27 June 2014

Scientists are now able to use brain imaging to communicate with people previously thought to be in a vegetative state, prompting questions about the very nature of consciousness.

Scientists are now able to use brain imaging to communicate with people previously thought to be in a vegetative state, prompting questions about the very nature of consciousness

This topic, and other complex issues touching on neuroscience, psychology and philosophy, are on the agenda at an international conference on consciousness to be hosted by QBI at The University of Queensland in July.

Conference organiser Associate Professor Bruno van Swinderen said it would be the first Association for the Scientific Study of Consciousness (ASSC) conference in Australia.

“International speakers will address topics such as general anaesthesia, sleep, and understanding how attention works,” he said.

“For example, most people will be anaesthetised at some stage for surgery, but few know what actually happens in our brain to make us unconscious.

“Professor Emery Brown from MIT in America will outline the latest research in this field.”

The conference will cover three days of keynote lectures and research talks about the neuroscience of consciousness

Associate Professor van Swinderen said the fact that it was now possible it was now possible to communicate with people previously thought to be in a vegetative state had tremendous implications for understanding what it took to be considered conscious.

“By asking some patients in a coma to think about different things, we can now see their answers in their brain activity, meaning they can talk to us in their own way,” he said.

The conference, from 16-19 July, will also touch on Indigenous themes.

“There will be a talk on understanding the consciousness of people from the past by using the art they left behind, and also a presentation on contemporary Aboriginal art and consciousness,” Associate Professor van Swinderen said.

The conference will close with a free public lecture on the history and study of consciousness, at the Queensland State Library at 7pm on 19 July, featuring author and international cognitive neuroscience leader Professor Stanislas Dehaene.

For more information visit www.theassc.org/assc_18.

Media: Mikaeli Costello, 0401 580 685, mikaeli.costello@uq.edu.au; Associate Professor Bruno van Swinderen, 3346 6332, 0420 365 450, b.vanswinderen@uq.edu.au.