Duke to host international conference on consciousness

April 12, 2001

DURHAM, N.C. - More than 300 philosophers, psychologists and neuroscience researchers from around the world are expected to gather at Duke University next month for a conference focusing on the study of consciousness. Duke will host the fifth annual conference of the Association for the Scientific Study of Consciousness (ASSC), which will explore the diverse aspects of the contents of consciousness. The conference will be held May 27-30.

"Consciousness has rich and diverse contents, from sensory experiences such as vision and bodily sensations such as pain, to nonsensory aspects such as volition, emotion, memory and thought. All of these conscious states can be seen as part of the contents of consciousness," said Güven Güzeldere, assistant professor of philosophy at Duke and co-chair of the conference.

"This conference pursues the interdisciplinary angles of the study of consciousness: How rich is the contact present in conscious experience? What is the neural basis of the representation of conscious content? How does consciousness of our own body differ from consciousness of the external world? What methods are available to monitor the contents of consciousness in research?"

Güzeldere, who studies the philosophy of neuroscience and has recently focused his energy on research dealing with the phenomenon of change blindness and its relationship to consciousness, said the conference is expected to draw 300-400 academics and scientists, half of whom will come to Durham from outside the United States.

"We have been receiving (registration) e-mails from Russia, China, Nigeria," he said. Duke was recruited by the ASSC to host this year's conference, conference co-chair Ron Mangun said, largely because of its focus on interdisciplinary research and its programs that foster such diverse study. Cathy Davidson, vice provost for interdisciplinary studies, threw her support behind the proposal and Güzeldere and Mangun began planning nearly a year ago.

"Duke has one of the most exciting ongoing interdisciplinary efforts on the mind and brain under way. As a result, we get a lot of outside attention," said Mangun, a professor of neurobiology and experimental psychology and director of Duke's Center for Cognitive Neuroscience. He said Duke has been courted to host conferences before. "They want the action."

The conference will include symposia each morning, with several speakers at each session, followed by discussion with the audience. The plenary sessions "will be of unusually high caliber," Mangun said, with speakers such as Marcus Raichle of Washington University, one of the founding names of functional neuro-imaging; Larry Weiskrantz of Oxford, who specializes in vision and is credited with discovering blind sight; Jeremy Wolfe of Harvard, known for his work in attention and visual perception; and John Perry of Stanford, foremost in the field of philosophy of language and philosophy of the mind.

Afternoons will be filled with parallel workshops of different topics chosen for presentation, and poster sessions will be held each evening. On the opening day of the conference, participants will be able to chose two half-day workshops from 12 offered. The workshops provide "a crash course in an area participants may not be familiar with, to get them up to speed," Güzeldere explained.

Participants will also have the chance to tour facilities at Duke's Center for Cognitive Neuroscience and the Brain Imaging and Analysis Center and meet researchers in both labs.

"We thought that would provide something that hasn't been available at past meetings," said Güzeldere. "Duke has the best facilities in this area." Beside Güzeldere and Mangun, several other Duke faculty members will take part in the conference as commentators or presenters in plenary sessions, including Owen Flanagan, James B. Duke Professor of Philosophy, also a professor of psychology-experimental; Gregory McCarthy, director of the Brain Imaging and Analysis Center; and Dr. Dale Purves, George B. Geller Professor for Research in Neurobiology, chairman of neurobiology and a professor in psychology-experimental.

Details on the conference and registration are available online at http://www.duke.edu/philosophy/assc5.html. The early deadline for registration is April 20.

Duke University

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