Thirteenth annual meeting of the Association for the Scientific Study of Consciousness (ASSC)
Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanities and the Humboldt University of Berlin
2009-06-05 — 2009-06-08

Edited by Andy Ross

Friday, June 5

17:30–18:00 Opening Remarks
Michael Pauen, Patrick Wilken, Thomas Metzinger

18:00–19:00 Presidential Address: An integrated information theory of consciousness
Giulio Tononi, University of Wisconsin-Madison

From the abstract: The theory starts from phenomenology and makes use of thought experiments to claim that consciousness is integrated information. The quantity of consciousness corresponds to the amount of integrated information generated by a complex of elements. The quality of experience is specified by the set of informational relationships generated within that complex. Integrated information is defined as the amount of information generated by a complex of elements, above and beyond the information generated by its parts. Qualia space is a space where each axis represents a possible state of the complex, each point is a probability distribution of its states, and arrows between points represent the informational relationships among its elements generated by causal mechanisms. The set of informational relationships within a complex specifies an experience.

AR  I find this theory far too incomplete to explain the essential properties of consciousness. I responded to the address by suggesting that something more was needed, and argued the point at more depth with Tononi later. I still need to say clearly what I think is missing. Essentially, it has to do with the temporal and dynamic aspects of consciousness, where some constraint on the physical implementations of consciousness may be expected, for example as in my photonic theory.

Saturday, June 6

9:00–10:00 Keynote Lecture: Origins of shared intentionality
Michael Tomasello, MPI for Evolutionary Anthropology

AR  I'm glad to say that Tomasello restricted his lecture largely to the evolutionary and developmental origins of intentionality, where the meaning of the concept may safely remain fuzzy. In my weighty experience, intentionality is a really tricky concept that most philosophers manage to get wrong somehow or somewhere. Later in the conference I discussed the concept with John-Dylan Haynes and found I had — over the decades — thought out a relatively clear and workable idea of what it is. Now I guess I must write it up.

10:30–12:30 Symposium: Attention and consciousness
Tobias Schlicht (chair), Alva Noë, Ronald Rensink, Michael Tye

AR  I always enjoy Alva's friendly and conversational style. But I have to say, after reading his new book, I find his idea that consciousness is out in the world rather unconvincing. As for Michael Tye, with his Texas chair and his British upper-class bray, didn't anyone ever tell him that his combination of sneakers with lime-green soles and a boy-sized black velvet jacket is absurd?

14:00–17:30 Concurrent Sessions
17:30–19:30 Poster Session

AR  I was impressed by many of the posters. Thomas Metzinger told me — and I agreed — that their quality shows how far the ASSC has succeeded over the years in raising the study of consciousness from confused philosophy to a thriving scientific subdiscipline.

Sunday, June 7

9:00–10:00 Keynote Lecture: Armchair reflections on consciousness and the science of consciousness Jaegwon Kim, Brown University

10:30–12:30 Symposium: Mirroring the self and others
Noam Sagiv (chair), Jamie Ward, Peter Bruggers, Olaf Blanke

14:00–17:30 Concurrent Sessions
17:30–19:30 Poster Session

Evening: Conference Dinner

AR  The dinner was held in Klärchens Ballhaus, an astonishing fin de siècle hall of mirrors that must once have been among the most elegant and impressive in all of Berlin but had apparently never been fixed up from the last wartime bombing raids on the city. I told Petra Störig and others all about my Singularity ideas. The next day I noticed that Christof Koch, who had later danced with Petra, wore a "rapture of the geeks" teeshirt.

Monday, June 8

9:00–10:00 Keynote Lecture: What is the explanatory gap?
David Papineau, King’s College London

AR  This was standard philosophy that I knew by heart. But hearing it all again gave me a new idea about the necessity of our apparent readiness to create and recreate the gap, which now seems to me to be part of our "intentional dynamism" and perhaps even an essential component in the mechanism of consciousness as we know it.

10:30–12:30 Symposium: Visual perception across short timescales.
Niko Busch (chair), Rufin van Rullen, Ryota Kanai, Valtteri Arstila

14:00–15:00 Keynote Lecture
Joel Pearson, winner of the 2009 William James Prize

AR  The lecture was excellent and the prize was well deserved.

15:00–16:00 Keynote Lecture: The development of a theory of mind: a tutorial
Susan Carey, Harvard University

16:30–18:30 Symposium: Measuring consciousness: Neurophysiological and behavioral approaches
Anil Seth (chair), Andreas Engel, Zoltan Dienes

18:30–19:30 Keynote Lecture: Human volition: Towards a neuroscience of will
Patrick Haggard, University College London

AR  This was a delightfully smooth presentation on generalizations of Libet's results, and very supportive of the general tenor of recent work from Haynes' lab.

19:30–19:45 Closing Remarks
John-Dylan Haynes

AR  Altogether, this was an extremely satisfying conference. I now have a head full of new ideas that with luck and some readiness to work I can transmute into a few illuminating writings.