Toward A Science of Consciousness Conference: A Brief Report
I wasn’t quite sure what to expect coming to Tucson to participate at the University of Arizona’s Toward a Science of Consciousness Conference. The first day of attending the conference was however quite enlightening. The very first message I got from attending my first plenary, titled “War of the Worldviews,” was this: “When you open your mouth here to make statements of any sort, you better be able to back up what you are talking about.” Not necessarily a bad thing, since we are in the business of science and not science fiction.
Speakers were Deepak Chopra (“Primary Consciousness Versus Materialism”), physicist Leonard Mlodinow (“The Scientific Worldview”), Menas Kafatos (“What do Physics and Metaphysics Have to Say about Consciousness, Future Science, and the Emergence of Holism”), and Susan Blackmore (“War of the Worldviews”).
Chopra was of course very passionate about his message of “consciousness” while another speaker, Blackmore wanted to declare from the get go that: “Consciousness is an illusion,” while the physicist, Mlodinow took the middle of the road. Four very interesting 25 minute talks, followed by an even more interesting panel discussion, during which the speakers “were at each others’ throats,” all under the umbrella of scientific discovery and progress. It was great to see that it is okay to be passionate about your “specialty” and despite major philosophical and scientific disagreements, all can remain friends.
The concurrent sessions I attended dealt with the topic of “Science and Meditation: Meditation-Induced Bliss Viewed as Release from Conditioned Neural (Thought) Patterns which Block Reward Signals in the Brain Pleasure Center” (Patricia Sharp), “Experiences and Effects on the Mind by Meditation on the Subtlest Object: A Phenomenological Study” (Sastry Bhamidipati & Wendy Wanden Zeng), “Effects of Meditation Forming a Collective Mind on Decision Maker Groups Concerning Risk and Investments” (Saverio Bellomo, Giovanni Di Bartolomeo & Stefano Papa), and two talks dealing with biology and consciousness: “Taking Hints from Protozoans: Did Microtubule-Related Plasticity Evolve Jointly with Consciousness?” (James Beran) and “Chromophores, Quantum Coherence, and Microtubules: A Theoretical Investigation of a Quantum Mechanism of Signal Propagation along a Microtubule” (Travis Craddock, Jonathan Mane, Douglas Friesen, & Jack Tuszynski). The last talk mentioned was very interesting from a personal perspective because it gave scientific credence to my poster presentation dealing with quantum entanglement in a biological system, and the hypothesis I conjured up pertaining to distant healing intentionality and quantum entanglement.
This brings us to my poster presentation. I set up my poster the night before, in order to enjoy some of the next day’s sessions. I “pimped” my poster out by attaching 75 booklets of the whole paper. During the poster session I networked extensively, meeting all kinds of interesting people. Right before the poster session I ran into Saybrook University’s very own Stanley Krippner. What a nice surprise! During the poster session I made acquaintance with Saybrook alumnus Dan Booth Cohen. The poster session was enjoyable, because I was able to interact with experts in their respective fields. For example, I had an awesome discussion about my posed hypothesis with a fellow graduate student, who is almost done with her Ph.D. in neuroscience at Baylor College. We left the conversation with ideas of possible collaboration on future research on distant healing intentionality. According to her own words, that is where her passion is! Then there was Chris Duffield, who calls himself a “Catalytic Intuitive Innovation Savant.” He currently is at Stanford University’s School of Medicine, Department of Pediatrics. He does healing work on the “quantum level,” but is looking for ways to investigate this scientifically and wanted to know about my future research plans. Another very interesting encounter was with Kevin Saroka, who is a student at Laurentian University in Canada. He is barely old enough to legally enjoy a brewski in this country. But he and I totally hit it off as he was telling me how excited he was about my hypothesis, and that he is doing a lot of research with ultraweak biophoton emissions (I used ultraweak biophoton emission to make a major point for my case) of the human brain. His team uses 1970’s technology to observe and measure human ultraweak biophoton emission! I can’t wait to get in touch with all these people! Who knows, maybe Duffield has some “favors” he can call in at Stanford, or maybe Kevin and I can get something off the ground in Canada to start replicating Jeanne Achterberg’s distant healing intentionality experiment, and then take it to the next level of testing my hypothesis.
I realize that nothing might ever come about from these chance encounters (or where they chance encounters?), but because of my handouts, I am now in the home, somewhere on a coffee table, a drawer, some lowly shelf in some obscure lab, of 100 scholars and lay people alike, who at any given time might remember me and get in touch with me about various projects. I on the other hand have11 business cards of people I want to get in touch with in order to know more about their work, and ask them for feedback and possible collaboration. One of them was Jesse Prinz, who gave a talk on “Attention as the Mechanism of Consciousness.” Based on his presentation I want to start a conversation with him that evolves around the topic of cancer. More specifically, can we say that cancer patients have cancer, even though they are consciously unaware of a neoplasm growing inside of them pre-diagnosis? Does a cancer patient experience the full blown “qualia” of cancer only after diagnosis, once we tell him/her that cancerous cells have been found, thus turning the patient’s attention to the neoplasm, which in turn the patient is now very conscious of. At first this investigation seems silly, but how is the neoplasm transformed in a matter of seconds, simply due to the fact that it has been brought to the patient’s attention and thus the patient’s consciousness? I would like to know more about Prinz’s work and how his work might fit in with hypnosis and my plans to use hypnosis to work with cancer patients. For next year’s conference I am already working on ideas on how to best present a clinical hypnosis abstract at the Toward a Science of Consciousness conference. Curiously enough, hypnosis was not present at all at this conference. Maybe I was simply not conscious of it?
But I must caution: One thing became very clear during all of the sessions. It seems that experts dealing with consciousness, no matter what worldview they ascribe to, are in agreement. Nothing can be spoken of in absolute terms when dealing with our conscious experiences. These experiences are all subject to our own interpretations. I cannot know for certain that “the rose IS red.” Because, the way the rose’s qualia interacts with my senses, it appears red to me. Thus I am making friends really quickly with the notion that nothing really “IS” in absolute terms and that I must banish the word “IS” from my vocabulary.
Having said this, it appears to me that this conference was a great way to meet experts in their respective fields and to establish an interdisciplinary network of experts for possible future collaboration. All the networking during my poster session and subsequently, listening to different lectures and presentations I would like to reiterate what Dr. Chopra said during the first session I attended. I am paraphrasing: “Nobody is going to walk away here today with having their worldview changed; on the contrary, everyone, no matter what their worldview will walk away with their worldview reinforced!” This rings absolutely true for me, as my physicalist worldview of consciousness has been reinforced and now is stronger then ever. This enables me to focus even more on mind-body medicine and its inherent problems, and to help explain two fundamental questions most often asked by researchers and experts at the conference: “How can anything physical give rise to an “aboutness” of thoughts, feelings, etc? And how do mental events, which are about something, causally bring about physical events lacking in this very property?” It appears to me that the Toward a Science of Consciousness Conference is a great way to help fill gaps in our area of expertise, Mind-Body Medicine, all the while being able to make new friends and network extensively to open the door for much needed interdisciplinary research.
Werner Absenger (PhD Student, Fall 2010 Cohort, Research Specialization)