agency / identity – consciouness – free will – persona – positioning – socialisation, education

consciousness ID quantum 2021 Ulia Koltyrina- Adobe

gaia0geld >agency- consciouness, cognition, free will – ID, persona, self – positioning – socialisation, education, parenting – class, gender, race – human nature

see also > SCIENCE natural, physics, quantum – consciousness, self, agency – philosophy ofAI, intelligence, IQ, neural networks 15-11-2023 Quantum physics, Buddhism, Aquinas and the nature of the human soul – by Tim Andersen

Modern scientism denies the existence of a soul because it fails to understand what is meant by the human soul from a philosophical perspective. Because religion adopts the concept of the soul for its own purposes, it is considered to exist within the realm of belief in the supernatural. Yet, the human soul is both a theological and a philosophical concept. The Encyclopedia Britannica says that the soul is ” the immaterial aspect or essence of a human being, that which confers individuality and humanity, often considered to be synonymous with the mind or the self.” There is no hint of religion or the supernatural in this definition. And it is reasonable to ask these four questions:

  • Is there an immortal, immaterial aspect to a human person?
  • Is that aspect a uniquely human essence or Soul?
  • What is that essence?
  • What happens to it upon the death of the body?

Quantum physics provides some answers to how a person’s essence could survive the death of the body. In fact, whole books have been written on Quantum Immortality. Most authors have focused on the Many Worlds Interpretation of quantum physics to construct a speculative narrative for human immortality based on world splitting. It is sometimes called the Quantum Suicide thought experiment but need not include actual suicide. Examples include Robert Lanza of Biocentrism fame who argues that our consciousness cannot die but only appears to die because of quantum world splitting. Even more fanciful mystical ideas have been tied to quantum theory, the only outcome being to enrich the authors at the expense of the scientifically and philosophically illiterate. Such arguments as quantum immortality and the melding of eastern mysticism with quantum theory, however, are entirely speculative and make for better science fiction than philosophy. The soul is fundamentally a body’s “lifeforce”. Indeed, the word for soul used in the New Testament is psuche which means “breath of life”…. pdf/gg 3-10-2023 Consciousness: what it is, where it comes from — and whether machines can have it – To understand where artificial intelligence might be heading, we must first understand what consciousness, the self and free will mean in ourselves. – by Liad Mudrik

  • I’ve Been Thinking Daniel C. Dennett W. W. Norton / Allen Lane (2023)
  • Free Agents: How Evolution Gave Us Free Will Kevin J. Mitchell Princeton Univ. Press (2023)
  • The Four Realms of Existence: A New Theory of Being Human Joseph E. LeDoux Harvard Univ. Press (2023)

These are good times to be a thinking, conscious creature, despite events in the world that might make us doubt that. These are even better times to be a creature who thinks about consciousness: the scientific debate is livelier than ever, and technological advances and political controversies are making the practical and philosophical questions surrounding consciousness ever more pressing. Will artificial intelligence (AI) become conscious? (Or maybe it already is…? Well, no, I would say, but we’ll get to that later.) Can state-of-the-art algorithms manipulate our consciousness to change our view of the world? Which animals, besides humans, are conscious? What about fetuses? Or artificial neural organoids? It is becoming clearer that real-life implications will be drawn from the answers that this field generates to such questions … read pdf

>identity, culture, positioning 18-10-2023 Cancelled: can liberal democracy survive the culture wars? – Two new books warn of the dangers of separatism as both right and left envision a society divided – by David Aaronovitch

The Identity Trap: A Story of Ideas and Power in Our Time by Yascha Mounk The Canceling of the American Mind: How Cancel Culture Undermines Trust, Destroys Institutions, and Threatens Us All by Greg Lukianoff and Rikki Schlott 30-3-2023 Emotions and Consciousness Woven from the Self – When our self is broken off from natural life, mental health is sabotaged. by Patrick De Vleeschauwer

No self, no emotions: The self plays a grounding role in the creation of emotions. – No self, no consciousness: The self enriches the mind with feelings and consciousness. – No life, no self: When the self is disconnected from its natural intelligence, life regulation and emotion regulation become deeply sabotaged.

