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The Mind's Eye:

The science of consciousness and the soul

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  • The Debate

    The Mind's Eye

    For scientists and philosophers the idea of the soul has been out of fashion for two hundred years. But is it on its way back? Can science explain consciousness without it? Who watches the magic show that is experience?

    The Panel

    Philosopher Galen Strawson, evolutionary psychologist Nicholas Humphrey and award-winning documentary-maker David Malone investigate the all-seeing I.

  • Find out more about speakers

Jump to what you want to see in the debate
  • Nicholas Humphrey
    The Pitch
    The soul is based on consciousness and is an illusion
  • David Malone
    The Pitch
    The soul is different to the self and consciousness
  • Galen Strawson
    The Pitch
    There's no reason to think that consciousness is not physical
  • The Debate
    Theme One
    Is consciousness another name for soul?
  • The Debate
    Theme Two
    Is the soul an illusion?
  • The Debate
    Theme Three
    Do we have a science of the soul?
Want to learn more about our speakers?
Join the conversation

to post comments or join now (only takes a moment). Don't have an account? Sign in with Facebook, Twitter or Google to get started: on 24/08/2015 7:58pm

I beg to differ with the view that some thoughts that we have are not from ourselves. In fact, all thoughts are from ourselves. Material entities like the brain or more abstractly, the mind, don't think thoughts the way conscious personalities think. We are the thinker, the mind is not. But it sure plays an affective role.

Raghavan Srinivas on 25/03/2014 8:37am

Consciousness is the self awareness and it is present in every subatomic particle of this universe that puts certain order in its function. In the processes of evolution it develops faculties to express its awareness that is discernible to the environment. Again this process of evolution is not contained in single entity but in the whole being. Every single cell in our body is conscious to a degree, so is a component of this universal reality. In the process of evolution stated above for instance a plant displays this faculty of being aware in a most fundamental way than a man. So it is not the brain that is the seat of consciousness, it is spread throughout our structure. Certain cells develop this faculty of expression and others don't. Certain cell lose it over a period of time and we call them dead cells! When some one pinches you, we are aware, but when we cut the outgrown nail we do not scream! We are able to observe it without the same reaction. This proves that this awareness is existing in the cells. Just think if the awareness is present there too, would you cut your nails so effortlessly? It means that consciousness in grades exists among the universal creation. If not for consciousness the plants wont recognize the sunlight and turn themselves towards it, animals wont fear each other or take shelter during hot sun and seek water and save themselves and their kids from calamities. All of them have this self awareness to a certain extent. In man it is profound.

Parmenides Heraclitus on 05/02/2014 2:57am

I just read Galen Strawson's "Realistic monism: why physicalism entails panpsychism", and this footnote got my attention:

"Note that if temporality goes, i.e. not just spacetime but temporality in any form, then experience also goes, given that experience requires time. One of the fine consequences of this is that there has never been any suffering. But no theory of reality can be right that has the consequence that there has never been any suffering".

Now, here's something I've been going about recently that involves absolute absence of suffering:

AMD123 on 26/08/2013 2:59pm

For all the nonsense thrown in his direction about him being some kind of a clown, I think Slavoj Žižek's remarks on consciousness in his recent book 'Less than Nothing' is worthy of wider discussion. He asks a very pertinent question: why should we necessarily define human beings positively in terms of what we 'can' do (speech, tool-making, reflexive thinking) ? [At the moment this is what unites almost all human-animal debates and those on consciousness!]. Instead, Žižek asks, why not look at this question in negative terms - what we 'cannot' do - and how, in the specific case of consciousness, it relates to what we a priori cannot be conscious of?

In psychoanalysis, consciousness designates a new point of impossibility, termed by Freud and Lacan as 'Das Ding', the ultimate reference point of our desire. When we look at humans we find that when they are presented with an object out of reach (say a sexual partner) they will persist and become transfixed by the impossible-object, whereas the animal will move on to something more modest.

