Cognition Lunch Salon

YHouse is organizing a winter series of informal Lunch Salon events at the Institute for Advanced Study, at 1 Einstein Drive, Princeton, NJ.

Due to the limited space in the seminar room, we may not be able to seat everybody at any given time. If you have not participated yet, and would like to do so, please send an email to Piet Hut at piet@ias.edu.

The events were held on Thursdays during September, October and November 2016, and will continue during February and March 2017.  They will feature a short talk followed by ample discussion time.

Time: Thursdays, 12:30
Host: Program in Interdisciplinary Studies
Location: Institute for Advanced Study, West Building Seminar Room, 2nd floor

Guests are invited to arrive at or after 12:00, to have time to go through the Dining Hall line, and bring their lunch to the meeting room on the second floor.  We will start with a short presentation at 12:30, followed by a longer discussion until 13:30.  Typically some of the participants will then continue talking in the main Dining Hall area.

Line up

Thursday, February 9, 2017: Erik Hoel, Columbia University (cancelled because of inclement weather)
Thursday, February 16, 2017: Eiko Ikegami, New School for Social Research
Thursday, February 23, 2017: Michael Solomon, RWJ Barnabas University Hospital Bioethics Committee & Medical Society of New Jersey Bioethics Committee
Thursday, March 2, 2017: Nicolaas Rupke, Institute for Advanced Study
Thursday, March 9, 2017: Susan Schneider, University of Connecticut/Yale University and Ed Turner, Princeton University
Thursday, March 16, 2017: John Horgan, Director, Center for Science Writings, Stevens Institute of Technology
Thursday, March 23, 2017: Olaf Witkowski, Earth-Life Science Institute, Tokyo Institute of Technology
Thursday, March 30, 2017: David Fergusson, University of Edinburgh

Past events

Thursday, November 17, 2016: Open Discussion about YHouse
Thursday, September 15: Ed Turner, Princeton University
Thursday, September 22: Adele Goldberg, Princeton University
Thursday, September 29: Erik Hoel, Columbia University
Thursday, October 6: Mark Johnston, Princeton University
Thursday, October 13: Kirti Ranchod, Johannesburg, South Africa
Thursday, October 20: Michael Solomon, RWJ Barnabas University Hospital Bioethics Committee & Medical Society of New Jersey Bioethics Committee
Thursday, October 27: Olaf Witkowski, Earth-Life Science Institute, Tokyo Institute of Technology
Thursday, November 3: Susan Schneider, University of Connecticut/Yale University
Thursday, November 10: Hanako Ricciardi, Earth-Life Science Institute, Tokyo Institute for Technology, Tokyo, Japan

Talk abstracts


Thursday, September 15

Speaker: Ed Turner, Princeton University
Title: Sending nanocraft and perhaps minds to nearby stars in this century

Abstract: An ambitious program to send tiny (gram scale) nanocraft to nearby stars at speeds of an appreciable fraction of the speed of light by combining rapidly advancing technologies in micro-electronics, nano-technology and photonics (lasers) has received generous private funding and is now in progress. The basic technological scheme and plan will be sketched out and a speculation on the possible nature of the payloads that might first cross interstellar space will be presented.

Participants:
Ed Turner, Princeton University
Michael Solomon, Chair Robert Wood Johnson Barnabas University Hospital Bioethics Committee and Co-Chair Medical Society of New Jersey Bioethics Committee
Ayako Fukui, Araya BI
Divya Bhardwaj, New School
Linda Cooper, Institute for Advanced Study
Bob MacLennan
Johnny Bontemps, science writer
Olaf Witkowski, Earth-Life Science Institute
Piet Hut, Institute for Advanced Study

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Thursday, September 22

Speaker: Adele Goldberg, Princeton University
Title: Language conveys meaning in ways we don’t consciously recognize

Abstract: While being able to converse about a topic is viewed as quintessential evidence of our being conscious of that topic, a good part of our interpretation of language is opaque to our conscious mind. Two different types of examples will be offered: conventional metaphors (e.g., food for thought), and meaningful grammatical patterns, with evidence provided from fMRI data and from implicit priming.

