Mind, Brain and Consciousness
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Concepts related to the Mind, Brain and Consciousness have
intrigued both philosophers and scientists since time immemorial. While
the former have speculated on the nature of mind and put forward many
theories of consciousness, the brain as an object of scientific enquiry
and how it relates to functions ordinarily subsumed under mind is a
relatively recent phenomenon. The emerging body of evidence that the
cognitive neurosciences [neurobiology and neurophysiology] and cybernetics
are producing cannot but impact our understanding of mind and
consciousness and compel us to revise many of our long held theories and
convictions. At the same time, many speculative insights of the
philosophers regarding mind and consciousness can offer great areas for
reflection and experimentation to the neuroscientists. Philosophy of mind
is an active, intensely evolving body of knowledge.
This International Seminar is
an attempt to present the salient reflections/findings of philosophers and
scientists on the interconnections between these concepts and evolve an
ongoing dialogue between them so a robust body of knowledge serves as a
foundation for further enquiry in this intriguing, and vastly unexplored,
field. Of course we can feel satisfied much has been done in the realm of
reflective thought about mind and consciousness down the centuries by the
great masters, including the likes of Plato, St. Augustine, Descartes [all
three on mind-body dualism, and Descartes on ‘mental substance’ ‘pensee’
or reflexive consciousness, and Interactionism]; Locke [rejecting ‘mental
substance’]; Hume [‘bundle concept’],
Kant [critique of associationist approaches and stress on ‘phenomenal
consciousness’], Berkeley [Idealism as in Principles of Human Knowledge,
1710 ]; Leibniz [Parallelism]; Spinoza, Gustav Fechner and W.K. Clifford
[Double-Aspect Theories] as also Herbert Spencer and P.F. Strawson; William
James [‘stream of consciousness], Brentano [‘intentionality’]; Cabanis
and older masters [Epiphenomenalism]; Vienna Circle, especially Otto Neurath
and Rudolf Carnap [physicalism or extreme materialism];
Edmund Husserl, Martin Heidegger and Maurice Merleau-Ponty
[phenomenology]; J.J.C. Smart and H. Feigl [Identity theory]; Russell
[‘sensibilia’]; A.J. Ayer [a type of neutral monism in Language,
Truth and Logic, 1936]; Geulincx and Malebranche [Occasionalism];
Gilbert Ryle [‘the ghost in the machine’ in The Concept of Mind].
There will be occasion to review their work in this seminar.
A lot has being done in the neurosciences by the scientists,
especially K.S. Lashley [removal and study of animal brain parts]; H.-L.
Tauber [war time brain damage study by EEG and PEG]; W.G. Penfield [direct
stimulation of patient’s brain]; Eric Kandel, Paul Greengard and E. Carlsson
[Microstructures necessary for learning, memory and effect of psychoactive
substances; Nobel Laureates, 2001]; R. Axel and L.B. Buck [genes, protein
receptors and odour recognition; Nobel Laureates, 2004]; and the vast body
of work by different neuroscientists on the neurotransmitters, especially
the biogenic amines, aminoacids, neuropeptides etc. There are so many
others, and the neurosciences are teeming with research work.
But precious little is being done to integrate the vast body of
knowledge that already exists about these three concepts in these
independently progressing branches of philosophical thought and scientific
This Seminar is a step to help the process of such integration.
Mind and Consciousness
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The present Seminar will attempt to review and present classical
and modern concepts and theories about Mind and Consciousness, including the
Mind-Body or Body-Mind problem; the idealist and materialist views about
mind; the identity, the computational and double aspect theories of mind;
monistic and dualistic theories of mind; as also interactionism,
epiphenomenalism, structuralism, reductionism, materialism, occasionalism,
neutral monism, functionalism, psychophysical parallelism etc. The concept
of Mind in Indian thought needs a careful and detailed exposition for which
a theme session/workshop is proposed.
The philosophy of mind is intimately connected with the philosophy
of action. Therefore, concepts like free will, motive, intentions,
cognition, volition, feelings, and also ethical issues related to these are
of abiding interest, and also of concern in this seminar. Questions related
to cognition like perception, sensation, insight, intuition, judgement, as
also thought, reasoning, and the notions of doubt, inference, reasoning,
logical thinking and how these are connected to our understanding of the
mind and its connectedness with evidences from research in the neurosciences
will also be of interest in this seminar.
