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Instant Expert

One-day masterclass in New York exploring the forefront of research on the brain and consciousness

New Scientist. Science news and long reads from expert journalists, covering developments in science, technology, health and the environment on the website and the magazine.
One-day masterclass in New York exploring the forefront of research on the brain and consciousness
22 June 2024
10:00am - 5:00pm
SVA Theatre, New York

New Scientist presents ...

Instant Expert – Consciousness: Unlocking the mind

Saturday 22 June, 10am - 5pm EDT | SVA Theatre, 333 W 23rd St, New York, NY 10011, United States

Dive deeper into the mysteries of your own existence with this one-day masterclass exploring the forefront of research on the brain and consciousness. Join leading neuroscientists and philosophers as they unveil groundbreaking discoveries that are transforming our understanding of the human mind.

From the first spark of a thought to the boundless possibilities of dreaming, the human brain remains one of the greatest unanswered questions. Today, advanced technology from brain scans to AI are providing unprecedented insights into our inner world. Join our renowned guest speakers as they unveil the latest discoveries that are revealing the secrets of consciousness. From the nature of subjective experience to the potential for artificial intelligence, you will explore the frontiers of knowledge and uncover the mind-blowing mechanisms behind your own perceptions, thoughts and emotions.

At this Instant Expert, you will:

  • Discover the latest groundbreaking discoveries about the brain and consciousness.
  • Gain a deeper understanding of what it means to be human and the nature of your own mind.
  • Meet and learn from leading experts in neuroscience and philosophy.
  • Ask questions and engage in discussions about the future of consciousness research and its implications for humanity.

Talks and speakers:

When brain metabolism goes wrong: How type 2 diabetes in the brain causes Alzheimer's

Ewan McNay, associate professor of behavioural neuroscience, University at Albany

Join Ewan McNay, associate professor of behavioural neuroscience at the University at Albany in New York, to learn about the deficits in brain metabolism that link type 2 diabetes and Alzheimer's disease. He will discuss findings, mostly from his lab, that have uncovered the roles of glucose, insulin and other metabolism modulators in cognitive function. Ewan's talk will remind you of the importance of considering the brain not as an isolated thought-source in an unchanging vat, but rather as an organ affected by the whole body's physiological state. Discover why the best thing you can do for your brain may be to go to the gym.

How close are we to understanding the neural basis of conscious awareness in humans?

Biyu He, associate professor of neurology, radiology and neuroscience and physiology, New York University Grossman School of Medicine

In this talk, Biyu He will explain how the brain creates our conscious perception. She will discuss recent experiments exploring the brain mechanisms that give rise to our subjective experiences and the implications these studies hold for understanding how illnesses can cause problems with perception.

Development of consciousness in infants

Claudia Passos Ferreira, assistant professor of bioethics, New York University

When does consciousness begin? In this talk, Claudia Passos Ferreira will explain the challenge of detecting consciousness in infants. She will shed light on recent neuroscientific discoveries suggesting an early onset of consciousness during infancy. Additionally, she will explore the spectrum of experiences infants might undergo, and unravel the developmental journey of infant consciousness, progressing from perceptual awareness of the environment to complex self-awareness, mind-wandering and beyond.

Neurological disorders of consciousness

Nicholas Schiff, professor of neurology and neuroscience, Weill Cornell Medicine

With an estimated 1.5 million new cases each year in the US alone, traumatic brain injury is a major cause of neurological impairment for which there is no effective treatment. In this talk, Nicholas will delve into the world of severely brain-injured patients. He'll explore how doctors assess their level of consciousness, shedding light on the ethical considerations involved. He will also dive into the brain's mechanisms for wakefulness and awareness, and see how electrical stimulation might offer a glimmer of hope for those in minimally conscious states.

