Keynote Speakers - 23rd Annual Meeting of the Association for the Scientific Study of Consciousness June 25 – 28, 2019, Conference by The Conference Services at Western University. Division of Housing and Ancillary Services at Western University
23rd Annual Meeting of ASSC

June 25 - June 28, 2019 | Western University, London, ON, Canada


Keynote Speakers

Presidential Address: Susanna Siegel

Harvard University, USA
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Does Perception Come in Degrees?

In what ways can perceptual experience encode probabilistic information? Does the fact that experience shares one interface with probabilistic information from perceptual processing, and another interface with credences, give us reason to think that perceptual experience itself comes in degrees that we can measure using probability? If so, how should we analyze the structure of experience? If not, why not?

Lisa Feldman Barrett

Northeastern University, USA
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A brain-based approach to understanding emotion: Lessons for the science of consciousness.

This talk will outline a computational architecture for the brain's use of prediction and prediction error signals to construct experiences and perceptions of emotion. Theory and research will be organized around two themes: (1) the shift from taxonomic thinking (the belief that an emotion has a particular facial expression and autonomic fingerprint) to population thinking (evidence that emotion categories consist of unique instances that are tailored to the specifics of the immediate situation); (2) the shift from essentialism (the belief that all instances of an emotion category share an underlying neural circuit) to degeneracy (evidence that instances of an emotion category are constructed as different configurations within the brain's functional architecture of interacting core networks). Furthermore, this approach suggests that allostasis, interoception, concepts and categorization represent key processes in the construction of all mental events, including emotions. These themes will be discussed for their relevance to the scientific study of consciousness.

Susan Schneider

University of Connecticut, USA
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Could You Merge with AI?

There are reasons to view the idea that humans could merge with AI with skepticism. If AI cannot be conscious, then if you substituted a microchip for the parts of the brain responsible for consciousness, you would end your life as a conscious being. You'd become what philosophers call a "zombie"-a non-conscious simulacrum of your earlier self. And even if microchips could replace parts of the brain responsible for consciousness without zombifying you, radical enhancement is still a major risk. After too many changes, the person who remains may not be you. Each human who enhances may, unbeknownst to them, end their life in the process. After rejecting the conception of the mind that I suggest underlies an overly optimistic approach to brain enhancement (i.e., the view that the mind is a software program) I suggest a path forward. This "metaphysically cautious" approach to brain enhancement draws from classic issues involving the metaphysics of personal identity.

Sid Kouider

Ecole Normale Supérieure, France
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Unsuspected cognition in the sleeping brain

Sleep has been argued to be the price to pay for neural plasticity: it allows optimising memory consolidation at the price of rendering organisms vulnerable to external threats. Yet, recent research reveals that the sleeping brain is actually not fully shut down from the environment, as it continues registering and integrating external events to some extent. This raises the questions of why would sleepers continue processing external information and why do they remain unresponsive at the behavioural level? Here I will argue that the sleeping brain attempts to finely balance the need to turn inward in order to optimise memory consolidation with the ability to rapidly revert to wakefulness when necessary. This leads to the hypothesis that sleepers enter a "standby mode" in which neural mechanisms aimed at tracking relevant signals in the environment remain functional. I will present several studies using neural markers of cognitive processing to show that the human brain, even after falling asleep, continues to 1) classify auditory events in a task-dependent manner, 2) rely on selective attention to resolve the cocktail party phenomenon, and 3) even form new memory contents on perpetual learning tasks. I will describe how the sleeping brain continued connection with the external world is restricted to specific sleep stages, though, and that the presence or absence of neural responsiveness can be traced back to specific sleep rhythms (e.g., slow-waves, K-complexes, spindles). Finally, I will present recent efforts in using cognitive engineering and neurotechnologies to 'hack' the mechanisms of sleep in the human brain.

Jennifer M. Windt

Monash University, Australia
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Consciousness in dreams and dreamless sleep

The investigation of sleep and dreaming has led to a continuous renegotiation of the concepts of wakefulness, sleep, and consciousness. The discovery of REM sleep and its association with dreaming showed the traditional view of sleep as a period of uniform passivity and unconsciousness to be flawed; instead, sleep was seen to consist of a complex architecture, with different sleep stages marked by characteristic changes in brain activity and outward muscular behaviour. Against philosophical resistance, the traditional dichotomy between waking consciousness and unconscious sleep was now replaced with a newer one: that between REM sleep/dreaming on the one hand and presumably dreamless and unconscious NREM sleep on the other hand. To this day, consciousness is often defined as what disappears in deep, dreamless sleep and reappears upon awakening and in dreams.

New findings, however, increasingly reveal this view to be deeply flawed. First, dreaming cannot be equated with REM sleep. Complex dreams occur in all stages of sleep, including the deep stages of NREM sleep. Also, REM sleep is not always accompanied by dreaming. This has led to attempts to define dreaming independently of sleep stages; so-called simulation views foreground the immersive structure of dream experience. Second, the characterization of dreamless sleep as uniformly unconscious also appears insufficient. Certain kinds of sleep experience lack the immersive structure of dreaming and, following simulation views, can be described as dreamless. Third, it is often assumed that sleep and wakefulness are opposite and mutually exclusive states. This idea is being challenged by different lines of research, ranging from local sleep to sleep disorders and sleep misperception in insomnia, changes in experience during sleep onset, and lucid dreams. In my talk, I'll survey empirical findings on sleep and dreaming and show how they continue to challenge common assumptions about our conscious minds. I'll also suggest that these findings necessitate radical changes to our overall taxonomy of mental states.

ASSC 23rd Annual Meeting


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