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Consciousness Bulletin 1997

Consciousness Bulletin 1997

Understanding the intimate mystery of conscious experience has become an increasingly popular endeavor. Scientists, philosophers, and humanists from allareas of academia and society are seriously grappling with this enigmatic problem.

Important questions abound: Can consciousness be explained within present-day science? Is the mind a computer? Does consciousness emerge from layers of complexity in the brain's neural activities? Does it depend on functional capabilities or the cultur e in which it is immersed? Is it a purely biological feature, and if so what is the essential nature of life? Is consciousness related to fundamental aspects of reality? Or is consciousness unknowable? What if we actually did come to grips with our essent ial nature?

To help air these types of issues in an interdisciplinary forum, The University of Arizona has in the past few years sponsored conferences (Toward a Science of Consciousness 1994; 1996) and other activities in collaboration with the Journal of Consc iousness Studies and with expert guidance by an international group of scholars: David Chalmers, Philosophy, University of California, Santa Cruz; Christof Koch, Computation and Neural Systems, California Institute of Technology; Marilyn Schlitz, Rese arch Director, Institute of Noetic Sciences; Petra Stoerig, Neuropsychology, Ludwig Maximilians University; and Keith Sutherland, Publisher, Journal of Consciousness Studies.

We propose to further develop and encourage open, rigorous, and sustained discussions of all phenomena related to consciousness. For example, the area of cultural anthropology will be incorporated into future activities with the participation of anthro pologist Michael Winkelman of Arizona State University.

We have identified the following disciplines among which we are encouraging dialogs in a balanced and integral manner:

  • I Philosophy
  • II Neuroscience
  • III Cognitive science and psychology
  • IV Physical and biological science
  • V Culture and phenomenology
We hope interdisciplinary crosstalk along these lines will facilitate insights, breakthroughs, and new ways to express and understand the relationship between consciousness and the universe. Such understanding may have profound implications for our vie w of ourselves and our place in the natural world.

Stuart R. Hameroff
Alfred W. Kaszniak
Jim Laukes
Alwyn C. Scott

Consciousness Studies
The University of Arizona
Tucson, Arizona

March, 1997


Why Do We Study Consciousness?

By Keith Sutherland
Publisher, Journal of Consciousness Studies

The recent surge of interest in consciousness studies has left many commentators scratching their heads and looking for an explanation. Seeing as science has effectively ignored the problem for most of this century, then why the sudden change?

Cynics might be tempted to lump it in with alien abductions and the X-Files and write it off as yet another example of PMT — Pre-Millenial Tension. Even within the field itself there are competing views as to why we study consciousness. Some people attribute it to the Great Thinker Effect — when three Nobel Laureates and a distinguished mathematician turn their attention to the field, everyone else wants to jump on the bandwagon.

But in a recent article in the (London) Times Higher Education Supplement, neuro-scientist Semir Zeki poured scorn on the Great Men theory of history. According to Zeki it's quite simple — the interest in consciousness studies is a direct result of the am azing developments in brain-scanning technology that now enable us to examine the workings of the mind in real time using functional imaging techniques.

However, a couple of recent surveys (springing out of the Tucson II conference) have painted a more complex picture. Tony Durham's questionnaire in THESIS attempted to rate sources of evidence on consciousness. While neuroscience and experimental psycholo gy were felt to be the most useful, it was also felt that introspective and philosophical approaches were essential (both these approaches having been scorned by Francis Crick). And in Baruss and Moore's in-depth study a staggering 93 percent argued for a n introspective approach with 66 percent agreeing that transcendent experiences had influenced their study of consciousness.

Going back to our original question — "why study consciousness" — no doubt there is truth in all of these theories. It's a great help to a young researcher trying to get funding for a project on consciousness when the co-discoverer of DNA chooses to study the same topic (but it doesn't explain why the student would "want" to enter the minefield (mindfield?) in the first place). And Zeki is right to draw our attention to fMRI and the other gadgetry, but if the same technology had been available in a less-e nlightened era no doubt the talk would have been about "fractionally-antedating goal responses" rather than "consciousness" as such.

Perhaps there is a third factor at work. During the '60s there was much talk of consciousness — developing it, expanding it or just enjoying it. And the students of the '60s are the professors of the '90s. If the results of the Baruss/Moore survey are at all representative, then the study of consciousness is as much a personal thing as a scientific problem.

