Consciousness is a terrible curse. Or so says a character in screenwriter/director Charlie Kaufman’s Being John Malkovich. Part theater of the absurd and part neuroscience fiction, the Oscar-winning filmmaker’s work captures the splintering between what we perceive and what we feel as our brains grapple with multiple layers of reality. Neuroscientist Giulio Tononi, one of the world’s leading sleep researchers, casts new light on the science of the mind, probing where and how consciousness is generated in the brain.
Alan Alda, a seven-time Emmy Award–winner, played Hawkeye Pierce and wrote many of the episodes on the classic TV series M*A*S*H, and appeared in continuing roles on ER, The West Wing, 30 Rock, and The Blacklist. He has starred in, written, and directed many films, and was nominated for an Academy Award for his role in The Aviator. His interest in science led to his hosting the award-winning PBS series Scientific American Frontiers for 11 years, on which he interviewed hundreds of scientists. Also on PBS he hosted The Human Spark, winning the 2010 Kavli Science Journalism Award, and Brains on Trial in 2013. On Broadway, he appeared as the physicist Richard Feynman in the play QED. He is the author of the play Radiance: The Passion of Marie Curie. He has won the National Science Board’s “Public Service Award,” the Scientific American “Lifetime Achievement Award,” and the American Chemical Society Award for “Public Service,” among others. He is a Visiting Professor at Stony Brook University’s Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science.
Charlie Kaufman wrote the screenplays for Being John Malkovich, Human Nature, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, Adaptation, and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, for which he won an Academy Award for best screenplay. He also wrote and directed Synecdoche, New York, described by Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times as “the best film of the decade.”
Kaufman’s critically and popularly acclaimed films explore themes such as subjective reality, the perception of self and time, and the search for meaning and human connection. The filmmaker was named by Time Magazine as one of the 100 most influential people in the world in 2004.
Giulio Tononi is an award-winning psychiatrist and neuroscientist whose main focus has been the scientific understanding of consciousness. His integrated information theory is a comprehensive theory of what consciousness is, how it can be measured, and how it is realized in the brain. The theory is being tested with neuroimaging, transcranial magnetic stimulation, and computer models.
His work also focuses on understanding the function of sleep. He and his collaborators study species ranging from fruit flies to humans, from the molecular and cellular level to the systems level. This research has led to the synaptic homeostasis hypothesis, according to which sleep is needed to renormalize synapses, counteracting the progressive increase in synaptic strength that occurs during wakefulness due to learning. The hypothesis has implications for understanding the effects of sleep deprivation and for developing diagnostic and therapeutic approaches to sleep disorders and neuropsychiatric disorders.
In 2005, Dr. Tononi received the NIH Director’s Pioneer Award for his work on sleep mechanism and function. He holds the David P. White Chair in Sleep Medicine and the Distinguished Chair in Consciousness Science at the University of Wisconsin.