Dr. Tononi’s laboratory studies consciousness and its disorders as well as the mechanisms
and functions of sleep. For his work on sleep, he has received the
Director’s Pioneer Award (2005) and the Harvard Medical School’s Farrell Prize in
Sleep Medicine (2017) for his outstanding lifetime contributions to the field. For
his work on consciousness, he has received the Max Planck Institute’s Klaus Joachim
Zülch Prize (2017) and the Leibniz Institute for Neurobiology’s Leibniz Chair (2018).
Dr. Tononi is also the recipient of the Academy of Sleep and Consciousness’s Bernese
Sleep Award (2018) and the Humboldt Foundation’s distinguished Humboldt Research Prize (2018).
Dr. Tononi’s main contribution in the study of sleep has been the development of a
comprehensive hypothesis about the function of sleep, the synaptic homeostasis hypothesis.
According to the hypothesis, sleep serves to renormalize synaptic strength, counterbalancing
a net increase of synaptic strength due to plasticity during wakefulness. Dr. Tononi’s
main contribution in the study of consciousness has been the development of the
integrated information theory. This is a comprehensive theory of what consciousness is, what determines its quantity
and quality, and how it emerges from causal structures such as neural networks.
What is Consciousness?
Scientists have long wondered what consciousness is and where it lives in the brain. Are newborns, animals and intelligent computers conscious? Does consciousness fade when patients become unresponsive after brain damage, during general anesthesia or even in deep sleep? Dr. Giulio Tononi will share how integrated information theory (IIT) attempts to answer these questions. IIT starts not from the brain but from consciousness itself — the world of experience — and derives from it what it takes for a system to be conscious. He will also discuss how IIT has stirred the development of promising tests to evaluate consciousness in non-communicative subjects.