Consciousness Club NYC

YHouse invites you to the Consciousness Club, a study group to promote broadly transdisciplinary discussions on the neural and computational bases of consciousness, and how these concepts can be applied to other fields of interest. Our weekly meetings are for you if you are into awareness, science, technology, philosophy, art and design.


For more info and meeting schedule, check out our Facebook page, or tune in our Twitter updates.

Upcoming Meetings

Events will be held bi-weekly in Spring 2017 at WeWork Park South 10th Floor Lounge (entrance at 110 E. 28th Street), starting on Wednesday, February 8, 2017 at 6pm. Although the meetings are still open to all, we are encouraging technical and scientific discussions for this series of meetings.

[CC #19] Wednesday, 5/3 at 6pm, “Learning About the Brain and Brain-Inspired Learning” with Dr. Irina Rish (AI Foundations Lab, IBM T.J. Watson Research) and GoodAI. Registration required.

Quantifying mental states and identifying statistical biomarkers of mental disorders from neuroimaging data is an exciting and rapidly growing research area at the intersection of neuroscience and machine learning, with the particular focus on interpretability and reproducibility of learned models. We will discuss promises and limitations of machine-learning methods in applications involving fMRI and EEG data; moreover, we will summarize some directions related to mental state inference “beyond the scanner,” involving speech and wearable sensors, with applications ranging from clinical settings (“computational psychiatry”) to everyday life (“augmented human”).

Finally, besides the above “AI to Brain” direction, we will discuss “Brain to AI,” namely, borrowing ideas from neuroscience to improve machine learning, with specific focus on adult neurogenesis and online model adaptation in representation learning.

In this meetup, Dr. Rish will explore the intersection of neuroscience and machine learning, and a general artificial intelligence R&D company GoodAI will introduce its $5M General AI Challenge, aiming to tackle crucial research problems in human-level AI development.

[CC #20] Wednesday, 5/17 at 6pm, “Emergence, free will, and causal responsibility” with Dr. Erik P. Hoel (Columbia University). Registration required.

Any human action or decision can be described at a micro-scale of atoms obeying mindless and simple physical laws. How can any macro-scale, including that of our own choices, carry any causal responsibility if this is true? A solution is offered via the emergence of macro-scale causal structure, which reveals that in certain system architectures causal responsibility cannot belong solely to the micro-scale.


Past meetings

[CC #18] Wednesday, 4/19 at 6pm, “Creating Future Reality: Harry Potter meets Harold and the Purple Crayon” with Dr. Ken Perlin (Future Reality Lab, New York University). Registration required.

These last few years have seen renewed interest in virtual reality. Yet when given the choice, people prefer to be physically together, whether seeing a movie or play, going to a music concert, dining at a restaurant, watching sports, or just hanging out over a beer. At the NYU Future Reality Lab we are exploring how people in the future will use techniques borrowed from virtual reality to better communicate and interact with each other when they are in the same physical space. We envision the resulting future as a place where language itself will take on new and rich visual dimensions, a sort of combination of Harry Potter and Harold and the Purple Crayon.

[CC #17] Wednesday, 4/5 at 6pm, “Artificial General Intelligence through Games” with Dr. Julian Togelius (Game Innovation Lab, New York University) and GoodAI. Registration required. *The video of this talk is available here.

Games, particularly video games, are increasingly used to test artificial intelligence. But what sort of intelligence is it that we want to develop? It appears to be possible to play individual games very well without actually being intelligent. Would general video game playing, where you develop agents that can play any game, lead us to general intelligence? In that case, which type of general intelligence?

In this meetup, Dr. Togelius explored the role of vieo games in developing general intelligence, and a general artificial intelligence R&D company GoodAI introduced its $5M General AI Challenge, aiming to tackle crucial research problems in human-level AI development.

[CC #16] Wednesday, 3/22 at 6pm, “Sleep paralysis: an overlap between sleeping and waking mind” with Dr. Liza Solomonova (Dream and Nightmare Laboratory, University of Montreal). Registration required.

