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From fMRI to the Philosophy of Mind

Date: April 21, 2012

Location: St Catherine's College, Oxford


Assistant Professor Michael Anderson (Franklin and Marshall)
Professor Martin Davies (University of Oxford)
Professor John-Dylan Haynes (Bernstein Center for Computation Neuroscience, Berlin)
Associate Professor Adina Roskies (Dartmouth College)

Organisers: Tim Bayne, Maja Spener & Nicholas Shea


10:30-11:00 Welcome (coffee will be available)

11:00-12:30 John-Dylan Haynes (Bernstein Center for Computational Neuroscience, Berlin): Brain Reading" with MRI: Decoding Mental States from Human Brain Activity

Recent advances in human neuroimaging have shown that it is possible to accurately decode a person's conscious experience based on non-invasive MRI measurements of their brain activity. Such 'brain reading' has mostly been studied in the domain of visual perception, where it helps reveal the way in which individual experiences are encoded in the human brain. Here several studies will be presented that directly demonstrate the ability to decode various types of mental states from brain signals. It is possible to decode simple mental states, such as visual percepts, even if they do not reach conscious awareness ("subliminal perception"). But even high-level mental states such as intentions can be read out. It is even possible to predict a person's free choices several seconds before they believe to be making up their mind. A number of fundamental challenges to the science of "brain reading" will be presented and discussed.

12:30-1:30 Lunch

1:30-3:00 Michael Anderson (Franklin & Marshall): What Psychology tells us about the Brain, and Vice-Versa: Two Approaches to Interpreting Neuroimaging Data

20 years after the birth of neuroimaging, we have the exciting opportunity to review the accumulated evidence and reflect on the prevailing assumptions of the cognitive sciences. There has been a great deal of recent progress in developing methods for extracting information from large collections of neuroimaging results, including ALE meta-analysis, cross-domain function-to-structure mapping, and functional connectivity analysis. The standard view of this work is that it sheds light on brain organization, but these same experiments also allow us to use the brain as a lens through which to view the organization of cognition. We may regard a set of experiments as manipulating cognitive load, but does the brain agree? Using brain activation as our guide, we may be able to shed new light on what various experiments have in common. I will focus on methods for using neuroimaging experiments to help us (re-)evaluate our cognitive ontology.

3:00-4:30 Adina Roskies (Dartmouth College): From Brainreading to Mindreading: Desiderata, Prospects, and Problems

fMRI allows us to read brains, but it does not yet allow us to read minds. In this talk I identify differences between brainreading and mindreading, and lay out a number of criteria for what would constitute mindreading. I present some recent work aimed at mindreading in both the visual and semantic domains, and discuss the prospects and pitfalls for achieving mindreading abilities with functional imaging techniques.

4:30-4:45 Coffee Break

4:45-6:00 Tim Bayne (University of Oxford): Wrap-Up

All talks will take place in the JCR Lecture Theatre, St Catherine's College.

Attendance is free but you must register in advance of the workshop by emailing: [TIM.BAYNE@GMAIL.COM]. A £5 sandwich lunch will be provided for those who request it when registering (please indicate if you prefer vegetarian food).

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