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CFP: Designed Mind Symposium 2017


Exploring the Function, Evolution & Implementation of Consciousness

Informatics Forum,University of Edinburgh Edinburgh, Scotland

8-9 November 2017



Daniel C. Dennett, Tufts University

Michael Graziano, Princeton University



Our subjective experience is quite mysterious: it seems to be a “further fact” about us, surplus to all the conceivable mechanistic or functional facts. Most of us find it plausible that a machine could exhibit exactly the same outward behaviour yet lack an inner life.

These intuitions are compelling, and lead many to look beyond the usual resources of science for an explanation of conscious experience. Some propose identifying consciousness with some kind of information processing or informational complexity, but offer little insight into why such an identification makes sense. Other suggest that consciousness is a primitive ingredient of the universe, present whenever certain kinds of processes are present. These ideas may fit our intuitions, but seem to offer little in the way of explanation. Consciousness is relegated to a passive role, with not much to do except come along for the ride.

These perspectives also neglect a crucial fact about our behaviour, namely that consciousness is much of the subject matter of what we say and do. We describe the world from a vantage point, contrast how things seem from that vantage point with how we believe the world to be, summarise our goals and plans, explain the world around us in terms of possibilities for action, and justify the actions we take in terms of consciously held beliefs, desires and feelings. While we intuit strongly that such “consciousness talk” — elaborate behaviour oriented around an ostensibly private mental life — could somehow happen without “real” consciousness inside, we remain curiously oblivious to the fact that if our own consciousness talk is ever to be a consequence of our own “real” consciousness, then it can only be that the latter is in fact a psychological mechanism taking place in the physical world.

This has led some researchers to suggest that it is these behaviours that are the proper target, or explanandum, of a science of consciousness. Modern theories along such lines, developed by Daniel Dennett, Thomas Metzinger and others, propose that we understand conscious experience as the content of an internal self-model. What we intuit as a “private realm” is a control mechanism operating in the public world: a brain’s way of representing the organism as a situated agent, a reflective self-representation designed by evolution to enable new levels of autonomy, self-monitoring and deliberative action. By representing not only the world and its affordances for action, but also ourselves as embodied agents in the world, and ultimately ourselves as representers, the evolving brain converged on the self as the solution to a control problem. We cannot easily appreciate the self-model-within-a-world-model as a model, because “we” only exist in virtue of the model, as its central feature.

The symposium is a forum to elaborate, discuss and critique this emerging scientific picture of consciousness as a form of reflective self-representation. We invite perspectives from philosophy, psychology, neuroscience and informatics.



We invite submissions of high-quality short papers for presentation at the symposium. Papers should be in PDF format and no more than 4,000 words in length. Please prepare your submission for blind review and submit via EasyChair at  Authors of accepted papers without other access to travel funds may be eligible for free registration.

A list of suggested topics and themes can be found at

After the symposium, there will be an open call for full-length (8,000 word) papers for publication as a collected volume or journal special issue (details forthcoming).



Registration opens: 1 June 2017

Submission deadline: 30 July 2017

Notification of acceptance: 9 September 2017

Early registration deadline: 15 September 2017

Designed Mind symposium: 8-9 November 2017

Expecting Ourselves workshop: 10 November 2017



Daniel C. Dennett, author of Consciousness Explained (Little, Brown and Co., 1991), Freedom Evolves (Viking Penguin, 2003) and Darwin’s Dangerous Idea (Simon & Schuster, 1995), is University Professor and Austin B. Fletcher Professor of Philosophy, and Co-Director of the Center for Cognitive Studies at Tufts University.

Michael Graziano, author of Consciousness and the Social Brain (Oxford University Press, 2013) is Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience at Princeton University.



The symposium will be followed by Expecting Ourselves: Prediction, Action, and the Embodied Mind, also in the Informatics Forum. Registration will be separate for this event. See



Programme Chair: Roly Perera (University of Edinburgh)

Publication Chairs: Takuya Nikawa (Chiba University) Max Jones (University of Bristol)

Publicity Chair: Aïda Elamrani Raoult (Institut Jean Nicod)


For general enquiries email


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