Consciousness - here, there, everywhere? The prospects for panpsychism

Sunday 20th and Monday 21st of July 2014

Venue: The Byron at Byron Bay   Byron Bay is 90min south of Brisbane (View Google Map)

Organizers: Chair - Naotsugu Tsuchiya (Monash University), Bruno van Swinderen (U of Queensland), Olivia Carter (U of Melbourne)

Registration: $200  -  SOLD OUT

Contact: for questions about this event please contact Naotsugu Tsuchiya

Confirmed speakers:
  • David Chalmers (philosophy, ANU, NYU)
  • Monica Gagliano (evolutionary biology, U of Western Australia)
  • Yasuo Kuniyoshi (robotics, U of Tokyo)
  • Larisa Albantakis (neuroscience, U of Wisconsin)
  • Mandyam Srinivasan (neuroscience, U of Queensland)
  • Giulio Tononi (neuroscience, U of Wisconsin)


Main theme: Panpsychism is a meta-theoretical framework, which assumes consciousness is a fundamental aspect of the universe. There are many variants of panpsychism, but all admit that organisms, large or small, and even inorganic materials, can be conscious to variable degrees, with consciousness of higher organisms being more sophisticated and complex than that of lower organisms. Common to all panpsychist approaches is the strong belief that "consciousness cannot emerge from nothing". By contrast, emergentist views posit that "some" special condition is required to ensure that some "biological" organisms come to possess consciousness. The emergence view has been popular since the last century, mainly due to the success of physical science in other domains. However, emergence as radical as consciousness is unprecendented in any field of science, and the special conditions that would be necessary for the emergence of consciousness remain unspecified.


Objectives: In this workshop, we will re-consider panpsychism – long neglected –- from historical, philosophical, and neuroscientific viewpoints. As a neuroscientific approach that shares some essential intuitions with panpsychism, we will examine the Integrated Information Theory of consciousness. In so doing, we will revisit many fundamental questions that can potentially be addressed with a rigorous theoretical approach and empirical investigations. The main questions we will discuss are the following:

  1. Can one conceive of "continuity" of consciousness from conception to death, across evolution, across species from humans, mice, flies, worms, to unicellular organisms, and across inorganic systems, like robots and Internet? 
  2. What is the "unit" of consciousness? If panpsychism is true, can any cell in my body be conscious at the same time as I am conscious thanks to my brain (micro-panpsychism problem). Can a society that includes myself also be conscious (macro-panpsychism problem)? Integrated information theory avoids this "combination problem" by supposing only "local maxima" matters. But why would it be that only local maxima matter? Are there other principled explanations?
  3. How does the current neuroscientific study of 'non-conscious processing' challenge panpsychism? Alternatively, what can panpsychism offer for interpreting 'non-conscious processing'?  Is it possible that the level of consciousness of lower animals or in inorganic objects is similar (or even lower) to that of non-conscious processing in us?
  4. If there is consciousness in other animals, what "kind" of experience or qualia do they experience? Can a quantitative theory be developed that can predict not only the quantity but also the quality of experience in other animals?
  5. Is it possible to empirically test any panpsychistic claim? Could we test for the presence of consciousness in lower animals, in robots or within the Internet? And what would a test be like?

To restrict the scope of the discussions, we will consider "consciousness" as raw experience.  Thus we will deliberately not discuss the role of self-consciousness, the requirement for language, and embodiment.



Accommodation Details

The conference will be held at The Byron at Byron Bay Rooms at this spectacular venue cost $300/night but can be shared by two people.

Note: For alternative accommodation options visit the Byron Bay accommodation website