Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Science and Philosophy meet to tackle the mysteries of the human mind

13.08.2008
World leaders in the science of the mind gathered in Edinburgh recently for a pioneering conference on understanding the mystery of human consciousness.

The conference was organised as part of the European Science Foundation's EUROCORES programme. The programme supports a multi-million Euro project designed to explore Consciousness in a Natural and Cultural Context (CNCC).

Leading scholars converged on the city with the hope of sharing knowledge and carving out a new common territory for dealing with one of modern science's most persistent mysteries. The event allowed specialists from the fields of neuroscience, psychology and philosophy of mind to tackle age old problems such as free will, the mind-body problem, and how a scientific understanding of the world can account for human agency.

Conference organisers were seeking to build on a growing culture of knowledge sharing as the international research community continues to break down academic barriers in the study of human cognition. A diverse range of speakers were included on the schedule, from experimental cognitive scientists to world leaders in the theory of mental agency.

Edinburgh University's school of philosophy, psychology and language sciences has become a leading centre for interdisciplinary approaches to understanding the mind.

Edinburgh's Professor Andy Clark said: "I think that these sorts of discussions, which bring together philosophers, neuroscientists, biologists and ecologists, that try to analyse the fundamental issues in these areas using philosophical tools, are very important if we are going to understand what the science is telling us."

Among the central puzzles explored throughout the conference, was the importance of consciousness in human agency. Most philosophers agree that a degree of self reflection is key part of what it means to be a human being. On the face of it, a materialist, scientific account of human reality threatens such common sense understandings. The task of an interdisciplinary approach is to marry core philosophical concepts like free will and the quality of experience, with cutting edge empirical research in psychology and neuroscience.

Speaking after the conference Professor Shaun Gallagher, from the University of Central Florida and the University of Hertfordshire, explained that dismissing our intuitions about free will and consciousness is no longer an option for a serious explanation of human cognition.

He said: "I think the conclusions of the papers that have been presented here are much more nuanced than just the broad claim that conscious will is an illusion. Some of the papers were trying to make room for a concept of free will that is larger than something measured in milliseconds, even if it is just a sense that we have some control over the way we are doing something or acting."

He added that any complete explanation will have to account the way consciousness feels to the individual.

"Despite certain interpretations of the neuroscience, this is something at a very pragmatic and personal level, which we need to think about, and for which we need to find some kind of explanation," he said.

As well as using complex philosophical concepts to help form a better understanding about scientific findings, the conference sought to emphasise the importance of experimental research in a complete account of consciousness. Philosophers such as Joelle Proust, Till Vierkant and Tim Bayne explored the difficulties in accounting for directed human action. Bayne's paper, for instance, focused on the intuitive beliefs we have about our own agency and their relationship with consciousness. Current research questions the strength of this link so the challenge for philosophy according to Bayne, is to account for our intuitions in the face deeper scientific knowledge about human agency.

Experimental scientists such as Lars Hall and Ezequiel Morsella, on the other hand, gave detailed accounts of their ongoing research showing the practical, empirical challenges for further investigations about agency and consciousness. Hall's presentation outlined new methods for altering the speech feedback of subjects and the effect this can have on the relation between their internal states and their behaviours. Morsella rounded off the conference with a radical proposal for explaining consciousness. He explained that research points to the notion that consciousness is the result of competing demands on our skeletal muscle system, and is thus an advanced form of mediation between the various systems which constantly seek to control the body.

The EUROCORES CNCC programme seeks to understand consciousness as both a cultural and biological phenomenon. Despite the range of issues covered by the conference, its chief success was in creating a common ground for scientists and philosophers to share their research.

Professor Clark added, "I think one of the overarching things going on here is we are trying to work out what it is we should be talking about, when we try to talk about conscious experience.

"The kinds of conversations we have had here have been very unusual, because people from very different disciplines kind of felt that they understood what the others cared about, and if we can get that, it might not be a common territory, but it is a pretty big condition for it."

The conference in Edinburgh marked an important step in the EUROCORES project. Understanding consciousness in a natural and cultural context requires the will to collaborate, and integrate conceptual and empirical perspectives. The CNCC conference displayed a new climate of partnership among world experts towards the problem of consciousness.

For more information on CNCC please go to www.esf.org/activities/eurocores/programmes/cncc.html

Thomas Lau | alfa
Further information:
http://www.esf.org/eurocores
http://www.esf.org/activities/eurocores/programmes/cncc.html

Further reports about: CNCC Mind conscious human consciousness knowledge sharing

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht A new technique isolates neuronal activity during memory consolidation
22.06.2017 | Spanish National Research Council (CSIC)

nachricht CWRU researchers find a chemical solution to shrink digital data storage
22.06.2017 | Case Western Reserve University

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Climate satellite: Tracking methane with robust laser technology

Heatwaves in the Arctic, longer periods of vegetation in Europe, severe floods in West Africa – starting in 2021, scientists want to explore the emissions of the greenhouse gas methane with the German-French satellite MERLIN. This is made possible by a new robust laser system of the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT in Aachen, which achieves unprecedented measurement accuracy.

Methane is primarily the result of the decomposition of organic matter. The gas has a 25 times greater warming potential than carbon dioxide, but is not as...

Im Focus: How protons move through a fuel cell

Hydrogen is regarded as the energy source of the future: It is produced with solar power and can be used to generate heat and electricity in fuel cells. Empa researchers have now succeeded in decoding the movement of hydrogen ions in crystals – a key step towards more efficient energy conversion in the hydrogen industry of tomorrow.

As charge carriers, electrons and ions play the leading role in electrochemical energy storage devices and converters such as batteries and fuel cells. Proton...

Im Focus: A unique data centre for cosmological simulations

Scientists from the Excellence Cluster Universe at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität Munich have establised "Cosmowebportal", a unique data centre for cosmological simulations located at the Leibniz Supercomputing Centre (LRZ) of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences. The complete results of a series of large hydrodynamical cosmological simulations are available, with data volumes typically exceeding several hundred terabytes. Scientists worldwide can interactively explore these complex simulations via a web interface and directly access the results.

With current telescopes, scientists can observe our Universe’s galaxies and galaxy clusters and their distribution along an invisible cosmic web. From the...

Im Focus: Scientists develop molecular thermometer for contactless measurement using infrared light

Temperature measurements possible even on the smallest scale / Molecular ruby for use in material sciences, biology, and medicine

Chemists at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) in cooperation with researchers of the German Federal Institute for Materials Research and Testing (BAM)...

Im Focus: Optoelectronic Inline Measurement – Accurate to the Nanometer

Germany counts high-precision manufacturing processes among its advantages as a location. It’s not just the aerospace and automotive industries that require almost waste-free, high-precision manufacturing to provide an efficient way of testing the shape and orientation tolerances of products. Since current inline measurement technology not yet provides the required accuracy, the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT is collaborating with four renowned industry partners in the INSPIRE project to develop inline sensors with a new accuracy class. Funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF), the project is scheduled to run until the end of 2019.

New Manufacturing Technologies for New Products

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Plants are networkers

19.06.2017 | Event News

Digital Survival Training for Executives

13.06.2017 | Event News

Global Learning Council Summit 2017

13.06.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

A new technique isolates neuronal activity during memory consolidation

22.06.2017 | Life Sciences

Plant inspiration could lead to flexible electronics

22.06.2017 | Materials Sciences

A rhodium-based catalyst for making organosilicon using less precious metal

22.06.2017 | Materials Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>