Foundations of Mind Conference title and logo


Online Course

Consciousness Course Online
Resumed Jan. 5, 2015


Previous Conferences

Mind-1: “Reaching for Mind”
Book of Proceedings (John Benjamins)

Mind-3: “Spatial Cognition”
Book of Proceedings (John Benjamins)

Mind-4: “Two Sciences of Mind”
Proceedings published in New Ideas in Psychology

Special Thread of Mind-4: “Language, Vision, and Music”
Book of Proceedings (John Benjamins)

Foundations of Mind Conference 2014
March, 2014     [Videos]
Proceedings, Vol. 1: Cosmos and History
Proceedings, Vol. 2: Dualism, Idealism, and Free Will: forthcoming from Cambridge Scholars Publishing

Foundations of Mind Conference 2015:
A Dialogue of World Views

August, 2015

Foundations of Mind Conference 2016:
Reparsing Nature — Science as if Being Mattered

May, 2016
Review (Cynthia Sue Larson)

More at: University of Ireland


Previous Seminars at UC Berkeley

April 18, 2014     [Video]

Quantum mechanics and neuroscience
Henry Stapp, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory

Connecting visual qualia to their neural correlates
Stan Klein, UC Berkeley

How does simulation of a single neuron in one’s visual system produce the richness of subjective color perception? This is the topic of connecting qualia to neural activity. The capability for achieving that connection has only become available in the past six months, because of a new instrument developed at UC Berkeley. Before getting to the recent experiments, some context is appropriate in the context of this 20th anniversary of the Tucson “Toward a Science of Consciousness” (TSC) meetings. Who can forget Chalmer’s presentation of the “Hard Problem” at TSCII in 1996? The 764-page book of papers from that meeting is a treasure and is unequaled in capturing the state of the field at that point.

The challenge of connecting the hard problem of qualia to the neural correlates of the brain is still with us, and this presentation argues that advances in technology may enable substantial progress. Dr. Klein’s article in the Vision and Consciousness section of the TSCII book was titled “Double Judgment Psychophysics for Research on Consciousness: Applications to Blindsight.” His present title could have been the same as the old title but replacing “Double” to “Triple,” and “Blindsight” to “color” as he discussed in this presentation.

A new instrument that enables single neuron brain stimulation has been developed by Austin Roorda of UC Berkeley. The new technology, which combines adaptive optics and super-precise image stabilization, enables one to do careful psychophysics on individual cones and ganglion cells. Retinal ganglion cells (RGC) are special since they are the bottleneck for vision, carrying information to the brain along the optic nerve. Roorda’s lab is next to Dr. Klein’s, and they have been developing new approaches for single and double RGC stimulation.

One of the big surprises is that activation of single retinal neurons can produce a wide variety of color percepts. It had previously been thought that single RGC stimulation would produce limited color percepts (red, green, yellow, blue) based on the opponent color mechanisms found in RGCs and the brain’s lateral geniculate nucleus (LGN). But a much greater diversity of colors was found. In experiments, it was found that for every single RGC stimulation we make a triple judgment on the perceived hue, saturation, and intensity of the stimulus. Several competing hypotheses regarding the mechanisms that produce the surprisingly diverse color percepts are now being tested and are discussed. The new instrument opens up a great variety of experiments linking neural activity to perception.

The emergence of information in mesoscopic measures of brain activity
Gautam Agarwal, UC Berkeley

Concluding remarks
Seán Ó Nualláin, University of Ireland

The great neuroscientist Karl Pribram and equally great physicist David Bohm collaborated a generation ago with, among others, Jiddah Krishnamrti to produce a completely new worldview. It provided a narrative, based on cutting-edge science, on how the evolutionary process allowed nature to express itself as the “implicate” becoming “explicate” and presenting itself to consciousness manifest in us. This beautiful paradigm eventually failed to overcome resistance centering on neurophysiological plausibility and the lack of detail.

In 1999, after having met Seán Ó Nualláin at a conference on Gurdjieff organized by Seán’s close friend Jacob Needleman, Karl Pribram spent a week at the Ó Nualláin lab in Dublin. There, for the first time, a detailed computational implementation of the Pribram / Bohm work was done. Far from being merely a beautiful theoretical framework, it was found that the view of dendrodendritic connections between neurons as the critical computational operation in the brain explained many heretofore intractable problems about sense perception. Moreover, it was consistent with Stapp’s work on quantum neural activity qua harmonic oscillators.

May 9, 2014

Neural dynamics at the microscopic level
Seán Ó Nulláin, University of Ireland

Complementing Walter Freeman's exploration of neural dynamics at the mesoscopic level, his mentor Karl Pribram has long championed an approach at the level of individual neurons. With a new burgeoning interest in this level now apparent, this talk outlined for the first time how Pribram's schema plays out computationally. His work with David Bohm on quantum mechanics and the holographic nature of reality were referenced.
Dogmatic and skeptical arguments about the nature of consciousness
Carlos Montemayor, San Francisco State University
There are various ways to classify the extant views on the nature of consciousness. This talk analyzed a classification that is based on the implications of different views with respect to subjectivity and time, and showed that it has the advantage of highlighting different aspects of the hard problem. It focused on three aspects: a) the problem of agency and free will, which is crucial for the von Neumann interpretation of QM, b) the problem of the unity of consciousness, which is important to understand the nature of qualia, and c) the problem of the psychological now. This approach suggests that the impasse produced by the hard problem is based on either dogmatic or skeptical assumptions about these three aspects of consciousness, which may impede thinking more creatively about the nature of consciousness. A possible way of avoiding these assumptions is to further analyze these three aspects of conscious awareness.



