2021 Events

FI Computational Methods and Data Science Journal Club: Lenore Blum

CCM, 3rd Floor Classroom (Flatiron Institute)

CCM, 3rd Floor Classroom

Flatiron Institute



FI Computational Methods and Data Science Journal Club

Flatiron Institute, 162 5th Avenue

Speaker: Lenore Blum

Title: A Theoretical Computer Science Perspective on Consciousness: Insights from the Conscious Turing Machine


The quest to understand consciousness, once the purview of philosophers and theologians, is now actively pursued by scientists of many stripes.  We examine consciousness from the perspective of theoretical computer science (TCS), a branch of mathematics concerned with understanding the underlying principles of computation and complexity, including the implications and surprising consequences of resource limitations.

In the spirit of Alan Turing’s simple yet powerful definition of a computer, the Turing Machine (TM), and the perspective of computational complexity theory, we formalize mathematically a modified version of the Global Workspace Theory (GWT) of consciousness originated by cognitive neuroscientist Bernard Baars and further developed by him, Stanislas Dehaene, Jean-Pierre Changeaux and others.  We are not looking for a complex model of the brain nor of cognition but for a simple computational model of (the admittedly complex concept of) consciousness.

We do this by defining the Conscious Turing Machine (CTM) and then we define consciousness and related notions in the CTM. While these are only definitions, we consider phenomena generally associated with consciousness, (blindsight, inattentional blindness, and change blindness) in the CTM and suggest why the CTM has feelings of consciousness.  We give explanations derived from the model and draw confirmation from consistencies at a high-level with the psychology and neuroscience literature.

This is joint work with Manuel Blum and Avrim Blum.

Bio: Lenore Blum, Emeritus, Distinguished Career Professor of CS, CMU & Professor in Residence, EECS, UC Berkeley

FI employees are welcome. Visitors please email ccaadmin@flatironinstitute.org to register.