Pisa, Italy

Consciousness and Cognition

when 26 August 2023 - 3 September 2023
language English
duration 2 weeks
credits 6 EC
fee EUR 500

The enigma of Consciousness is perhaps the most fascinating mystery in the Universe. There are many hypotheses, on the basis of which we try to give an answer to the most difficult problems but, wanting to schematize, all can be traced back to two broad categories: those who consider Consciousness entirely reducible to the electro-chemical-physical processes that take place in the brain, and those who don’t grant for such a solution.
Sharing the first hypothesis means leaning towards the so-called Scientific Materialism, a monist and reductionist approach to reality; whereas being skeptical towards this possibility and embracing a non-reductionist perspective can decline in very different options, ranging from dualist approaches, postulating the existence of a proto-psychic substance independent from a physical substratum, to non-substantialist views, suggesting an overall reconsideration of the subject-object relation in order to face the problem of consciousness. This latter hypothesis will be investigated from different perspectives, such as quantum physics, biology, neuroscience, articial intelligence, but also and especially from the perspective of contemplative practices. The insights drawn from these fields of inquiry will be threaded together within a philosophical framework strongly inspired by phenomenology.
In fact, two domains that are apparently very different, such as the one of Quantum Physics and the one of Meditation and Yoga, on the contrary show, through a phenomenological key of understanding, some surprising convergences. The first constitutes the most advanced approach to the study of the physical world, which also extends to phenomena that take place at the nanoscopic level in biological tissues, while the latter allows for a millenarian profound and accurate exploration of issues that are not accessible with objective methods and that concern the first-person experience. Nonetheless, when it comes to consciousness they both seem to point in a similar direction. Moreover, answering the question if Scientic Materialism is capable of embracing the totality of Reality, including Consciousness, has a lot to do with what is meant by consciousness and what is meant by cognition.
Within the ongoing cognitive debate, the exploration of consciousness is usually merged and sometimes reduced to the study of the processes through which cognition takes place. But is the mere study of the cognitive faculties sufficient to shed light on the mystery of Consciousness which, itself, is a precondition for every single cognition to take place?
In order to start tackling these questions, the summer school is born with a multidisciplinary vocation that brings neurosciences, but also biology, artificial intelligence, and physics in dialogue with the epistemological issue at stake in phenomenology and Eastern philosophies and contemplative practice. For this reason, the contribution of highly qualified teachers coming from very different backgrounds is required.

The School will take place in a residential form, thanks to a Convention between the University of Pisa and the Lama Tzong Khapa Institute, 35 Km from Pisa, renowned for the excellent quality of its study programs of Buddhist philosophy and psychology.
A specific space will be reserved for the experiential aspect in order to integrate the lessons with familiarization sessions with contemplative practices (Yoga and Meditation). The sessions will be conducted by highly qualified teachers with specific experience and will also be usable by the students who will attend the school online.
The 2023 edition of the Summer School Consciousness and Cognition is organized by the University of Pisa in collaboration with the Lama Tzong Khapa Institute, with the patronage of the Italian Buddhist Union.

The program will be activated both on campus and online.

Course leader

Prof. Bruno Neri

Target group

University students of Philosophy, Psychology, Neuroscience, Bioengineering, Artificial Intelligence, Physics.
Scholars interested in the unsolved problem of Consciousness.
Psychologists, Psychotherapists and Psychiatrists.

Course aim

(Philosophy): acquire a sensitiveness to the existence of a dimension of consciousness that overcomes the distinction between subject and object and understand its role in the current quest to explain consciousness, through a progression into insights drawn from Western philosophical approaches (especially phenomenology) and Eastern traditions and practices;
(Quantum Mechanics): understand the basic principles of quantum mechanics to comprehend the subtler issues connected with the interpretation of the theory and their possible relevance for a discussion of consciousness, of the mind-body problem and of the nature of reality itself;
(Articial Intelligence): learn the basic concepts and models of natureinspired computational techniques, and know how to apply them to a wide range of application areas. Students will be exposed to the advantages and challenges of using computationally intelligent systems with human-like capabilities in terms of reasoning, learning and adaptation;
(Biosemiotics): learn the basics of Biosemiotics and become acquainted with the semiotic nature of sign relationships both in biological and humanmade systems, understand how cells act as semiotic units capable of interpreting their own environment through signs exchange and eventually comprehend how to sign perception and epigenetic regulation are causally linked through differential gene expression;
(Contemplative Practices): comprehend the vision of Eastern tradition (Hinduism and Buddhism) concerning Consciousness and its different levels and manifestations; learn the foundations, the characteristics and the aspects of the different types of meditation;
(Neurosciences and not Ordinary state of Consciousness): after a description of the neural networks, acting in the brain, and a survey on the main investigation techniques of the brain activity (Electroencephalography, FMRI), understand how self-induced not ordinary states of consciousness by natural drugs, hypnosis, dream, deep meditation, aect this activity;
(Practice): become familiar with the experiential aspects of contemplative practices, through Meditation and Yoga sessions led by highly qualied teachers. The session will be usable also by students online.

Fee info

EUR 500: 500 euro is the full fee. Please check the Summer School official webpage in order to check out all available reductions


Students interested to apply for a scholarship are kindly requested to send an email directly to the Director of the Summer School, Prof. Bruno Neri bruno.neri@unipi.it, following the instructions of the Scholarship Regulation.

Register for this course
on course website