Spiritual medicine guru Deepak Chopra and world-renowned physicist and mathematician Sir Roger Penrose will visit the University of Arizona (UA) to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Toward a Science of Consciousness, the world’s largest, longest-running interdisciplinary conference on conscious experience, the nature of existence and our place in the universe.
An estimated 800 scientists, philosophers, experientialists, artists and students from more than 60 countries are expected to take part in the weeklong gathering at the University Park Marriott Hotel near the university. The conference — taking place April 21-26 — will reflect on 20 years of progress, dilemmas, current understanding and future directions, attracting a “who’s who” of plenary speakers.
Penrose will present a keynote address on “Consciousness in the Universe,” and Chopra will be part of a panel addressing “Subjectivity and Objectivity.” Other noted speakers include: David Chalmers, Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at Australian National University and professor of philosophy at New York University; Karl Deisseroth, D.H. Chen Professor of Bioengineering and of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University; Henry Markram, professor of Neuroscience at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, founder of the Brain Mind Institute and founder and director of the Blue Brain Project; and Christof Koch, professor of Biology and Engineering at the California Institute of Technology and Chief Scientific Officer of the Allen Institute for Brain Science.
The conference will include 18 pre-conference workshops, 24 concurrent sessions, two poster sessions and two side trips to explore Tucson. Seating is limited and registration is required.
Toward a Science of Consciousness began in Tucson in 1994, organized by the University of Arizona’s Stuart Hameroff, now Professor Emeritus of Anesthesiology and Psychology and Director of the Center for Consciousness Studies, along with professors Alfred Kaszniak and the late Alwyn Scott. It returns to Tucson every other year, and convenes in locations around the world in the alternating years. The 2015 conference will be held in Helsinki, organized by philosopher Paavo Pylkkanen.
The 1994 conference was considered by many to be a landmark event. “During much of the 20th century, behaviorism dominated brain science and consciousness was a dirty word,” Hameroff recalled.
“In the late 1980s, scientists like Sir Roger Penrose and Francis Crick wrote books about consciousness, and the topic became scientifically acceptable,” he said. “But prior to 1994 there were only focused conferences – for example on philosophy of mind, Hindu spiritual approaches, neuroscience or artificial intelligence. Our idea was to bring these under one umbrella, and it worked. The Internet had just appeared and people came from everywhere, from all sorts of disciplines.”
A highlight of the 1994 conference was a talk by then-unknown philosopher David Chalmers. “The first morning was philosophy; the first two talks were really boring and the audience grew restless. Then Chalmers took the stage with shoulder-length hair, strutting like Mick Jagger,” Hameroff recalled.
“Chalmers talked about how problems like memory, learning, attention and behavior were relatively easy compared to the really ‘hard problem’ of how and why we have conscious experience,” Hameroff said. “We could have been nonconscious, robot-like ‘zombies’ with no inner life. How and why do we have feelings and awareness? That was the ‘hard problem.'”
“At that moment,” Hameroff said, “we knew why we were there.”
To register and learn more about Toward a Science of Consciousness, visit www.consciousness.arizona.edu