Sackler Centre for Consciousness Science

State of Mind: A Consciousness Expo

State of Mind, ran for just a single day, was a free-entry event and attracted more than 1800 members of the public of all ages and all backgrounds. It was hosted by the Sackler Centre for Consciousness Science, University of Sussex as part of the first ever public outreach and engagement program in the 16 year history of the Annual Meeting of the Association for the Scientific Study of Consciousness (ASSC16), which this year was also hosted by the Sackler Centre.  

State of Mind (www.consciousnessexpo.co.uk) was held in the Brighton Corn Exchange in order to  explore and make accessible the exciting new science of consciousness. It was part of the Sackler Centre’s public-facing events program towards making ASSC16 not just an academic event but a 'true citywide celebration of consciousness science'.

State of Mind showcased a fantastic range of new technologies and exhibits, developed by members of the Sackler Centre and colleagues from around the country, which exploited and explored the many aspects of consciousness, perception, and human experience.

The array of extraordinary exhibits drew from all aspects of consciousness science and included virtual reality environments, neuro-interactive films, mind-bending visual illusions, striking scientific images of the brain, eye tracking demonstrations, a Turing test, artificial intelligence, sensory substitution devices, impossible objects as well as real experiments in which visitors could take part in. Many of the exhibits had a strong interactive component, allowing visitors to be immersed in, and to learn about, different aspects of their own conscious experience.  There were also many opportunities for visitors to talk with the scientists, technologists, and artists currently investigating the biology of consciousness, as well as roaming experts on consciousness – drawn from the Sackler Centre - that visitors could approach with their queries.

State of Mind 2012 Gallery

State of Mind also ran three very popular short talk sessions Zen, Art and Creativity, Art and the Scientific Study of Consciousness and Consciousness: The Final Frontier all of which were packed to  capacity, generating vibrant Q&A sessions. In-between the talks we also had a ‘pop-up cinema’ showing short films relevant to consciousness science.

On the day, State of Mind attracted more than 1800 members of the public of all ages and backgrounds within just 7 hours, with queues at times stretching round the block as the Corn Exchange reached capacity. The informal feedback we have received has been uniformly excellent, with people saying how enthralled they had been by all the exhibits and wondering why the expo was only on for a single day. Our goal of attracting a very broad cross-section of the public was undoubtedly achieved, with people of all ages and backgrounds attending the Expo as well as plenty of school-age and younger children participating and getting-to-grips with the interactive exhibits.

The event was organized by David Schwartzman and Hazelle Woodhurst, both of whom are attached to the Sackler Centre, ably assisted by an army of about 40 student volunteers, Sackler Centre faculty and researchers.

State of Mind proved to be extremely popular and many more people could/would have attended given more time. As an example of ‘widening participation’ with respect to cutting-edge science, the Expo must be regarded as a resounding success and we look forward to organizing similar events in the future.

A short video of the event filmed by Anil Seth can be seen here:

For more information about State of Mind please visit www.consciousnessexpo.co.uk, the Sackler Centre website at www.sussex.ac.uk/sackler, and www.theassc.org/conferences_assc16 for details of the academic conference.

State of Mind is grateful to the University of Sussex, the Brighton Dome, and the Dr.  Mortimer and Theresa Sackler Foundation, as well as to the many volunteers and exhibitors, for their essential support.