For the study of consciousness is the study of "ourselves" in the deepest meaning of the word. This used to be the province of religion, but we now look to science to provide a more authentic description of what it is to be a conscious agent. Dr. Crick is well aware of this — the subtitle of his recent popular book on consciousness being, The Scientific Search for the Soul. And although he is convinced it's just a question of neurons, only 12 percent of the THESIS respondents were prepared to endorse this view, with a similar minority taking the dismissive Dennett-Churchland line that there is no "hard problem" of conscious experience. It would seem that consciousness studies presents a serious challenge to a broad range of scientific orthodoxies. 



By Tony Durham, Multi-Media Editor, 
Times Higher Education Supplement

Judging by the 100 or so responses to our questionnaire on consciousness, THES readers are optimistic that a solution will be found to the problem of how physical processes in the brain give rise to our awareness of everything — colors, smells, fears, memories ... In the field this has become known as the "hard problem" of consciousness. Two-thirds of respondents to the questionnaire (THES, April 5) believe the "hard problem" is soluble, and more than a quarter are convinced it will be so lved. Where will the crucial insights come from? Readers rejected brash claims that neuro-science has all the answers. Among the many competing theories on offer, they picked a clear leader that won more than twice the votes of its closest rival. The scie ntific instinct has always been to reduce every phenomenon to its simplest components, be they physical or neurophysiological. But in a resounding rejection of reductionism, 40 percent of respondents subscribed to what might be called the "emergent" theor y, popularized in Alwyn Scott's book, Stairway to the Mind. In this view, each hierarchical level from physics upwards adds something unique to make consciousness possible.

Consciousness is not susceptible to simple explanations based on any single branch of science. Question one asked you to imagine the quality of consciousness of various creatures from snail to fellow human, and hypothetical entities including zombies a nd brain-silicon hybrids. The replies revealed a degree of "carbon chauvinism," with more granting consciousness to the snail (68 percent) than to a super-intelligent computer (41 percent). Unconvinced by countless science-fiction tales, 51 percent though t an extremely intelligent computer would lack consciousness while a further 7 percent thought the question did not arise since no such machine could be built.

Only 5 percent believed computer consciousness would be similar to their own. The consensus was that if machine awareness is possible, it will be distinctly alien. The question on whether "your brain program copied to silicon" would be conscious produced a variety of responses. A third dismissed the experiment as impossible. Of those prepared to sp eculate, the weight of opinion was that the "brain program" would be conscious. Among mammals, the bat was held by 85 percent to be conscious while only three respondents denied consciousness to the chimpanzee. Sixteen percent thought a chimpanzee's consc ious experience was similar to their own, but most thought it was different in intensity, in quality or both. Most swallowed their solipsistic doubts and judged one human's conscious experience is similar to another's. But 21 percent believed it might dif fer in quality or intensity. The issue of intensity is somehow disturbing. All humans are conscious, but some are more conscious than others?

Most people were broad-minded in choosing sources of evidence about consciousness. Of the 11 branches of inquiry named, the average reply judged no fewer than eight to be useful or essential. Parapsychology was the least trusted ("likely to mislead" fo r 40 percent) while 64 percent considered neuroscience to be essential. Roger Penrose and Stuart Hameroff appear to have won few converts for their view that consciousness is a quantum-mechanical phenomenon. Interestingly, traditional mind/matter dualists outnumbered the modern software/hardware dualists who regard mind as a program that could run on a brain or any other sufficiently powerful computer. But neither was a popular position. There was more support for the idea that some new, fundamental princ iple is involved in consciousness.

Neuroscience has been a rich source of new information, justifying the claim that a new science of consciousness is emerging.

Yet, relatively few thought neuroscience could by itself produce a plausible theory of consciousness. There was stronger support for the kind of theory that "it's something about the whole body and the world it inhabits," but the multi-disciplinary "em ergent" theory was the overwhelming winner. Perhaps this should be no surprise. The message is that the science of consciousness is intrinsically multidisciplinary. But it is an uncomfortable message for those like Crick (THES, May 24) who think the subject should only concern neuroscientists, a few psychologists, and a philosopher or two.

"In a resounding rejection of reductionism, 40 percent of respondents subscribed to what might be called the `emergent' theory, popularized in Alwyn Scott's book, Stairway to the Mind."


