Chasing Consciousness: Rethinking the Mind

Chasing Consciousness: Rethinking the Mind

Caveat (map)

Great scientific revolutions come from challenging what we all assume to be true and expanding what science is 'allowed' to ask. Recent technological breakthroughs are pushing against our cherished assumptions about the nature and primacy of our minds, and forcing us to ask new questions about our reality.

Just before Thanksgiving, enjoy a mental feast as the YHouse Institute's brightest and best chew through some tough questions: how do we evaluate the reality of our awareness from within that same awareness? Where does consciousness really come from, and how does it fit into our ideas about the nature of life and the human future? We can't promise to answer them all, but we can guarantee a stimulating evening of stories and provocative thinking from researchers working on the extreme edge of scientific innovation.

Doors: 5:30, event 6:00.

Click here for tickets.

A Short Introduction to Empowerment – an Information Theoretic, Intrinsic Motivation

A Short Introduction to Empowerment – an Information Theoretic, Intrinsic Motivation

institute of Advanced Study (map)

Speaker: Christoph Salge (New York University / University of Hertfordshire)

bstract: Empowerment is a formalization of how much an agent is in control of its own perceivable future. This is captured by the channel capacity from an agent’s actuators to an agent’s sensor at a later point in time. In this short presentation I will briefly introduce the formalism and idea behind empowerment. I will outline how empowerment relates to the concept of intrinsic motivation and show some recent applications that demonstrate the range of behaviours that can be created in different scenarios. In particular, I will talk about recent work looking at coupled empowerment maximisation in a human-AI system – and how this can be used to define some core companion duties.

Looking and Seeing in Visual functions of the Brain

Looking and Seeing in Visual functions of the Brain

Institute of Advanced Studies (map)

Speaker: Zhaoping Li (University College London)

Vision is a window to the brain, and I will give a short introduction and demonstrate that it can be seen as mainly a problem of "looking and seeing", which are two separable processes in the brain.  Understanding vision requires both experimental and theoretical approaches, and to study the brain using our own brains have its peculiar difficulties.

CC #28: Overcoming Addiction to a World View

CC #28: Overcoming Addiction to a World View

Wework (map)

Speaker: Piet Hut and a Special Guest

ABSTRACT

The greatest scientific discoveries are made upon the realization that a generally accepted idea is in fact wrong.  And once the new idea is accepted, it is tempting to ask: why did it take so long to see the flaw in the old idea?  Perhaps the simple answer is: when we grow up with a set of ideas, forming a coherent worldview, we get so habituated to them that we grow increasingly unwilling to question any specific idea, afraid that it will threaten the comfort zone of our life as we know it...

Math, Matter, Mind, and Beyond

Math, Matter, Mind, and Beyond

Institute of Advanced Studies (map)

Speakers: Piet Hut (IAS, Princeton) and Yuko Ishihara (ELSI, Tokyo)

We will start with a quick review of a paper, started by Piet and two (then) postdocs at IAS at the end of the previous century, and finally published in 2006, about the nature of reality: "On Math, Matter and Mind", by Piet Hut, Mark Alford and Max Tegmark.  In that paper Piet's position centered on a big question mark in the middle of their central diagram.  Now, almost two decades later, Yuko and Piet will investigate that question mark, theoretically and experientially.  Theoretically, by comparing various philosophical traditions.  Experientially, by starting with Husserl's epoche and considering extensions beyond the subject/object polarization.

Is Cancer a Metabolic Disease Caused by Mitochondrial Dysfunction?

Is Cancer a Metabolic Disease Caused by Mitochondrial Dysfunction?

Institute of Advanced Studies (map)

Speaker: Michael Solomon, MD

For the past 40 years we have thought of cancer as the result of somatic mutations in nuclear DNA that either block tumor suppressor genes or unblock oncogenes resulting in malignant transformation. But our success in understanding or in treating cancer has been sadly limited.

Consciousness Club #27 The Collective Computation of Life

Consciousness Club #27 The Collective Computation of Life

Consciousness Club #27 The Collective Computation of Life

Speaker: Olaf Witkowski

Abstract:

Information is found all across the domain of physics, seemingly retaining all its properties regardless of the media in which it is instantiated. Substrate-independence and interoperability made possible symbolic representations such as the genetic code, allowing for life to develop upon it. The next transition closed the loop by producing organisms increasingly aware of their environment. This eventually led to human life, capable of learning the underlying principles that created it, with the invention of language and science.
 
I focus my research on collective cognition, which one can see as the informational software to life's physical hardware. If life can be formulated computationally as 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. The clef de voûte in my work is to consider cognitive flows as the abstract computation of life, with the purpose to make the unlikely likely for the sake of its preservation.
 
Traditional top-down approaches to cognition infamously introduce black boxes that fail to explain underlying mechanisms and lack sufficient detail to validate models. Instead, I propose a fully bottom-up model to characterize the pathways leading artificial organisms to develop cognitive capabilities, allowing for a rigorous mathematical framing of the "invisible reality" of cognitive life in the universe.

