We all know about the complex, embittered Terri Schiavo court battle that was waged over right-to-die issues. Some believed that Schiavo was a severely brain-damaged woman with an irreversible condition--in a persistent vegetative state with no hope of recovery. Others maintained that Schiavo could benefit from rehabilitation. The Vatican condemned her death as "arbitrarily hastened," and cardinals called it "an attack against God."
Since the Schiavo case, the question of exactly what consciousness is has become perhaps even more perplexing. This question, along with many other issues in neuroscience, will be discussed at the ninth annual meeting of the Association for the Scientific Study of Consciousness (ASSC). The conference will take place from June 24 to 27 at the California Institute of Technology. For ASSC membership information, contact Patrick Wilken at [email protected]
Some of the world's leading experts in consciousness from Caltech, the Salk Institute, the University of Sussex, Oxford University, Harvard Medical School, Insitut Pasteur, UC Davis, and UC Berkeley will deliver presentations on the most advanced research findings in the field.
The ASSC conference will promote interdisciplinary dialogue from the perspectives of neuroscience, psychology, philosophy and ethics, computer science, and cognitive ethology. Discussion topics include the following titles: "Emerging Ethical Issues in Consciousness Research," "Emotion, Feeling, and the Brain," "A Brain-Body Perspective on Pain," " Investigating Neuronal Correlates of Conscious Visual Perception," and "Color and Consciousness."
Caltech presenters include professors Christof Koch, Richard Andersen, and Shinsuke Shimojo.
Koch's research involves working with new scientific tools that look inside functioning animal and human brains, raising the tantalizing possibility that we are getting closer to understanding the relationship between the conscious mind and the brain, the age-old mind-body problem. Koch focuses on the approach taken by him and the late Francis Crick (codiscoverer of the DNA helix) to find and characterize the neuronal correlates of consciousness in mice, monkeys, and humans. He is the author, most recently, of The Quest for Consciousness: A Neurobiological Approach.
Andersen's work focuses on severely paralyzed human patients. These patients can think about making movements, but due to brain lesions from trauma, stroke, or peripheral neuropathies, can no longer move their limbs. Andersen's research involves creating brain-implant technology that will act as an interface between a patient's thoughts about movement and the artificial limbs, computers, and other devices that may actualize the patient's desires.
Caltech psychophysicist Shimojo is looking at how brain activity is responsible for conscious perception. Shimojo studies the psychological and behavioral aspects of perception and cognition in humans. He studies the processes of how the brain enables us to perceive objects and respond to them adaptively. Research activity in the Shimojo laboratory has been devoted to tackling this challenging problem from experimental/psychobiological viewpoints. In particular, he is conducting psychophysical and behavioral studies of higher-order visual perception, spatial attention, integration across different sensory modalities, and sensory-motor functions. According to Shimojo, the brain is the ultimate organ for humans to adapt to the environment.
Sponsors of the ASSC conference include the Mind Science Foundation, which was established in 1958 by visionary philanthropist Tom Slick to explore the vast potential of the human mind. The foundation is dedicated to solving the puzzle of human consciousness by funding leading-edge scientific research and education.
The public is invited to attend the conference. The cost is $300 for non-ASSC members. The cost for student ASSC members is $140. The media is welcome to attend at no cost.
For a complete conference schedule and registration information, go to http://assc.caltech.edu/assc9/. ###
Contact: Deborah Williams-Hedges (626) 395-3227 [email protected]
Visit the Caltech Media Relations Web site at: http://pr.caltech.edu/media