Ask philosophers about the mind

small_thinker.jpgAsk Philosophers is a site where anyone can pose a question to be answered by some of the leading lights in world philosophy, including specialists in the philosophy of mind.

Scientists are often disappointingly dismissive of philosophy, usually without a good understanding of the breadth and depth of the modern discipline.

Philosophers are increasingly taking the role of ‘theoretical scientists’ – by understanding the scientific data in great detail and applying the tools of conceptual analysis to make sure current theories are conceptually water tight (or highlighting areas where they are not).

This is particularly important in the cognitive and clinical sciences because many philosophical problems are encountered on a day-to-day basis.

For example, the mind-body problem – that tries to understand the relationship between physical biological processes and thought – comes into stark relief when a clinician encounters a patient with brain injury.

Similarly, the age-old philosophical problems of understanding belief and knowledge become particularly important when the medical community have to define what it is to have a delusion – something that is usually considered a form of ‘damaged’ belief.

In the Ask Philosophers philosophy of mind section there are already some fantastic questions and answers online.

One person asks if a person who is given medication to make her forget a potentially terrifying surgical experience was ever actually afraid, another asks about whether it is possible to think about the thought you are thinking.

Anyone can pitch a question, so if you have any burning queries, philosophy’s finest are waiting for your challenge.

Link to Ask Philosophers Mind section.

2 Comments

  1. Posted October 11, 2005 at 4:09 am | Permalink

    I wish I could remember the name of the book, but it had to do with the evolution of consciousness. It made references to an ape (chimpanzee?) that demonstrated an apparent higher level of consciousness (C) than its “peers” and seemed to be capable of communicating with a grammatical structure in its sign language.
    With this as a backdrop, I’m curious to know what the trends are in understanding the evolution of “advanced” C. Is there a level that is reached by chimps that is not by other intelligent animals such as dolphins, horses, pigs, dogs and elephants? Does advanced C follow the line of primates to humans in a way clearly distinct from other animals? In other words, could the descendents of pigs ultimately reach a “human” level of C or is that line forever “bound?”
    Also, will human C progress to reach levels that cannot now be comprehended? Will we ultimately be able to grasp a 4th spatial dimension (assuming one exists)?
    One of my concerns is that with the massive and persistent attempts to completely decouple science and theology over the last 50+ years, we are cutting out the basis on which higher forms of thought arose. (I suspect that concepts such as infinity, transcendence, grandeur derived from theistic thought and would not have arisen from other motives.) The flailing attempts of atheists to re-couple thoughts of “why” and “purpose” with a pure materialistic universe based on existentialism and its progeny show its bankruptcy (in that arena at least). If, on the other hand, theism and science could stay loosely associated, higher thought processes could continue to evolve.
    It seems to me as if the massive leaps in human cosmological awareness have faded. The last great super-revolutionary contribution was Einstein in 1905 and 1915. Progress since then has been almost exclusively been based on “perspiration” Рnot “inspiration.” Mathematicians and theoretical scientist bludgeon their way to progress. Physics seems stuck in a quantum morass. String theory and their variable speed of light antagonists cannot come to any clear and elegant solutions.
    It seems like we need more of those mental jumps offered by the Gausses, Euhlers, Newtons and Einsteins of their day. Where the heck did they all go? Why are we not making those mental jumps anymore? Have we reached the end of our mental evolution? If so, why? Why does it seem to correlate with the unfolding of shear hostility towards theism that is prevalent in populist scientific circles today?
    We take pride in today’s technology (and rightly so). We can communicate better (faster and richer); have more information available quickly and easily; are making progress in health sciences, but we no longer have profound revolutions impacting our lives based on theoretical science. What we see is by-and-large technological evolution – not scientific revolution. We have no clear understanding of the quantum world, fusion power will probably never arrive, teleportation (or some other new form of transportation) appears to be centuries away, if ever. An ability to clearly describe a curved universe is beyond us. This is the level of intellect we need. Why has it not arrived? Special relativity is now 100 years old – the last great scientific revolution of knowledge. After four centuries of similar leaps of knowledge, why has it stopped?
    In short, is human C profoundly unique (i.e. evolution will not duplicate in other lines)? Did religious thought help to advance C? Does the decoupling of theism and science have a traceable negative impact on science?

  2. Posted October 16, 2005 at 9:13 am | Permalink

    “Consciousness” is, for a lot of reasons and unreasons, a Big Problem for Science. Consequently Science, ie human Minds asking scientific questions, is defined and carried out by people who do not know how a Mind is working.
    In spite of that, Science has become the ruler and shrink of society and the result of this is a lot of serious problems for all human beeings as well as for the rest of the world.
    Solutions may be found by asking a quite simple question which, strangely enough, neither scientists nor philosophers are asking.
    This question is: Why consciousness?


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