Towards some Reflections on the Tucson Conferences

As anyone who is even remotely interested in consciousness probably already knows, we are coming up on the big 20th Anniversary Towards a Science of Consciousness Conference in Tucson Arizona. Sadly I am not able to make it this year (due mostly to financial reasons) but I thought I would take a moment to reflect on my involvement with this conference.

I transferred to San Francisco State University in the Spring of 1997. I chose SF State over another college that had an interdisciplinary Cognitive Science program (I think it was Stanislaus, but I really can’t remember) mostly because I loved the city and was thrilled at the chance to set up shop in the Bay Area. I got there and had some adventures, taking Philosophy of Language with Kent Bach, which I really liked (some of the ideas I had in that semester eventually made it into my dissertation). But what really got me was the Philosophy of Mind course I took in the Spring of 1998 (also with Kent Bach), the same semester I was taking a Cognitive Science course. It was in those courses that I met someone who first mentioned the Tucson conference. I remember going home and using the dial-up modem (!!!!) to go online and look into this conference. It seemed really exciting (I also became aware of the Mind and Language seminar at NYU, which I really wanted to be a part of!).

I earned my Bachelors degree in 2000 and applied to exactly two graduate schools, which were NYU and Rutgers. I figured that if I was going to leave California it would be to go study consciousness and mind where it seemed to be flourishing. When I was rejected from both (no surprises there though I did get an offer from the Tisch School of NYU) I entered the graduate program at SFSU that same year. I started working with Mark Geisler in the psychology department and presented at my first professional conference with his lab (the Society for Psychophysical Research in Montreal, on a side note that conference was in October 2001, right during the Anthrax scare…not a good time to be flying around!!). Me in Tucson copy I suggested that we submit to the Tucson conference in Spring of 2002 and we did. Our lab had two posters at that conference. Mine was “EEG Response to Chromatic and Achromatic Hermann Grid Illusions” where I tried to show that the Herman Grid illusion was at least partially due to activity in V1. It was a great conference, and I remember being in one of the sessions, listening to a talk on how the brain processes information that allows a baseball player to catch a ball and the ways in which these players get it wrong when they talk about it. I thought to myself that it would be really cool to give a talk at this conference some day.

I came back to Tucson in 2006 to realize that goal and give my talk ‘What is a Brain State?’. My session was chaired by Hakwan Lau and I was exceedingly nervous. Even though I had presented at conferences before this was my first presentation in front of a significant number of people and I remember looking out at the audience and feeling a bit nauseated. Even so it was a lot of fun and I had some really good discussions with people afterwards.

I purchased the audio recording of my presentation and then dubbed it over a really bad video of the powerpoint slides so that you can relive this classic moment in Tucson history! Can you count all of the ‘ums’? I lose track…

I came back in 2008 to present “HOT Implies PAM: Why Higher-Order Theories of Consciousness are Committed to a Phenomenal Aspect for all Mental States, even Beliefs” which was less fun for me. My talk was at the end of the session and by the time it was my turn there was only 10 minutes left in the session (barely even enough time to get through the title!). For me it was a lot of flying (which I hate/am deathly afraid of) and a lot of money (which I don’t have and am not reimbursed for) and I thought it was not worth it at all. I remember drunkenly yelling at Uriah Kriegel that I thought that there was not very much time for discussion during the conference and that the conference should be about ideas and discussion rather than profit. Of course I found out how naive that was. The conference is not ‘for profit’ in any serious sense of that word and the format employed is fairly standard for science-based conferences. But it was partially because of my dissatisfaction with my experience that year that I started the Online Consciousness Conference in the summer of 2008.

The next time I was in Tucson was in 2012 when I presented “The 2D Argument Against Non-Materialism“. This was a very different experience. By this time I knew most of the people at the conference, including David Chalmers, and even worse most of them knew me! Perhaps Ironically I missed the days when I could slink into the back of a talk unnoticed by anyone and disappear right afterwards without a trace. I mean, there are worse things than hanging with cool and interesting people and talking about consciousness but it did bring home how much things have changed for me in the last 15 years!

photo by Tony Cheng

photo by Tony Cheng

Here’s to 20 more years!

