Toward a consciousness science?

David Chalmers provides this link to the the 2008 edition of Tuscon consciousness studies symposium, which has issued a tentative agenda for what is perhaps the preeminent get-together on the mind-body problem.

The title: "Toward a Science of Consciousness." One item on the agenda: "is consciousness distinct from intention?"

It's an interesting question since consciousness and all that it entails remains an evolutionary mystery. We have this first person experience of the world; we just don't know why. If sentient beings can choose right and wrong behavior, why select for self-reference rather than a specific skill-set or better knowledge of the environment, which offers the bigger immediate survival prize?

The Tuscon conference is home base for some of the most original thinking about these kinds of questions, including, historically, David Chalmer's famous (or infamous, depending on your view) enunciation of a "hard problem" of consciousness.

Recounting the experience many years later, Chalmers' describes the 1993 event in a discussion with science writer John Horgan here.

And having expounded in Louisville on that very subject during my my ten minutes of fame, UCLA Psychiatrist Jeffrey Schwartz challenged my belief that when it comes to the gulf between biology and mind scientific, symbolic and rational efforts to cross that chasm have fallen short. I very much enjoyed the conversation.

On stage, in a passionately argued presentation supported by his research work, he instead argued that what we intend can literally change our brain structures for the better and demonstrated how he's used his "reframing" technique to successfully treat obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Though he didn't address directly the separation - if any - between consciousness and intention that will be taken up in Tuscon, Schwartz left no doubt that intention, for him, holds a place of privilege, which he neatly summarized near the end of his session: "the brain puts out the call; the mind decides whether to respond."


Wikipedia: Phenomenology