Sleep paralysis is a unique phenomenon for the study of awareness, since it effectively combines dreaming and waking mind in a bizarre and often unsettling way. It is a temporary period of immobility between sleeping and waking that can be accompanied by vivid sensory experiences in any modality: visual, auditory, tactile, and a feeling of presence of someone or something sentient in the vicinity of the dreamer. While most episodes are characterized by intense fear and experience of mortal danger, some, including out of body experiences, can be positive and allow for lucidity and insight into how the mind works. In this talk Dr. Solomonova will outline the phenomenology of sleep paralysis and discuss the role of awareness and culture in its interpretation and experience.

[CC #15] Wednesday, 3/8 at 6pm, “The Mind-Body Problem: The More Theories the Better?” with Dr. John Horgan (Center for Science Writings at Stevens Institute of Technology). Registration required.

The mind-body problem, which considers how matter generates consciousness, morality and meaning, is the deepest of all mysteries. In this talk, science journalist John Horgan will review research into the problem, which he has been tracking for 25 years. Rather than converging on a single, compelling paradigm, scientists are proposing a bewildering variety of “solutions” to the mind-body problem, including ones that abandon conventional materialism. Horgan, who directs the Center for Science Writings at Stevens Institute of Technology, will offer an upbeat analysis of the ongoing paradigm explosion.

[CC #14] Wednesday, 2/22 at 6pm, “Towards General Artificial Intelligence” with Dr. Tomas Mikolov (Facebook) and GoodAIRegistration required.

There is a quickly growing interest in AI in the recent years. The ultimate goal for many researchers is to develop a system that could perform as well as humans in a broad set of tasks, without having to be manually programmed for each. However, this so-called ‘general AI’ still seems to be a distant dream, and maybe all the recent successful stories are examples of narrow AI that can perform only a single task.

In this meetup, Dr. Mikolov discussed “Communication-based General Artificial Intelligence,” and a general artificial intelligence R&D company GoodAI introduced its $5M General AI Challenge, aiming to tackle crucial research problems in human-level AI development.

[CC #13] Wednesday, 2/8 at 6pm, “A Systems Approach to Self” with Dr. Eran Agmon (Columbia University). Registration required.

Selves are not mere aggregates of parts, nor are they but parts of a larger whole. They are in themselves integrated wholes that interact adaptively within an environment. In this talk, Dr. Agmon argued for a systems approach of selves – one which accounts for how selves emerge from the world and then change the world to fit their needs.

[CC #12] Wednesday, 12/21 at 6pm, “How Weird Could Life and Consciousness Get?,” with Dr. Caleb Scharf (Director of Astrobiology, Columbia University). Meeting place: City Crab Shack.

If life can be constructed from different building blocks – from inorganic chemistry to software, or even more exotic options – what are the implications for both hyper-evolved living systems and consciousness? How might we test some of these speculative possibilities? 

[CC #11] Wednesday, 12/14 at 6pm, “Determination of Death by Cessation of Whole Brain Function,” with Dr. Michael Solomon (RWJ Barnabas University Hospital & Medical Society of New Jersey Bioethics Committee). Meeting place: City Crab Shack.

We approach the following questions: When are you dead? Why it’s not so easy to tell. How to determine death? A brief legal history, how New Jersey is unique, and relevant recent cases. Death and organ transplantation. Which conclusions can we draw?

[CC #10] Wednesday, 12/7 at 6pm, “The possibility of you” with Dr.  William Chang (Albert Einstein College of Medicine). Meeting place: City Crab Shack.

How do biological entities from enzymes to brains achieve both coherence and diversity of behavior? Riffing on evolutionary theory and speculating on the properties of thought.

[CC #9] Wednesday, 11/30 at 7pm, Special Edition of the Consciousness Club: First Event of the “Mind’s Eye” Art-Science Series, in partnership with SciArt Center. This first event featured two artists and a scientist, with a panel discussion moderated by Nadja Oertelt. Meeting place: 61 Local (61 Bergen St, Brooklyn) in a private room upstairs of the bar.

