Wednesday, June 01, 2016

A science of consciousness carnival in Tucson.

I started teaching my Biology of Mind course at the University of Wisconsin in the early 1990's, and was inspired and stimulated by attending the first of the "Towards a Science of Consciousness" meetings in Tucson, Az. There I met Daniel Dennett, who was very encouraging about my starting my book "The Biology of Mind" which was published in 1999. I attended the following two meetings but then dropped out as pseudoscience, wild speculation about quantum mechanics and consciousness, and New Age gibble-gabble continued make up a substantial fraction of the program. Fewer serious scientists were attending. George Johnson's review of the most recent meeting (now called "The Science of Consciousness," with the original organizer Stuart Hameroff presiding) makes me secure in my decision to have stayed away recently. Some clips from his review:
...wild speculations and carnivalesque pseudoscience were juxtaposed with sober sessions like “Agency and Mental Causation” and data-filled talks about probing conscious brain states with PET scans and EEGs...
...I found myself sitting, late one afternoon, in “Vibrations, Scale, and Topology,” where a musician from Tulsa, Okla., who called himself Timbre Wolf...played a recording of an eerie composition called “Brain Dance,” derived from vibrations generated by tiny molecular structures called microtubules, which are part of the scaffolding of brain cells. The music, to his ear, was reminiscent of Philip Glass, Steve Reich, Cuban rumba, Gustav Holst’s “The Planets,” and the visual rhythms of strange mathematical objects called Penrose tiles...All of this, he suspected, had something to do with quantum mechanics and consciousness, an idea that Dr. Hameroff has long been pursuing.
More disconcerting was the starring role given to the New Age entrepreneur Deepak Chopra. Dr. Chopra believes that human consciousness (through epigenetic feedback) directs the unfolding of human evolution.
No one seemed to object as Dr. Chopra, whose Chopra Foundation was one of the sponsors, shared the stage with prominent professors who engaged with his ideas as if he were another esteemed colleague....Also included in the lineup were presentations hypothesizing that dark energy could explain consciousness and that homeopathic medicine might work through nanoparticles and quantum entanglement — as if homeopathy worked at all.

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