WeWork Park South, 10th Floor, New York, NY

Wednesday, October 25, 6 p.m.
Registration required

Organisms as Integrated Wholes

Organisms as Integrated Wholes

Institute for Advanced Studies (map)

Speaker: Randall D. Beer (Indiana University)

I will briefly describe two intertwined research programs.

The first concerns issues of embodiment, situatedness and dynamics in understanding how an animal's behavior arises from the interaction between its nervous system, its body and its environment. Specifically, we use genetic algorithms to evolve model brain-body-environment systems and then analyze their operation using the tools of dynamical systems theory and information theory. This approach has been applied to a wide variety of behaviors, including locomotion, action-switching, learning, categorization, selective attention, and referential communication.

Chasing Consciousness: Virtual Reality to Future Reality

Chasing Consciousness: Virtual Reality to Future Reality

Caveat (map)

Ordinary old reality is so yesterday. Our species has been building virtual worlds since we told the first fireside story. Now, with increasingly sophisticated technology like Oculus Rift these worlds are becoming all-encompassing. What is the state of the virtual? Where are we going in this new realm of the senses, and what are the implications?

YHouse welcomes two pioneering VR experts, Ken Perlin and Stephanie Riggs for an evening guaranteed to push the boundaries of what you thought was possible.

Click Here to Buy Tickets

Buddhist Emptiness as a Tool for Pragmatic Reasoning about Consciousness

Buddhist Emptiness as a Tool for Pragmatic Reasoning about Consciousness

Institute of Advanced Study (West Building Seminar Room) (map)

Speaker: Jonathan C. Gold (Princeton University)

Drawing upon (but not dwelling in) my work in Buddhist philosophy, I propose that the Buddhist doctrines of the two truths and the three natures can be understood as expressing and formalizing Occam’s Razor. This provides us with articulate tools to challenge reification of abstract entities and to privilege, always, pragmatic assessments as the defining criteria of reality. When we turn to the nature of consciousness, then, questions around illusionism and the requirements of satisfactory explanations can be made sharper by adopting the strict epistemic modesty that a Buddhist critique entails. 

Consciousness Club #26 Consciousness: not a "thing" but a "place"?

Consciousness Club #26 Consciousness: not a "thing" but a "place"?

Speaker: Yuko Ishihara

Modern western thought has given consciousness a special place in the understanding of human beings. According to Descartes, it is the fact that we are "thinking things" that sets us apart from unconscious things like a desk or a pen. While scientists and philosophers today disagree with Descartes on what constitutes the nature of the thinking thing, most people agree on the basic Cartesian assumption: that consciousness is a kind of "thing."

But can we not question this assumption? Putting aside all theories, our direct experience teaches us that consciousness does not primarily appear as a thing. Rather, it appears more as a ground or "place" wherein our experience occurs. Drawing on insights from twentieth-century philosophers like Martin Heidegger and Nishida Kitaro who developed a philosophy of place, let us think together about what it really means to understand consciousness not as a "thing" but as a "place." Perhaps such ideas can open doors towards a better understanding on the nature of consciousness.

WeWork Park South, New York, NY

Wednesday, October 11, 6 p.m.
Registration required

Quantum-Cosmic Journeys: An Exploration through the Arts

Quantum-Cosmic Journeys: An Exploration through the Arts

Institute of Advanced Study (West Building Seminar Room) (map)

Smitha Vishveshwara (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign)

The Universe at the quantum and cosmic scales instills wonder and exercises physical laws quite foreign to the human scale. Here, I share my three interconnected collaborative ventures that explore these two awe-inspiring realms through the arts. One concerns the writing of a popular book on quantum physics and Einstein's relativity in the format of letters between father and daughter. Another relates to science-art creations stemming from an interdisciplinary course,  Where the Arts meets Physics. The third involves devising a performance piece entitled Quantum-Cosmic Journeys. 

Expectationalism and Artificial Intelligence

Expectationalism and Artificial Intelligence

Institutue of Advanced Studies (map)

Speaker: Liat Lavi  (Bar Ilan University)

In my talk I will present the account of understanding I am developing under the title of 'expectationalism'. The account draws heavily on Jamesian Pragmatism and the thought of Heidegger and Merelau-Ponty. Its central premises are: 1. That the meaning of something is its consequences, and to understand something is to grasp its consequences. and 2. That expectations are not some internal content, but are rather actualized by our bodies. 

 

I will link this account with contemporary approaches in cognitive science and philosophy of mind, and suggest that if the account is correct this implies that strong AI is possible and that limited instances of it already exist. 

Past Events

Consciousness Club #25 The Danger of Memes (or why talking to aliens may be a bad idea)

Consciousness Club #25 The Danger of Memes (or why talking to aliens may be a bad idea)

Join Columbia University Director of Astrobiology, Caleb Scharf in a discussion about "The Danger of Memes (or why talking to aliens may be a bad idea)"

 

A little knowledge can be a tricky thing, especially if it's injected into human thoughts without warning. The ultimate challenge might be how to handle ourselves should we ever be on the receiving end of extraterrestrial communications.

