The scientific study of consciousness has long been recognized as defying the borders of scientific disciplines. Joint efforts of philosophers, neuroscientists, psychologists, physicists and computer scientists have advanced the field considerably in the past decades and resulted in a plethora of available data and a sizable number of theories.
However, what seems to be missing at present is a comprehensive mathematical approach to the topic, akin to the role theoretical physics or computational biology play in their respective disciplines. The goal of this online seminar is to help close this gap by bringing together the growing number of researchers around the globe who are interested in such an approach and by exploring the role of mathematics in the scientific study of consciousness.
Built around an open-minded and non-dogmatic atmosphere, the seminar hosts talks, discussion sessions, background lectures and tutorials on mathematical approaches to consciousness. The overall goal in doing so is:
In establishing this seminar, the organisers intend to help create a network of like-minded researchers with an interest in mathematical approaches to consciousness. The underlying hope is that formal tools and mathematical language can complement the important experimental and conceptual work being done around the globe in order to make progress in humankind’s understanding of consciousness and its relation to the physical domain.
(Munich Center for Mathematical Philosophy, Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich)
Xerxes D. Arsiwalla (Universitat Pompeu Fabra & Institute for Bioengineering of Catalonia, Barcelona)
Joanna Szczotka (University of Sussex & Jagiellonian University)
Sean Tull (Cambridge Quantum Computing)
Robin Lorenz (Department of Computer Science, University of Oxford)
The following list of topics, far from being complete or exclusive, is deliberately broad so as to give an impression of the general purpose of the event and of the kind of topics to be presented and discussed:
Models of consciousness are hypotheses about how consciousness relates to the physical domain. Various different and competing models exist, for example Integrated Information Theory, Global Neuronal Workspace Theory, Predictive Processing Theory, Higher Order Thought Theory or Orchestrated Objective Reduction Theory. This seminar is intended to discuss the mathematical structure of various proposals in order to illuminate similarities or contradictions between them. The hope is that mathematical rigor might help to clearly distinguish various models of consciousness, to find new ways of comparison and possibly to derive new predictions.
Being hypotheses about consciousness and its relation to the physical domain, models of consciousness need to refer to both a formal description of a physical system and a formal description of experience. But what mathematical structure should the space of experience, or the space of states of experience, carry? How does mathematical structure relate to philosophical conceptions? How does it represent the phenomenology of experience?
In recent times, promising insights have emerged from the use of pure as well as applied mathematics in addressing the mind-matter relation. Methods coming from category theory, information theory, statistical physics, logic and geometry have been particularly useful in this regard. What is the current status and what are the prospects of research in this direction? Which new vistas exist, and how do these relate to philosophical and conceptual insights?
Consciousness is a phenomenon unlike any other studied in natural science. It is unique both in its epistemic context and required methodology. The seminar aims to evaluate how exactly mathematics can be used to address consciousness scientifically, and how this compares with non-mathematical approaches. E.g., can mathematics be used to address an apparent explanatory gap? And if so, how?
Only a few metaphysical positions on the mind-matter relation have been expressed in formal models of consciousness. This seminar also intends to provide space for the presentation and discussion of new ideas, even if preliminary, which could result in new models of consciousness.
Numerous experiments have provided valuable constraints on the relation between experience and brain structure, and further promising experiments are being performed around the globe at present. The seminar intends to discuss which constraints and guiding principles these experiments give for formal models of consciousness.
The field Scientific Study of Consciousness was ignited, above all, by philosophical insights, such as Thomas Nagel's famous analysis of the states of experience referenced by the term "What it is like to be...", and concepts such as the "hard problem" and the "explanatory gap". The seminar intends to discuss how these and other philosophical analyses, questions or insights relate to the mathematical structure of models of consciousness. Which constraints arise for model-building and how can the rich body of work in philosophy of mind be translated into mathematical language?
More than any other discipline of science, progress in the scientific understanding of consciousness rests on bridging results from various different disciplines, such as neuroscience and biology, mathematics and physics or philosophy and psychology. Since true expertise can only be achieved in a very small number of these disciplines, cross-disciplinary exchange of information is very important. To foster this exchange, the seminar aims at organising background lectures on topics of relevance, such as foundations of physics, information theory, philosophy of mind, phenomenology, cognitive neuroscience and mathematics.
Following the 2018 online seminar series Progress and Visions in the Scientific Study of the Mind-Matter Relation, this series will feature talks by renowned scientists and philosophers as well as young researchers who either present novel research or discuss visions and conceptual ideas. In addition, the seminar will feature in-depth tutorials on topics in the scientific study of consciousness, as well as background lectures from relevant disciplines such as mathematics, philosophy, neuroscience and physics.
After each talk, there will be time for questions. Subsequently, the speakers are invited to join a discussion session in a small group, hosting no more than 10 participants.
For organizational convenience, speakers will be invited to the seminar on a continual basis. For confirmed speakers, and a list of previous speakers, cf. our speakers website.
The seminar is directed at researchers from all disciplines who have a deep interest in questions related to the scientific study of consciousness and the mind-matter relation.
The first talks in this seminar series are scheduled for April 2020.
We are providing a professional video conferencing platform to carry out this seminar which is completely free for participants and speakers. This platform, which is very simple to handle, ensures smooth and unbroken interaction and will in particular allow questions to be asked and discussions to be carried out just as in a regular seminar.
Details on how to use this platform are available on our How to join website.
We gratefully acknowledge the support of the platform GotoMeeting.com.
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