The Passions of Christof Koch

The Feeling of Life Itself – Why Consciousness is Everywhere But Can’t be Computed, was published by MIT Press last year. If you wonder where the sounds and sights in the skull-sized infinite kingdom that is your mind come from, who else has these feelings and whether computers can ever be conscious, this is the book for you.

I am the Chief Scientist and President of the Allen Institute for Brain Science in Seattle in the Pacific Northwest. My passion in life to understand how I came to be in this wonderful, mysterious universe. Not so much me, personally, but me as a conscious, experiencing thing surrounding by other conscious organisms and trees, stars, and the sea.

At the professional level, I seek to understand how the cortex that makes up the crown of the brain, the most complex tissue of active matter in the known universe, gives rise to any conscious experience – to the feeling of love, melancholy, pain or pleasure. This is the heart of the ancient mind-body problem.

My other research interests include elucidating the biophysical mechanisms underlying extracellular electric fields, the computations carried out by cortical neurons, clarifying the structure and function of the claustrum, a thin layer of neurons underneath cortex to which it is strongly and reciprocally connected, and using integrated information theory to study consciousness in brains and machines.

I’m one of seven billion random deals from the deck of human possibilities—I grew up happily, lived in many cities in America, Africa, Europe, and Asia, a physicist turned neurobiologist. From 1986 until 2013, I was a Professor of Biology and Engineering at the California Institute of Technology in Southern California.

For the sake of animals, I’m a vegetarian.

For the sake of the planet, I’m a full-time cyclist. I haven’t owned a car in a long while

I have a soft spot for philosophy, classical music and a great love for books, big boisterous dogs, vigorous and sustained physical activity, the outdoors, and a sense of melancholy, living in the twilight of a glorious age. 

Copyright by Fatma Imamoglu

Stemming in part from a long-standing collaboration with my mentor and close colleague, the late Nobel Laureate Francis Crick, I  wrote Consciousness: Confessions of a Romantic Reductionist.  This pithy 2011 book blends science and memoir to explore topics in the science of consciousness.

I also wrote two more technical textbooks –  The Quest for Consciousness: A Neurobiological Approach (2004) and  Biophysics of Computation: Information Processing in Single Neurons (1999).