Towards a Science of Consciousness
 The Tucson Conferences of 1994 & 1996
Tucson I - The Northern Spring of 1994
Under the clear desert skies of Arizona in the northern spring of 1994, quite a remarkable event happened in the history of collaborative scientific research and development. Hosted by the University of Arizona, an international and interdisciplinary conference was convened entitled "Toward a Scientific Basis for Consciousness"
Perhaps the simplest statement as to the background of this event exists on its home website in Arizona. Here, the Background Paper - prepared by the conference committee - provides the following outline:
In the past few years much of this has changed. Scientists with unimpeachable credentials in a wide range of fields, from psychology to molecular biology to mathematical physics, have begun to assert that understanding the nature of consciousness is an important scientific goal, perhaps the most important question that science faces at the present time. But how to begin?
We take the view that the problem of consciousness transcends the traditional boundaries of scientific organization. Clearly, psychologists and psychiatrists have important contributions to make, but so do biochemists who study the various actions of mood altering chemicals. In addition to philosophers, who have thought about the nature of consciousness for many centuries, computer scientists are now entering the discussion, as are neural network analysts, electrophysiologists, quantum physicists and ethnologists. From such a description, some might suppose that the discussion is spinning out of control, but we are more optimistic. It is a time of great intellectual excitement; old perspectives are changing and new concepts are emerging in this vast interdisciplinary area."
This background then concludes with a with a number of key questions concerning the nature of consciousness which were forthcoming from the conference proceedings. Follow the link of the full text to see whether you can answer any of these.
The Statement of the "Hard Problem" ...
In response to the announcement of the conference in 1994, there were received by the program committee a total of around 130 abstracts. As had been planned, these were classified and scheduled in accordance to whether papers would be presented by way of a plenary or concurrent address, or by way of poster presentation.
Of all the papers presented at this conference, perhaps the most influential was the opening keynote paper of David Chalmers, whose background in Philosophy and Computer Science permitted him to make a systematic and comprehensive assessment of the current state of affairs. The paper, entitled "Facing Up to the Problem of Consciousness" commences as follows:
To make progress on the problem of consciousness, we have to confront it directly. In this paper, I first isolate the truly hard part of the problem, separating it from more tractable parts and giving an account of why it is so difficult to explain. I critique some recent work that uses reductive methods to address consciousness, and argue that these methods inevitably fail to come to grips with the hardest part of the problem. Once this failure is recognized, the door to further progress is opened. In the second half of the paper, I argue that if we move to a new kind of nonreductive explanation, a naturalistic account of consciousness can be given. I put forward my own candidate for such an account: a nonreductive theory based on principles of structural coherence and organizational invariance and a double-aspect view of information."
Facing Up the the Problem of Consciousness - Full text (16p) from David Chalmers' web-site.
Explaining Consciousness: The Hard Problem - JCS compliation of articles, reviews and discussion.
In conclusion to this section, it would be fair to comment that althought the "statement of the hard problem" was, in retrospect, perhaps the singularly most discussed issue to be set forth at the first Tucson, there were many other issues raised and discussed at the conference, and then pursued in its aftermath. The next section examines the web-sites which stock a wealth of resource articles which have - in many cases - been engendered as a result of the conference. For interested researchers who might wish to determine the directions in which interdisciplinary discussion was evolving, these sites might provide a starting point.
Emergent Interdisciplinary Developments ...
In this aftermath of the first Tucson conference, there gradually appeared more and more discussion papers and articles relating largely to the information presented, but sometimes exploring new territory. Although there are numerous isolated web sites on the planet which would house extremely interesting articles concerning the conference information, a number of sites stand out as interdisciplinary information archives in this area:
Journal of Consciousness Studies - Controversies in science and the humanities ...
PSYCHE - An interdisciplinary journal of research on consciousness ...
Towards a Science of Consciousness - The First Tucson Discussions and Debates
Metaphysical Review - Essays on the Foundations of Physics
Tucson II - In the Northern Spring of 1996
To find out what happened out there in the desert under the skies of the Northern Spring of 1996 - specifically during April 8-13, at the Tucson Convention Center Music Hall - there exist a number of existent and comprehensive information resources. By my final count, there were over 560 abstracts submitted to the conference from all over the planet. The conference committee, with the experience of the initial interdisciplinary conference of 1994 behind them, established in the planning stages two methods of classification.
Firstly, in terms of the presentation of the interdisciplinary information there were identified three major schedules: Plenary, Concurrent and Poster. While the plenary speakers were scheduled sequentially over the days of the conference, the concurrent schedules ran in parallel, while the Poster presentations were allocated a more informal exhibition and timetable at the end of the day.
Additionally, this range of abstracts was classified in accordance to the following five major themes .... Philosophy, Neuroscience, Cognitive Science, Physics/Mathematics and Phenomenology/Culture.
Credit should be allocated to the ground-breaking work of the team of people who were responsible for the organisation, administration and management of this second conference, and the home website should be the first point browsed by researchers interested in the global harvest of Tucson II - 1996:
Tucson II - Conference Headquarters ... The University of Arizona.
Journal of Consciousness Studies - Special Edition - Towards a Science of Consciousness 1996
THESIS - The Higher Times Education Suppliment Internet Service
In conclusion, one might ask what was achieved out of the second conference. To answer this question, perhaps something might be said concerning the development of the classification system which arose intially in the management of the conference, and subsequently in the web publishing houses which attempted to present these seemingly disparate specifications of consciousness to the planet.
