The Federico and Elvia Faggin Foundation is a non-profit organization dedicated to the scientific study of consciousness.
Consciousness can be defined as the capacity to have a sentient experience, where sentience refers to the ability to perceive and know through sensations and feelings. However, despite its familiarity to each of us, consciousness remains largely a mystery for science.
Science has no explanation for the nature of feelings; no clue as to how electrical activity in the brain can give rise to sensations and feelings.
Philosophers have coined the word quale (plural, qualia) to indicate what a specific experience feels like. Qualia has been described “the difficult problem of consciousness” because it has defied any sensible solution.
Until 30-40 years ago, consciousness was primarily studied by philosophers, cognitive scientists, and psychologists, while basic science largely ignored the subject, considered outside the scope of objective inquiry and beyond the capabilities of the available instruments.
There is no known physical principle that can translate electrical activity in the brain or in a computer into sensations or feelings
During the last 20 years, new technologies such as fMRI (functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging) have allowed neuroscientists to study how particular conscious states are represented within the brain. These neural correlates of consciousness (NCC) have shown that to be conscious certain complex brain states must be present. NCC however cannot explain how qualia emerge; they can only show the brain electrical and metabolic activity associated with specific macroscopic conscious states.
Most scientists presume that consciousness is entirely produced by the human or animal brain as the result of its electro-chemical activity. However, there is no known physical principle that can translate electrical activity into qualia, in a brain or in a computer.
Even if the physical laws could explain in detail how our bodies function, they could not explain why and how we are conscious. According to them, we should be zombies, exactly like our robots and computers are.
Why then are we conscious?
The pseudo-explanation that is generally given is that, when the complexity of an informational system like the brain reaches a certain level, the organism will somehow become conscious.
If that were a cogent explanation, we should by now have been able to make a computer a tiny bit conscious, given that current computers are more than ten billion times more powerful and complex than the computers of the late fifties, when such an idea was first proposed. However, today’s computers are not one bit more conscious than the old ones.
There is however another possibility that should be investigated, a hypothesis that is usually eliminated a priori because it goes against the presupposition that everything that exists must be made of inert matter. This hypothesis has its roots in Eastern spiritual traditions where consciousness was considered an irreducible property of nature.
Based on the recent theories of quantum physics, according to which the nature of reality appears ever-more abstract, there is no reason to discard this hypothesis, yet if a scientist were motivated to do research on the nature of consciousness starting with this assumption, it would hard to find an institution willing to fund his research.
Herein lies the motivation for giving birth to the Federico and Elvia Faggin Foundation, whose main objective is to foster theoretical and experimental research, promote collaborations, and provide financial support to US universities and other non-profit institutions to help develop the new science of consciousness, based on the assumption that consciousness is an irreducible and fundamental property of nature.
The first essential step is the development of a new conceptual framework capable of inspiring, in the second phase, the creation of a new mathematical theory of consciousness that can make testable predictions.
Federico and Elvia Faggin are husband and wife. They emigrated to the US in 1968, and live in Silicon Valley, CA. Federico Faggin graduated in physics in 1965 from University of Padua, Italy, and worked for Fairchild Semiconductors and Intel before becoming a serial entrepreneur.