In The Deep History of Ourselves, neuroscientist Joseph LeDoux, from the Center for Neural Science at New York University, produces a fundamental conclusion: “No self, no emotion.”(2019, p 369)

This simple conclusion deeply touches the heart of our psychology.he past century has been marked by a fundamental debate among emotion researchers about the nature of emotions (Fox et al, 2018). One dominant theoretical approach held that an emotion arises in an obligatory way in response to a triggering stimulus: the basic emotion approach. The other perspective proposed that an emotion arises after an evaluation of the meaning of the stimuli: the appraisal theories (Barrett, p 33, 2018). Together they epresent the classical view of emotion, which is currently in dialogue with the theory of constructed emotion (Fox et al, p 39, 2018).

Emotions Born from the Self – In The Deep History of Ourselves, neuroscientist Joseph LeDoux, from the Center for Neural Science at New York University, produces a fundamental conclusion: “No self, no emotion.”(2019, p 369)

This simple conclusion deeply touches the heart of our psychology. The past century has been marked by a fundamental debate among emotion researchers about the nature of emotions (Fox et al, 2018). One dominant theoretical approach held that an emotion arises in an obligatory way in response to a triggering stimulus: the basic emotion approach. The other perspective proposed that an emotion arises after an evaluation of the meaning of the stimuli: the appraisal theories (Barrett, p 33, 2018). Together they epresent the classical view of emotion, which is currently in dialogue with the theory of constructed emotion (Fox et al, p 39, 2018).

Understanding the nature of emotion is by no means a finished project. Understanding how emotional states emerge and give rise to feelings and awareness is crucial to gaining full insight into the nature of emotion. Introducing the self as absolutely essential for an emotion allows us to add consciousness to the debate.

With Every Breath Our Self Arises – In looking at the brain, it is impossible to separate cognition from emotion. Which circuits are involved in emotion, which in cognition? It is not at all clear where the emotion happens. The brain is a complex, integrated organ, fundamentally embodied.

In the Entangled Brain, neuroscientist Luiz Pessoa portrays the brain as a large-scale distributed network in which disparate parts of the cortex and the subcortex work simultaneously: “Perception, cognition and emotion are woven together”. (Pessoa, 2022) “It’s all about complex, entangled networks”, declares Evan Thompson, co-author with Francisco Varela of The Embodied Mind.

The self is a core concept that transcends the problem of separation and firmly connects embodied emotions with consciousness. What is the self that arises with each breath? The self starts as the embodied ground of the state of our lives.

Antonio Damasio provides a working definition of this most basic self: “A dynamic collection of integrated neural processes, centered on the representation of the living body, that finds expression in a dynamic collection of integrated mental processes.”(2010, p 9)

This deeply embodied self arises with every breath we take and becomes the ground of all our living values. No body, no self. The moment our breathing stops, the ground for this basic self fades. So we can easily extend LeDoux’s conclusion: No life, no self, no emotion.

With Every Breath, Our Life Values Emerge – We breathe in the layer of oxygen that was created at the time when simple bacterial cells started to use the sun’s energy to break down hydrogen and release its energy. This complex, galactic phenomenon has accompanied life for several billion years as photosynthesis. A slight change in the composition of the air we breathe is of paramount importance to us humans as complex multicellular organisms.

Like all other homeostatic values of life—like the ionic and nutrient composition of the different types of water that flow through us as blood, as lymph; that flows through every cell—the quality of the air is of great importance, its temperature, its pressure, its effect on cell reparation and cell division, and more.

The primary values of the self originate from the values of life regulation. This deeply embodied self becomes the ground of the primordial feelings of our subjective self.

“The self-as subject-and-knower is not only a very real presence but a turning point in biological evolution.”(Damasio, 2010, p 9)

The felt self, as the expression of our biological values, is deeply entangled with the unfolding of our emotional life. This felt self deeply affects our emotional life. This felt self is entangled with the values of our life. Life, self, emotion, and consciousness are inextricably woven together in human beings.

Disturbing Our Self Sabotages Our Mental Health – The self-as-knower expands to our extended self with its autobiographical narrative. When this expanded self is no longer grounded in our living self, there is a fundamental disturbance. This disturbance occurs when we stop feeling the primordial feelings of aliveness inside our body. When the embodied foundation of the self becomes detached from its ground, the values of life can no longer guide us: This is deep self-sabotage.

