EvoStar Invited Speakers

Stuart Hameroff MD
Professor, Anesthesiology and Psychology
Director, Center for Consciousness Studies
The University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona

Opening Talk: The ‘conscious pilot’ – Dendritic synchrony moves through the brain (like a computer worm) to mediate consciousness.
The brain is viewed as a computer in which sensory processing, control of behavior and other cognitive functions emerge from ‘neurocomputation’ in parallel networks of perceptron-like neurons. In each neuron, dendrites receive and integrate synaptic inputs to a threshold for axonal firing as output – ‘integrate-and-fire’. Neurocomputation in axonal-dendritic synaptic networks successfully accounts for non-conscious (auto-pilot) cognitive brain functions. When cognitive functions are accompanied by consciousness, neurocomputation is accompanied by 30 to 90 Hz gamma synchrony EEG. Gamma synchrony derives primarily from neuronal groups linked by dendritic-dendritic gap junctions, forming transient syncytia (‘dendritic webs’) in input/integration layers oriented sideways to axonal-dendritic neurocomputational flow. As gap junctions open and close, a gamma-synchronized dendritic web can rapidly change topology, evolve and move through the brain (like a benevolent computer worm might move through computer circuits) as a spatiotemporal envelope performing collective integration and volitional choices correlating with consciousness. The ‘conscious pilot’ is a metaphorical description for a mobile, gamma-synchronized dendritic web as vehicle for a conscious agent/pilot which experiences and assumes control of otherwise non-conscious auto-pilot neurocomputation. Intra-neuronal aspects of consciousness involving e.g. quantum computation in cytoskeletal microtubules will also be discussed, as will the evolution and place of consciousness in the universe.

Prof. Dr. Peter Schuster

Peter Schuster is the chairman of the Institute of Theoretical Chemistry at Vienna University since 1973. He is external faculty member of the Santa Fe Institute, Santa Fe, New Mexico, USA, since 1991. In 1992 – 1995 he was the founding director of the Institute of Molecular Biotechnology in Jena, Thüringen, Germany. He is president of the Austrian Academy of Sciences and member of several academies including the German Academy of Sciences Leopoldina, the Berlin Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanities, the Saxonian Academy of Sciences and the Nordrhein Westfälische Academy of Sciences. His research interests comprise nonlinear dynamics and theory of complex evolvable systems, structures and properties of RNA molecules, sequence structure mappings and neutral networks, optimization of properties of biopolymers as well as gene regulatory and metabolic networks. He is author or coauthor of more than 300 original articles in scientific journals and nine scientific books.

Closing Talk: Optimization, Selection and Neutrality – What we can learn from nature.
Everywhere in nature we encounter remarkable adaptations. Ever since Darwin adaptations in biology are explained by the powerful interplay of reproduction, variation, and selection. The mathematical basis for optimization in the sense of Darwin is provided by population genetics, which represents the unification of the selection principle and Gregor Mendel’s laws of genetics. Molecular biology opens a new avenue towards the description of evolutionary optimization by means of chemical reaction kinetics. In particular, the metaphor of fitness landscapes is put upon a firm empirical and mathematical fundament. Analysis of sequence-structure relations of biopolymers, especially proteins and nucleic acids reveals the phenomenon of neutrality. Many sequences form the same structure and cannot be distinguished by selection therefore. Neutrality was found to be essential for the success of optimization on rugged fitness landscapes.