The Mind Science Foundation
117 West El Prado Drive
San Antonio, TX, 78212, USA
Tel: (210) 821-6094
Meeting has focus on building interest and diversity among young investigators in consciousness science
The following is a report on the success of the MSF-funded meeting, from meeting coordinator, Dr. Eve Isham.
November 1, 2014
Dear Trustees of the Mind Science Foundation,
On behalf of the organizing committee, I would like to give my sincere thanks for supporting the Northern California Consciousness (NCC) meeting, “Conscious World,” held on October 17, 2014 at University of California, Davis. The success of the event would not have been possible without your generosity.
The first NCC meeting was inaugurated in 2013 as a small workshop with a general goal of promoting consciousness research in Northern California. With your generous support, this year’s conference has evolved far beyond this modest goal. Equipped with the resources, we were able to establish three specific goals to guide the planning and structure of the conference. I have summarized these goals and how they were accomplished below. I sincerely hope that they are satisfactory and are consistent with the Foundation’s scientific mission to understand the mind:
To promote consciousness research
With your support, we were able to host a diverse forum of scholars beyond the Northern California region. Ten speakers presented inspiring and thought-provoking lectures on relevant topics on the scientific investigation of consciousness. Jonathan Schooler (UC Santa Barbara), our keynote speaker, lectured on both the negative and positive aspects of mind wandering and created a framework suggesting that human creativity could arise during a mind wandering session. Paula Droege (Pennsylvania State University) presented her view on animal consciousness. Peter Tse (Dartmouth College) discussed consciousness and visual illusions whereas Stephen Macknik (SUNY Downstate) presented some of these illusions in the contexts of magic and inattentional awareness. Carly Leonard (UC Davis) and Carolyn Jennings (UC Merced) discussed the crucial distinction of attention and consciousness. Joe Dumit (UC Davis) offered a metaphor on how the mind and the brain’s circuits are arranged and Sri Nagarajan (UC San Francisco) investigated the inner working of the neural system during internally-generated actions. Lastly, Matt Traxler (UC Davis) and Eve Isham (UC Davis) presented counter evidence against two high-profile research studies. Professor Traxler’s findings challenge Daryl Bem’s work on extra sensory perception whereas Professor Isham’s findings challenge the interpretation of Benjamin Libet’s results that there is no free will. Video highlights of these lectures will be available to the public in December 2014.
In addition to presenting their talks, the speakers also met individually with local researchers to share new research ideas. To my knowledge, at least one new collaboration between two campuses resulted from these individual meetings. Perhaps we will get to hear more about their research at a future NCC conference.
To foster students and young investigators’ interests in consciousness research
In addition to being able to provide the audience with a diverse forum of consciousness scholars, we were also grateful to the Foundation for the opportunity to recognize emerging young investigators in two ways. In conjunction with the meeting, we hosted a poster competition for students and postdoctoral scholars. Entries were from regional campuses including UC Davis, UC Santa Cruz, San Francisco State, UC Berkeley and UC San Francisco. Two cash prizes, made possible by the gift from the Foundation, were given. Conference attendees chose the work by Cameron Smith (UC Santa Cruz) on “Why do people look at the right side of other’s face” for the People’s Choice award. A panel of experts awarded the Judges’ Choice to Emily Hembacher (UC Davis) for her work on “Subjective recollection guides decision-making: Evidence from a metacognitive illusion.” Moreover, NCC also hosted a pre-conference dinner for a small group of undergraduate students from my seminar on Neuromagic. At dinner, they had the chance to meet with Professor Macknik, the author of their textbook, and Mr. Rick Hill, President of the Sacramento International Brotherhood of Magicians, for a lively discussion on the relationship between psychology, neuroscience and magic. One of the students commented how grateful she was for such a “unique and unexpected experience for a Freshman.” I am glad we were able to reach out in this manner. To me, a small, but meaningful experience like this one could be a healthy seed of inspiration for the young minds.
To encourage diversity
The scientific study of consciousness is a relatively young discipline. Thus, the NCC organizing committee feels it is also an appropriate forum to welcome new, revolutionary, and at times, radical ideas drawn from a diverse community. We implemented this goal into the two modules summarized above. That is, we aimed to assemble a diverse group of senior and junior scholars for the talks, and to showcase the work of young investigators during the poster module. Furthermore, we encouraged abstract submissions from underrepresented population.
In closing, I would like to once again say thank you. Consciousness is the “last frontier” in the exploration of the mind. Although we are still far from reaching that horizon, I sincerely believe that the Foundation’s support has gotten us one step closer to our destination.