Is our modern self still rooted in its embodied self? The words of secretary-general of the United Nations Antonio Guterres on the last biodiversity conference: “With our bottomless appetite for unchecked and unequal economic growth, humanity has become a weapon of mass extinction.” (COP 15, Montreal, 2022)

It is impossible to suppress or ignore this clear statement from a world observer with integrity. Why have we become so self-disruptive by causing deep crises to the basic values of life: water, air, soil, trees, biodiversity, climate? Why have we broken ourselves from life?

A Long History of Separation Accompanies Humanity – A glimpse into our tendency to disconnect can be offered by reading one of the first written texts, the epic poems of the Iliad attributed to Homer, written around 800 B.C., about 2,500 years after writing emerged in Egyptian culture. In this saga, the love between the main characters Paris and Helen was guided by the goddess Aphrodite, and the gods Zeus and Apollo deliberated to end the ensuing Trojan War. The epic formed the basis of Greek culture in the classical era, and, along with the Odyssey, it has remained important to education in the Western tradition.

Did we begin to sever our connection to life the moment we started to create a world above us and began to focus on the values of the disembodied mind we called the immortal soul? The connection of our self with the values of life was a turning point in our biological evolution; the disconnection with these values could become the disruptive turning point of our cultural evolution. When our self disconnects from its natural intelligence, our mental health is sabotaged: No life, no self, no emotions, no consciousness.

Barrett, L. F. (2018). Emotions are constructed with interoception and concepts within a predicting brain. In Fox, A.S., Lapate, R.C., Shackman, A., & Davidson, R. (2018). The Nature of Emotion. Fundamental Questions (Second Edition). New York, Oxford University Press.

Damasio, A. (2010). Self Comes to Mind. Constructing the conscious brain. London, William Heinemann.

LeDoux, J. (2019). The Deep History of Ourselves. The Four-Billion-Year Story of How We Got Conscious Brains. New York, Viking.

Pessoa, L. (2022). The Entangled Brain. How perception, cognition and emotion are woven together. Cambridge MA, MIT Press.

Varela, F.J., Thompson, E., Rosch, E. (2016). The Embodied Mind. Cognitive Science and Human Experience. Cambridge MA, MIT Press. 28-3-2023 “The self” doesn’t exist. Instead, you constantly shape multiple selves – We bring multifaceted selves to our interactions, and in these interactions co-create each other again and again. Excerpted from the book: SELFLESS by Brian Lowery

The self is a complex and dynamic construct influenced by personal experiences, cultural background, and beliefs about oneself and others. Our interactions with others can affect our sense of self, and there is a tension between the desire for coherence and the desire for freedom in our self-perception. The concept of self is not static, but rather constantly evolving through social interactions and the ongoing construction of our identity. 10-3-2023 Social sponges: Gendered brain development comes from society, not biology – After debunking many myths around male and female brains, Gina Rippon’s research interests now include gender gaps in science and why they persist, even in allegedly gender-equal societies. by Dom Byrne

Why, in nations that purport to be gender-equal, are women still under-represented in science? Cognitive neuroscientist Gina Rippon offers some insights based on her research. Gina Rippon was a paid-up member of the “male-female brain brigade” earlier in her career as a cognitive neuroscientist, but changed tack, she says, after discovering there was not a lot of sound research behind the well-established belief that male and female brains are biologically different.

In the fourth episode of this 12-part podcast series Tales from the Synapse, Rippon explores the role of social conditioning to explain why boys and girls might respond differently to pink and blue objects, why girls aged nine describe maths “as a boy thing,” and why the same girls shun games that are aimed at children “who work really, really hard.”

Download MP3 –  See transcript

>ID, parenting, socialisation, neuroscience, 10-3-2023 Mother knows best – Insights into parenthood from neuroscience, archaeology and social policy – By Michele Pridmore-Brown – book review

MOTHER BRAIN – Separating myth from biology – the science of the parental brain – Chelsea Conaboy
WHAT MAKES A PERSON? – Secrets of our first 1,000 days – Mark Hanson and Lucy Green
GROWING UP HUMAN – The evolution of childhood – Brenna Hassett

>cognition, technology, neuroscience 4 -3-2023 Prof Nita Farahany: ‘We need a new human right to cognitive liberty’ – by Zoë Corbyn

The author of The Battle for Your Brain has serious reservations about neurotechnology, from the surveillance of mental experiences to ‘brainjacking’

