With the human genome decoded, science is poised now to set sights on a more ethereal realm: human consciousness, one of the least understood facets of human cognition.
Deep within this frontier where brain and mind intersect, lie a host of questions and mysteries yet to be fully examined, including what it means to be human; the connection between art, science and creativity; human perception; artificial intelligence; and our relationship with religion, spirituality and the universe.
One researcher who is delving into these worlds with gusto is Jeff Lieberman, an MIT-trained scientist, engineer and artist who says our consciousness makes us who we are in the world, but that often our limitations as humans make us unaware of our potential and true uniqueness. As a result, "You may not be who you think you are," Lieberman told an audience earlier this year at a TEDxCambridge session where he explained the basics of his theories in consciousness.
Our minds are "thought-generating machines," he continues stressing "that the evolutionary utility of our minds is unbelievable," but that negative and counter-productive suffering comes as a side effect of these capabilities, keeping us separated from the world and from being who we were meant to be. "What would happen if we could turn off the machine?," Lieberman asks, "If we could transcend our individual experience of the world?"
Lieberman is currently working on specific testable mathematical hypotheses to further explore such questions, in addition to investigating the use of such technologies as neurofeedback to aid our ability to understand ourselves more deeply and to remove mental roadblocks to perception and self awareness.
Science buffs may know Lieberman best as the host of the show Time Warp on the Discovery Channel where he combines art and creativity with science and technology to help us see beyond the limits of our normal perception. Lieberman will bring his unique perspective on the future of human consciousness to the USA Science & Engineering Festival hosted by Lockheed Martin (the nation's largest celebration of science and engineering) this April in Washington, DC. There, at the Festival's finale Expo, he will conduct interactive presentations that will demonstrate the wonders and limitations of what we know about the burgeoning field of consciousness.
Lieberman, the holder of four degrees from MIT (a B.S. in Physics and Math, and an M.S. in Mechanical Engineering, and Media Arts and Sciences), has gained worldwide recognition for his "technological sculptures," including the Cyberflora, a garden of robotic flowers built with enough artificial intelligence to react when a person enters the room, and for the Motor Learning Robotic Wearable Suit -- robotic clothing which accelerates motor skill learning.
In addition, through his skill in high-speed photography and music, he is helping to pioneer a new genre of music and perception known as "pastoral electroacoustic."
Lieberman is a prime example of the myriad researchers on the leading edge of science and engineering who will be taking part in the USA Science & Engineering Festival to inspire future innovators and educate the public. The Festival's finale Expo weekend celebration, no ordinary event on April 28-29 at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center, will be replete with a bevy of hands-on excitement in science, including 2,000 exhibits and stage demonstrations, which will culminate the Festival's month-long series of nationwide activities.
In addition to hands-on encounters with other fields of science and engineering, the Expo will also include exciting presentations in the realm of human consciousness, perception and artificial intelligence -- such as the following:
Encounters With Robots. Interact with Ada and Grace, two virtual museum guides from the National Science Foundation who will greet and converse with visitors, including answering questions about exhibits, computer science, and STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics). In another presentation, with Aldebaran Robotics, meet NAO, a fully interactive, versatile, and fun humanoid robot that is able to see, hear, speak, feel and communicate using the most advanced technology.
Ilusion vs. Reality. Sleight-of-hand maestro Apollo Robbins, who once picked the pockets of Secret Servicemen while entertaining a former President, takes you inside what is real and what is illusion -- and how the brain is often tricked. In a related presentation, sensory perception researcher Beau Lotto of London College University demonstrates how optical illusions via color games shed light on how the brain works.
Science of the Senses. A stunning array of exhibits by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) explores the mysteries of smell, taste, touch, hearing and sight perception.
The Secret Science Behind Special Effects. Hollywood stuntman Steve Wolfe takes you behind how movie stunts and special effects trick the senses to appear real on film
Learning Through Magic. Prominent educator Alan McCormack teaches kids tenets of science through magical demonstrations from the adventures of Harry Potter.
Multimedia Extravaganza. Don't miss multimedia maestro DJ Sleeper as he blends (and bends) video and audio into a new way to perceive and communicate science.
Come join us at the Festival in April to discover why some experts believe that understanding human consciousness and perception may be science's last frontier -- that in mastering it we will be well on our way to understanding the human mind as a whole. Now that's something to think about.