Support The World's Smartest Network

Help the New York Academy of Sciences bring late-breaking scientific information about the COVID-19 pandemic to global audiences. Please make a tax-deductible gift today.

This site uses cookies.
Learn more.


This website uses cookies. Some of the cookies we use are essential for parts of the website to operate while others offer you a better browsing experience. You give us your permission to use cookies, by continuing to use our website after you have received the cookie notification. To find out more about cookies on this website and how to change your cookie settings, see our Privacy policy and Terms of Use.

We encourage you to learn more about cookies on our site in our Privacy policy and Terms of Use.

Conversations on the Nature of Reality

Conversations on the Nature of Reality

For millennia, humans have sought to answer a seemingly unsolvable problem: What is the relationship between our conscious, subjective experience—what we see, hear, smell, taste, feel, and think—and the physical world that surrounds us? Is the reality of the physical world constructed through our subjective experience, or does the physical world we perceive have an independent, objective reality? To date, no scientific theory has succeeded in unifying consciousness (i.e., conscious experiences) and what we take to be the physical world.

All science aims to understand the fundamental nature of reality through the formulation of hypotheses, the staging of experiments, the detection of patterns, and the discovery of laws and theorems. But this project is not just limited to scientists. Artists, philosophers, novelists, and musicians also aspire to capture and convey the reality of our existence by invoking the realm of subjective emotions and experience. Drawing upon an infinite reservoir of creativity, they express powerful sentiments of love, beauty, hope, fear, loss, imagination, and the human condition.

Led by Steve Paulson, Executive Producer of Wisconsin Public Radio’s To the Best of Our Knowledge, this provocative and engaging three-part series will feature in-depth and wide-ranging conversations with leading scientists and thinkers on the ideas and challenges surrounding the fundamental nature of reality. Each session will present two prominent speakers who share how their personal stories and experiences have come to shape their current thinking and work in their respective fields of expertise.

Event Summaries:

To register for the individual lectures, please visit their pages below. Click here for registration for the 3-lecture package.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018, 7 – 8:30 PM

The Mystery of Our Mathematical Universe

Why is it that fundamental laws discovered through pure mathematics have been able to describe the behavior of our physical world with such precision? Given that the physical universe is comprised of mathematical properties, some have posited that mathematics is the language of the universe, whose laws reveal what appears to be a hidden order in the natural world. Physicist S. James Gates, Jr. and science writer Margaret Wertheim explore the uncanny ability of mathematics to reveal the mystery of our universe.

Thursday, December 6, 2018, 7 – 8:30 PM

Human Cognition and the AI Revolution

Discovering the true nature of reality may ultimately hinge on grasping the nature and essence of human understanding. What are the fundamental elements or building blocks of human cognition? And how will the rise of superintelligent machines challenge our ideas about cognition, reality, and the limits of human understanding? Logician/mathematician Roger Antonson and computer science pioneer Barbara J. Grosz join forces to shed light on these questions and explore what lies ahead.

Thursday, February 7, 2019, 7 – 8:30 PM

Reality Is Not As it Seems

The prevalent view in cognitive science is that we construct our perception of reality in real time. But could we be misinterpreting the content of our perceptual experiences? Does what we perceive with our brain and senses reflect the true nature of reality? Might evolution have shaped our perceptions to guide adaptive behavior, without enabling us to see reality as it actually is? Cognitive scientist Donald D. Hoffman and neurologist Suzanne O’Sullivan analyze these questions and their profound implications for our understanding of human consciousness.

About the Moderator

Steve Paulson is the executive producer and an interviewer with To the Best of Our Knowledge, the Peabody Award-winning radio program produced at Wisconsin Public Radio and syndicated nationally by Public Radio International. Paulson has written for SalonSlateHuffington PostThe Chronicle of Higher EducationNautilus and other publications. His radio reports have also been broadcast on NPR's Morning Edition and All Things Considered. His recent book, Atoms and Eden: Conversations on Religion and Science, was published by Oxford University Press.

Presenting Partners

The New York Academy of SciencesTo the Best of Our Knowledge

Exclusive Media Sponsor