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To The Best of Our Knowledge Examines Consciousness

Have you ever had difficulty understanding complex scientific ideas and themes? Sometimes these challenging topics can be overwhelming, even downright frustrating to those who are scientifically literate. Discussions about abstractions like consciousness generally come without concrete explanations—and with lots of questions. How do humans experience conscious thought? What about other organisms, or even computers? Are they or can they ever really become self-aware?

Throughout time, philosophers and scientists alike have labored to explain the mystery of consciousness. Only recently has technology begun to match pace with human curiosity. Examining different aspects of the human brain through a process called neuroimaging, scientists are slowly beginning to understand how our cognitive minds work in what appears to most an almost effortless fashion. Yet, the more research scientists do on the brain—the more terra incognita they map—the more abstract and difficult it is to explain these processes to lay readers.

In order to make these ideas easier to understand and more accessible to the general public, the folks at Wisconsin Public Radio’s To The Best Of Our Knowledge created a comic book to illustrate—literally—some complex theories of consciousness in a fun, interesting, and imaginative way. The comic book will be published in conjunction with a six-part series of the same name called “Meet Your Mind: The Science of Consciousness.” The series airs this fall on the nationally-syndicated radio show, which is produced in Madison.

For the comic book, To The Best of Our Knowledge executive producer Steve Paulson collaborated with artist Natalie Nourigat and writer Jim Ottaviani. A well-known illustrator based out of Portland, Oregon, Nourigat has done graphic novels and freelance work for Lerner Publishing Group and Penguin Books. Ottaviani has written several critically acclaimed scientific comics and graphic novels, including T-Minus: The Race to the Moon which chronicles the United States and Soviet Russia’s competitive race to be the first nation to land a man on the moon.

“Consciousness is such a complex and heady subject, so we started looking for a way to make the subject more accessible—and to have fun in the process” says Paulson. “A comic book struck us as the perfect companion to our radio series.”

Through the use of the popular fundraising website Kickstarter, the Meet Your Mind comic book project received more than $15,000 from over 400 individual donors in just under a month.

“We didn’t have the money to pay for the comic book, so we needed to look for outside funding. The comic book was a discrete project, with its own budget, so we thought this might be a good opportunity for crowd-sourced funding. And, frankly, we were curious to try Kickstarter.”

Meet Your Mind is one of those unique projects that approaches a question from a multidisciplinary position, providing the reader with a narrative lens that moves easily between philosophy and neuroscience one moment and literature and the arts the next. At twenty-five pages, the comic provides insight for a broad spectrum of topics that are intended to be explored in tandem by the radio series, thereby expanding the conversation to an audience beyond the usual NPR crowd.

Conceived by Paulson, who is also the author of Atoms and Eden: Conversations on Religion and Science, and hosted by Wisconsin Public Radio’s Jim Fleming, the six-part radio program elevates current understanding of consciousness through two-hour segments that explore memory, thought processing, imagination, even artistic creativity. Each radio segment takes listeners through a whirlwind of world-renowned neuroscientists, philosophers, and historians who provide insight to one of the oldest human mysteries.

The “Meet Your Mind” series of programs will air during the regular To The Best Of Our Knowledge broadcast schedule on both the NPR News & Classical Music Network and the Ideas Network, beginning November 4th and then for the next five Sundays, concluding December 9th. On the NPR News & Classical Music Network, the series will air during this period but on Sundays at 9:00 am (and also the previous Saturday at 6:00 am). On the Ideas Network, the series will air Sundays at 12:00 pm.

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