Thursday, May 2, 2013

Journal Club - Debating the IIT

Welcome to the first Journal Club! This is a space for online study and discussion of selected material in advance of the ASSC 17 meeting (early registration ends May 15!). We'll periodically post a selection of material related to the major keynotes and talks featured at the meeting. Here we'll have a chance to get up to speed on several topics to help make the most of our attendance at the ASSC meeting.
John Searle
Our first journal club concerns a recent debate playing out in the pages of the New York Review of Books. In the book review [1], John Searle critiques a theory of consciousness that's gained lots of traction in the past few years, the information integration theory of consciousness (IIT), proposed by Giulio Tononi. The particular book reviewed, "Consciousness: Confessions of a Romantic Reductionist", is by Christof Koch, and it expounds on the IIT. Following publication of the review, Koch and Tononi responded with a letter to the editors of the NYRB [2], challenging several parts of Searle's critique. Searle followed up with a reply of his own [2].

Giulio Tononi

Christof Koch

We chose this debate as our inaugural topic for a journal club discussion because it provides an excellent entry point to the issues at hand, and involves some of the most influential ideas motivating consciousness research today. Interestingly, Searle, Tononi, and Koch will continue this debate at the ASSC 17 meeting this July, appearing in a roundtable discussion moderated by Jennifer Goldman and Stuart Firestein!

We encourage you to read the (very brief) materials and then join in the discussion in the comments!

1. Searle 2013 New York Review of Books "Can information theory explain consciousness?"
[link to NYRB] [link to pdf printout]
2.  Koch & Tononi 2013 New York Review of Books "Reply to Searle: Can a Photodiode Be Conscious?" and Searle 2013 New York Review of Books "Reply to Koch & Tononi"
[link to NYRB] [link to pdf printout]

 Optional readings:
- Tononi 2008 Biol Bull “Consciousness as integrated information: a provisional manifesto” [journal link]
- Koch 2009 Scientific American "A 'Complex' Theory of Consciousness" [magazine link]
- Tononi 2012 Arch Ital Biol “The Integrated Information Theory of Consciousness: An Updated Account” [journal link]
- Tononi 2012 “Phi: A Voyage from the Brain to the Soul” [amazon link]
- Koch 2012 “Consciousness: Confessions of a Romantic Reductionist” [amazon link]

Updated June 18: Unfortunately, John Searle needed to cancel his participation in the roundtable discussion on Integrated Information Theory. But we're thrilled and honored that, in lieu of John Searle, Prof. Gary Marcus (NYU) will be joining the panel of discussants for 'Debating Integrated Information Theory' on Saturday, July 13th.  Don't miss this very special event!

Please read Prof. Marcus' reflections on The Integrated Information theory of consciousness in the most recent edition of the New Yorker online:  

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