13th Symposium "Behind and Beyond the Brain" | April 1 to 4, 2020 - Porto

The mystery of time

Casa do Médico - Porto
April 1 to 4, 2020

Einstein wrote: “The distinction between the past, present and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion.” Today, understanding the nature of time constitutes a major scientific and philosophical challenge. Along with space, time is a fundamental dimension of physics. Most organisms have biological mechanisms tuned to its passage. And human existence is profoundly shaped by its inexorable march. Under the theme “The mystery of time”, the 13th Symposium of the BIAL Foundation “Behind and Beyond the Brain” gathers some of the most prominent scientists and philosophers to engage in a resolutely interdisciplinary dialogue around the many aspects of time: Its very nature, which physicists continue debating; the subjective feelings its passage elicits in humans and other animals; the fundamental questions it is associated with, such as the thorny problem of causality.

The Symposium will open on April 1st with an evening lecture by TED-speaker Anil Seth (Sussex, UK), who will explore what we know about the perception of time in humans and in machines, highlighting the idea that the brain is a “prediction machine”.

The first session will take place on the morning of April 2nd. Moderated by Etzel Cardeña (Lund, SE), the session will be dedicated to the physics of time. Orfeu Bertolami (Porto, PT), Jimena Canales (Urbana-Champaign, USA), Daniel Sheehan (San Diego, USA) & Patricia Cyrus (Orlando, USA) will explore how physicists conceive of time today, and how their theories are shaped by what we know about the perception of time. Fundamental, and yet unsolved questions, such as the possibility of precognition or the nature of causality, will be addressed during these exchanges, which will close with a keynote lecture delivered by Bernard Carr (London, UK).

The second session, taking place on the morning of April 3rd, is aimed at surveying the biology of time. Moderated by Miguel Castelo-Branco (Coimbra, PT), it features lectures by Julia Mossbridge (Evanston and San Francisco, USA), Michael Brecht (Berlin, DE), and Joseph S. Takahashi (Dallas, USA), who will examine how organisms have adapted to the passage of time: From biological clocks to the mechanisms of memory, from “pre-sponding” to circadian rhythms, the speakers will engage the many ways in which neural systems respond to time in the absence of specific receptors systems dedicated to perceive it. The morning will close with a keynote lecture by Wolf Singer (Frankfurt, DE), who will explore what sorts of mechanisms have evolved to make it possible for living things to be able to “parse” time.

The third session, on the morning of April 4th, will focus on the experience of time. Caroline Watt (Edinburgh, UK) will moderate the lectures of Dean Buonomano (Los Angeles, USA), Daryl Bem (Ithaca, USA), and Kia Nobre (Oxford, UK), who will examine what it is like to feel the passage of time, how brains and bodies shape our perception of it, and how future events may affect us. The keynote lecture of Marc Wittmann (Freiburg, DE), dedicated to the links between the self and time, will close the morning.

Time will be short during the symposium as the afternoons will feature many events: oral poster presentations by BIAL Foundation grant holders (afternoon of April 2nd, moderated by Mário Simões); four participatory parallel workshops dedicated to (1) the physics and metaphysics of time, (2) precognition and anomalous experiences, (3) the experience of time in altered states of consciousness, and (4) perception and memory of time on the afternoon of April 3rd; and a closing conversation time moderated by science journalist Teresa Firmino on the afternoon of April 4th.

With this 13th Symposium, the BIAL Foundation hopes to engage speakers and the audience around a deep, interdisciplinary reflection about the most enigmatic aspect of existence - the elusive, yet inexorable dimension of time, the true nature of which we are yet to fully understand.

"The Mistery of Time": First Announcement

  • Organizing Committee
  • Participants

Axel Cleeremans (Brussels)

Etzel Cardeña (Lund)
Miguel Castelo-Branco (Coimbra)
Rui Costa (New York and Lisbon)
Rainer Goebel (Maastricht)
Stefan Schmidt (Freiburg)
Caroline Watt (Edinburgh)

Daryl Bem (Ithaca, NY)
Orfeu Bertolami (Porto)
Michael Brecht (Berlin)
Dean Buonomano (Los Angeles)
Jimena Canales (Urbana-Champaign)
Etzel Cardeña (Lund)
Bernard Carr (London)
Miguel Castelo-Branco (Coimbra)        
Axel Cleeremans (Brussels)
Rui Costa (New York and Lisbon)
Patricia Cyrus (Orlando)
Teresa Firmino (Lisbon)
Rainer Goebel (Maastricht)
Julia Mossbridge (Evanston and San Francisco)
Kia Nobre (Oxford)      
Stefan Schmidt (Freiburg)
Anil Seth (Sussex)
Daniel Sheehan (San Diego)
Mário Simões (Lisbon)
Wolf Singer (Frankfurt)
Joseph S. Takahashi (Dallas)
Caroline Watt (Edinburgh)
Marc Wittmann (Freiburg)

The Symposia

In order to provide all the supported researchers with the opportunity of discussing and present their projects, the BIAL Foundation has been organizing, since 1996, the Symposia entitled "Behind and Beyond the Brain".

Since then these Symposia are held every two years gathering the researchers supported by the BIAL Foundation and the scientific community of neuroscience and parapsychology areas.

"Placebo effects, Healing and Meditation", "Mind-matter Interactions", “Sleep and Dreams”, “Intuition and Decision-making”, “Memory”, “Exceptional Experiences”, “Emotions” or the most recent “Enhancing the Mind”, were some of the themes already debated in the Symposia “Behind and Beyond the Brain” by world-known speakers as: Miguel Castelo-Branco (Coimbra), Axel Cleeremans (Brussels), António Damásio (Los Angeles), Hoyt Edge (Florida), Peter Fenwick (London), Eberhard Fetz (Washington), Fernando Gil (Sorbonne), Allan Hobson (Harvard), Jerome Kagan (Harvard), Irving Kirsch (Boston), Lorenza Colzato (Leiden), Stephen Kosslyn (San Francisco), Stephen Laberge (Stanford), Dietrich Lehmann (Zurich), Fernando Lopes da Silva (Amsterdam), Edwin May (Palo Alto), Robert Morris (Edinburgh), Dean Radin (Nevada), Alcino Silva (Los Angeles), Ian Stevenson (Virginia), and Robert Stickgold (Harvard).

From April 1 - 4, 2020, the 13th Symposium will be held at Casa do Médico, Porto, under the central theme “The Mystery of Time”.

As a result of the developed work the BIAL Foundation usually publishes the Proceedings of the Symposia.

Previous Editions