A conceptual framework for consciousness

Michael Graziano, pofessor of psychology and neuroscience, Princeton University

Neuroscientists understand the basic principles of how the brain processes information. But how does it become subjectively aware of at least some of that information? What is consciousness? Michael Graziano's lab is developing a theoretical and experimental approach to these questions called the Attention Schema theory (AST). The theory seeks to explain how an information-processing machine could act the way people do, insisting it has consciousness, describing consciousness in the ways that we do and attributing similar properties to others. AST begins with attention, a mechanistic method of handling data. In the theory, the brain does more than use attention to enhance some signals at the expense of others. It also monitors attention. It constructs information – schematic information – about what attention is, what the consequences of attention are, and what its own attention is doing at any moment. Both descriptive and predictive, this “attention schema" is used to help control attention, much as the “body schema" the brain’s internal model of the body, is used to help control the body. The attention schema is the hypothesized source of our claim to have consciousness. Based on the incomplete, schematic information present in the attention schema, the brain concludes that it has a non-physical, subjective awareness. In AST, awareness is a caricature of attention. In addition, when people model the attention of others, we implicitly model it in a schematic, magicalist way, as a mental energy in people’s heads. Our deepest intuitions about conscious experience as a hard problem, or as an ineffable essence, may stem from the brain’s sloppy but functionally useful models of attention. This theory also lends itself directly to understanding artificial consciousness.

Exploring dreams and consciousness during sleep

Michelle Carr, researcher, University of Montreal

Michelle Carr will reveal how conscious experience is generated during sleep, in the form of dreams. The talk will cover how dreams are related to brain processes during sleep, what’s going on in the body while we dream, and what cognitive functions dreaming may support.

Hosted by Grace Wade

Grace Wade is a US-based health reporter for New Scientist focused on public health, nutrition and biotechnology. She holds a dual degree in journalism and science in human cultures with a concentration in environment, science and society from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. Prior to joining New Scientist, Grace worked as an associate features editor for Health Magazine and an associate health editor for Insider. She was also a contributor and fact-checker for Popular Science covering wildlife, the environment and health. Outside the office, Grace dabbles in landscape and concert photography.

Who should attend?

This masterclass is designed for everyone with a curiosity about the human mind, from beginners who want to explore the basics to enthusiasts who want to stay at the forefront of exciting new discoveries. No prior knowledge is required, just an open mind and a desire to unlock the mysteries of your own consciousness.

Benefits of attending:

  • Become an expert in one day
  • Informal set-up, where you will meet like-minded people
  • Open your mind and be inspired
  • Unique chance to put your burning questions to our experts

What's included in your ticket:

  • In-depth and engaging talks from six leading scientists
  • Ask-an-expert question session
  • A chance to meet our six speakers and New Scientist host
  • Exclusive discounts on New Scientist subscriptions, books and merchandise

Booking information:

The event will be held in New York City at the SVA Theatre, located at 333 W 23rd St.

Doors will open at 9:15am, with talks commencing at 10am sharp. The event will finish at 5pm.

We require the name of each person attending – please ensure this is provided at the time of booking. If you need to change the name of an attendee, please notify us as soon as possible by sending an email to

Eventbrite will email you your ticket(s) immediately after purchase. Please remember to bring your ticket(s) with you as you'll need it to gain entry. We can scan tickets from a print-out or off the screen of a mobile device.

The exact schedule for the day will be confirmed closer to the event and will be emailed to all ticket holders.

Lunch will NOT be provided at this event. Visitors are welcome to bring their own food, or purchase lunch at one of the many establishments in the surrounding area.

Should you require details about accessibility, please contact us at

Tickets are non-transferable to any other New Scientist event.

All tickets are non-refundable.

New Scientist reserves the right to alter the event and its line-up, or cancel the event. In the unlikely event of cancellation, all tickets will be fully refunded. New Scientist Ltd will not be liable for any additional expenses incurred by ticket holders in relation to the event.

Tickets are subject to availability and are only available in advance through Eventbrite.

One-day masterclass in New York exploring the forefront of research on the brain and consciousness
22 June 2024
10:00am - 5:00pm
SVA Theatre, New York