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British neuroscientists Anil Seth on Monday opened the eighth edition of the Future Congress of Chile with a talk on human consciousness, which he defined as a “controlled hallucination” that the mind has “all the time.”
“Our brain is a prediction machine and, according to what we forecast, that’s how we see the world. That is, we see what we expect,” said Seth during the inauguration of the Future Congress, which will run for seven days all over Chile and bring 130 speakers from around the world to discuss questions pertaining to science and innovation.
Seth’s thesis is that “we don’t see the world as it is, but as we are” and on Monday he set out to prove it with several visual experiments that he performed before the public.
Seth first showed on a screen an image of black blotches that, for the spectators, seemed to be no more than senseless shapes.
Then, he showed a color photograph of a woman with a horse and, after a few seconds, once again projected the first image, which for the viewing public now acquired a new element, seeming to show a part of the silhouette of the second photo.
“We human beings project perception via what we know. The external world doesn’t come to us but rather it’s the brain that projects what it knows to make sense of what it’s perceiving,” Seth explained.
He defined the human mechanism as a “controlled and constant hallucination” of the human mind.
“If the hallucination is an uncontrolled perception, then perception here and now is also a type of hallucination, but a controlled hallucination where the predictions of the brain impose themselves on the sensory information from the world,” Seth said.
The congress kicked off this year with this discussion about conscience and neuroscience, but it’s overall theme and question is “What species do we want to be?”
The executive director for the congress, Nicolas Fernandez, told EFE that “Each year there’s a theme or question that runs through all the talks.”
“This year it’s ‘What species do we want to be?’ and it seeks to define what the questions and answers are that nowadays we have for responding as a society, considering that we’re at a breakpoint, at the door of entering a new era,” Fernandez said.
Seth attempted to respond to this question by explaining that the perception of each human being is “different” and that we must keep this question in mind so that, as humans, we can relate better with the world and with other people.
Between Monday and Jan. 20, more than 170 talks will be given in 11 Chilean regions that can be attended live or online via the Future Congress’s Web page.
Among the issues to be discussed in the lectures are artificial intelligence, food problems, robotics, astronomy, social and political problems, Fernandez said.