Beliefs About Consciousness and Reality

Highlights of Tucson II Consciousness Survey

By Imants Baruss, Department of Psychology, King's College, University of Western Ontario, and Robert J. Moore, Department of Psychology, Campion College, University of Regina

The disparity of ideas concerning consciousness is well known. Our effort has been aimed at studying this disparity empirically. To that end, we have developed a questionnaire with good psychometric properties that can be used to measure beliefs about consciousness and reality along a material-transcendental dimension. More specifically, ideas about the nature of consciousness and how it is to be studied are correlated with the degree to which a person believes that there is more to the universe than m aterial reality. This in turn appears to be correlated with purporting to have had experiences which cannot be explained in material terms. In order to make sense of the frequencies of responses given above, all of the items in the questionnaire are consi dered as a single scale with six subscales. Scores on the scale and subscales thus provide summary statistics with regard to beliefs about consciousness and reality.

One thousand copies of this questionnaire, along with a page of additional items, was distributed to participants at the conference, Toward a Science of Consciousness 1996 "Tucson II," held April 8-13, 1996, at The University of Arizona, Tucson. We rec eived 212 completed questionnaires. The mean age of respondents was 50 years. Twenty-nine percent were women. Fifty-six percent indicated that they had earned a doctorate. Thirty-two percent were presenters at the conference.

The following information was obtained by looking at specific items of the questionnaire. Twenty-four percent indicated that "there is no reality other than the physical universe" and 27 percent that "the accepted methods of science are the only proper way in which to investigate consciousness." Ninety-three percent agreed that "introspection is a necessary element in the investigation of consciousness." Sixty-seven percent indicated that "extrasensory perception is possible" and 27 percent agreed that "personal consciousness continues after physical death." Sixty-six percent maintained that they "have had an experience which could best be described as a transcendent or mystical experience" and 31 percent "have had an experience which could best be des cribed as an out-of-body experience."

The Tucson II sample scored considerably further in the transcendental direction than our 1986 standardization sample of 334 academics and professionals who could potentially write about consciousness in the academic literature. This could reflect diff erences in sampling in that those who actually do participate at a consciousness meeting are more inclined towards transcendental views than those chosen because of their potential interest in consciousness studies. There could be other reasons for this d ifference.

The most obvious differences between subgroups of participants at Tucson II are those related to religious affiliation. Religion has been found to be an influential, but neglected variable in social sciences research. As expected, those indicating their religious affiliation as "none," tended to score in the materialist direction . This would include agreement with statements about the exclusively physical nature of universe.

In a pilot study leading up to our 1986 Consciousness Survey, we found respondents writing in "own beliefs" as their religious affiliation. When we added it as a category in the 1986 survey, 27 percent of respondents endorsed it. Of participants at Tucson II, 53 percent of respondents chose this category. It is cor-related with scores in the transcendental direction, particularly for subscales measuring th e purported presence of extraordinary experiences, such as out-of-body experiences; extraordinary beliefs, such as belief in the possibility of extrasensory perception; and the importance of knowledge gained through self-transformation, as indicated, for example, by agreement with the necessity for introspection.

In our 1986 survey we found strong sex differences. These were apparent again with participants at Tucson II. Women tend towards the transcendental end of the scale relative to men, particularly on the extraordinary experiences and extra-ordinary belie fs subscales. There was an item in our 1986 survey which we did not include on the Tucson questionnaire: "I think that others are conscious in the same way that I am conscious." Men were much more likely to agree with this state-ment while women tended to disagree. Women's high scores on these two sub-scales indicate that their experiences, as a group, are not the same as men's. It is not only a logical fallacy, but empirically untrue, that the experiences of a particular consciousness researcher with reg ard to consciousness must be universally true.

There were correlations of beliefs about consciousness and reality with areas of interest at the conference. Not surprisingly, those indicating an interest in phenomenology and culture scored very high in the transcendental direction on the main scale and all subscales, while those interested in neural correlates scored somewhat in the materialist direction. What came as a surprise to us was that those indicating an interest in physics and mathematics scored marginally in a transcendental direction on two of the subscales. There was no corresponding shift for those identified with the applied and natural sciences. If anything, there was a trend towards lower scores on extraordinary experiences and inner growth subscales for those allied with the applie d sciences. There is not enough additional data to interpret this finding.

Of significance also are differences that were expected but not found. In our 1986 survey we found increases in materialist beliefs with increasing age. While there were some age effects at Tucson II, they were in the reverse direction. There were no e ffects of education and few effects of disciplinary affiliation. There was also no difference whether or not a respondent was a presenter at the conference. In other words, with regard to this particular sample of participants at Tucson II, one's beliefs about consciousness and reality were not correlated with whether or not one presented at the conference.

A paper describing the details of this study titled "Beliefs About Consciousness and Reality of Participants at Tucson II" is being submitted to the Journal of Consciousness Studies for consideration for publication.


