Is “Consciousness” a Four Letter Word?
Neural correlates and the necessary and sufficient conditions for consciousness
Dr. Paul L. Nunez, Professor Emeritus in the Department of Biomedical Engineering, Tulane University, and expert on cognitive science, will speak to us about some of the most intriguing questions about consciousness:
“The study of consciousness is no longer the exclusive domain of philosophers. Some scientists and philosophers have even claimed “explanations” of consciousness. By contrast, this discussion is based largely on three fundamental questions:
1) What are the neural correlates of consciousness? We have many good, albeit very complex, answers. Brain diseases and injuries as well as brain imaging methods like fMRI and EEG provide a wealth of data demonstrating close relationships to cognitive and behavioral events. These correlations do not, however, “explain” consciousness.
2) What are the necessary conditions for consciousness to occur? Here we have no final answers, but plausible conjectures may be offered, especially the idea that consciousness emerges only in a certain class of complex systems. But, this issue is clouded by the difficulty of measuring or even defining “complexity.” Here I will emphasize nested hierarchy with top-down and bottom-up interactions across spatial scales as one common feature of very complex systems that may be essential for consciousness.
3) What are the sufficient conditions for consciousness to occur? What about graded states of human consciousness and animal consciousness? Can an intelligent computer ever become conscious? If so, how would we know? Here we have no final answers, but several speculations are offered based on viewing the consciousness challenge in terms of general questions about the nature of physical reality. These speculations stem partly from modern physics and information theory.“
Dr. Paul Nunez, a member of SDIS, has authored numerous refereed journal articles and 3 technical books, in areas of cognitive science involving the study of electrical phenomena of the brain as a window on the mind, and associated mathematical modeling of neural systems. He is also the owner of Cognitive Dissonance, a consulting firm on brain research. In addition, he has recently published a book for a more general audience, Brain, Mind, and the Structure of Reality, Oxford University Press, 2010, which will form the basis for many of the arguments in his Talk.
FROM THE PRESIDENT
This column includes announcements about:
- Important changes in the SDIS Board of Directors;
- Information about our January Program on Nez Perce Allotment;
- A special UCSD lecture series in January-February;
- Volunteer opportunities open to SDIS members;
- Submitting applications for Helen Hawkins Memorial Research Funds.
It is with mixed emotions that I announce the resignation of Barbara Zimonja as Notebook Editor from 2012 through 2014. Zimonja played a key role in establishing the SDIS website and designing many publication elements—logo, heading, page structure, links, tag lines, and columns—while preserving the special flavor of the Notebook. With gratitude we thank Barbara for her accomplishments and the organizational and leadership skills with which she carried out her duties and supervised the training of her successors. In that spirit, we accept her resignation and endorsement of turning over responsibilities to Arlene Gilbert as Notebook Editor and to Donald Bamber as Website Administrator with the assurance of their being able to assume these positions with enthusiasm, confidence, and the knowledge for success. These positions were unanimously approved by members of the Board.
In addition, there are two changes in the current SDIS Board of Directors. Michael Seidel has been appointed to serve as Executive Vice-President, filling the vacancy left by Steve Tamor. In turn, Barbara George, Director-at-Large, has been appointed to fill Seidel’s position of Secretary. We appreciate their willingness to assume these responsibilities.
The Nez Perce Allotment
Turning now to the January program meeting presented by UCSD Professor of Literature, Nicole Tonkovich, the information on the Nez Perce Allotment was a powerful eye-opener for many in the audience. I had heard of course, but very superficially, about the Indian problem and terrible injustices perpetrated on that group. But, the complexity and complicity of the groups designing and executing the allotment (dividing Nez Perce Reservation, Indian designated land, into individual, non-collective plots) reveals an important piece of US-Indian history involving New England reformers, the Dawes Act, disillusionment, misuse of Indian property, rights, and funds, the role of allotment agents (Fletcher, Gray), Nez Perce efforts to control their own future, and the disastrous loss of Indian land. A striking portrait of misguided plans gone awry. Attending the talk was a mix of SDIS members and guests, some previously un-informed, others quite familiar with this history. In response to requests for further sources of information, Tonkovich has offered several suggestions including two websites: www.ntonkovich.com/blog; Carlisle Indian School -http://www.carlislejourneys.org, and corresponding directly with her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
On to the January-February academic offerings of our distinguished neighbor, UCSD. Among other ongoing lectures, seminars, and courses, these months feature two exceptional programs. One is “Degrees of Freedom - UCSD Public Lecture Series” comprising six lectures, Wednesdays, 7 – 8:30 PM, Great Hall of International House, January 21 to February 25, with UCSD professors discussing various aspect of freedom, ranging from Cosmic Background, to Indigenous Rights, Cash Transfer, Freedom and Democracy, to Human Imagination. See email@example.com.
The other offering is a one-day Symposium presented by CARTA, February 20, 2015, see website CARTA: Home, on the topic “How Language Evolves” in which nine language specialists address various aspects of changes in language structure/syntax (e.g., lab languages, rare languages, sign languages, language–brain, speech perception and production). CARTA symposia are models of a rare combination of research, concepts, applications, and cutting edge discoveries. It is a precious resource for those interested in the origins, evolution, and development of humans.
Finally, I would like to announce the opportunity for SDIS members to volunteer to take on tasks of interest to them and of value to the organization. This could include writing or editing copy for our newsletters, distributing meeting announcements around town, sending media outlets notices of our meetings, designing graphics to be used in our publications or announcements.