May 30, 2014

“The quantum cognition project is based on the observation that various cognitive phenomena are more adequately described by quantum information theory and quantum probability than by the corresponding classical theories.”
Rationality, quantum cognition, and beyond     [Video]
José Acacio de Barros, San Francisco State University & Stanford
This talk discussed, in a very informal way, the connection between rationality, quantum cognition, and neural models. It introduced ideas from quantum cognition and then, based on them, put forth an extended theory of rational thinking. The model presented is based on robust neurophysiological evidence, and, it is hoped, can bring to the surface some issues on conscious (and unconscious) decision making.
Emergence, submergence, and no noise: How brains probably work     [Video]
Tony Bell, Redwood Center for Theoretical Neuroscience, UC Berkeley
This talk explored the most-likely-correct idea that there is continuous information transfer from the micro to the macro and vice versa in living systems. It described the mechanisms the brain uses to gate these information flows (from field potentials to water and quantum) and discussed the implications for neuroscience and related fields.

June 20, 2014

The metaphysics of consciousness
Jacob Needleman, San Francisco State University

A discussion of the primordial idea of man as microcosm: What is the relationship between the actual and potential levels of human consciousness and the vision of levels of consciousness and being in the universal world? What are the implications of this question concerning the idea of “state-specific” knowledge and the implied epistemological limitations of modern science vis-à-vis the fundamental questions of human life and understanding? The relationship between outer and inner knowledge of the mind were explored.
Boosting climate change wisdom, and maybe ethics, in a quasi-polarized era: (now in Mandarin!) and empirical findings
Michael Ranney, UC Berkeley
Prior work showed massive ignorance about global warming’s basic mechanism, yet a 400-word explanation (a) hugely improves readers’ understandings and (b) increases climate change concern and acceptance (Ranney et al., 2012; Clark, Ranney, & Felipe, 2013) — disconfirming “stasis theory,” which suggested futility in increasing public climate wisdom. Dr. Ranney reported (1) replications/extensions of (a) and (b), (2) a study showing that seven apt statistics increase one’s global warming acceptance (Clark, 2013), and (3) the recently introduced — a now-popular website including five short videos (0.9 to 4.7 min.). For Mandarin, see here. Dr. Ranney also analyzed public and non-public comments about the website/videos. Results were situated with respect to various historical, societal, and ethical dimensions.

June 27, 2014

How information lost its meaning (and how to recover it)
Terry Deacon, UC Berkeley

The technical concept of information developed after Shannon (1948) and those who have followed has fueled advances in many fields, from fundamental physics to bioinfomatics, but its quantitative precision and its breadth of application have come at a cost. It has undermined its usefulness in fields distinguished by the need to explain function and reference, such as evolutionary biology, cognitive neuroscience, and the social sciences. And it may even be relevant to interpretive problems arising in quantum physics.

The current technical version of the concept has been so successful in part because it is consistent with a tacit metaphysical principle assumed ubiquitously in the contemporary physical sciences: that any and all mentalistic properties should be excluded from playing explanatory roles. But in order to provide the foundation for a scientific theory of information that is sufficiently precise and formal to serve fields as diverse as molecular biology and cognitive neuroscience, it is necessary to expand and slightly reformulate the technical concept of information in a way that accounts for these attributes that are not intrinsic to the conveying medium.

The key to formulating a more adequate concept of information that includes these most distinctive properties is to be found, ironically, in more carefully attending to the physicality of information media. A hint that this is important is captured in two distinctively different uses of the concept of entropy (informational and thermodynamic). Dr. Deacon demonstrated how referential information is based upon the constraints generated by physical work introduced by thermodynamic openness of an information medium and its susceptibility to contextual modification. Physical work is also the relevant measure when it comes to assessing the usefulness of information. In general, Dr. Deacon argued that it is the amount of work “saved” as a result of access to information that determines its significance or usefulness.

In this way, the previously set aside properties of reference and significance can be reincorporated into a rigorous analysis of information suitable for use in both the physical sciences (e.g., quantum theory, cosmology, computation theory) and semiotic sciences (e.g., biology, cognitive science, economics).

Aspects of language differ in their accessibility to consciousness
Len Talmy, SUNY at Buffalo

Dr. Talmy discussed the observable phenomenon that different aspects or components of language have different degrees of availability in consciousness. For example, we are generally more conscious of the meaning of a lexical form than of a grammatical form, of the use of a word than of the conditions of its use, of the meaning of a word or discourse than of the form, and of asserted content than of implied content. The general principle seems to be that consciousness is more associated with that portion or granularity of linguistic phenomena that is more relevant to current goals and concerns. The same pattern of differential consciousness seems to hold for other cognitive systems, such as visual perception and motor control.

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