Rady Children's Hospital - San Diego and Director of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Professor of Psychiatry at UCSD Sc...

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Studies show that, especially for young children, if you prematurely wake them up and deprive them of that much needed sleep, it becomes detrimental to their proper cognitive development further down in life. I just wonder about the amount of damage we're doing to kids with 7:20 AM school start times.

- Ilian Daskalov, senior undergraduate student at University of California, Irvine


Ep 19: The Sleeping Brain: Better Than a Cup ...

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Global Workspace Theory is probably oversimplified, just like the Newtonian theory of the planets and their orbits. And that's what framework theories usually do. You don't want to go to them for the details, you want to go to them for the overview. And Global Workspace is really an overview.

– Dr. Bernard Baars, originator of Global Workspace Theory and Global Workspace Dynamics, a theory of human cognitive architecture, the cort...

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"I think in terms of consciousness, it seems to me that these Feelings of Knowing are perhaps the conscious tip of the iceberg for this huge amount of unconscious processing that's going on of all this information in our environment, where maybe I couldn't tell you why I know there's danger, but I know."

- Alea Skwara, PhD Candidate in the Perception, Cognition, and Cognitive Neuroscience (PCCN) area of the Psychology Department a...

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"One of the major features of the Global Workspace hypothesis began with limited capacity, that there has to be a compensatory event in the brain happening, and the most plausible one, for various reasons, including other people's work, of course, was that there's some kind of very wide recruitment of brain resources that happens as a function of becoming conscious of something."

– Dr. Bernard Baars, originator of Global Workspace...

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"The idea is to help people understand how this science is relevant to their daily lives. Our brain likes novelty. It gets this sort of dopamine hit when you give it new information. Capturing attention and getting people excited about the information is really important, especially when dealing with things like public health issues, for example.”

– Dr. Heather Berlin, Neuropsychologist and Assistant Clinical Professor at Mount Si...

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“In many cases you can see an immediate effect, as in chronic depression – suddenly you turn on the electrodes – you don't tell them when it's on or off, right? And their whole face lights up. And you ask, "What do you feel like?" And they say, "Oh, it feels wonderful. It feels like I won the lottery! It's so great!"


– Dr. Heather Berlin, Neuropsychologist and Assistant Clinical Professor at Mount Sinai

  Episode 14: "Psychedel...

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"The only way we get certainty or stability in the world is to start from what we know, and gradually move to what we don't know."


- Bernard Baars, PhD, originator of the Global Workspace Theory, a theory of cognitive architecture and consciousness. 

  Episode 13: "Thinking About Animal Consciousness"   The question of whether some non-human animals are capable of awareness has vexed psychologists, neuroscientists, and philosop...
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    "Consciousness can be firmly embedded in biology, based on the fact that all kinds of [demonstrably biological] processes that are not [by themselves] conscious are important for conscious process[ing].”


    - David Edelman, PhD, A neuroscientist and a Visiting Scholar in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences at Dartmouth College



    Episode 12: "Consciousness in Context - The Brain is Embodied and the Body is Embedded...

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    "Episodic memory involves conscious experiences being encoded. Same goes for semantic and autobiographical memories. All varieties of memories come in through conscious moments of recall. So, I think that consciousness is the means by which any kinds of memories are established."

    - Bernard Baars, PhD, originator of global workspace theory and global workspace dynamics, former Senior Fellow in Theoretical Neurobiology at the Neuros...

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    "All models are wrong, but some are useful." And I think ultimately that's the test of a construct like Global Workspace Theory - does it lead us to greater knowledge? Does it suggest areas of research? Does it make predictions that we can test? And that's why I think Global Workspace Theory has stood the test of time. It has succeeded on all of those fronts."

    - Dr. Jay Giedd, Chair of child psychiatry at Rady Children's Hospital ...

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    "You highlighted the difference that makes a difference. Тhis is not only a neat catchphrase, but there's also something very deep about it. And sleep, in fact, is a really interesting aspect of behavior, that maybe gives us a window on the difference between conscious and non-conscious processes in the brain, because there is a distinct difference and it is recordable."

    - David Edelman, PhD, A neuroscientist and a Visiting Schola...

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    "I want to try to understand consciousness from a neuroanatomy and neuro-function standpoint. What would consciousness look like in a brain scanner and other types of imaging? What are we looking for, in a sense, and could I predict from basically the architecture and the anatomy, that this could be conscious, and this would not be able to be conscious?"

    - Dr. Jay Giedd, Developmental Neuropsychiatrist, UCSD School of Medicine, Ra...

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