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Other publication in scientific journal, 2019

Peak experiences in a consciousness landscape - report on the science of consciousness conference in Interlaken, Switzerland, 2019

Liljenström, Hans


Introduction The Science of Consciousness (TSC) 2019 was the 26th international interdisciplinary conference in the series that started in Tucson in 1994. This one was held in late June in the beautiful Swiss town of Interlaken, between two lakes and surrounded by high alps. The local organizer was Harald Atmanspacher from Collegium Helveticum in Zurich, assisted by the “eternal” main organizer, Stuart Hameroff from the Center for Consciousness Studies in Tucson. There was no special theme for this conference, but I agree with the introductory comment in the abstract book: “Despite remarkable empirical and theoretical progress, consciousness is not understood yet, and therefore the field will benefit from a healthy scientific attitude that includes openness to multiple perspectives”. This was certainly applicable here. The beautiful alpine landscape provided a perfect setting for the conference, but the unexpectedly hot weather made it hard to concentrate and contemplate on the deep questions discussed. Yet, the organizers had done what they could to make the conference welcoming and inspiring for the 620 participants from about 30 countries. There were in total 24 invited talks in 9 plenary sessions, 105 oral presentations in concurrent sessions, and 220 posters - on topics, such as connectomics, placebo research, first-person experience, anesthetics, psychedelics, plant cognition, quantum biology, dual-aspect monism, bistable perception, insight, religious studies, evolution, and language. More details on the conference, including video recordings of the plenary talks are available on the website, This will be a very subjective report, where I have cherry-picked among the talks I attended, primarily focusing on the plenaries, but with some visits to concurrent sessions. In addition, I will not give equal amount of space to all the presentations I refer to, and apologize if anyone feels mistreated that way. It also goes without saying that the report is biased with respect to my own research interests, as a biophysicist working with neurocomputational models of decision making, based on mesoscopic neurodynamics. Inspired by the surrounding alpine landscape, I think it could serve as a metaphor for the mental landscape and intellectual challenges we have to climb when trying to understand the ancient conundrum of consciousness. The perspectives provided by various research areas, can then be likened with different alps, with rather deep valleys between. Somewhat arbitrary, I will structure my report around three major peak perspectives, Physics, Biology, and Metaphysics, where I have roughly and not chronologically grouped the various presentations.


conference report; The Science of Consciousness conference

Published in

Journal of Consciousness Studies
2019, Volume: 26, number: 11-12, pages: 238-263