March 28, 2011

Experimental Philosophy and the Problem of Free Will

free will,philosophy — alice @ 9:16 am

S. Nichols
Article in Science

Many philosophical problems are rooted in everyday thought, and experimental philosophy uses social scientific techniques to study the psychological underpinnings of such problems. In the case of free will, research suggests that people in a diverse range of cultures reject determinism, but people give conflicting responses on whether determinism would undermine moral responsibility. When presented with abstract questions, people tend to maintain that determinism would undermine responsibility, but when presented with concrete cases of wrongdoing, people tend to say that determinism is consistent with moral responsibility. It remains unclear why people reject determinism and what drives people’s conflicted attitudes about responsibility. Experimental philosophy aims to address these issues and thereby illuminate the philosophical problem of free will.

Click here for an article on this study in the New York Times.

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March 17, 2011

BBC4′s “In Our Time”: Discussion on Free Will

In a BBC broadcastMelvyn Bragg and his guests Simon Blackburn, Helen Beebee, and Galen Strawson discuss the philosophical idea of free will.

From the broadcast description:

“Free will – the extent to which we are free to choose our own actions – is one of the most absorbing philosophical problems, debated by almost every great thinker of the last two thousand years. In a universe apparently governed by physical laws, is it possible for individuals to be responsible for their own actions? Or are our lives simply proceeding along preordained paths? Determinism – the doctrine that every event is the inevitable consequence of what goes before – seems to suggest so.

Many intellectuals have concluded that free will is logically impossible. The philosopher Baruch Spinoza regarded it as a delusion. Albert Einstein wrote: “Human beings, in their thinking, feeling and acting are not free agents but are as causally bound as the stars in their motion.” But in the Enlightenment, philosophers including David Hume found ways in which free will and determinism could be reconciled. Recent scientific developments mean that this debate remains as lively today as it was in the ancient world.”

Click here to listen to the broadcast.

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May 3, 2009

Understanding Consciousness, 2nd Edition

books,phenomenology,philosophy,theory — alice @ 10:51 pm


Authored by Max Velmans

Understanding Consciousness, 2nd Edition provides a unique survey and evaluation of consciousness studies, along with an original analysis of consciousness that combines scientific findings, philosophy and common sense. Building on the widely praised first edition, this new edition adds fresh research, and deepens the original analysis in a way that reflects some of the fundamental changes in the understanding of consciousness that have taken place over the last 10 years.

The book is divided into three parts; Part one surveys current theories of consciousness, evaluating their strengths and weaknesses. Part two reconstructs an understanding of consciousness from first principles, starting with its phenomenology, and leading to a closer examination of how conscious experience relates to the world described by physics and information processing in the brain. Finally, Part three deals with some of the fundamental issues such as what consciousness is and does, and how it fits into to the evolving universe. As the structure of the book moves from a basic overview of the field to a successively deeper analysis, it can be used both for those new to the subject and for more established researchers.

Understanding Consciousness tells a story with a beginning, middle and end in a way that integrates the philosophy of consciousness with the science. Overall, the book provides a unique perspective on how to address the problems of consciousness and as such, will be of great interest to psychologists, philosophers, neuroscientists and other professionals concerned with mind/body relationships, and all who are interested in this subject.

2009, 408 pp, paperback and hardback
ISBN: 978-0-415-42516-2

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May 24, 2007

Narrative selves

From MindHacksPhilosophy Now has an article on how the self might be based on our ability to create narratives. The article looks at how the self has been related to our ability to make narratives out of the disconnected events in our lives, and particularly focuses on the theories of philosophers Alasdair MacIntyre and Paul Ricoeur.

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May 22, 2007

Minds, brains and programs — Searle BBS draft

An unedited penultimate draft of a BBS target article by John Searle is now available. It has been accepted for publication (Copyright 1980: Cambridge University Press U.K./U.S. — publication date provisional) and is currently being circulated for Open Peer Commentary. This preprint is for inspection only, to help prospective commentators decide whether or not they wish to prepare a formal commentary. Please do not prepare a commentary unless you have received the hard copy, invitation, instructions and deadline information.

