Derbtown

On the Road

May 01, 2014

View as Single Page
On the Road

That was me last week. It was a doubleheader. Sunday the 20th I flew to Tucson for the “Toward a Science of Consciousness” conference at the university there. (Shouldn’t that be “towards”? Fowler: “Of the prepositions the –s form is the prevailing one, and the other tends to become literary on the one hand and provincial on the other.” Follett is silent.) Friday the 25th, across to Nashville for the American Renaissance event, which has no grammar issues I can detect.

There’s a big crowd in the hotel lobby at Tucson Monday morning. That’s good: gives me a chance to check out the demographics, which I like to do. Three-quarters male, median age rather high—fifty? Lotta beards. Of the females, there’s a good proportion of pretty young ones. On the P.J. O’Rourke principle—“beautiful women are always on the cutting edge of social trends”—that bodes well for consciousness studies.

Race-wise it’s a white and Indian (from India) affair. Lots of Indians—the women in saris, with some belly buttons on display, so I guess they’re Hindus, not Muslims. I don’t remember there being this many Indians at the 2008 conference, the last one I attended. Deepak Chopra is supposed to show up; perhaps they’re followers of his. There’s a thin scattering of East Asians in the lobby crowd and only one black: a short round lady swathed in muslin with her head covered, an African I guess, and a Muslim—isn’t that where the word “muslin” comes from? I looked it up: No! “Muslin” is from Mosul, the town where they first made it.

“Now when I croak and the kids sell off my books, there’ll be an extra two dollars right there—signed copy!”

Monday is registration and “pre-conference workshops.” I mainly want to get close to Sir Roger Penrose so I can ask him to sign my copy of The Road to Reality, an 1136-page blockbuster that I’ve shlepped across three time zones for this purpose. He’s addressing the “Microtubules and Quantum Biology” workshop, so I head over there.

It turns out Sir Roger is fourth up of five speakers, so I sit through the others. It’s heavy stuff: phosphorylation … electron hopping (wha?) … zinc dyshomeostasis (uh) …  I’m starting to get worried about my own consciousness.  

Then there’s a little light relief.  The third speaker finishes and declares Q&A. The muslin Muslim lady is present a few rows ahead of me. She asks a question in a thick African accent: Aren’t these speakers even going to consider the possibility that the seat of consciousness is not the brain at all, but the heart? Everyone pretends to find the question interesting. Hey, it’s what Aristotle thought. Perhaps she’s a Catholic, not a Muslim. 

Sir Roger does his shtick, then an Indian physicist, and the session’s over. I waylay Sir Roger outside. He signs my book briskly, writing the date British style. Now when I croak and the kids sell off my books, there’ll be an extra two dollars right there—signed copy!

Monday afternoon’s a flop. I try Prof. Baars on “New Discoveries in Consciousness Science,” but he spends most of his time trying to find things in the directory of his laptop. I slip out and try “First-Person Methods: Philosophers’ Dreams or Researchers’ Nightmares?” It’s not very interesting, but the speaker is a comely young woman in a short skirt so I stay to the end, then head back to my hotel and finish a book review.

Tuesday the conference proper starts, with plenary sessions and all. I’d tell you about this, but I have to bail out because I’ve contracted to write it up for a different magazine. I just want to ask:  Do all academics begin every second sentence with “So …”?