Participants:
Ed Turner, Princeton University
Michael Solomon, Chair Robert Wood Johnson Barnabas University Hospital Bioethics Committee and Co-Chair Medical Society of New Jersey Bioethics Committee
Olaf Witkowski, Earth-Life Science Institute
Piet Hut, Institute for Advanced Study
Susan Schneider, The University of Connecticut
Tijmen Lansdaal, University of Amsterdam


Thursday, September 29

Speaker: Erik Hoel, Columbia University
Title: Fiction as a window into consciousness

Abstract: What is the place of the novel in the age of the iPad? Do writers currently suffer from “HBO anxiety?” I’ve tried to bring in the scientific issues around consciousness in a way that illuminates this question, and maybe help answer an age-old one: what is fiction is for? The essay my talk is based on was itself was a homage/extension of David Foster Wallace’s 1993 essay on the relationship between television and fiction, “*E Unibus Pluram*.” There he explored how fiction is a cure for loneliness. But how exactly does fiction cure loneliness? My answer is that it solves what philosophers have historically called “the problem of other minds.” In a world where mind has a vanishing hold as an explanatory domain, novels are therefore irreplaceable as a medium.

Participants:
Ayako Fukui, Araya BI Tokyo
David Fergusson, New College in the University of Edinburgh
Ed Turner, Princeton University
Erik Hoel, Columbia University
Linda Cooper, Institute for Advanced Study
Michael Rassias, ETH Zurich
Michael Solomon, RWJ Barnabas University Hospital & Medical Society of New Jersey
Olaf Witkowski, Earth-Life Science Institute
Piet Hut, Institute for Advanced Study
Will Storrar, Center of Theological Inquiry


Thursday, October 6

Speaker: Mark Johnston, Princeton University
Title: Visual Consciousness and a New Argument for Dualism

Abstract: The real push toward dualism that arises from the examination of visual consciousness does not arise from the existence of visual qualia. For there is no good sense in which such qualia are mental; talk of mental qualia is a kind of category mistake, albeit widespread in discussions of consciousness. The real push towards dualism has to do with the relation we bear to such qualia; specifically that visual awareness of them can provide us with novel depictive knowledge, i.e. a kind of know how which seems grounded in some degree of experiential revelation of the nature of these qualities. It is the relation of revelation which is not reducible to basic physical relations by way of physicalistically acceptable modes of combination.


Thursday, October 13

Speaker: Kirti Ranchod, Union Hospital Alberton Gauteng, Johannesburg, South Africa
Title: The localization of Consciousness

Abstract: Can the pineal gland be the seat of consciousness? In Hindu Yogic
texts the area of the pineal gland is important in consciousness.
In western medicine, the pineal gland is known to be important in
sleep-wake cycles. The discussion will focus on the differences,
possible similarities and ideas on further exploration.


Thursday, October 20

Speaker: Michael Solomon, Chair Robert Wood Johnson Barnabas University Hospital Bioethics Committee and Co-Chair Medical Society of New Jersey Bioethics Committee
Title: Determination of Death by Cessation of Whole Brain Function

Abstract: 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. Conclusions.


Thursday, October 27

Speaker: Olaf Witkowski, Earth-Life Science Institute, Tokyo Institute of Technology
Title: The Transition to Cognitive Life

Abstract: After life originated on Earth, the next important transition was the emergence of cognitive life, in which simple organisms self-organized into dynamical networks to compress and express complex information in the environment about their own preservation. I will present how we can understand cognition as information flows between single organisms, implementing a dynamical way to compress relevant information for their own survival, enabling them to make predictions about their environment on much shorter timescales than Darwinian evolution.


Thursday, November 3

Speaker: Susan Schneider, University of Connecticut, Yale University, Center of Theological Inquiry in Princeton
Title: How the Mathematical Nature of Physics Undermines Physicalism

Abstract: Fundamental physics (e.g., string theory, quantum mechanics) is highly mathematical. Mathematical entities purport to be abstract―they purport to be non-spatial, atemporal, immutable, acausal and non-mental. (Whether they truly are abstract is a matter of debate, of course.) “Physicalism” (a doctrine in philosophy), to a first approximation, holds that everything is physical, or is composed of physical entities. As such, physicalism is a metaphysical hypothesis about the fundamental nature of reality. Given this, in this talk, I urge that it is reasonable to ask the physicalist to inquire into the nature of mathematical entities, for they are doing heavy lifting in the physicalist’s theory, describing and identifying the fundamental physical entities that everything that exists is said to reduce to. I then ask whether the physicalist has the resources to provide a satisfying account of the nature of these mathematical entities, given existing work in philosophy of mathematics she would likely draw from. And the answer will be: she does not. I then argue that this deflates the physicalist program: physicalism lacks the traditional advantages of being the most economical theory, and having a superior approach to causation, relative to certain competing theories. *My conclusion is that conscious awareness is not a physical phenomenon.*


Thursday, November 10

Speaker: Hanako Ricciardi, Earth-Life Science Institute, Tokyo Institute for Technology, Tokyo, Japan
Title: From the front lines of bureaucratic reform at a Japanese university: Awareness as key

Abstract:
The World Premier International Research Center Initiative (WPI) of the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology is one way in which the Japanese government attempts to bring reform to the Japanese national universities’ ways of supporting research. The Earth-Life Science Institute (ELSI), a WPI center, acts as a kind of ‘free-trade zone’ or a trojan horse within its host university, Tokyo Institute of Technology.

