Conferences & Consciousness

reflections on conscious experiences
a conference on consciousness

This morning, 4/28/2016, I set my alarm, which didn’t go off – but I woke anyway, to attend one session of a scientific conference on the nature of consciousness.  I stayed for only this one session. It was worth my time and effort,  for a variety of reasons. I chose not to attend the second session (on a topic of low interest).

In SUMMARY, I gained:

1) Useful information, in a quality presentation, on the limits of the 50 years experimental research that proposed to demonstrate that the brain makes a decision a short duration before a person becomes aware of making the decision.  More recent experiments demonstrate that the rise in readiness potential is not caused by a subconscious (brain) decision, but is only part of the random variation of brain processes. This doesn’t confirm the existence of “free-will”, but removes one, often cited, argument proposing “free-will” is an illusion. The value of this research was acknowledged by many.

2) The professional debate about consciousness, agency and free-will remains as confused and divided as before. All panel presentations were from different contexts. Yet, no one appears to consider “context” as affecting their experiences leading to their own ideas. This is not the place to survey all the variety of opinion (as there is no hard evidence), or hypotheses as to why these opinions arose and are defended.

3) The topic of “retro–time” or “backward flow of time” were mentioned frequently, from both interpretations of Quantum Theory (translation) and from  the psychology and neuroscience of the experience of the Flow of Time (FOT).  I need to followup on the work of Ron Gruber  (who said TIME will be the next major scientific revolution”, which I have been claiming for a long time). In one panel presentation, I comprehended nothing (due to accent), but did note the important distinction between spatial and temporal entanglement , which I had not thought of before. I realize that I have not attempted to relate these findings with my ideas of temporal texture and feedpast bootstrapping.

4) A reinforcement of my long-term analysis that large conferences of this type are both obsolete and grossly ineffective in furthering the spread of knowledge. They are better than nothing, but violate all our best knowledge about learning and communication.


QUALIFICATION: Even with a hearing aide, my comprehension of speech is poor. However, I did comprehend 90+% of most presentations; two were mostly unintelligible. Comments/Questions during Q&A were mostly unintelligible.  But, mostly unintelligible to the panel, as well. Almost all who spoke from the standing line tried, at length, to promote their personal opinions. I had an association with the quality of comments to many online blogs, although missing the negative smears.

The Session:

The Science of Consciousness PL5: Conscious Intention and Free Will,
Aaron Schurger, Fifty Years Without Free Will.

Panel: Free Will and the Brain: Ruth Kastner, Daniel Sheehan, Ron Gruber, Marcin Nowakowski, Matti Vuorre, Julia Mossbridge

The Presentation:  Fifty Years Without Free-Will, Aaron Schurger

“How are actions initiated by the human brain when there is no external sensory cue or other immediate imperative? How do subtle ongoing interactions within the brain and between the brain, body, and sensory context influence the spontaneous initiation of action? How should we approach the problem of trying to identify the neural events that cause spontaneous voluntary action? Much is understood about how the brain decides between competing alternatives, leading to different behavioral responses. But far less is known about how the brain decides “when” to perform an action, or “whether” to perform an action in the first place, especially in a context where there is no sensory cue to act such as during foraging. Fifty years ago, in 1965, scientists discovered a slow buildup of neural activity that precedes the onset of spontaneous self-initiated movements (movements made without any cue telling you when to move). This buildup was dubbed the “readiness potential” or bereitschaftspotential, and has since been confirmed at the single-neuron level. For the past five decades it has been assumed to reflect a process of “planning and preparation for movement”. In the 1980s the readiness potential was used to argue that we do not have conscious free will, because the readiness potential appears to begin even before we are aware of our own conscious decision to act. Now we and others have challenged that long-standing interpretation by showing that the early part of the readiness potential might reflect sub-threshold random fluctuations in brain activity that
have an influence on the precise moment that the movement begins. These fluctuations thus appear as part of the “signal” when we analyze the data time-locked to the time of movement onset. This fundamental insight leads to novel and testable predictions concerning both objective (brain signals and behavior) and subjective (the perceived time of the conscious intention) phenomena, and may also have important, philosophical implications.” PL5 [178]

The Presentation (short): Consciousness Needs the Flow of Time and Therefore Perceptual Completion, Ronald Gruber (& Richard A. Block)

