I'm just coming to the end of a busy week where I had two conferences to attend. The first was the Vision Sciences Society conference in St. Pete Beach, Florida. I was presenting some research I have done recently with other members of my lab, where we applied the types of summation ideas I worked on in my PhD to a new area (more details here). Although the publication of papers is the real engine of how the field progresses, conferences seem to be a very important accelerant. Without them there would be a much greater dependence on waiting for journal articles to spread new ideas, and any progress would be glacially slow.
Immediately after VSS we had the 25th anniversary reunion for McGill Vision Research. I joined MVR two years ago, though I had visited a couple of times before that. We had a very interesting day of talks (I much prefer talks in this sort of smaller conference setting, as was the case at the AVA meetings I used to attend in the UK). Hopefully there is some way that the reunion can be made into a recurring event.