How does awareness arise? Defined as knowledge or perception of a situation or fact, awareness plays a large role in our conscious and unconscious lives. From the neurobiological to the psychological, awareness spans the micro and macro levels of our human existence.

An evening of cross-disciplinary conversation as we discussed awareness as interpreted and researched by artists and scientists: the evening consisted of three presentations followed by a panel discussion. We then opened up for questions from the audience.

No meeting on Wednesday, 11/23.

[CC #8] Wednesday, 11/16 at 6pm, “Awareness and the Biosphere”, with Dr. Donato Giovanelli (ELSI/Rutgers). Meeting place: Bernheim & Schwartz.

[CC #7] Wednesday, 11/9 at 6pm, on the “Global Catastrophe and the Future of Consciousness,” with Dr. Seth D. Baum. Meeting place: VBar St. Marks.

It is proposed that we should seek to fill the universe with happy consciousness. But first, we must prevent civilization-ending global catastrophe. We discussed with Seth Baum, Director of the Global Catastrophic Risk Institute and affiliated researcher at the Center for Research on Environmental Decisions at Columbia University.

[CC #6] Wednesday, 11/2 at 6pm, on the “Biological Foundations of Agency,” by Dr. Eran Agmon (Columbia University). Meeting place: City Crab Shack.

Agents are of central importance to cognitive science, but research usually takes them as pre-given and proceeds to study some of their particular aspects, often without awareness of or a definite answer to the question, “what is an agent?” In order to get a handle on this question, it is useful to consider what might be considered minimal examples of agency — protocells that maintain their individuality by interacting adaptively with their environment. Dr Agmon will describe a computational method for studying protocells, and the consequences of these results on the foundation of cognitive science. Details & RSVP here.

[CC #5] Wednesday, 10/26 at 6pm, on “How can conceptual understanding help both procedural mastery and creative programming?” at Le Midi.

Rather than teaching standard math procedures in schools, which would lead students to apply learned methods like robots, we want to teach them to be learn and adapt. A conceptual understanding of the matter involves creative thinking, and can lead to much more sophisticated algorithms, which then can be used in the programming world. Lothar Troeller, an unconventional math coach and middle/high school/special education teacher, will demonstrate this paradigm on how to teach human computing in an unconventional way. The following debate will be moderated by Eli Vovsha.

[CC #4] Wednesday, 10/19 at 6pm, at Cloud Social (Rooftop of Nyma Hotel 6 West 32nd Street, 17th Floor). The topic of discussion was “Who Needs Grounding? Frameworks and Worldviews”.

We are all grounded somewhere: in our homes, communities, language, culture, etc. A scientist sees the world differently from an artist because the scientist is grounded in specific meaningful contexts that are rather different from that of the artist. Each of us has multiple ways in which we take a stand, grounding ourselves within various frameworks — which in turn define who we are: how others see us, and how we see ourselves. Astrophysicist Piet Hut (IAS, Princeton) and philosopher Yuko Ishihara (Center for Subjectivity Research, Copenhagen) led an open-ended discussion about us & our grounds.

13391460_346412635696218_2116510472150353144_o[CC #3] The third meeting, on Wed, 10/12, was on “AlphaGo & the Future of AI” about the technological implications of AlphaGo for recent machine learning in the future.

Recent progress in machine learning has changed the view of how AI is going to affect human society. The discussion will be led by Dr. Olaf Witkowski, research scientist from Tokyo Tech and the Institute for Advanced Study, who is also a dan-level Go player.
[CC #2] The second meeting was on “Creativity in Chess,” with International Chess Master Eli Vovsha, on Wed, 10/5 at 7pm, at Space Nabi.

Can creative thinking be taught? We make a somewhat dubious argument that in chess it can.
1. We explain why chess is a suitable application.
2. We suggest that the creative thinking process can be defined.
3. We describe a formal paradigm for teaching.
4. We attempt to connect #2 and #3.

[CC #1] The first meeting was about “Artificial Consciousness,” a discussion with Dr. Ryota Kanai, on Wed, 9/21 at 7pm, at the Wined Up Wine Bar (913 Broadway, 2nd floor).