Designed Mind Symposium 2017
10 Crichton Street
Edinburgh EH8 9AB
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DESIGNED MIND SYMPOSIUM 2017
Exploring the function, evolution & implementation of consciousness
The fact that I have subjective experience is quite mysterious. It seems to be a “further fact” about me, surplus to all the conceivable functional facts. I can imagine a machine with the same outward behaviour, yet lacking an inner life. These intuitions are compelling, and lead many to suspect that a theory of consciousness will require a new kind of science, perhaps one which posits consciousness as an all-pervasive feature of the universe. We may have to identify consciousness with some kind of information processing or informational complexity, with no real insight into why such an identification makes sense, or accept consciousness as an epiphenomenon, present whenever certain kinds of processes are present. Yet these prospects seem to offer little in the way of explanation, and relegate consciousness to a passive role, with not much to do except come along for the ride.
These intuitions also neglect a crucial fact about our behaviour, namely that consciousness is much of the subject matter of what we say and do. We describe the world from a vantage point, contrast how things seem from that vantage point with how we believe the world to be, summarise our goals and plans, explain the world around us in terms of possibilities for action, and justify the actions we take in terms of consciously held beliefs, desires and feelings. While we intuit strongly that such “consciousness talk” — elaborate behaviour oriented around an ostensibly private mental life — could somehow happen without “real” consciousness inside, we remain curiously oblivious to the fact that if our own consciousness talk is ever to be a consequence of our own “real” consciousness, then it can only be that the latter is in fact a psychological mechanism taking place in the physical world.
This has led some researchers to suggest that it is these behaviours that are the proper target, or explanandum, of a science of consciousness. Modern theories along such lines, developed by Daniel Dennett and others, propose that we understand conscious experience as the content of an internal self-model. What we intuit as a “private realm” is a control mechanism operating in the public world: a brain's way of representing the organism as a situated agent, a reflective self-representation designed by evolution to enable new levels of autonomy, self-monitoring and deliberative action. By representing not only the world and its affordances for action, but also ourselves as embodied agents in the world, and ultimately ourselves as representers, the evolving brain converged on the self as the solution to a control problem. We cannot easily appreciate the self-model-within-a-world-model as a model, because “we” only exist in virtue of the model, as its central feature.
Registration opens: 1 June 2017
Submission deadline: 30 July 2017
Notification of acceptance: 9 September 2017
Early registration deadline: 15 September 2017
Designed Mind symposium: 8-9 November 2017
Expecting Ourselves workshop: 10 November 2017
The symposium will be followed by Expecting Ourselves: Prediction, Action, and the Embodied Mind, also in the Informatics Forum. Registration will be separate for this event. See http://www.x-spect.org/first-project-workshop.html.
October 31, 2017, 11:45pm BST
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