Our brainwave activity can be monitored and modified by neurotechnology. Devices with electrodes placed on the head can record neural signals from the brain and apply low electric current to modulate them. These “wearables” are finding traction not only with consumers who want to track and improve their mental wellness but with companies, governments and militaries for all sorts of other uses. Meanwhile, firms such as Elon Musk’s Neuralink are working on next-generation brain implants that could do the same thing, only with far greater power. While the initial use may be to help people with paralysis to type, the grand idea is for augmentation to be available to all. Nita Farahany, a professor of law and philosophy at Duke University who studies the ethical, legal and social ramifications of emerging technologies, is sounding the alarm.

Technology that can read our minds sounds terrifying. But it is also way ahead of where things are. Aren’t you jumping the gun?
I don’t think so and, furthermore, we dismiss it at our peril. While the technology can’t literally read our complex thoughts, there are at least some parts of our brain activity that can be decoded. There have been big improvements in the electrodes and in training algorithms to find associations using large datasets and AI. More can be done than people think. There are a lot of real-world applications and major tech companies like Meta are investing in it.

What’s the danger? – There are profound risks from both the commodification of the data but also what it means to have your brain activity monitored by others and what that does to freedom of thought….

goodreads The Battle for Your Brain: Defending the Right to Think Freely in the Age of Neurotechnology – by Nita Farahany

A new dawn of brain tracking and hacking is coming. Will you be prepared for what comes next?

Imagine a world where your brain can be interrogated to learn your political beliefs, your thoughts can be used as evidence of a crime, and your own feelings can be held against you. A world where people who suffer from epilepsy receive alerts moments before a seizure, and the average person can peer into their own mind to eliminate painful memories or cure addictions.

Neuroscience has already made all of this possible today, and neurotechnology will soon become the “universal controller” for all of our interactions with technology. This can benefit humanity immensely, but without safeguards, it can seriously threaten our fundamental human rights to privacy, freedom of thought, and self-determination.

From one of the world’s foremost experts on the ethics of neuroscience, The Battle for Your Brain offers a path forward to navigate the complex legal and ethical dilemmas that will fundamentally impact our freedom to understand, shape, and define ourselves.

> cognition, imagination, human nature, neuroscience 23-2-2023 Imagination makes us human – this unique ability to envision what doesn’t exist has a long evolutionary history – Andrey Vyshedskiy

…”…This deliberate, responsive and reliable capacity to combine and recombine mental objects is called prefrontal synthesis. It relies on the ability of the prefrontal cortex located at the very front of the brain to control the rest of the neocortex.

When did our species acquire the ability of prefrontal synthesis? Every artifact dated before 70,000 years ago could have been made by a creator who lacked this ability. On the other hand, starting about that time there are various archeological artifacts unambiguously indicating its presence: composite figurative objects, such as lion-manbone needles with an eyebows and arrowsmusical instrumentsconstructed dwellingsadorned burials suggesting the beliefs in afterlife, and many more.

Multiple types of archaeological artifacts unambiguously associated with prefrontal synthesis appear simultaneously around 65,000 years ago in multiple geographical locations. This abrupt change in imagination has been characterized by historian Yuval Harari as the “cognitive revolution.” Notably, it approximately coincides with the largest Homo sapiens‘ migration out of Africa.

Genetic analyses suggest that a few individuals acquired this prefrontal synthesis ability and then spread their genes far and wide by eliminating other contemporaneous males with the use of an imagination-enabeled strategy and newly developed weapons.

So it’s been a journey of many millions of years of evolution for our species to become equipped with imagination. Most nonhuman mammals have potential for imagining what doesn’t exist or hasn’t happened involuntarily during REM sleep; only humans can voluntarily conjure new objects and events in our minds using prefrontal synthesis.”

see also on the conversation

>neuroscience 11-3-2023 don’t catastrophise just yet 4-3-2023 Humanity is sleepwalking into a neurotech disaster – by Camilla Cavendish

>consciousness 4-1-2023 BRAIN SCIENTIST: CONSCIOUSNESS DIDN’T EVOLVE. IT CREATES EVOLUTION – With a tremor in his voice, Donald Hoffman tells Robert Lawrence Kuhn that even the Big Bang must be understood in a universe where consciousness is fundamental – by DENYSE O’LEARY

