An annual conference on consciousness in the Arizona desert takes an anything-goes approach to some seriously wacky theories

By Tom Bartlett

Start with Noam Chomsky, Deepak Chopra and a robot that loves you no matter what. Add a knighted British physicist, a renowned French neuroscientist and a prominent Australian philosopher/occasional blues singer. Toss in a bunch of psychologists, mathematicians, anaesthetists, artists, meditators, a computer programmer or two and several busloads of amateur theorists waving self-published manuscripts and touting grand unified solutions. Send them all to a swanky resort in the desert for a week, supply them with lots of free coffee and beer and ask them to unpack a riddle so confounding that it’s unclear how to make progress, or where you’d even begin. Then just, like, see what happens.

The cover of the programme for the Science of Consciousness conference, which was held in Tucson in April, shows a human brain getting sucked into (or perhaps rising from?) a black hole. That seems about right: after a week of listening to eye-crossingly detailed descriptions of teeny, tiny cell structures known as microtubules, along with a lecture about building a soundproof booth in order to chat with the whispery spirit world, you too would feel as if your neurons had been siphoned from your skull and launched deep into space.

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