Looking Within: Interdisciplinary Approaches to Consciousness

NIAS will be organizing the Fifth Conference in the series of conferences it has organized in the subject of Consciousness Studies from 5-7 January 2012. Click here for Conference Poster. The speakers for the Conference will speak on a topic that is related to the focal themes for the three days. For a tentative list of Invited Speakers click here. Posters are invited from scholars, students and teachers. There will be a selection procedure, and authors of selected posters will be informed by 31st November, 2011. To be a registered participant, or for more information, please send us an email to Consciousness.NIAS2012@gmail.com and also check the information given in the Conference poster. Registration Form

Focal Themes for Three Days

Focus Theme for Day 1: Neurophysics, Quantum Mechanics, Artificial Intelligence
Session Lead: BV Sreekantan

Considerable progress has been made over the past few decades in delineating in enormous detail the physio-chemical processes going on in the brain and its accessories, the neural networks and sensors through the use of laser and tomographic  techniques. While these have helped the neuro surgeons, the neurophysicians and the psychologists in treating more effectively the brain disorders compared to older days, it is fair to say that the ontological and mechanistic aspects of consciousness remain far from a satisfactory explanation. The so-called “hard problem” remains as hard as ever. Towards a solution of this problem new lines of approach based on the applications of the current theoretical ideas on quantum processes, quantum entanglement, quantum coherence, quantum vacuum and its manifestations have come into vogue and are receiving serious attention.  Information theories have also been evoked; new lines of experimental investigation are also proposed and are in progress. 

Focus Theme for Day Two

Animal Consciousness and Cognitive Neuroscience
Session Lead: Anindya Sinha

Empirical and observational studies of animal cognition will truly benefit if different behavioural manifestations of higher cognitive processes can be defined functionally. This is vitally important because, when studying animals, cognition has to necessarily manifest in behaviour for it to be tractable, and the performance of such behaviour, in turn, needs to be unambiguously ascribed to an effect of particular cognitive processes. One theoretical framework to investigate cognition in animals in terms of mentalistic notions is that of the intentional stance, which assumes that each individual is an intentional system capable of mental states like beliefs, desires and emotions. To attribute such mental states to both oneself and to others is to have what has been termed a theory of mind. Social animals appear to be knowledgeable about one another's behaviour to different extents. But do they know as much about one another's beliefs and intentions? Are they adept at recognising the similarities and differences between their own and others' states of mind? Behavioural decision-making processes need to be analysed carefully in order to ascertain whether true higher-order intentionality can indeed be invoked as underlying mechanisms governing these acts. The alternative perspective of distributed cognition, however, disregards the ability of an individual to have observationally invisible mental states and only recognises communicative interactions and the behavioural dynamics within the entire group as manifestation of the socio-cognitive complexity that individuals are alone capable of displaying. We hope to explore some of these theoretical and philosophical issues in animal cognitive psychology, ranging from mental representation to distributed cognition, ultimately leading to our understanding of the current status of animal consciousness, during this meeting. 

Focus Theme for Day Three

Self in Neuropsychiatry and Neurophenemenology
Session Lead: Sangeetha Menon

A theme that runs through the major discussions in neuropsychiatry, neurophenemenology and neurophilosophy is the place, nature, and origin of self. The theories and debates on self have moved from an abstract object to a living subject whose personhood is challenged and framed by neural disposition. Neural disorders that change self-perceptions indicate how delicate the thin neural divide between normalcy and disorder is. It is also exciting that the challenge is not one way, but two ways. The subjective self through her experiences, values, attitudes and self-perceptions can alter or influence neural changes to bring in qualitative progress in life. In a way, the brain challenges the self, and the self challenges the brain. The renewed interest in values of antiquity such as empathy and compassion, and their biological foundations in mirror neurons invite us to think about the phasing out stark divisions between ‘me’ and the ‘other’, and to include more of the ‘other’ in ‘me’. This would also bring in studies in cultural neuroscience, social emotions, and autism. Another important topic of interest in contemporary brain research is the concept of body itself. Brain is a continuously map-making mechanism. Our brains allow us to extend our self from just the arm’s length, to the tool we hold, to the person we relate to, to the world we extend to. Our peripersonal spaces show intriguing neural formulations that underlie personal identities and body perceptions. An enquiry into the self and its relation with consciousness is one of the most exciting topics today, given the varied studies we do in neuropsychiatry, neurophenemenology, neurophilosophy and cultural neuroscience.

Thursday, January 5, 2012 to Saturday, January 7, 2012