ASSC 18 Symposia

SYMPOSIUM 1: Consciousness Across The Species: The adaptive Value of Pain


Nociception without conscious awareness allows organisms to avoid tissue damage in certain situations. Spinal cords detached from brains are capable of learning complex responses to noxious stimulation. Yet, as we are all-too-aware, humans have the capacity to consciously feel pain and to suffer, presumably because these types of experiences have offered evolutionary advantages over mere nociception.  In this panel, we will explore the adaptive value of conscious pain by taking a closer look at what we know about nociception and pain across different classes of animals.  The speakers will discuss innovative methods used for assessing whether nonhuman animals are capable of experiencing pain, looking closely at relevant similarities and differences between species, and will situate our current knowledge in a theoretical framework that emphasizes the adaptive value of conscious pain.

Chair: Adam Shriver

Talk 1. Victoria Braithwaite (Pennsylvania State University, USA)
"Do fish feel pain"

Talk 2. Dan Weary (The University of British Columbia, Canada)
“Experimental design and strength of inferences regarding affect during loss of consciousness”

Talk 3. David Edelman (Bennington College, USA)
“Identifying nociception and the experience of pain in the octopus”

Talk 4. Paula Droege (Pennsylvania State University, USA)
“In defense of function 


SYMPOSIUM 2: Quantifying Consciousness: Theoretical and clinical implications  


The field of consciousness research has reached a critical turning point: we have begun to validate theory-driven quantitative measures of consciousness (ref. Casali 2013, King 2013, Schurger 2010, Seth 2011) that enable us to discern whether or not a human subject (or patient) is in a conscious state, or is conscious of a particular stimulus, based only on patterns of brain activity. With these advances, consciousness research moves from “neuronal correlates” towards "neuronal signatures" of consciousness. Whereas correlates are apparent in the average over many trials or subjects, a signature can predict whether a single subject is in a conscious state, or whether a single episode elicited a specific conscious sensation, thus moving us one step closer to understanding how consciousness is "implemented" by the brain. Tests capable of detecting consciousness will be of enormous value in both clinical and research settings. A handful of new quantitative measures of consciousness have emerged in recent years. Based on theory, but applicable in practice, these metrics can reliably classify brain states as “conscious” or “non-conscious” at the single-subject, and in some cases single-trial, level. While each is different from the others in important ways, they also appear to be converging on certain specific properties of conscious brain states. In this symposium we will explore these new measures and discuss their theoretical, experimental, and clinical implications.

Chair: Jacobo Sitt and Aaron Schurger

Talk 1. Aaron Schurger (École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, Switzerland)
"Stability as a signature of neuronal adequacy for subjective report"

Talk 2. Marcello Massimini (The University of Milan, Italy)
“Towards an objective index of the level of consciousness”

Talk 3. Jacobo Sitt (L'Institut du Cerveau et de la Moelle Épinière, France)
“Insights and applications from contrasting conscious states”

Talk 4. Anil Seth (University of Sussex, UK)
“Quantitative measures of conscious level: prospects and perils”


SYMPOSIUM 3: Unconscious perception: Does it exist, and what should we require from evidence? 


Which processes require awareness, and which can be accomplished in its absence? This distinction is considered a promising approach toward understanding consciousness. Recent years have seen an explosion of studies demonstrating unconscious perceptual and cognitive processing. Their abundance stems from a current zeitgeist that views unconscious processes as “cool” and the popularity of easy-to-use methods for suppressing stimuli from awareness. Uncritical acceptance of all recent findings might lead one to conclude that consciousness is almost incidental to perceptual and cognitive processes. But should we take all such findings at face value? What criteria should we set for accepting claims of processing without awareness, and are these criteria routinely met? This symposium will focus on the need for rigor in verifying claims of unconscious processing. We will present work pertaining to the distinction between objective and subjective measures of (un)awareness, the role of metacognitive processes in such distinctions, and the need to rule out explanations that do not invoke unconscious processing, before concluding that it has occurred. Following individual presentations, we will conduct a group discussion on the best ways to verify unconscious processing. 

Chair: David Carmel and Axel Cleeremans

Talk 1. David Carmel (University of Edinburgh, UK)
"Unconscious perception is not a single thing"

Talk 2. Joel Pearson (The University of New South Wales, Australia)
“Using unconscious information for sensory and bistable decisions”

Talk 3. Zoltan Dienes (University of Sussex, UK)
“Improving on the null hypothesis: Bayesian objective and subjective thresholds”

Talk 4. Axel Cleeremans (Université Libre de Bruxelles, Belgium)
“The mind’s sea serpent”


SYMPOSIUM 4: Consciousness in sleep: what it is like, what can it tell us, and how it can be measured


It has been known for some time that the level of consciousness fades away in deep sleep early in the night, only to return in the form of vivid dreams late in the night. However, it is now clear that dream reports can be obtained during any stage of sleep, and conversely, some awakenings can yield no report, even from REM sleep, raising the question of how changes in brain activity relate to changes in level of consciousness. To start addressing this question, in this symposium we will present novel experiments that combine high density EEG, TMS and fMRI, and show how a refined spatial and temporal analysis can help identifying regionally specific predictors of dreaming and indicate, in real time, whether dream reports will be obtained. We will conclude by discussing why dreams are interesting for the philosophy of consciousness, and propose specific experimental approaches that can build a stronger connection between dream research and philosophy of mind.

Chair: Chiara Cirelli

Talk 1. Chiara Cirelli (University of Wisconsin-Madison, USA)
"Neurophysiology of sleep"

Talk 2. Francesca Siclari (University of Wisconsin-Madison, USA)
“Assessing sleep consciousness within subjects using a serial awakening paradigm and high-density EEG 

Talk 3. Michael Czisch (Max Planck Institute of Psychiatry, Germany)
“Sleep, dreams and consciousness: A neuroimaging perspective”

Talk 4. Thomas Metzinger/Jennifer Windt (Johannes Gutenberg University of Mainz, Germany; Frankfurt Institute for Advanced Studies, Germany)
“Dreaming, consciousness and the self: Spatiotemporal self- location and minimal phenomenal selfhood”