As much as that prospect is currently in the realm of science fiction, it raises some intriguing points about the human trajectory and tools like AI.

WeWork Park South, New York, NY

Wednesday, September 27, 6 p.m.
Registration required

Chasing Consciousness: 'Non-human intelligence' with Prof. Diana Reiss and Frank Grasso

Chasing Consciousness: 'Non-human intelligence' with Prof. Diana Reiss and Frank Grasso

Caveat (map)

Join YHouse at Caveat for an evening exploring non-human intelligences.

The human mind, and our consciousness, is one of the greatest mysteries. But what are we missing about the other minds that share Earth with us? Are dolphins good at divination? Do octopuses orate? Perhaps some of the answers we’re looking for about ourselves can come from a better understanding of these alien intelligences. YHouse welcomes two world-renowned experts, Diana Reiss and Frank Grasso, for an evening of ideas and surprises that may, almost literally, blow your mind.

Tickets $15.00. Order Here.

Consciousness Club #24: Matter, Experience, and Reality

Consciousness Club #24: Matter, Experience, and Reality

Physics and Chemistry have made enormous advances in our understanding of matter, during the last few century. Recently, great progress has been made in the study of experience, in a wide range of interdisciplinary areas, from Biology, Neuroscience, Cognitive Psychology to Artificial Intelligence and in particular Machine Learning.

Are we now reaching a point that we can confidently talk about the nature of Reality, as something that we are beginning to unravel? Or is the question of the nature of reality ill posed, not something that has any clear answer? Or does it remain an intriguing question, perhaps the most intriguing question in science and philosophy, and if so how so?

Join Piet Hut, President of YHouse, and Professor of Astrophysics and Head of the Program in Interdisciplinary Studies at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, for a lively discussion, following his short presentation.

Registration is required on Eventbritehttps://www.eventbrite.com/e/consciousness-club-24-matter-experience-and-reality-tickets-37496268348.

WeWork Park South, New York, NY

Wednesday, September 13, 6 p.m.
Registration required

CC #23: Creating Consciousness

CC #23: Creating Consciousness

With Dr. Ryota Kanai (Araya, Inc., Tokyo)
Registration required

Towards a Family Resemblance Definition of ‘Life’

Towards a Family Resemblance Definition of ‘Life’

With Erik Persson (CTI & The Pufendorf Institute of Advanced Studies, Lund)

Abstract: Finding a good definition of ‘Life’ is a task that has turned out to be very difficult. Some say, it is even impossible, or at least meaningless. We believe both that it is possible, and that it is in fact crucial to achieve at least a tentative definition of ‘Life’, especially when searching for the origin of life on our earth or for extraterrestrial life. We are not sure, however, that the classical way of approaching the task of defining ‘Life’, that is, by trying to make a list of necessary properties that together makes up a sufficient set of criteria for being alive (a de redefinition), is the best way of approaching the task, however. The main problem with this type of definition is that it is inherently essentialistic. It is doubtful, however, that life as it is understood today, that is, in Darwinian terms, can be meaningfully said to have an essence. An alternative approach would be Wittgenstein’s family resemblance definition, according to which a concept is defined by a cluster of properties that are associated with the concept. If we use this concept to define Life’ it tells us that something is alive if it has a number of properties that are associated with being alive though it does not have to have all these properties and it does not have to have exactly the same set of properties as any other living entity. In our paper we present an extension of the family resemblance model by combining it with state of the art methods for statistical modelling in the form of cluster analysis. That way we hope to be able to construct the kind of overlapping clusters needed to achieve an informative and practically useful definition of ‘Life’.

A paper entitled “The Dark Secret at the Heart of AI”

A paper entitled “The Dark Secret at the Heart of AI”

Discussion led by Michael Solomon (RWJ Barnabas University Hospital )

Abstract: We will discuss a paper by Will Knight that can be found at the following link: https://www.technologyreview.com/s/604087/the-dark-secret-at-the-heart-of-ai/. Everyone is invited to read the paper before the lunch, but Michael Solomon will present a synopsis of its contents for the benefit of those who might not have time to do so.

Read a synopsis of the event on the YHouse blog.

Top-Down Causation

Top-Down Causation

With Andreas Losch (University of Bern)

Abstract: Can the human mind actually control the body? This seems to be an experience we all have every second. Yet doesn’t it imply the existence of a free will to perform its decisions with bodily means? How could this scientifically be imagined, the causal nexus of the physical world provided? Amongst others, Karl Popper and John Eccles – drawing on the ideas of Michael Polanyi and Donald T. Campbell – propagate the idea of a “top-down causation“ as a potential answer. I will discuss the origins, extent and shortcomings of this idea.

Providence

Providence

With David Fergusson (University of Edinburgh)

The notion of ‘providence’ as divine foresight and provision is present in Stoic and Platonist philosophy. Analogues can be found in other cultures. Adapted by the Christian religion as a central element in belief and piety, this concept of providence was later secularized in a variety of ways. I seek to explore the historical varieties of providentialism and to consider whether a chastened account can be appropriated by contemporary Christianity.