CFP: Designed Mind Symposium 2017

Submission deadline: July 30, 2017

Conference date(s):
November 8, 2017 - November 9, 2017

Go to the conference's page

Conference Venue:

Informatics Forum, University of Edinburgh
Edinburgh, United Kingdom

Topic areas


                                  CALL FOR PAPERS

                         Exploring the function, evolution
                          & implementation of consciousness

                      Informatics Forum, University of Edinburgh
                                 Edinburgh, Scotland
                                  8-9 November 2017



Daniel C. Dennett, Tufts University
Michael Graziano, Princeton University


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.

The symposium is a forum to elaborate, discuss and critique this emerging scientific picture of consciousness as a form of reflective self-representation. We invite perspectives from philosophy, psychology, neuroscience and informatics.


We invite submissions of high-quality short papers for presentation at the symposium. Papers should be in PDF format and no more than 4,000 words in length. Please prepare your submission for blind review and submit via EasyChair at Authors of accepted papers will have their registration fees waived.

A list of suggested topics and themes can be found at

After the symposium, there will be an open call for full-length (8,000 word) papers for publication as a collected volume or journal special issue (details forthcoming).


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


The following list of topics is not meant to constrain, but merely to highlight areas where we feel there are important issues or opportunities to make progress:

Confronting the “further fact” intuition.The further-fact intuition is so compelling that it is often held to be self-evident. It underlies not only David Chalmer's Hard Problem, but also the plausibility of philosophical zombies and inverted spectra. Yet according to the functionalist view, it is false. A challenge for the functionalist story then is to explain why it seems so obvious that consciousness is something non-functional, if it is precisely the opposite.

Brain homologies and animal consciousness. Brain structures implicated in consciousness in humans evolved tens of millions of years ago. Many neuroscientists have argued that we will find (primitives forms of) consciousness wherever we find homologous structures. These claims seem to be in tension with accounts that associate consciousness with specific forms of autonomy and behavioural flexibility. Are these homology arguments too quick to ascribe consciousness?

Role of language.If homology arguments can seem overly liberal, behavioural accounts risk being overly conservative, in linking consciousness to self-reports and inevitably to language. Nevertheless, in the animal kingdom, the human behavioural phenotype is uniquely flexible. What evidence is there relating the evolution of consciousness to the evolution of language and to this enhanced flexibility? Michael Arbib for example has argued that consciousness evolved in part to explicitly represent and communicate précis of intended behaviour.

Consciousness and free will. According to Daniel Dennett, consciousness situates a virtual agent at the centre of a world of behavioural possibilities which can be assessed and compared with explicitly considered goals. This suggests a deep connection to free will: by allowing an agent to act deliberatively, consciousness enables deliberate action, action that is imagined and evaluated before it takes place and assessed and re-evaluated after it has taken place. Is it possible to be conscious and not free in this sense? What are the implications for animal consciousness?

Consciousness as meta-representation.A recurring theme in the emerging scientific picture is that consciousness is a form of reflective modelling of our own capabilities. For example Michael Graziano proposes that as well as attending, the brain represents its own attention. Other propose that qualia are to be understood as perceptual meta-representations. Again, are there implications for animal consciousness? What evidence is there that some animals can represent their own attention, or their own percepts?

Cartesian functionalism.Dennett has been an outspoken critic of “Cartesian materialism”, the idea that everything “comes together” for consciousness in some kind of internal re-presentation. A key question for functionalism is deciding which parts of the Cartesian image are to to be discarded and which retained as valid components of a plausible folk theory or mature neuroscience of consciousness.

Conscious machines.A mechanistic theory of consciousness is, by definition, something which can be implemented. This raises the prospect of testing theories of consciousness through implementation. Conversely, what can theories of consciousness tell us about how to implement conscious machines?

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