Science of Consciousness Road Trip

I’m just back from Tucson, AZ where I spent the last few days at the 2008 Science of Consciousness conference. The conference is sponsored by the Center for Consciousness Studies (CCS) which is part of the University of Arizona Medical School. CCS presents itself as promoting open, rigorous discussion of all phenomena related to conscious experience.

The structure of the conference includes plenary, concurrent and poster sessions. The plenary sessions were heavily weighted towards normal science. (See Thomas Kuhn The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.) Presentations demonstrated a very high level of the scientific method within clinical psychology and neuro-science. Clinical psychology and neuro-science are not my area, but the results of the research I heard presented underwhelmed me.

Conclusion. Normal science does not explain consciousness very well at all.

A week before the conference, I received a recording of a talk given by Allan Watts at IBM way back in 1969. Yes, Allan Watts from The Way of Zen and TAO: The Watercourse Way. In this talk, Watts differentiates mechanism and organism. Watts reminds the IBM researchers that mechanism provides a very limited model of organism and advises that there are limits on what can be achieved through mechanism and normal science. I left the conference with the impression the science of consciousness needs a new approach based in organism. Our consciousness is an artifact of the human organism and normal science does not explain phenomena related to consciousness well at all.

Overall, a very nice conference. I’ll probably go back as the conference is scheduled to be held every two years, so I’ll offer these suggestions for 2010:

  1. Normal science should not drive the agenda. As suggested by Kuhn, identify anomaly and either known or emerging crises, that’s where the action is !
  2. Develop a pattern language rooted in organism, not mechanism. Structure the pattern language, the science will follow close behind.
  3. Have an open jam session, not a talent show and encourage everyone to participate. The performer/observer model of a talent show connotes entertainment, a consumer model. Jam sessions imply shared consciousness. Anyone can hit a drum.