Thematic Focus for the International Conference. . .

10 May 2015  | Sangeetha Menon  | email:
The conference on “Consciousness, Cognition and Culture: Implications for the 21st century” (9-11 Dec, 2015) is the fourth international conference that the NIAS Consciousness Studies Programme will be organising. Like in all our previous conferences our vision for the conference is to bring to table the latest and most important discussions on consciousness. The spectrum of themes for the conference will cover on one side abstract and theoretical concepts, and on the other physical, biological, cultural, psychological, and philosophical perspectives. The goal is to open up a broader space to place intricate ideas that are complex by being multidisciplinary and transdisciplinary, yet pointing leading light towards understanding consciousness. Thus we will focus on the following six themes.

Cognition and Consciousness across species
While we still do not understand the nature of consciousness per se in species other than humans and higher mammals, serious attempts are now prevalent in the realm of science and allied disciplines to understand the nature of intelligence and basic cognitive capabilities across the animal world and plant species. This session will give a perspective about the evolutionary nature of mind and consciousness, while also raising questions such as “are life, cognition and consciousness are inter-related phenomena”.

Agency, Brain and Consciousness
Who is an agent? And is consciousness always intentional?
These questions bring in significant discussion on considering consciousness in the realm of content and information, and raising the minimal features for an intelligent system to be having agency and authorship. Further, issues that are important in this context are the existence of free will, biological determinism and moral agency.

Emotion, Imagination and Meditation
There is general agreement that consciousness is a complex phenomenon that has to be looked upon as other than cognitive and rational capabilities, and thus beyond the Baconian and Cartesian models of mind. One way of perceiving consciousness with its complexity is: considering consciousness as a unitary phenomenon which in its umbrella integrates deeper realms of mind such as imagination and emotion. What is the role of emotions in understanding consciousness? What is the neurological basis of meditative states? How do we understand concepts of beauty and the sublime, and their relation to mind?

Culture, Brain and Consciousness
Though one might argue that consciousness is a unitary concept, or an entity with cognitive and linguistic overload, it is impossible to place consciousness outside the larger living space of human culture. The repertoire of behavior, attitudes, and values that we behold has its origins in the cradle of culture both biological and societal. The emergence of dispositions such as empathy and altruism, or our abilities to cope with challenges, and to move on – are these networked neurologically? What are the implications of cultural neuroscience and medical humanities in the context of understanding the deeper realms of mind and consciousness?

Models of Altered Self 
Consciousness and Self are like the ​two sides of a coin. It is almost impossible to talk about consciousness without a self who is the experiencer, and who possesses self-identity accrued upon and influenced by one’s experiences, and interactions with the environment. But then how do we understand the altered self, the self that is in the fringes due to neurological and neuropsychiatric challenges. How are mind, consciousness and self related? What are the different models of self? Do they have a biological basis?

Physics, Philosophy and Reality
Most of the basic sciences have started with questions on the fundamental nature of reality. What is the stuff the universe is made of, and would that core be connected to human mind and consciousness in intricate manners that we cannot imagine? The discussion on ‘what is real’ bridges philosophical thinking and physics in exciting manners by bringing in questions about life and its origin, and the connections between the microcosm and the macrocosm.

Continuing the discussion on physics and reality there will be a separate panel discussion on 12 December morning on the same subject. For details click here.

Apart from these six thematic sessions which will also have ample time devoted for open discussion and dialogue, there will be two evening lectures, poster sessions, and also time for discussions and open forum.

Webcasts from 2012

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Why Consciousness Studies?

It is the subject for cutting egde interdisciplinary research in the 21st century with questions concerning life in general and human mind and cognition in particular.Because of developments in the areas of neurosciences, neuropsychology, neurophilosophy, relevant areas of physics and cosmology over the past 20 years, this field has become an active area of research in various countries. There have been more than a hundred books published on the related topics in recent years.

The Way Forward

Today, consciousness studies have implications in varied planes of human interactions questioning our fundamental assumptions about origins of life, nature of subjective experiences, and human wellbeing. Along side is the pertinent enquiry into the presence and nature of consciousness in non-human species.