Nature India is proud to have been associated with the National Institute of Advanced Studies (NIAS) as media partner of the just concluded 4th International Conference on Consciousness, Cognition and Culture: Implications for the 21st Century (9-11 December 2015).
According to NIAS Director Baldev Raj, consciousness is one among the frontiers of human enquiry for both science and philosophy. “Understanding consciousness has implications not only on academic progress but also on outcomes that would influence human thinking, well-being and culture. The challenge of consciousness studies is that, on one hand, it brings together many disciplines heralding interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary studies, and on the other hand, attempts to provide topology maps with qualitative and quantitative understandings.”
Consciousness research promises to deliver significant contributions to emerging disciplines such as medical humanities, brain-computer interfaces, philosophy of psychiatry and psychology. A fundamental enquiry is to discover the brain wirings to find the mysteries and complexity of consciousness and human experiences. “India is the land of pluralistic thinking and experiences, with diverse classical philosophies and cultural engagements. We have a lot to offer to the academic world, and different ways to understand consciousness and human mind, derived from ancient wisdom traditions of our country as well as from the cultural richness combined with current strengths of theoretical and experimental sciences,” he says.
Head of the NIAS consciousness studies programme and a key organiser of the conference Sangeetha Menon says the conference covered abstract and theoretical concepts on one side and the physical, biological, cultural, psychological and philosophical perspectives on the other. “The goal was to open a broader space to place intricate ideas that are complex by being multidisciplinary and transdisciplinary, yet shedding light on understanding consciousness.”
Here’s a short editorial titled Consciousness studies: An overwhelming mélange that I wrote for the conference abstract book:
Quite a few winters back, while strolling in the Natural History Museum of London I chanced upon an exhibition that was simply called “Who am I”? Quite a leading question, that. And like everyone around me, I was curious. What followed was a series of revelations from tracking my ancestral records to giving me a macro perspective of the being – genetically, physically, culturally, biologically and philosophically. It was a journey at multiple layers.
Just a couple of summers back, four of us friends – a Hindu from India, a Christian from Pakistan, a Muslim from Bangladesh and a Buddhist from Sri Lanka – were musing about life, cultures and consciousness sitting on the sidewalls of the Sawayambhunath Temple in Kathmandu, as the beautiful cityscape lit up under us. At that very moment, as if by magic, we suddenly realised our descents and the amazing variety we represented in just four bodies – two male and two female. The moment was captured for posterity with a self-timer and lovingly captioned ‘Four Idiots’ owing to the preceding conversation that revealed how little we knew of each other. And how much always remains to be known despite our best efforts.
It is this overwhelming mélange that an interdisciplinary study such as consciousness brings to the table. From the abstract to the theoretical, from birds and bees to chimpanzees and fish, spanning smells, sights, sounds, perceptions and disorders – the canvas is simply breathtaking.
The International Conference on Consciousness, Cognition and Culture: Implications for the 21st Century is all set to celebrate this diversity. Not just through scientific studies and mathematics that unlock the brain’s many computer-like wares and vice-versa, but also by taking a peek into the philosophical, traversing the mystic, peering into religion and finding deeper meaning in poetic devices.
The conference, which will bring together some leading names in consciousness studies from across the world, is hoping to meander effortlessly between philosophy 0f psychology and neuroscience and from the concepts of punishment and reward to neuro-medicine. Nature India, a showcase of India’s science, is proud to be associated with such a mixed-bag conference as its media partner.