Tucson III Preview

The third Toward a Science of Consciousness conference is set to take place in Tucson, Arizona the week of April 27-May 2. Better known as "Tucson III," this event will attract over 800 people, including an international cast of presenters. Here are just a few examples of the papers that will be presented Tucson III:

  • "Is a Real Psychoscope Possible?" by Dr. Bernard Baars, Director of the Wright Institute and author of In the Theater of Consciousness
  • "Visual Awareness and the Frontal Lobes" by Dr. Christof Koch, author of Biophysics of Computation
  • "The Mind's Past" by Split-brain researcher Dr. Michael Gazzaniga, author of Mind Matters
  • "The Self" by Dr. Galen Strawson of Oxford University
  • "On the Neural Basis of Visual Awareness" by Dr. Morton Mishkin
  • "Lucid Dreaming" by Dr. Stephen LaBerge, Director of the Lucidity Institute
  • "Transpersonal consciousness? Assessing the Evidence" by Dr. Marilyn Schlitz, Director of Research for the Institute of Noetic Sciences
  • "How Shall We Train Future Consciousness Researchers?" by Dr. Charles Tart, author of the classic Altered States of Consciousness
  • "The Spontaneous Development of Moral Consciousness and Reverence for All Life" by Rhea White, co-author with Michael Murphy of In the Zone: Transcendent Experience in Sports

Tucson III will feature approximately 400 papers, organized into six divisions. Below you will find brief highlights of the papers in each division, as well as links to more detailed summaries:

Biology and Physiology
Cognitive Science and Pscychology

It's still not too late to register for Tucson III!

New at Tucson III:
Pre-conference Workshops

If you're coming to Tucson III, make plans to arrive early and take advantage of a special opportunity. On the weekend of April 25-26, CS will offer its first-ever series of pre-conference workshops. You will find half-day and full-day workshops on topics ranging from quantum theory to lucid dreaming. Take a workshop from well-known scholars like Dr. Christof Koch, Dr. Stephen LaBerge, and Dr. Charles Tart. Or try something new and different. We have gathered an exceptional group of workshop instructors that may be not be familiar names in the field of consciousness studies--at least not yet! These include:

David Roomy
Jungian therapist and process worker David Roomy, who is teaching a full-day workshop Saturday, April 25 on "Dream Interpretation: An Inner Journey. Roomy is the author of Inner Journey to Sacred Places (Pentland Press, 1997) and Inner Work in the Wounded and Creative (Penguin/Arkana, 1990). He is well-known nationwide for his skill, sensitivity and perceptiveness as a facilitator of experiential workshops.

When we ask David Roomy about the value of his workshop, he describes the power that dream images can have in bringing about self-realization and personal fulfillment. These benefits can only be achieved, he emphasizes, if the images themselves are interpreted correctly. "When dream images are allowed to speak as image," explains Roomy, "their message can transport us beyond a problem-oriented perspective into life's flow, its energy, its body and sensuality."

Rhea White and Suzanne Brown

In 1995, workshop instructor Rhea White co-authored In the Zone: Transcendent Experience in Sports with Esalen co-founder Michael Murphy, the author of Golf in the Kingdom and The Future of the Body.

Together, they documented thousands of extraordinary experiences reported by people engaged in sports and athletics.

The half-day workshop that White and Dr. Suzanne Brown will be teaching on Sunday, April 26, is called "In the Zone: Sports as a Project of Transcendence." In this workshop, you will learn a series of exercises designed to enhance the physical and psychological benefits you derive from participating in sports.

For more information about Rhea White and Dr. Suzanne Brown, visit the Exceptional Human Experiences Network.

Karen Koffler, and Roberta Lee
When Dr. Andrew Weil, author of Spontaneous Healing and Eight Weeks to Optimal Health, started the Integrative Medicine program at the University of Arizona, he invited an elite group of four practicing physicians to be the first Fellows in this program. CS is pleased to have two of those fellows teaching a half-day workshop on Saturday, April 25, entitled "Health, Healing and Consciousness." The fellows--Dr. Karen Koffler and Dr. Roberta Lee--will give a survey of treatment modalities related to Mind/Body therapy. To learn more about the Integrative Medicine program, stop by the Ask Dr. Weil site.

For descriptions of all the pre-conference workshops and a complete schedule, click here. Workshops are filling fast. If you are interested in reserving a space, please register soon.


Consciousness Bulletin 1998


Consciousness Bulletin 1999