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Wesleyan University | Center for the Humanities


Matter, Mind and Meaning

Matter, Mind and Meaning

MICHAEL SILBERSTEIN • Full Professor of Philosophy, Elizabethtown College

OCTOBER 12 @ 6 P.M. | Daniel Family Commons, Usdan University Center

Quantum mechanics and relativity have shown us that the nature of matter is vastly different than materialists and mechanists ever imagined. Even so, trying to accommodate conscious minds into the natural order has led to the hard problem of consciousness and other seemingly insoluble problems. Indeed, even in the field of consciousness studies more and more researchers in both philosophy and the cognitive neuroscience of consciousness are becoming skeptical that any form of materialism or reductionism can resolve the hard problem of consciousness. The two emerging contenders seem to be strong emergence versus some form of panpsychism. Unfortunately, the terms of the ancient debate between strong emergence and some form of inherence such as panpsychism have not changed very much in the last few hundred years. So we allegedly have conscious agents either inexplicably popping out of brains as in strong emergence or we have something intrinsically experience-like hiding at the metaphysical 'center' of fundamental physical entities inexplicably combining to form mature minds. To see the way out, we must begin by noting that with the exception of conscious experience itself, both views share a physicalist or ontologically reductive framework. On both views, with the exception of consciousness itself, the world is just as physicalism or ontological reductionism says it is. Can we do better? Yes, neutral monism of the sort defended by William James and others is the key. The latter holds that the very idea of mind and matter as essentially distinct in the first place, is the root of the hard problem. Neutral monism deflates the hard problem and allows us to reconceive both matter and mind in a harmonious and naturalistic way, all of which puts meaning back into the heart of nature.

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