FOM Syllabus

Cognition & Consciousness

Seán Ó NualláinFoudations of Mind

Course objectives: As a result of this course, students should:  Acquire sensitivity to the distinction between Cognition and consciousness;  Acquire an overall view of the areas involved;  Become aware of the continuity of the current research with precedents in history;  Know the basic arguments in the philosophy of mind from Plato through Descartes, Berkeley, Hume, Kant, Levine and such popular putative contributions as that of Chalmers; become able to evaluate the many current and future claims that will be presented to them proposing a direct link from neural fact to subjective experience.


  1. Cognitive Sciences: definitions
  2. Global work space theory – consciousness theories : Freeman, Tononi, Edelman, Linas and Pase
  3. The contrastive approach in consciousness studies
  4. Multimodal mapping. Spatial location and information integration
  5. Summary and conclusions Texts – Copies of “The search for mind” and “Two sciences of mind” will be distributed

Consciousness between Western Philosophical Research and Eastern Wisdom Traditions

Pierluigi BarrottaUniversity of Pisa, Giulia MoiraghiIndependent Researcher

Course objectives: Cognition and consciousness refer to the same object of study or does consciousness include a much wider dimension, of which cognition is just a part? Through a progression into insights drawn from Western philosophical approaches (especially phenomenology) and Eastern traditions and practices, students should 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.


  1. Gestalt perception: from a passive to an active mind theory
  2. The qualitative character of experience and the ‘what is like question’
  3. The easy and hard problem in consciousness studies
  4. The ‘third way’ of Phenomenology. From Husserl to Merleau-Ponty
  5. Being-in-the-world, embodiment, and the indivisibility of object and subject
  6. The importance of phenomenal consciousness in certain Eastern philosophies
  7. A theory of attention in Yoga Darshan
  8. Interrelatedness in selected Buddhist and tantric Shivaist traditions

Neurodynamics (or Computational Neuroscience)

David Bernal-Casas University of Barcelona

Course objectives: demonstrate knowledge and understanding of fundamental concepts of computational neuroscience. Explain the main physical characteristics of biological neurons (synaptic mechanisms and membrane potential, action potential generation and propagation) and how they can be modelled. Implement simple (one or two compartments) models of LIF neurons. Explain features and underlying mechanisms of different computational models of synaptic plasticity. Build computational models of small cortical circuits as simple networks of learning neurons and be able to understand the functioning of, and modify more complex ones.


  1. The biology of the neuron (basic synaptic mechanisms, channel conductance, membrane potential)
  2. The generation of action potential (Hodgkin-Huxley model)
  3. Leaky integrate-and-fire (LIF) neurons
  4. Resonate-and-fire (RAF) neurons
  5. Population dynamics
  6. General structure of cortical layers, general cortical connectivity
  7. Synaptic plasticity

Life sciences and the biosemiotics of signs

Franco Giorgi University of Pisa (retired)

Course objectives: Biosemiotics attempts to regain the meaning of situated relationships. In this perspective, the emerging relationships are conceived as contingent encounters of an ongoing process of semiosis, and the resulting signification as inherently associated with an interpreted choice. Through this course students will become acquainted with the semiotic nature of sign relationships both in biological and human-made systems, understand how cells act as semiotic units capable of interpreting their own environment through signs exchange, and eventually comprehend how sign perception and epigenetic regulation are causally linked through differential gene expression.


  1. The nature of the scientific explanation and the semiotic theory of signs: The flow of genetic information from DNA to proteins.
  2. Code duality and the transition from analog to digital coding: Genome evolution and the epigenetic regulation
  3. Autopoiesis, structural coupling and semantic closure: The plasma membrane and semiotic selection

Quantum Mechanics

Shantena Augusto SabbadiniPari Center for New Learning

Course objectives: the course aims in giving the students a sufficient understanding of the basic principles of quantum mechanics to allow them to properly frame 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.


  1. From classical  to quantum mechanics (QM)
  2. Basic axiomatic structure of QM
  3.  Interpretations of QM (1)
  4.  Interpretations of QM (2)
  5.  QM and consciousness

An Introduction to Artificial Intelligence

Beatrice LazzeriniUniversity of Pisa

Course Objectives: this course aims to offer students the opportunity to learn the basic concepts and models of nature-inspired computational techniques, and to 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.


  1. Introduction to Artificial Intelligence (AI) techniques
  2. Machine Learning
  3. Artificial neural networks: shallow neural networks, deep neural networks, learning paradigms
  4. Potentialities and risks of AI
  5. Freedom of choice and privacy
  6. Global trends in AI research. A European vision for AI
  7. Current and future AI applications
  8. Artificial Intelligence vs Biological Intelligence

Non-ordinary states of consciousness: investigation tecnniques,  inner and outer empiricism

Tania ReUnesco Chair – University of Genoa , Bruno Neri, Andrea Zaccaro, Nicola Vanello and Angelo GemignaniUniversity of Pisa

Course objective: the course presents some experimental results deriving from the observation of brain activity in non-ordinary states of consciousness compared with ordinary ones. The first part of the course is dedicated to measurement techniques (FRMI and EEG) and to the processing of the related signals, followed by the description of the main effects on the neuronal networks of these states. In the last part, the results of two field research relating to the effects of psychotropic substances in shamanic cultures and to those of deep meditation in Tibetan monks in retreat will be presented.


  1. Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging vs Electro-encepahalography (NicolaVanello, 1h)
  2. Digital signal Processing of Biological signals (NicolaVanello, 1h)
  3. Phenomenology of Non-ordinary states of Consciousness (Angelo Gemignani, 2h)
  4. Non Ordinary states of Consciousnes induced by natural substances (Tania Re, 1h)
  5. A review on the effect of Meditation on Brain Acitivities (Andrea Zaccaro, 1h)
  6. Concentrative vs Analytic Meditation: Report from a Tibetan Monastery (Bruno Neri, 2h)