Friday, March 14, 2014

Welcome and summary

Thanks and welcome 

The theme of this year’s conference is “Foundations of Mind: Cognition & Consciousness”. There is a clear implication that these two can be distinguished, an implication that puts clear blue water between this conference and others apparently on the same theme.

This distinction can be found as far back as 200 AD with Alexander's interpretation of Aristotle's “common sense” as “that which perceives”, an interpretation echoed in Plotinus with his theory of the “inner sense”. While this move at first sight might seem to remove the magic from mental function, in fact it seems to me to be salutary. In particular, splitting the act of awareness from the contents presented to awareness allows a more detailed examination of these contents per se.

And so the panels we have examine this. We will learn in the first panel about the reconstruction of this distinction in thinkers such as Gurdjieff; we will also hear about the notion of “fine tuning” in modern cosmology, an area in many ways invented by the Belgian priest and physicist Georges Le Maitre. We then go on to examine which neuroscience methods can in fact characterize content in ways that are formally sufficient. This leads to the issue of whether there is not a propoer way to “reduce” one discipline to an other.

The dichotomy between content and perception continues in language, where clearly attention has a valuable information-processing role to play. At the ultimate metaphysical and indeed ontological level of analysis, we find that there is an as yet unresolved issue about how the act of observation can affect an apparently objective state of affairs.

Of course, decoherence theory has established that observation may not be necessary, and the epistemological interpretation of QM withholds belief in our ability cognitively to penetrate nature at this level. Yet that interpretation of QM is precisely the “weasel words” with which Osiander introduced “De Revoltionibis” by Copernicus.

Consequently, among the many fine submissions we got for review, we will include in the program here speculative interpretations of Q entanglement and the links with subjective experience.

We have an extremely diverse group of presenters, diverse not just in the range of subjects in which they are expert but in their ethnic and political affiliation. I am glad to say that we have Irish people from both sides of the main religious divide there.(1) In the old story, at the summit of the mountain we are all wearing the same kit, and we are all mountaineers as we scale the highest heights. I wish everybody here a great conference.
(1) The person from the unionist tradition was the only speaker who failed to show up; three of those who did are over 75 years of age


1.Neuroscience has fared at least as badly as philosophy in explaining
the mind. We have no credible account of any symbols emerging from
neural impulse; we have not developed tools to monitor electrical
junctions; indeed the current gargantuan Markram/Koch efforts are
doomed as they look at chemical synapses in the absence of theory
2.There is a way out here; dynamical systems theory, modulation of
carrier waves, the harmonic oscillator as central, honouring the
in-principle arguments that exist about tensors
3.Von Neumann's arguments in his "Grundlagen" still hold up.
4.Linguistics and other symbol systems need to be honoured
5.We need physicists!
6.Absent any input from extravagantly-funded Neuroscience, it is
intellectually responsible to attend to psychological and indeed
spiritual accounts that are rooted in best practise from other
7.The so-called "hard problem" (considered as linking neural event and
subjective experience a la John Locke) is simply nonsense and has
retarded the area
8.Finally, we must find a way of funding and organizing courses and
research away from the current PI model. As it happens, I paid for
this conference myself (and, given the reaction, do not regret doing

Sean O Nuallain