As an English-language institute with 40% of its researchers being non Japanese and tackling the fundamental question of life’s origins, we are, by character, multi-cultural and multidisciplinary. In addition to the challenges of communicating across such differences, we are mandated to build an organization best able to support and foster research midst an insular and highly bureaucratic environment.

My role at ELSI is best described as watch dog, sheep dog, and rescue dog of all issues relating to the internationalization of the institute. How do we explore and navigate change that is transformative to ingrained mind sets and systems? From tales of trials and tribulations, from the sublime to the ridiculous, real progress seems to begin with awareness.


Thursday, November 17

Title: Open Discussion about YHouse

Abstract:
During the two months that have passed since the first event that was organized by YHouse, already more than thirty events have been held.  This is a good time to look back and discuss the impact that these events have made, to evaluate what we have learned, and to explore natural opportunities of moving forwards.

This will be our last Thursday lunch this semester. We will start up again in February 2017.


Thursday, February 9, 2017

Speaker: Erik Hoel, Columbia University
Title: When the map is better than the territory

(NOTE: this talk was cancelled because of inclement weather)

Abstract: It has long been thought that while higher scale (macro) descriptions of systems may be useful to observers, they are at best a compression and at worse leave out critical information. However, the theory of causal emergence shows that a macro model of a system (a map) can be more informative than a fully detailed model of the system (the territory). While causal emergence may at first glance seem counterintuitive or impossible, this paper actually grounds the phenomenon in a classic concept from information theory: Shannon’s discovery of the channel capacity. I identify how systems have a particular causal capacity, and that different causal models of those systems take advantage of that capacity to various degrees. For some systems, only macroscale causal models use the full causal capacity. Such macroscale causal models can either be coarse-grains, or may leave variables and states out of the model (exogenous) in various ways, which can improve the model’s efficacy and its informativeness via the same mathematical principles of how error-correcting codes take advantage of an information channel’s capacity. This provides a general framework for understanding why universal reductionism fails: because the causal structure of some systems cannot be fully captured by even the most detailed microscopic model.


Thursday, February 16, 2017

Speaker: Eiko Ikegami, New School for Social Research
Title: Avatars on the Spectrum: Rashomon, and the Mysteries of Autistic Identities

Abstract:  My talk will be a partial report of the product of an unexpected research detour, an eye opening that formed me to go beyond my taken for granted perception and feeling as a “neuro-typical”, a term an autistic person might use to describe me. It was through an accidental encounter with the intense world of autistic adults that my eyes were opened, in an unusual meeting place, on the corners and streets of virtual neighborhoods in Second Life. This was a puzzling phenomenon. Autistic people are known to have various difficulties in communicating with others. But in a virtual world, they formed a long lasting self-support group where they meet for two hours every week, for the last six or seven years. The first-person narratives of autistic experiences are different from our social and academic conceptions of people with Autistic Spectrum Disorder. I will discuss what I have learned by observing avatars on the spectrum for the last  five years, which reminds me of Rashomon, a classic Japanese movie by Kurosawa.

Participants:
David Fergusson, New College in the University of Edinburgh
Michael Solomon, RWJ Barnabas University Hospital & Medical Society of New Jersey
Olaf Witkowski, Earth-Life Science Institute
Jeff Ames, Rutgers University
Monica Manolescu, Univesity of Strasbourg
Nicolaas Rupke, Institute for Advanced Study
Susan Schneider, The University of Connecticut
Ayako Fukui, Araya Brain Imaging Tokyo
Yuko Ishihara, University of Copenhagen
Piet Hut, Institute for Advanced Study
Eiko Ikegami, New School of Social Research


Thursday, February 23, 2017

Speaker: Michael Solomon, RWJ Barnabas University Hospital Bioethics Committee & Medical Society of New Jersey Bioethics Committee
Title: The moral standing of machines that can think

Abstract: One of the roles of Bioethics is to anticipate ethical issues before they arise and to try to apply existing ethical considerations to these new issues. i.e. Don’t wait for someone to clone a sheep before considering the implications of genetic engineering. The coming singularity, when AI surpasses human capacity, is one such issue. I will try to unpack what we mean by Moral Standing, i.e. when something’s interests must be considered as having intrinsic worth. I will discuss what Moral Standing provides to an entity and then what provides Moral Standing to an entity. We will consider whether Consciousness demands Moral Standing. We will then consider three aspects of consciousness, the I/Me personal experience, Awareness as in Sentience, and Self Awareness. I will then review aspects of neuro anatomy and physiology relevant to distinguishing sensation and perception, and focus on the HeteroModal Cortex specifically as the locus for how the human brain integrates sensory input to create a coherent model of the world. If Consciousness is truly an emergent process of neural function, and if a machine can duplicate this model of information processing, then will it be necessary to attribute Moral Standing to such a machine? Whether we will ever be able to know the Subjective Quality of that processing experienced by a thinking machine (any better than we can for another human person) remains unknown.