“Penrose suggested that consciousness needs time to flow. We chose experimentally to examine  what is required. We assert that the flow of time has two components, or kinds of processes. Lower-level processes result in perceptual completion and provide the dynamic experiential phenomena between discrete observations in all fundamental perceptions, such as motion perception.  Upper-level processes result in objects (including the observer) appearing to move from the present into the past. If perception is discrete, not continuous (and current evidence suggests that is so), perceptual completion for continuity is required to fill the gaps. Object persistence is then deduced from the percept of continuity. Unless objects are perceived as persistent (“same”), the conscious observer cannot perceive himself or herself as moving “through time.” To demonstrate that the brain is capable of providing perceptual completion of continuity, we examined the spatial limit of the classic  phi phenomenon with overlapping stimuli flicker. We discovered that by appropriately adjusting  the stimulus duration and interstimulus interval, the flicker disappeared, and an apparent singular stimulus was perceived. This is an illusory percept that fills the gap between the overlapping stimuli.  The illusory percept seems to be one of visual persistence, not iconic memory. Thus, under the  discrete-perception theory, observation of any continuously appearing stimulus is in effect a series of discrete percepts separated by illusory percepts to fill the gaps. A somewhat similar phenomenon  is color phi. Our newly revealed illusory percept occurs “backwards in time.” In short, consciousness needs the illusory percept of perceptual completion.”  C6[220]


From the above, it appears I DID GAIN considerably from my few hours at a realtime, large audience conference gathering. Most of this was because of the special relevance to my areas of interest, and were not part of the conference intention. I cannot assess the valuable, but incidental values of large gatherings of intense collective minds, and the opportunity for making new & refreshing old contacts, and for small, more intimate, dialogs. Yet, it appears that the presentation mode has not significantly changed since the advent of computers. (PowerPoint notwithstanding)

Decades ago I was introduced (by George Por) to a powerful critique of conferencing researched by Anthony Judge.  Two examples (just now searched): Minding the Future:Thought experiment on presenting new information, and Development beyond ‘Science’ to ‘Wisdom: Facilitating the emergence of configurative understanding in ‘Councils of the Wise‘ through computer conferencing dialogue. In conjunction with my larger UPLIFT proposal, this issue needs serious re-examination. I could write books on this.

The inertia for continuing conferencing as usual results from many factors. 1) the money made by conference facilities and conference planners, 2) the prestige of conference organizers and stars, 3) the role of making conference presentations for employment security/advancement, 4) ability to get funded travel and “vacation”, 5) habit and unconcern about the need for significantly advanced learning, 6) limiting societal paradigms, 7) lack of useful tools and quality tool-use-training for participants in alternative information-sharing/learning modalities. But, primarily, 8) most conference organizers/presenters/attendees are unaware of the greater potentials missed, and for their “normal” needs, the traditional conference venue is probably sufficient.

My imagination explores new/nu modes of human-human interactivity, cyborg-like coupled with semfields, in a cyclical emergent UPLIFT via OLLO (Organizing-for-Learning=&=Learning-for-Organizing). Verbal dialog will be intimately integrated with new, more powerful visual displays (which represent the structure and relationships of the content explicated by speech). Internet linked COLAB STUDIOS will be distributed for team/community realtime participation. All activity will be recorded/edited and made accessible in a hyperlinked web of sems (the emergent semfield). A RT/DT (RealTime/DelayedTime or Synchronous/Asynchronous) Synergy will emerge.

After devoting hours to this blog post, I am now motivated to attend the next two day sessions of the Consciousness Conference. Yet, for all the new insights gained today, they are not high priority for me to pursue at this time. I don’t know whether I will actually read, let alone study, most of the long documents linked by url above.

My current task is to compose on my insights from reading Peers INC by Robin Chase, The Path: What Chinese Philosophers Can Teach Us About the Good Life, by Michael Puett & Christine Gross-Loh, Hope in the Dark: Untold Histories, Wild Possibilities, by Rebecca Solnit, and (of somewhat lesser importance) Top Brain, Bottom Brain: Surprising Insights into How You Think, by Stephen M. Kosslyn.

Then, there is the exploration of anything I can possibly do to catalyze a shifting of path of the USA in the near future. Why persons follow our “leaders” worries me much more than the “leaders”.

Author: nuet

01/24/1935. BS-physics RPI 1956; MS-physics UofChicago 1958; PhD-physics Yale 1965; PhD-Edu Psy Uof MInnesota 1970. Auroral Research Byrd Station, Antarctica 11/1960-02/1962. MINNEMAST curriculum dev 1964-68. Woodstock. faculty Pima Community College, Tucson 1974-1997. Transdisciplinary scientist, philosopher, educator, futurist, activist. PC user since 1982. "Wife". daughter, 2 grandsons. 5 dogs & 7 cats. Lacks mental imagery in all sensory domains.