Alternatively, computer skills could be used in improving or updating our member lists, compiling or correcting our Directory listings, organizing our files, folders, and archives. Assistance is often needed at meetings, too, in setting up the meeting room, handling the A-V equipment, staffing the sign-in tables, analyzing the sign-in information for trends in attendance, membership interests.
Similarly, business or accounting skills may be useful, along with the ability to conduct surveys of members’ interest areas and current accomplishments (e.g., publications, awards, presentations). At present, we do not have a mechanism for eliciting or receiving such volunteer interests or even know whether they exist. So, the first step may be indicating your interest in such volunteer projects by discussing this with other members and/or sharing your response by e-mailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org or writing to us at San Diego Independent Scholars, P.O. Box 314, La Jolla, CA 92038.
Helen Hawkins Research Fund
And, a final reminder that applications for awards from the Helen Hawkins Memorial Research Fund must be submitted to me, Sue Rosner, by February 28, 2015. I look forward to your application questions as well as comments and feedback on our volunteer requests. Thank you.
We had a stimulating discussion of our January topic, revenge, including two famous quotations: "Revenge is mine sayeth the Lord," and "Revenge is a dish best served cold." Defining revenge appeared easy at first, with "response to an injury whether real or imagined" as acceptable to most of us, but slight differences in meaning frequently appeared. Some straightforward synonyms include payback and retaliation, but revenge and punishment are not the same. The attack on the Charlie Hebdo newspaper in France was revenge for cartoons about Mohammad and the Muslim religion, but the "Je Sui Charlie" demonstrations were a reaction, not revenge. Other types of revenge include vendettas where groups fight each other for years, like the Hatfield/McCoy feud. Instead of revenge, an injured party could use an opposite reaction, "retributive justice," where people with a conflict work together to resolve it. Another alternative to revenge is to simply walk away. Our February meeting will be on 2/18/15 at 1:30 at Vi where we'll speak about "shame."
Culture One continues to be enthusiastic about our study group topic "Human Evolution and Development" and its relation to CARTA's Symposium, "Domestication and Human Evolution" (see Carta's Website, CARTA:Home). One startling result of human self-domestication (societal sociability) is its being accompanied by impressive changes in anatomy, brain structures, facial features, selective breeding, and aggression. Culture One meets on the last Wednesday of the month, February 25, 2–4 pm, at the Vi, in the Signature Room. We had hoped to offer an "Open House" to share symposium videos and increase our outreach efforts. However, we are forced to postpone plans for a February Open House due to technological problems with video equipment and limited response from potential members. We encourage you to respond by expressing your level of interest in participating or seeking further information about Culture One. Contact: Sue Rosner, email@example.com, Bea Rose, firstname.lastname@example.org, or Mike Seidel, email@example.com.
At its January 23 meeting the Culture Two Study Group examined issues raised in the first three chapters of Anand Giridharada's book, India Calling: Dreams, Ambition, and Pride. The participants uniformly praised the book as well written and insightful. The discussion centered on four issues which emerged as meaningful topics through which comparisons between India and the United States could be examined:
(A) The revolution now in progress in India about the very fabric of Indianness as experienced privately by individuals in their marriages, family, and work — cumulatively allowing individual dreams to unravel old ways and bring new ones into being.
(B) The pervasiveness of hierarchy which determines one's place in life, long manifested rigidly in terms of caste but now increasingly flexible allowing such other determinants as job status to determine who defers to whom — in Indian terms determining who is sahib, who bows to whom.
(C) The changing concept of selfhood, the increasing emergence of the idea of individually determined personality rather than sublimation of self in order to realize moksha or liberation, and also the emergence of a increasing self-confidence, a kind of liberty to be Indian without apology.
(D) Moral standards, in particular the comparison between two different viewpoints: that fairness depends on universal rules, no matter who the person and no matter what the context vs. the belief that it is wrong to slight certain people — such as parents, relative, and guests — so it is proper to favor those whom one cares about.
At the next meeting, Friday February 27 at 1:30 PM the group's focus will be on Degrees of Freedom and Degrees of Attachment. We will draw on what members of the group learn from a UCSD program now in progress on Degrees of Freedon as well as India Calling chapter 6 titled Freedom. Contact Sam Gusman firstname.lastname@example.org for further information.
TheFilm Groupwill meet Wednesday, February 4 at 10:00 a.m. at the home of Barbara Heckler to view the 1997 Iranian drama Children of Heaven, a 1998 nominee for Best Foreign Language Film. It’s the story of the adventures of a brother and sister and a lost pair of shoes. Contact Barbara at email@example.com for information about attending.
The literary group will meet on Monday, March 2nd, at the home of Marla Jensen in La Costa Glen. We will be reading select poems by the lyric and political poet, Andrew Marvell (1621-1678). Cathy Blecki will be leading the discussion. See Marla Jensen for directions and Cathy Blecki for the list of poems. We welcome new members.
The next meeting of the Neuroscience Study Group is scheduled for Thursday, February 26, at 3 pm at the apartment of Bea Rose (8515 Costa Verde Blvd #1909). The reading assignment is Damasio"s 'Self Comes to Mind' Chapters 5 and 6. Visitors are welcome; however due to the constraints of space, it would be wise to call Bea Rose first to ensure a place. <firstname.lastname@example.org>