Riccardo Manzotti has a PhD in Robotics and degrees in The Philosophy of Mind and Computer Science. He teaches Psychology of Perception at IULM University, Milan (Italy), and has been a Fulbright Visiting Scholar at MIT. He has specialized in AI, artificial vision, perception and, most of all, the issue of consciousness. After working in the field of artificial vision, he focused his research on the nature of phenomenal experience, how it emerges from physical processes and how it is related to objected perceived.

NYR DAILY

The Mind in the Whirlwind

Bari, Apulia, Italy, 1950

Manzotti: Each body brings into existence a world of relative objects, that are, nevertheless, external physical objects. Not things that emerge from your brain, or representations that well up in there. When the body stops working and dies, that world of experience, your consciousness, which is external to your body, ceases to exist as well. But not, of course, the whirlwind it was selected from. Parks: Essentially, you’re turning everything inside out. The experience I thought was inside is outside.

Am I the Apple?

René Magritte: La carte postale (The Postcard), 1960

Parks: So I am the apple. Manzotti: Of course that sounds absurd, because you identify your conscious self, the subject, the I, with your body, and your body is clearly not the apple. But what if I were to say that the very idea of consciousness was invented to explain how you could experience an apple when there is no apple in your head. So we have to have this consciousness apple. However, if experience and apple are one and the same, there is no longer any need to talk of a consciousness separate from it. The apple is more than enough.

The Ice Cream Problem

Wayne Thiebaud: Four Ice Cream Cones, 1964

Riccardo Manzotti: I lick a strawberry ice cream and a chocolate ice cream. The action, licking, is the same, the sensory motor contingency, that is the affordance that the two ice creams present to the mouth, is the same, but the taste quite different. There simply isn’t a different action, a different engagement of the body with the environment, to match every different experience we have.

Does Information Smell?

John Constable's drawing of a mouse with a piece of cheese, inscribed

Riccardo Manzotti: We must distinguish between internalism as an approach to the problem of consciousness (the idea that it is entirely produced in the head) and neuroscience as a discipline. The neuroscientists have made huge progress in mapping out the brain and analyzing the nitty-gritty of what goes on there, but the way they describe their experiments by way of a computer analogy—in particular of information processing and memory storage—can give the mistaken impression that they’re getting nearer to understanding what consciousness is.

The Color of Consciousness

Julián López Escobar, Seville, Spain, 2002

Riccardo Manzotti: Science tells us there’s no color in the world. It occurs only in our brains. But, when scientists look inside the brain to see what’s going on, they find only billions of neurons exchanging electrical impulses and releasing chemical substances. There is no yellow banana in the head, just the grey stuff.

The Challenge of Consciousness

Virna Haffer: Inside the Mind of Man, circa 1935-1942

Riccardo Manzotti: For most people “consciousness” will have various meanings and include awareness, self-awareness, thinking in language. But for philosophers and neuroscientists the crucial meaning is that of feeling something, having a feeling you might say, or an experience. It’s all very problematic. The truth is that we do not know what consciousness is. That’s why we’re talking about it as a problem.