Reflecting on the 51st Nobel Conference Posted on October 13th, 2015 by

The 51st Nobel Conference at Gustavus Adolphus College.

The 51st Nobel Conference at Gustavus Adolphus College.

The 2015 Nobel Conference, held last week on the campus of Gustavus Adolphus College, brought together neuroscientists, physicians, psychologists, sociologists, philosophers, and treatment experts to discuss the topic of “Addiction: Exploring the Science and Experience of an Equal Opportunity Condition.”

“The Nobel Conference provided participants and audience members with insight into the complexities of addiction. The conference was truly multi-disciplinary, revealing the ways that addiction is a problem of the brain, an individual, a family, a community, and broader society,” said Peg O’Connor, 2015 Nobel Conference chair.

Director of the Nobel Conference Scott Bur explained how this year’s event was unique because it connected experts from a variety of disciplines to address the issue. “People said it was really brave to take on this topic because ‘addiction’ is so poorly defined,” he said. “But it became clear that neuroscience isn’t the only way you tackle this problem, social science isn’t the only way you tackle this problem, and philosophy isn’t the only way you tackle this problem. In the end, a conference like this is challenging to pull together but it’s the only way to tell the story of addiction.”

Featuring speakers and panelists including Nobel Laureate Eric Kandel, medical sociologist Sheigla Murphy, philosopher Owen Flanagan, and neuroscientist Carl Hart, the conference drew experts whose backgrounds, research, and theories of addiction varied widely. With such a diverse group, the conference’s question and answer sessions were once again a highlight for the audience. Though discussions were heated at times, the exchanges between experts served to illustrate how challenging of an issue addiction is. “This is a really complicated question that requires a lot of different disciplines to address it. There’s no magic bullet,” Bur explained.

“These different dimensions of addiction crisscross each other, making it difficult to determine which if any of them is primary. If addiction is comprised of all these different dimensions, so too, will any effective means or methods of treatment. The talks generated great discussion along with deep disagreement. In many ways, it represents the best of a conference in a liberal arts context,” O’Connor added.


The 2015 Nobel Conference brought together experts from a variety of backgrounds to discuss addiction.

Marc Lewis, the neuroscientist and author who gave the conference’s closing lecture, agrees. “This is the kind of meeting that absolutely needs to take place in the addiction community,” he said. “The field is fragmented into different camps that don’t talk to each other much. Here we had people coming from different segments and orientations so there was a chance to cross those boundaries.”

In his closing lecture on Wednesday evening, Lewis attempted to connect the different viewpoints that were showcased throughout the conference. “I’m trying to bring together a learning-social-experiential perspective on one hand with neuroscience on the other hand,” he said.

With ticket sales of just under 4,600 and live stream views by approximately 10,000 people, the 51st Nobel Conference engaged a broad audience on campus and around the world. “Addiction affects everyone,” Bur concluded.

2015 Nobel Conference links…

Video: The presentations and panel discussions are available to watch online.

Pictures: To see more photos from the 2015 Nobel Conference, visit the Flickr album.

#Nobel51: Catch up on the conversation on the #Nobel51 social stream.

General information: For more details about the 51st Nobel Conference, visit the conference website.

Previewing the 2016 Nobel Conference…

The topic for the 2016 Nobel Conference is “In Search of Economic Balance,” which will connect economists from around the world to help us understand some of the challenges facing real-world implementation of economic theories. The 52nd Nobel Conference will take place at Gustavus Adolphus College Sept. 27-28, 2016.


Media Contact: Director of Media Relations and Internal Communication Luc Hatlestad


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