Participants:
David Fergusson, New College in the University of Edinburgh
Michael Solomon, RWJ Barnabas University Hospital & Medical Society of New Jersey
Olaf Witkowski, Earth-Life Science Institute
Monica Manolescu, Univesity of Strasbourg
Susan Schneider, The University of Connecticut
Ed Turner, Princeton University
Ayako Fukui, Araya Brain Imaging Tokyo
Yuko Ishihara, University of Copenhagen
Piet Hut, Institute for Advanced Study
Gene Miller, New York University


Thursday, March 2, 2017

Speaker: Nicolaas Rupke, Institute for Advanced Study
Title: Non-Darwinian evolution theory

Abstract:  A Humboldtian, more comprehensive approach to evolutionary biology than Darwin’s, took shape during the period 1790s till 1940s. Following WW II, the theory was by and large abandoned and Darwinism, in the form of the New Synthesis, became “the only game in town.” This has led to an increase in the number of cognitive dissonance instances among those who work with evolution theory. I take stock of Humboldt’s structuralist heritage, and bring a range of non-Darwinian research and dissenting views together under the umbrella of the Humboldtian viewpoint. Moreover, in producing a historico-scientific narrative of the non-Darwinian alternative, I trace the theory back to its early, politically liberal roots, recovering the memory of its main representatives, while adding to conceptual clarity and present-day cogency.


Thursday, March 9, 2017

Speaker: Susan Schneider, University of Connecticut/Yale University and Ed Turner, Princeton University
Title: A Behavioral Test for Consciousness In Other Minds

Abstract: Many AI researchers suspect that artificial general intelligence (AGI) will be devised within the next decade or so.  Will these sophisticated creations be conscious beings, having experiences?  It is important to consider this issue, for the presence of consciousness or sentience in a being suggests it deserves special ethical consideration.  Yet AI consciousness is tricky, we believe: there are many reasons to question whether something made of a different, non-neural, substrate can be conscious. Not all sophisticated information processing systems need to be conscious, and superintelligent AI could outmode consciousness in any case. So today,we propose a test for AI consciousness, and explore its possible application to sophisticated biological intelligences as well.


Thursday, March 16, 2017

Speaker: John Horgan, Director, Center for Science Writings, Stevens Institute of Technology
Title: The Mind-Body Problem and Scientific Regress

Abstract: 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 recent research into the problem. Are scientists progressing toward a solution, or do their results bolster the so-called “mysterian” position that the mind-body problem is unsolvable?


Thursday, March 23, 2017

Speaker: Olaf Witkowski, Earth-Life Science Institute, Tokyo Institute of Technology
Title: Characterizing Cognition as Information Flows

Abstract: This talk will be given by Dr. Olaf Witkowski, a research scientist from the Earth-Life Science Institute, in Tokyo. Information’s substrate-independence and interoperability property makes possible symbolic representations such as the genetic code, base upon which life was able to develop, eventually leading to human societies’ complex cognitive capabilities, such as language, science and technology. In this talk, Dr. Witkowski will argue cognition to be the informational software to life’s physical hardware. If life can be formulated computationally to be the search for sources of free energy in an environment in order to maintain its own existence, then cognition is better understood as finding efficient encodings and algorithms to make this search probable to succeed. Cognition then becomes the “abstract computation of life”, with the purpose to make the unlikely likely for the sake of survival. We will show that it can be quantified by well known as well as new computational tools at the intersection of artificial life, information theory and machine learning.


Thursday, March30, 2017

Speaker: David Fergusson
Title: Psychotherapy and the self in wartime Edinburgh

Abstract: My project explores developments in psychotherapy with shell-shocked soldiers at Craiglockhart War Hospital (1916-19) in Edinburgh. Through Pat Barker’s 1991 novel (and the film) Regeneration, the story of Siegfried Sassoon and his encounters with Rivers, his psychiatrist, and Owen, a younger war poet, is well known. But the work of other key practitioners and the wider significance of their experimental therapeutic methods deserves further attention during the centenary commemorations.