Foundations of Mind Conference title and logo

“In-real-life” sessions at UC Berkeley will resume in the fall

The most recent seminar took place:
Friday, June 27, 2014, 2:00 p.m., Beach Room, 3105 Tolman Hall

Terry Deacon (UC Berkeley):

How information lost its meaning (and how to recover it)

The technical concept of information developed after Shannon (1948) and those who have followed has fueled advances in many fields, from fundamental physics to bioinfomatics, but its quantitative precision and its breadth of application have come at a cost. It has undermined its usefulness in fields distinguished by the need to explain function and reference, such as evolutionary biology, cognitive neuroscience, and the social sciences. And it may even be relevant to interpretive problems arising in quantum physics.

The current technical version of the concept has been so successful in part because it is consistent with a tacit metaphysical principle assumed ubiquitously in the contemporary physical sciences: that any and all mentalistic properties should be excluded from playing explanatory roles. But in order to provide the foundation for a scientific theory of information that is sufficiently precise and formal to serve fields as diverse as molecular biology and cognitive neuroscience, it is necessary to expand and slightly reformulate the technical concept of information in a way that accounts for these attributes that are not intrinsic to the conveying medium.

The key to formulating a more adequate concept of information that includes these most distinctive properties is to be found, ironically, in more carefully attending to the physicality of information media. A hint that this is important is captured in two distinctively different uses of the concept of entropy (informational and thermodynamic). Dr. Deacon demonstrated how referential information is based upon the constraints generated by physical work introduced by thermodynamic openness of an information medium and its susceptibility to contextual modification. Physical work is also the relevant measure when it comes to assessing the usefulness of information. In general, Dr. Deacon argued that it is the amount of work “saved” as a result of access to information that determines its significance or usefulness.

In this way, the previously set aside properties of reference and significance can be reincorporated into a rigorous analysis of information suitable for use in both the physical sciences (e.g., quantum theory, cosmology, computation theory) and semiotic sciences (e.g., biology, cognitive science, economics).

3:30 pm Len Talmy (State University of New York at Buffalo):

Aspects of language differ in their accessibility to consciousness

Dr. Talmy discussed the observable phenomenon that different aspects or components of language have different degrees of availability in consciousness. For example, we are generally more conscious of the meaning of a lexical form than of a grammatical form, of the use of a word than of the conditions of its use, of the meaning of a word or discourse than of the form, and of asserted content than of implied content. The general principle seems to be that consciousness is more associated with that portion or granularity of linguistic phenomena that is more relevant to current goals and concerns. The same pattern of differential consciousness seems to hold for other cognitive systems, such as visual perception and motor control.

The Foundations of Mind Conference

Thursday, March 6  &  Friday, March 7, 2014

International House • University of California at Berkeley
2299 Piedmont Ave., Berkeley, CA 94720 • Front Desk: (510) 642-9490 •

We thank all speakers, attendees, and volunteers for their wonderful participation in this landmark conference, which was a great success.

Access to the recording of the March 2014 conference is included in the registration for our new Consciousness Course. The course begins September 2, 2014.

The world’s top scholars and neuroscientists discussed cutting-edge issues related to cognition and consciousness. Topics included:

  • Does quantum mechanics have a role in our consciousness?
  • Can brain imaging in fMRI explain all that we are?
  • What is ecological consciousness?

Confirmed plenary speakers / panelists included:

  • Walter Freeman III (UC Berkeley)
  • Stuart Kauffman (University of Vermont)
  • Kathryn Blockmond Laskie (George Mason University)
  • Henry Stapp (Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, UC Berkeley)
  • Ed Vul (UC San Diego)
  • Jacob Needleman (San Francisco State University)
  • Jerome Feldman (International Computer Science Institute — UC Berkeley)
  • Robert Campbell (Clemson University)
  • Ellen Thomson (Florida International University)
  • Let Talmy (University of Buffalo)
  • José Acacio de Barros (SFSU / Stanford University)
  • Seán Ó Nualláin (University of Ireland)
  • Fr. Robert Spitzer (Magis Institute)
  • Tony Bell (UC Berkeley)
  • Stanley Klein (UC Berkeley)
  • Carlos Montemayor (SFSU)
  • … and more (see Schedule)

    The world’s leading cognitive scientists and consciousness scholars took part in this unique event as mind and consciousness were explored. The perspectives taken ranged from why the really hard problems like machine vision and translation have not yet been solved to whether a suitably reconstructed notion of consciousness that takes quantum mechanics into account can help save the environment.

    NEW!  Proceedings of the Foundations of Mind Conference are now available free on the e-journal Cosmos and History.
    They will later be issued by Cambridge Scholars Publishing as a book.


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