The problem of Consciousness
needs to be connected with that of the Mind, but not only our philosophical
understanding of the Mind but the emerging evidence from brain research. The
various metaphysical positions like the dualist and physicalist theories,
and the specific ones like higher-order, representational, cognitive, neural
and quantum theories, need to be put in perspective to understand where we
stand in our grasp of this complex topic. Qualia, introspection [including
the works of the champions of the introspective method as seen in the work
of Wilhelm Wundt, Hermann von Helmholtz, William James and Alfred
Titchener] and self-knowledge, as aspects of consciousness also need
detailed analysis. Creature consciousness and state consciousness, as also
the ‘state of
needs close study too. Work in scientific psychology, especially Behaviorism
(Watson 1924, Skinner 1953), Gestalt psychology (Köhler 1929, Köffka 1935)
and, more recently, cognitive psychology with emphasis on modeling internal
mental processes and information processing (Neisser 1965, Gardiner 1985)
needs critical appraisal. A major resurgence of scientific and philosophical
research into the nature and basis of consciousness in the 1980s and 90s
with the works of Baars 1988; Dennett 1991; Penrose 1989, 1994; Crick 1994;
Lycan 1987, 1996; Chalmers 1996, needs to be critiqued too. Also noteworthy
is the emergence of Specialty journals devoted to the study of consciousness
(The Journal of Consciousness Studies, Consciousness and Cognition,
Psyche), as also professional societies (Association for the Scientific
Study of Consciousness - ASSC). These exciting developments need to be noted
in this seminar.
The brain is a complex organ, the structural correlate of the mind,
center and head of the central nervous and neuro-endocrine systems, whose
various areas are yielding fascinating, though rather tardy, information to
science and biology. Areas like the cerebrum, which controls higher
functions like thought, language, moral and social conduct, creativity,
spirituality etc, need as much study as the limbic system connected with
emotions and sexuality, and the neuro-endocrine system which controls an
response to stress, emotions, thoughts and feelings. As also various
pathological conditions that result from toxic, metabolic, infectious,
degenerative and congenital/traumatic conditions of brain pathology, not to
forget the great number of neuropsychiatric conditions with hitherto
ill-defined aetiology that are the great areas of interest and activity in
clinical and research psychiatry/neurology.
The emerging vast body of evidential findings from the
various neurosciences, including classical psychiatry/neurology,
neurobiology, neuropsychology and neurophysiology needs a thorough
presentation and a close look if present and future philosophic theorising
has to be grounded on solid foundations. The interdisciplinary field of
Cognitive Neuroscience which connects the sciences of the brain
[Neurosciences] with the sciences of the Mind [Cognitive Science] needs a
special and careful look. Nero-imaging and ionic/molecular processes studies
are yielding fascinating information of brain function that philosophers of
Mind can ill afford to ignore. The presence of neuroscientists and a close
look at their findings will be a special feature of this Seminar.
Two workshops, one on ‘Mind
[21 Aug, 2009], and another on ‘Brain
[27 Nov, 2009] will set the trend for the International Seminar to follow.
A feature of the first workshop will be a close look into the concept of
mind in classical Indian Philosophical systems.
The Goal, And Bridging
The attempt will be to bring
together scholars and intellectuals from these diverse streams and evolve a
body of knowledge that will further our quest in this intriguing but still
largely inscrutable area of philosophical/scientific enquiry.
connected with study of mind and consciousness may know little of brain
research. Scientists intimately connected with study of structure and
function of the brain may know little about the various theories of mind and
consciousness that have engaged philosophers down the centuries, and even
actively engages them today. The attempt here is to bring the two bodies of
researchers together to evolve a corpus of knowledge that will be mutually
beneficial and, hopefully, more than the sum of its parts.
The possibility of opening up
new areas of research and throwing up new questions for future research, as
well as helping contemporary researchers reorient/ rethink their present
positions/convictions is an exciting possibility.
Hence this Seminar.
Critiques and reviews of
established positions and theories are welcome, but original contributions
are equally encouraged.
Often, the philosopher
harbours a notion the brain research will only touch the fringe of our
understanding of mind and consciousness. And often, brain scientists believe
that philosophers indulge in speculation devoid of empirical evidence and
out of their hat’.
The attempt to bring the two together will hopefully dispel these notions
and prejudices, and promote much needed respect for each other and a
dialogue and serious study of each others’
work. This will add incrementally to the body of knowledge in the respective
fields, as well as in interdisciplinary studies, besides being personal eye
openers for individual researchers.
Hence also this Seminar.