Zombies vs Shombies

Richard Marshall, a writer for 3am Magazine, has been interviewing philosophers. After interviewing a long list of distinguished philosophers, including Peter Carruthers, Josh Knobe, Brian Leiter, Alex Rosenberg, Eric Schwitzgebel, Jason Stanley, Alfred Mele, Graham Priest, Kit Fine, Patricia Churchland, Eric Olson, Michael Lynch, Pete Mandik, Eddy Nahmais, J.C. Beal, Sarah Sawyer, Gila Sher, Cecile Fabre, Christine Korsgaard, among others, they seem to be scraping the bottom of the barrel, since they just published my interview. I had a great time engaging in some Existential Psychoanalysis of myself!

Commercial Free Philosophy?

I recently cam across Rick Grush’s Commercial Free Philosophy site, a movement which I am deeply sympathetic to (see below)…I have been dying to read the new paper by Michael Gazzaniga but my school is too cheap to subscribe to Science Direct so I’ll never know what the right level of mind-bran analysis is…but anyways, I noticed that there was no mention of presenting at for-profit conferences. It seems to me that the arguments which support abstaining from publishing in for profit journals would also apply to conferences.

Just as an example, and since this one is coming up, take the Association for the Scientific Study of Consciousness,

Late Fees (after Friday 21st of May)
Student Member CA $280
Member CA $430
Non-member CA $530
Tutorials CA $60 each
Conference Dinner CA $70
Accommodation CA $94/night (or $47 shared)

$500.00 just to present a poster!?!?! On top of the money to fly there and have a room…Horseshit! Similar remarks can be made about the Tucson conferences, the SPP, the apa, and virtually every major conference out there. Now, look, I know that you need to charge something in order to offset the money put into organizing the conference (well, you don’t HAVE to (I didn’t) but I can see why one would think it was fair to do so) but these prices are ridiculous…most of us can’t afford that to present our research. It is true that the University helps offset the price but unless one is at a fancy research institution (hint: most of us aren’t) the help is negligible. So, to go to the apa in Vancouver cost me $2,500 and I got $500.00 from LaGuardia…big help. And for what? To be crammed into a session with three other papers plus commentators and five minutes scheduled for discussion? What a joke!


What is Philosophy that it Sucks so Bad?

Brian Leiter wants to know what philosophers think of philosophy in 75 words or less…here is my 50 word stab (longer stab here)

Philosophy is distinguished from other endeavors by its method, which is roughly this: a good argument with the conclusion that p is a reason to believe that p. Philosophers, as we say, feel the force of arguments and are compelled to either accept their conclusions or to show why one needn’t.

You Must be Joking

A few years ago I had the terrible idea of taking classic jokes and “translating” them into philosophical lingo. Some work has been done in this area on lightbulb jokes but there are so many other kinds of jokes. Some are pretty obvious…like

  • Yo mama is so fat, when she sits around the house she sits AROUND the house; in all possible worlds
  • Yo mama is so dumb she has the B relation of taking more than an hour to watch 60 minutes

Some are just plain silly,

  • Yo mama is so fat she is the truthmaker for ‘your mama is fat’
  • If you mow your lawn and find the nonbeing of four cars…you might be a philosopher
  • If you go to a psychology conference hoping to meet women…you might be a philosopher
  • If someone asks you to fill out a form and you think of Plato…you might be a philosopher
  • If you think “it depends on what the meaning of ‘is’ is” actually was a good defense…you might be a philosopher

Some are just plain ridiculous as in

  • Yo mama is so dumb she thinks the transcendental deduction is a tax break for club kids
  • Yo mama is so dumb she thinks the T-schema was the code name for the Boston Tea Party


On an unrelated note, thanks to Netflix I just rewatched Return of the Living Dead II and I realized that whenever I am asked the name of the blog that I contribute to I should say Braaaaaiiiinnnnnsssss!