For information on becoming a commentator on this or other BBS target articles, write to:

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February 18, 2007

The Blackwell Companion to Consciousness

books,philosophy — alice @ 10:22 pm

Edited by Max Velmans, Susan L. Schneider

The Blackwell Companion to Consciousness is the most thorough and comprehensive survey of contemporary scientific research and philosophical thought on consciousness currently available. Extensively peer reviewed, its 55 newly commissioned chapters combine state of the art surveys with cutting-edge research. Taken as a whole, these essays by leading lights in the philosophy and science of consciousness create an engaging dialogue and unparalleled source of information regarding this most fascinating and mysterious subject. As the study of the philosophy and science of consciousness becomes ever more popular, this text will be appreciated by readers of philosophy and science alike.

2007, 768 p., 41 illustrations, Hardcover and paperback

ISBN-10: 1405120193
ISBN-13: 978-1405120197

Reviews Table of Contents

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January 15, 2007

Center for Naturalism — latest Newsletter

naturalism,philosophy — thomasr @ 7:11 am

natualism.jpgThe January-February newsletter from the Center for Naturalism is out.  It contains topics such as:

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January 9, 2006

The alleged illusion of free will

philosophy — thomasr @ 8:02 am

The discussion of whether we have a free will is one of the key issues in consciousness science. As van Duijn and Bem argues in this paper, there seems to be a trend in cognitive neuroscience to view free will as an illusion. Contrary to this, they argue that “the mechanisms supporting conscious will are considerably more complex than mainstream cognitive neuroscience currently acknowledges”.

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December 7, 2004

Core mechanisms in "theory of mind"

philosophy — thomasr @ 6:03 am

Abstract Our ability to understand the thoughts and feelings of other people does not initially develop as a theory but as a mechanism. The ‘theory of mind’ mechanism (ToMM) is part of the core architecture of the human brain, and is specialized for learning about mental states. Impaired development of this mechanism can have drastic effects on social learning, seen most strikingly in the autistic spectrum disorders. ToMM kick-starts belief-desire attribution but effective reasoning about belief contents depends on a process of selection by inhibition. This selection process (SP) develops slowly through the preschool period and well beyond. By modeling the ToMM-SP as mechanisms of selective attention, we have uncovered new empirical phenomena. We propose that early “theory of mind” is a modular heuristic process of domain-specific learning. Link

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August 13, 2003

Cartesian Panic — and its consequences

SCR Feature,philosophy — thomasr @ 12:06 am
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April 30, 2003

Empirical Constraints on the Concept of Consciousness

SCR Feature,philosophy,theory — thomasr @ 8:30 pm


Commentary on Crick and Koch’s ‘A Framework for Consciousness’

As other commentators on the target article have pointed out, and as Crick and Koch themselves acknowledge, their hypotheses regarding the neural correlates of consciousness (NCC) have much in common with the work of other researchers. There now seems to be a well-established research consensus that the NCC are distributed, integrated, and semi-hierarchical, extending across many brain systems subserving various cognitive functions. Consciousness seems to involve neural coalitions, not central executives.

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April 2, 2003

A Nagelian Neurology of Consciousness?

SCR Feature,neuroscience,philosophy — thomasr @ 6:15 pm

nagelian.gifThe aim of this paper is to explore the possibility that Nagel’s well-known account has implications for understanding the neural basis of consciousness. In a world assumed to be non-dualistic, it is argued that Nagel’s view (i.e. that consciousness is what an organism possesses when there is something that it is like to be itself) implies that consciousness is an attribute of some system in the brain that maps patterns of spike train activity. Various considerations suggest that any such system is likely to operate on analog principles.

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April 10, 2002

Sensations’s ghost. The non-sensory "fringe" of consciousness

philosophy — thomasr @ 9:30 pm

PSYCHE: an interdisciplinary journal of research on consciousness

PSYCHE 7 (18)

Non-sensory experiences represent almost all context information in consciousness. They condition most aspects of conscious cognition including voluntary retrieval, perception, monitoring, problem solving, emotion, evaluation, meaning recognition. Many peculiar aspects of non-sensory qualia (e.g., they resist being ‘grasped’ by an act of attention) are explained as adaptations shaped by the cognitive functions they serve. The most important nonsensory experience is coherence or “rightness.” Rightness represents degrees of context fit among contents in consciousness, and between conscious and non-conscious processes. Rightness (not familiarity) is the feeling-of-knowing in implicit cognition. The experience of rightness suggests that neural mechanisms “compute” signals indicating the global dynamics of network integration.


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