Classification of Approaches to the
If you recall, there were originally five major themes of areas identified concerning the nature of the interdisciplinary spectrum. The first four of these five were the more traditional areas of Philosophy, Neuroscience, Cognitive Science and Physics/Mathematics. The fifth theme, previously labelled Phenomenology/Culture was found to be redefined into another six areas. These were Experiential approaches, Anomalies of consciousness, Humanities, and Culture and Society.
Of course, while the expansion of this classification could have well been expected due to the open nature of the call for international papers on the science of consciousness, it is encouraging to see that the traditionally non-scientific disciplines of endeavour being represented in the overall picture of the specifications. And after all, would anyone have expected differently?
It may be of interest to some researchers to actuall view the classification structure employed in this ambitious and milestone event. At both the JCS and THESIS sites, the same structure as delineated below is hyperlinked to the abstracts which have been classified into these categories and sub-categories:
2.0 Neuroscience - 2.1 Vision, 2.2 Other sensory modalities, 2.3 Motor control, 2.4 Memory and learning, 2.5 Neuropsychology, 2.6 Anesthesiology, 2.7 Cellular and sub-neural processes, 2.8 Quantum neurodynamics, 2.9 Pharmacology, 2.10 The binding problem, 2.11 Language, 2.12 Emotion, 2.13 Time, 2.14 Specific brain areas, 2.15 Miscellaneous.
3.0 Cognitive Science & Psychology - 3.1 Attention, 3.2 Vision, 3.3 Other sensory modalities, 3.4 Memory and learning, 3.5 Emotion, 3.6 Language, 3.7 Mental imagery, 3.8 Implicit and explicit processes, 3.9 Unconscious/conscious processes, 3.10 Sleep and dreaming, 3.11 Cognitive development, 3.12 Artificial intelligence & robotics, 3.13 Neural networks and connectionism, 3.14 Cognitive architectures, 3.15 Ethology, 3.16 Task performance and decision making, 3.18 Theory of mind, 3.19 Intelligence and creativity, 3.20 Miscellaneous.
4.0 Physics & Mathematics - 4.1 Quantum theory, 4.2 Space-time relativity, 4.3 Integrative models, 4.4 Emergent and hierarchical systems, 4.5 Nonlinear dynamics, 4.6 Logic and computational theory, 4.7 Holography, 4.8 Bioelectromagnetics/resonance effects, 4.9 Thermodynamics, 4.10 Miscellaneous.
5.0 Biology - 5.1 Evolution of consciousness, 5.2 Biophysics and living processes.
6.0 Experiential approaches - 6.1 Phenomenology, 6.2 Meditation, contemplation & mysticism, 6.3 Hypnosis, 6.4 Biofeedback, 6.5 Other altered states of consciousness, 6.6 Transpersonal and humanistic psychology, 6.7 Psychoanalysis and psychotherapy, 6.8 Lucid dreaming.
7.0 Anomalies of consciousness - 7.1 Parapsychology, 7.2 Medicine, healing and placebo studies, 7.3 Spiritual healing, 7.4 Psychoneuroimmunology, 7.5 Out-of-body experiences, 7.6 Miscellaneous.
8.0 Humanities - 8.1 Literature, hermeneutics and Linguistics, 8.2 Art, 8.3 Music, 8.4 Religion, 8.5 History, 8.6 Aesthetics, 8.7 Mythology.
9.0 Culture and Society - 9.1 Sociology and political science, 9.2 Anthropology, 9.3 Information technology, 9.4 Ethics and legal studies, 9.5 Education, 9.6 Business and organizational studies.
Forthcoming Events and Conferences
The Brain Project - PUBLIC Forums reporting on the conference - Sydney, Australia.
In conclusion, the website and forum offers an enormous and independent resource concerning the contemporary and background material in this field. Of exceptional worth is the site's list of Links and other references, which is extensive.
Tucson III - Conference Headquarters ... The University of Arizona.
Further Web References ...
Elsewhere on the planet, there have been other collaborative approaches - and individual approaches - towards a more informed scientific specification of the nature of consciousness:
Philosophy of Mind: Comprehensive resources maintained by the Philosophy Dept, Duke University, US
Biosemiotics: An Information & Resource page from Alexei Sharov and Jesper Hoffmeyer, Virginia Tech, US
ECSC: European College for the Study of Consciousness (Conference Info)
Consciousness Research Laboratory: The CRL Project HeadQuarters at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas
Non-Cartesian Cognitive Science: A web page with numerous interdisciplinary resources by Ronald Lemmen at Sussex University
Tucson 1994: Surfing the Collapsing Waves of Consciousness on a Surfboard of Microtubules
Is Consciousness Explainable?: An electronic forum set up at Harvard Uni - read the comments - what do you think?
Interested parties who have information of the web and who have browsed this document, please feel free to contact me via E-Mail and so too include reference to your research efforts in this expanding interdisciplinary field, "towards a Science of Consciousness".
(Chapter I) Towards a Science of Consciousness - Historical Preamble, Planet Earth, 520 bc
For those who might wish to avail themselves of the background substantiations for the content of these three accounts presented in the "Historical Preamble, 520bc" then you will find a great range of such resource documentation at the website, Mountain Man Graphics, located in the Southern planetary regions, down in Australia.
All are welcome ... in particular the students of life.
It is hoped that this review has been of assistance to all researchers in these vast interdisciplinary fields of research which today constitute the myriad specialisations of mankind's knowledge concerning the world around him - and the world within him.
Mountain Man Graphics,
Newport Beach, Sydney, Australia
Web Publication by
Mountain Man Graphics, Australia in the Southern Autumn of 1996
Fare-Thee-Well!!! Page counter - courtesy MagnaData - initialised 5th August 1996