ASSC 19 Symposia


SYMPOSIUM 1: Unconscious working memory?


William James (1890), the father of psychology, already stated what seemed to him an undeniable fact of life: “Without memory no conscious sensation, without memory no consciousness.” Since then, little has changed. Both conscious experience and working memory are widely regarded as inextricably linked, not only involving a similar network of brain regions, but also the ability to accurately report their contents. Prominent theories even feature awareness as a crucial and integral part of working memory, insinuating that the two may be indistinguishable.

Recent evidence, however, questioned this view. Consciousness may neither be compulsory for working memory, nor may all of the contents of working memory be directly reportable. Instead, it seems possible that information can be maintained for several seconds outside the realms of awareness. If true, the field of consciousness research might have reached a critical turning point, opening up venues for refined theories and novel sets of questions. The purpose of this symposium will therefore be to further explore and discuss this exciting phenomenon, its nature, and implications: Was William James really wrong? Does unconscious working memory truly exist or has another unconscious process been discovered?

Chair: Sébastien Marti, NeuroSpin CEA Seaclay - Cognitive Neuroimaging, Inserm U. 992

Talk 1. Johan Eriksson (Umeå center for Functional Brain Imaging, and dept. of Integrative Medical Biology, Umeå University)

Maintaining non-consciously presented information over brief periods of time engages the prefrontal cortex


Talk 2. Sébastien Marti

Perception and working memory during conscious and unconscious processing


Talk 3. Jean-Rémi King (NeuroSpin CEA Saclay – Cognitive Neuroimaging unit, Inserm U.992. Institut du cerveau et de la moelle épinière, Inserm U.975)

Tracking the time course of maintained visual representations during backward masking: an MEG study


Talk 4. David Soto (Imperial College London, Department of Medicine, Centre of Neuroscience, Charing Cross Campus)

On the independence of visual awareness and working memory processes


SYMPOSIUM 2: Levels of consciousness


Theories of consciousness are typically taken to involve two dimensions of analysis: one dimension concerns the organism’s conscious contents, and the other dimension concerns the organism’s conscious level. Relative to the amount of attention that the contents of consciousness have received, the notion of a conscious level has been neglected. The aim of this symposium is to bring together theorists from various perspectives in order to advance our understanding of levels of consciousness from both empirical and conceptual perspectives.

The symposium will address the following questions: How are the levels of consciousness are related to the contents of consciousness? How is the notion of a level of consciousness understood in the context of epilepsy, the vegetative state and minimally conscious state? Do different fields within consciousness science employ the same notion of a level of consciousness, or do different fields operate with distinct conceptions of a conscious level? How can one measure a creature’s level of consciousness? And how might an account of levels inform theories of consciousness?  


Chair: Tim Bayne

Talk 1. Tim Bayne (University of Manchester)

What is a Level of Consciousness? 


Talk 2.  Hal Blumenfeld (Yale)
Impaired levels of consciousness in focal and generalized seizures 


Talk 3. Adrian Owen (University of western Ontario)

Assessing Levels of Consciousness after Serious Brain Injury


Talk 4. Lisa Miracchi (NYU)
Can we Understand the Levels of Consciousness without Distinguishing Kinds of Conscious Contents?


SYMPOSIUM 3: Consciousness without control: How do phenomenology and function change when prefrontal control is reduced and what does this mean for the development of consciousness?


There has been extensive and important work in consciousness studies examining the relation between conscious phenomenology and prefrontal control. Conscious, top-down, endogenous attention and executive decision-making and planning are clearly related to distinctive patterns of frontal control and coordination. But what happens to phenomenology and function when prefrontal control is diminished or attenuated. Does consciousness simply fade or disappear? Or does it take different forms? This question is particularly important in understanding the development of consciousness, given that prefrontal control clearly increases with age. In this symposium, four investigators using very different methods describe function and phenomenology in cases of diminished prefrontal involvement. These include cases of electrical disruption of frontal function and administration of psilocybin and LSD, brief exposures of multiple crowded objects in “ensembles” and perception and cognition in young children. In all these cases prefrontal control is attenuated.There appear to be some striking similarities in function and experience in these cases. With diminished prefrontal control, attention, experience and cognition may become distributed rather than focused, holistic rather than analytic and more bottom-up and exogenously determined, rather than top-down and endogenously determined. There is also evidence for increases in flexibility, and in some kinds of learning and creativity. Attenuated prefrontal control may have some computational and cognitive benefits that balance the costs of diminished focus, inhibition and executive function, and may be accompanied by distinctive kinds of phenomenology. This may help us understand what it is like to be a baby or young child, and why. 


Chair: Alison Gopnik, Depts. of Psychology and Philosophy, University of California at Berkley

Talk 1. Sharon Thompson-Schill (University of Pennsylvania)

When a little frontal cortex goes a long way 


Talk 2. Robin Carhart-Harris (Imperial College) 

Psychedelics alter brain network behaviour in manner that is the inverse of what is seen in normal brain development 


Talk 3. David Whitney (University of California Berkeley)  

Objects, crowds, and the dualism of perceptual experience 


Talk 4. Alison Gopnik (Depts. of Psychology and Philosophy, University of California at Berkeley)

When children are more open-minded learners than adults are: Childhood as simulated annealing



SYMPOSIUM 4: The no-report paradigm: a promising avenue for consciousness research?


The core issue of consciousness research is the neuronal basis of conscious phenomenal experience. To study phenomenology, however, third-person experimenters seem obliged to resort to verbal or manual reports from the studied subjects to know about the presence or absence of consciousness. This might have biased much of the search for the neural correlate of consciousness (NCC) over the last decades. Have we not confounded the neural causes of consciousness with the consequences of consciousness? Did we not confuse the processes that generate visual experience with the cognitive processes enabling us to decide on the conscious content, attend to it, store it, and report about it?

Recently, various studies tried to dissociate neural activity that gives rise to conscious phenomenology from the activity that enables the reports via executive and cognitive functions, including attention and working memory. In addition, new paradigms have been developed to study conscious experience in the absence of report. We will discuss those new approaches and ask whether they bring us any further in understanding consciousness.

That is the topic of this symposium. It brings together scientists that have used no-report paradigms to study consciousness. Do their results really provide another perspective? Are our no-report paradigms suggesting NCCs different from the traditional approach? Or are we throwing away the baby with the bathwater? After presenting results and arguments, we will devote time to a panel discussion to answer these questions in a dialogue with the audience. Initial and final polls will engage audience and estimate the attitudes of the current researchers about reports, as well as the impact of the here-proposed symposium.


Chair: Naotsugu Tsuchiya (School of Psychological Sciences, Faculty of Biomedical and Psychological Sciences Monash University)

Talk 1. Stefan Frässle (Department of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy, Philipps-University)

Frontal activity in binocular rivalry relates to introspection and action but not to perception


Talk 2. Melanie Wilke (Department of Cognitive Neurology, University Medicine Goettingen )          

Dissociation between perceptual modulation in report- and no-report conditions in firing rates and local field potentials in area V4 and the thalamic pulvinar


Talk 3. Victor Lamme (Department of Psychology (University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands)  

Can we ever prove seeing without knowing? Neural and psychophysical signatures of conscious perception in the absence of report.