Monday, May 22, 2017

The Science of Consciousness

In 1994 I went to the first of what has become an annual gathering, sponsored by the Center for Consciousness Studies of the University of Arizona, of researchers, mystics, and random wackos, all interested in understanding the scientific basis of consciousness. In attending the first few of these conferences I made connections with others in the field, like Daniel Dennett, that motivated me to develop the course notes from a new offering I put together the University of Wisconsin "The Biology of Mind" into a book with the same title. This year's meeting in La Jolla, CA., has the usual mixture of hard science and far-out speculation. Just looking at the titles of the main talks is an interesting read, and I paste in those here:

Plenary Program 

Can Machines Be Conscious?
Sir Roger Penrose, Oxford, 'How can Consciousness Arise within the Laws of Physics?'
Joscha Bach, Harvard, 'Consciousness as a Memory of Coordinating Attention: The Conductor Model of Consciousness'
Hartmut Neven, Google , Quantum AI, 'Possible Roles of Quantum Effects and Subjective Experience in Artificial Intelligence' 

Language and Consciousness
Noam Chomsky, MIT, 'Language and Unconscious Mental Acts' 
Thomas Bever, U Arizona, 'Three Aspects of (Un)conscious Processing in Language and its Normal Use'
Michael J Spivey, UC Merced, 'Language, Consciousness and Embodied Cognition' 

Biophysics 1 - Memory, Spin and Anesthesia
Matthew Fisher, UC Santa Barbara, 'Are We Quantum Computers, or Merely Clever Robots?' 
Travis Craddock, Nova Southeastern U, 'A Unitary Mechanism of Anesthesia?: Altering Collective Oscillations in Microtubules' 

Non-Invasive Brain Stimulation 
Marom Bikson, CCNY/CUNY, 'Non-Invasive Brain Stimulation Devices to Change Thought and Behavior' 
John Allen, Arizona, 'Transcranial Ultrasound, Mood, and Resting State Network Connectivity' 
Marvin Berman, VieLight, 'Integrating Noninvasive Photobiomodulation and Neuromodulation' 
Michael Rohan, Harvard, 'The Effects of Low Field Magnetic Stimulation on Mood and Brain Function' 

Physics, Cosmology and Consciousness
Ivette Fuentes, U Nottingham, 'Gravity in the Quantum Lab' 
Brian Keating, UCSD, 'Conscious Cosmos' 
​James Tagg, Cengine, Penrose Institute, 'Are Human Beings Computers?' 

Music and the Brain
Elaine Chew, Queen Mary University London, 'Mind over Music Perception'
Scott Makeig, UCSD, 'Mind Over Consciousness?'  

Neuroscience and Consciousness 1
Stephen Grossberg, Boston U, 'The Varieties of Brain Resonances and the Conscious Experiences They Support' 
Georg Northoff, U Ottawa, 'Temporo-Spatial Theory of Consciousness' 
Friday, June 9, 2017

Neuroscience and Consciousness 2 - Anomalies
Daniel P. Sheehan, U San Diego, 'It's About Time: Experiments in Consciousness and Retrocausation' 
Peter Fenwick, UC London, 'A Meditation Teacher Who Can 'Transmit' Subjective Light/Energy'​
Lakhmir S. Chawla, George Washington U, 'End-of-Life Brain Activity' 

Biophysics 2 - Memristors in the Brain?
Leon Chua, UCSF, 'Brains are Made of Memristors' 
Jack A. Tuszynski, U Alberta, 'Microtubules as Subcellular Memristors'   

Neuroscience and Consciousness 3
Gentry Patrick, UCSD, 'Destruction as a Means of Remodeling: The Many Roles of Ubiquitin at the Synapse' 
VS Ramachandran, UCSD, 'Embodied Brains and Disembodied Minds' 
Charles F. Stevens, Salk Institute, UCSD, 'The Evolutionary Brain Mechanisms That Underlie Consciousness' 
Saturday, June 10, 2017

Vibrations, Resonance and Consciousness
Anirban Bandyopadhyay, NIMS, Tsukuba, 'Vibrational Frequencies of Biomaterials are the Key to Integration of Information' 
Jiapei Dai, South Central University, China, 'Biophotonic Activities and Transmission in Relation to Consciousness' 
Erik Viirre, UCSD, 'Auditory Vibrations and Frequencies: Sounds in Your Head'   

Eastern Philosophy
Xu Yingjin, Fudan University, China, 'Contemporary Theories of Consciousness and Nishida's notion of 'Basho'' 
Deepak Chopra, Chopra Foundation, 'Mind, Body, and Universe as Human Constructs'  

Origin and Evolution of Life and Consciousness
Bruce Damer, UC Santa Cruz, 'The Origin of Life and Consciousness' 
Alysson R. Muotri, UCSD, 'Cerebral Organoids for Neurodevelopmental and Evolutionary Studie's 
Stuart Hameroff, U Arizona, 'The 'Quantum Pleasure Principle' - Did Life Evolve to Feel Good?'  


  1. Yes, I'm impressed. Though I always wonder at the value of presentations with a question mark in their title.

  2. A menagerie. It seems consciousness research is continually derailed by people who need spooky explanations for ego survival. Or something, it's hard to tell.

    The longer I consider it the more skeptical I become about the hard problem. It's all the easy problem. Once you have an entity that is a solution to the the easy problem (something like continually monitoring and modelling the world and itself and its relationship to the world) then you must have something that satisfies the hard problem. You won't know, a priori, the details of the representation but it absolutely must have a fast workable representation, say of red that is different from the representation of green. And so on as far as it discriminates. The mental jump seems to be willingness to drop the wired-in and encultured intuitions of the primacy of subjectivity. The evidence and theory against the primacy of subjectivity is AFAIKS totally damning. This leaves the easy problem, which actually isn't that easy.

    I guess I should read Dennett, I believe he says something like that...