Who We Are

The Federico and Elvia Faggin Foundation is a non-profit organization dedicated to the scientific study of consciousness. Founded in 2011, the Foundation supports various research programs at US universities and research institutes to advance the understanding of consciousness through theoretical and experimental research.

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Consciousness can be defined as the capacity to have a sentient experience, where sentience refers to the ability to feel, to perceive through sensations and feelings. Despite its familiarity to each of us, consciousness remains largely a mystery.

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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 particular experience feels like.

Until recently, consciousness has been primarily studied by philosophers, cognitive scientists, and psychologists, while basic science has largely ignored the subject, considered outside the scope of objective inquiry, and also beyond the capacities of the available instruments.

During the last 20 years, new technologies such as fMRI have allowed neuroscientists to study how particular conscious states are represented within the brain. These neural correlates of consciousness (NCC) have shown that consciousness requires certain complex brain states to occur. NCC however cannot explain how qualia arise; they can only show the brain electrical and metabolic activity associated with particular conscious states.

It is generally assumed that consciousness is produced entirely within the human or animal brain as a function of its electrical-chemical activity. However, there is not even a shred of explanation of how consciousness may arise from such activity.

There is no known physical principle that can translate electrical activity in the brain or in a computer into sensations or feelings. For example, almost everybody would agree that a sophisticated robot behaving in a human-like manner would have no consciousness; it would be a zombie going through its paces without feeling anything, unaware of itself and of its actions.

Why then are we conscious?

To say that a complex system will somehow become conscious when the brain complexity reaches a certain level is certainly not a satisfactory explanation. And yet that’s exactly the pseudo-explanation that is generally given when consciousness is explained as “an emergent property of a complex information processing system.”

If that were a cogent explanation, we should by now be able to make a conscious computer. Yet our computers, which are more than ten billion times more powerful than the computers of the late fifties, when such an idea was first proposed, are not one bit more conscious than them. In fact, the current laws of physics cannot explain why we are conscious. They may be able to explain how our bodies work, but then we should just be zombies because there isn’t anything in such laws that can predict the emergence of consciousness; the emergence of qualia.

There is however another possibility that must be investigated, a hypothesis that is usually eliminated a priori on account that everything that exists must be material. This hypothesis has its roots in Eastern spiritual traditions where consciousness was considered an irreducible property of nature. Based on the recent cosmological theories, where the nature of reality appears ever more abstract, there is no reason to discard this hypothesis, yet there is almost no funding for consciousness research where such hypothesis is explicitly acknowledged.

The Foundation provides startup funds to perform theoretical and experimental consciousness research under the assumption that consciousness is irreducible rather than an epiphenomenon of the operation of the brain. The primary focus is currently on the development of a mathematical theory of consciousness capable of producing testable predictions that can either falsify or extend the prediction of the existing physical theories beyond the range of their applicability.

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Biographical Information

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… Read More >

Comments (4)

  1. ing giovanni miale / Reply December 24, 2014 at 9:59 am

    vorrei stabilire un contatto e-mail con federico faggin

  2. Robert Abramson / Reply August 12, 2015 at 4:22 pm

    Hello:
    After a recent visit to Vicenza I was investigating the history of that beautiful city and came across your name. Certainly, it is a genuine pleasure to know someone as prestigious as Mr.Faggin places consciousness among the most interesting of human phenomena.
    I have been a student of consciousness initially as a philosopher using Mr.Satre’s as a foundation to understanding the nature of this phenomena and having a context to build on. The philosophical inquiry can go only so far since the topic extends into all fields of human interest; as it can be called the cause of all human interest.
    I would be grateful to be aided in understanding the progress your foundation has made and the direction it is headed in.
    Regards,
    Robert Abramson

  3. Fabio Cuppo / Reply August 25, 2015 at 8:07 am

    Dear Dr. Faggin,

    I would like to compliment you on your work. It is a very pioneering Project indeed! I have some (modest) scientific background as a physical chemist (by the way, we are almost fellow “Veneti”, actually I graduated in Chemistry at the University of Trieste!) There are several reasons why I consider your Project as a pioneering one. I recently advised some people who enjoy discussing about “Consciousness” and related subjects to have a look at this website and the answer was almost a refusal to even accept the idea that a scientist could bring a serious contribute on the matter. Science, as far as I personally experienced (out of my professional activity, of course), is seen, on the one hand, as a kind of enemy of “the spiritual truth”, on the other hand many are talking about the implications of quantum mechanics, relativity, etc. on Mind, Universe, etc. without even having a very little knowledge of the scientific background… So they seem to call for people like you – and the work you are doing – but in the reality they just refuse a deeper understanding. But there are, luckily, also notable exceptions, some of whom I personally encountered. So, thank you for your very admirable purpose, I wish you very much success and I will keep following the advancements!

    Best regards,

    Fabio Cuppo

  4. Giovanni Tomaselli / Reply February 8, 2017 at 11:28 pm

    Dear Federico, I just saw you on Facebook and it urged me to reach out… I am now living in the US myself (Greater Philadelphia).. It would be a great pleasure to see you again.. When I am in the Bay Area, it would be great to catch up for lunch or even a coffee.. My cell phone is (917) 971 9872 or you can e-mail me.

    I have fond memories of our adventure with the Polaroid Camera using Foveon.

    Looking forward to seeing you again and please do not hesitate to le the know if you are ever in the NY or Phila Area.

    Sincerely

    Giovanni

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