TO SAY I. LANGUAGE AND CONSCIENCE
Euresis and Camplus Associatio
Tommaso Bellini, Marco Bersanelli, Andrea Caprotti, Mauro Ceroni, Mario Gargantini, Francesco Mambretti, Samir Suweis
Marcello Massimini and Andrea Moro
Graphics: Sara Mulone
Video: Milanese films
Actor: Matteo Bonanni
Also this year the Meeting hosts a scientific path dedicated to science curated by the Euresis Association and Camplus, which will be presented every day throughout the day *, on an hourly basis, starting at 11.00.
Among the most enigmatic and fascinating realities that science attempts to investigate there is that sui generis object which coincides with the very subject of research: the human being. Man represents that level of nature capable of sensing the presence of the world and of himself, and capable of expressing his own existence with the most mysterious of words: I. Led by two world-renowned Italian scholars, the neuroscientist Marcello Massimini and the neurolinguist Andrea Moro, we will be invited to explore the nature of consciousness and language according to the possibilities offered by the scientific approach and with interdisciplinary openness.
What makes it possible to say I? Only a being capable of language can identify, among the thousand words, even the tiny and mysterious word “I”. But where does this profoundly and uniquely human capacity come from? Language is commonly understood starting from its most evident use: communication between different subjects, supported by a series of shared rules that are handed down by families and elementary studies. Yet this definition is not enough to fully capture its essence. Nature and technique offer examples that seem to come close to language: we marvel at the complex dances of bees or the varied songs of birds, and we are getting used to having voice assistants in our pockets that perhaps follow grammar rules more correctly than we do. But is there, or not, a fundamental difference with respect to our speaking? Starting from the work of the neurolinguist Andrea Moro, we will be invited to discover where the differences lurk, delving into the depths of our brain to discover the intrinsic possibilities in the theory of impossible languages. We will see how language is fundamental not only to be able to express our thought, but also for the very existence of our thought. It is a biologically determined structure prior to any experience, unique in the universe, which allows us to go beyond the basic needs and to face the deeper experience of confrontation with the ultimate meaning of things.
If there is a word that indicates a property that distinguishes us as subjects, it is the word “conscience”. It is a decisive and fragile property, which can easily vanish, as when we fall asleep, and then reappear just as quickly when we wake up. And there is more. There are many situations, ranging from comas of a few days to vegetative states that can last for years, in which it seems almost impossible to intercept any trace of a personality present within a body that is no longer able to communicate with the outside world. It seems then that the mystery of consciousness must remain inaccessible to scientific investigation. Many scientists would like to link the perception of oneself and the world to the ability to communicate it (“function”). Following the approach of Professor Marcello Massimini, the visitor will be accompanied to the discovery of true stories of people who have experienced the so-called “gray zone”, where the link between consciousness and function is more problematic and elusive, perhaps compromised. Proceeding along the path, the questions will increase, encountering sophisticated techniques developed in recent years to intercept the faintest traces of consciousness. According to this approach, the first investigation must be carried out within us in order to recognize the characteristics of the subjective experience of consciousness, and then seek, in the inextricable complexity of the brain, measurable elements that correspond to these characteristics. Through this strategy, which does not have the ambition to explain consciousness, new accesses to this ineffable quality of ours are found, even when we are unable to communicate it.
If the I is sometimes the object of scientific research, it is always its subject. It is often believed that the scientific path is an a-personal, almost aseptic process, while it is the result of a passionate relationship of esteem and acceptance of reality. In every discovery, man more or less consciously reveals an aspect of himself. Through the narration of some moments in the history of science it will be possible to grasp the manifestation of some typical dynamics of human action: the seriousness in sticking to the data; the courage to risk a hypothesis; the willingness to recognize and learn from mistakes; the patience to respect the times of nature; the readiness to recognize the unexpected; openness to the imagination to get closer and closer to the heart of reality; the sharing that makes every conquest of the self “of all”.