And maybe, from an evolutionary perspective, we should not think of consciousness as something wonderful but a kind of massive failure or accident, as something that went wrong - a coming up against radical impossibility. Equally we should, instead of following Steven Pinker and saying that consciousness is a 'biologically pointless' by-product of evolution, we should radically account for it within the logic of evolution. That is to say, this central characteristic of human consciousness - its fixation on impossible-questions or enigmas which a priori-cannot-be-solved but bother us so much ('meaning of life', metaphysics, even questions of consciousness themselves) - how this, retroactively enabled so many insights and techniques which were of major survival value through evolution. In other words, look at how through focusing on such enigmas we gained huge insights which helped us in the battle for survival.

Just a thought anyway...

(See P.651-652 in Less Than Nothing for more on this)

David Morey on 21/08/2013 1:03pm

For some great new thinking on objects and causality see Levi Bryant:

Dudeski on 06/04/2013 2:37pm

The soul? The self? Secularism vs religion? Charles Taylor would be great here, too bad.

dondeg on 10/03/2013 12:10am

It's funny watching grown adults run around in the fantasy castle creations of their own minds and then, solving some little problem or another in the self-created castle, congratulate themselves to no end. It really does look like children making sand castles at the beach. But sadly, it is merely symptomatic of the basic and fundamental ignorance that pervades our very being in every nook and cranny, twist and turn.

The word "infinity" is very misleading. Saying the word and conceiving of the "endless" creates the illusion of understanding something. But it only takes a small amount of reflection to quickly become overwhelmed by the implications of what this word is supposed to indicate. Which soon leads to the realization that infinite = all is possible. When all is possible, what is created? Nothing. Hence, why the seeming illusion of "something" being created? THAT is the real question to think about.

Asynsis on 07/02/2013 11:04pm

The evolutionary origins of Modularity. Performance vrs Cost.

The basis ? The geometries of optimalisation and analogy.

How emergent design evolves from entropy. Cosmomimetic Design in Nature & Culture - Asynsis Principle-Constructal Law Seminar: Shanghai University-Nantes Ecole de Design via @ASYNSIS

David Morey on 07/02/2013 8:01pm

If you want to ponder an advance on dualist metaphysics Roy Bhaskar is a good although difficult place to start.

David Morey on 07/02/2013 7:57pm

A very creative debate, creativity is it a mystery, does it appear out of nothing? Is openness the real basis of what we mean by free will? Well worth reading George Steiner's Grammars of Creation:

Is creativity not the most mysterious thing, the very reason why we invented gods to explain to ourselves where all this on going creation and creativity comes from, to explain to ourselves what to do with openness and the challenge (a decidedly moral one) of what to do with it and the choices it forces upon us? Such is the fate of Dasein as being-the-open.

David Morey on 07/02/2013 7:46pm

I mean issue not isuue of course.

David Morey on 07/02/2013 7:45pm

I also think that Iain McGilchrist's work adds to this debate where he seems to map the openness/closure isuue across the two halves of the brain:

David Morey on 07/02/2013 7:37pm

Seems to me we won't be able to think clearly about the soul or mind when we are so confused about whether we are materialists or dualists or something else, seems to me that one of the most important things about the brain, mind, soul is the potential that they possess, and potential, what is possible for a person to think, feel and do are not material they are immaterial potentials. Lots of work to be done sorting out our understanding of ontology and metaphysics first I fear.

David Morey on 07/02/2013 7:19pm

Openness as David Malone suggests is key to what we have meant by our use of the word soul, and why we have also spoken of transcendence as something within as well as something experienced as beyond the empirical realm, beyond what we have or can experience. Of course this usually becomes religious, but is there a secular understanding of openness and transcendence to be had? Don Cupitt hints at this in his Religion of Being, and so does Heidegger's Dasein understood as being-the-open.

David Morey on 07/02/2013 7:01pm

Great debate, I think Terrence W Deacon's Incomplete Nature offers an important contribution to this debate and reminds me of the closure/Openness debate opened by Hilary Lawson in his book Closure:

Abe_ on 07/02/2013 6:12pm

Why not? If it looks like a spade...!

MrMudokon on 07/02/2013 3:36pm

There is definitely an uncomfortable gap left by the human soul which neuroscience and other interlopers have attempted to fill - but their explainations for human experience are far from satisfactory. I'm simply not convinced that the study of electrical signals and chemical reactions within the brain can lead to a true understanding of consciousness...

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