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Emerging and Novel Behavioral Sciences: Lecture by Chuck Raison, MD, and Giulio Tononi, MD, PhD


Vail Health Behavioral Health Innovation Center is an exciting research-based entity focused on studying emerging and novel behavioral science in Eagle County. The new Innovation Center will be an independent research institute led by Dr. Chuck Raison. Vail Health Foundation invites you to a short lecture by Dr. Raison and Giulio Tononi, MD, PhD, a world-renown researcher focused on consciousness, who will present an overview of the center’s first study areas in psilocybin, psychedelics, and heat therapy as treatments for depression.

Monday, August 21, 2023
3:00 – 5:00 p.m.
Colorado Mountain College’s Auditorium
150 Miller Ranch Road, Edwards

About the Lecture

Consciousness is everything we experience. Without consciousness, for each of us, there would be nothing at all. Most of us take this amazing fact for granted; it seems obvious that our consciousness is us—it’s who we are and what we choose to do. 

But most scientists who study the brain see things quite differently. From the standard neuroscientific perspective, we are biological machines, our lives dictated by unconscious, physical, chemical activities within the brain, with consciousness helplessly along for the ride, an illusion of sorts, powerless to do more than watch what the neurological machine inside our heads is doing and deciding for us, if indeed there is an “us” at all. 

This standard neuroscientific understanding permeates how we treat most mental illnesses in America. We take pills like antidepressants that manipulate brain chemicals and that make us feel better—when they do—without us having any idea why or how this has happened. When we stop taking these pills the depressed feelings return, again without us understanding why, but presumably because the pills are no longer on board to fix the unconscious machine that is the brain.

But what if the standard neuroscientific view is wrong? What if the treatments it has spawned, like standard antidepressants, only work partially because the machine metaphor underpinning the standard neuroscientific view is wrong, or at least inadequate? What if consciousness actually has the power to transform our lives? What if we could develop treatments that use consciousness itself to heal conditions like depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, and substance abuse?

Join us as Giulio Tononi, a world leader in the study of consciousness, and Charles Raison, Director of the Vail Health Behavioral Health Innovation Center, address these questions by exploring the implications of a consciousness-centered approach to mental health.

The talk will commence by considering questions essential for initiating a consciousness-centered approach to mental health. What is consciousness, and what is its neural substrate in the brain? Why are certain parts of the brain important for consciousness, and not others that are just as complicated? Why does consciousness fade with dreamless sleep even though the brain remains active? And are newborns, animals, and intelligent computers conscious? Do we have real free will?

We will explore these questions through the lens of the Integrated Information Theory (IIT) of consciousness, developed by Dr. Tononi. And we will discuss ways in which Dr. Raison and Dr. Tononi are collaborating to develop studies of psychedelics at Vail Health that will leverage an IIT understanding of consciousness to develop better treatments for mental illness.

Beyond exploring clinical implications, this talk will spur a reassessment of our own place in nature, turning on its head the standard scientific worldview. If IIT is right, far from being a minuscule flicker among giant stars and galaxies, each human consciousness exists more brightly and vividly than anything in the known universe. Far from being the mere product of chance and natural selection, we are very much the makers of who we become.

Speaker Bios

Giulio Tononi, MD, PhD

Giulio Tononi is a neuroscientist and psychiatrist based at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he holds chairs in sleep medicine and consciousness science. His scientific work on consciousness has centered on the development of the integrated information theory, a comprehensive theory of what consciousness is, its neural substrate, what determines its quantity and quality, and how it can be measured. The theory accounts for why certain brain areas are critical for consciousness and has led to the development of practical measures for assessing the quantity of consciousness in both healthy humans and unresponsive patients. His work on sleep has led to the synaptic homeostasis hypothesis, a comprehensive theory of the core function of sleep that is supported by a large amount of empirical evidence.

Charles L. Raison, MD

Charles Raison, MD, is a Professor of Human Ecology and Psychiatry in the Department of Psychiatry, School of Medicine and Public Health, University of Wisconsin-Madison. Dr. Raison also serves as Director of Clinical and Translational Research for Usona Institute, as Director of the Vail Health Behavioral Health Innovation Center, Director of Research on Spiritual Health for Emory Healthcare and as Visiting Professor in the Center for the Study of Human Health at Emory University in Atlanta, GA. Dr. Raison’s research focuses on the examination novel mechanisms involved in the development and treatment of major depression and other stress-related emotional and physical conditions, as well as for his work examining the physical and behavioral effects of compassion training. More recently, Dr. Raison has taken a leadership role in the development of psychedelic medicines as potential treatments for major depression. He was named one of the world’s most influential researchers by Web of Science for the decade of 2010-2019. With Vladimir Maletic he is author of “The New Mind-Body Science of Depression” published by W.W. Norton in 2017.

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