In a recent episode of Closer to Truth, Robert Lawrence Kuhn interviewed University of California cognitive scientist Donald Hoffman on a challenging topic, “Why did consciousness emerge? 12-2022 HARD PROBLEM OF CONSCIOUSNESS SOLVED?: A 4TH SPATIAL DIMENSION? – Philosopher Peter Sjöstedt-Hughes argues that higher spatial dimensions might hold the key

In “Hard problem of consciousness solved?: A 4th spatial dimension?” (April 20, 2022), our News division looks at philosopher Peter Sjöstedt-Hughes’ view that higher spatial dimensions might hold the key to the uniqueness of human consciousness.

In an abridged chapter of his recent book Modes of Sentience (2021), University of Exeter philosopher of mind, Peter Sjöstedt-Hughes, argues that higher spatial dimensions might hold the key to the hard problem of consciousness:” He is a fan of the More–Broad–Smithies theory of consciousness:

>education, metrics, tests, meritocracy

17-11-2022 Standardized Testing and the Destruction of Education – Research reveals that the more we test, the more we reduce students’ interests. by Peter Gray

Kim’s Conclusions Regarding Consequences of Test-Centric Schooling
The PISA scores that attract most attention are those for science, math, and reading. But the tests also include some items aimed at assessing creativity and students’ interest in learning and items for teachers that ask about their teaching methods. In her 2021 article, Kim describes some analyses she made based in part on data from the 2015 PISA tests. You can look to the article for the details, but here are three of her main conclusions:

  1. The data revealed strong negative correlations, across countries, between scores on the subject-matter tests and scores on interest in learning and indices of creativity. For example, Kim found that countries that scored highest on the science test tended to score lowest on interest in learning science (r = -.50) and on a composite index of creativity and self-motivation (r = -.90). No surprise, if you drive students to “learn” for the sake of scoring high on a test, you drive out any true interest they might have had in the subject and any tendency to think creatively about that subject, in ways that might challenge the authorities who created the lessons and the test.
  2. In the U.S., new teachers (those with relatively few years of teaching) were significantly less likely to report using creative methods in the classroom or soliciting and discussing students’ ideas than were those who had been teaching for more years. Kim suggests that new teachers are more amenable to the test-centric modes of teaching than are those who have been in the system for a longer time. This, in her opinion, bodes poorly for the future of American education.
  3. Over time, as schooling has become increasingly test-centric, scores on standard assessments of creativity have been declining in the United States (see also here for earlier data on this). At a time when creativity and innovation are especially needed for economic success, our school system has moved in a direction of suppressing rather than augmenting those abilities.

So, here’s a conclusion quite the opposite of that which has promoted standardized testing and the narrowing of educational focus in our schools. If we as a nation want to remain an economic powerhouse, the leader in innovation, we need to move toward more flexibility and more opportunities for self-direction for students and teachers in our schools, not less.”

>consciouness, cognition, free will 14-11-2022 Roger Penrose: “Consciousness must be beyond computable physics” – The mathematician shares his latest theories on quantum consciousness, the structure of the universe and how to communicate with civilisations from other cosmological aeons – by Michael Brooks

>human nature 10-2022 Our Conscious Experience of the World Is But a Memory, Says New Theory – by Shelly Fan

…”…According to a new paper in Cognitive and Behavioral Neurology, these sights, smells, and glances are mere memories, even as I feel that they’re happening in real time. …

Two ideas rule in neuroscience, with global efforts to battle it out through carefully designed experiments. One is the global neuronal workspace theory (GNWT), which posits that the brain integrates information from multiple sources into a single data “sketch” on a “global workspace.” This workspace, having knowledge of only items in our attention, forms a conscious experience.

In contrast, the other mainstream theory, Integrated Information Theory (IIT), takes a more connective view. Here, consciousness arises from the neural architecture and interconnectedness of brain networks. The physical and data processing properties of neural networks—particularly, the rear regions of the brain—by themselves can generate consciousness.

Other theories dig deep into the complex web of neural connections, suggesting that information loops between brain regions, extended in time and space, generate consciousness. Some suggest that an awareness of “self” is critical to being conscious of the outside world. …

The authors are well aware that they’re stepping into controversial grounds. …”…

>agency, free will – 3-10-2022 Do we have free will – and do we want it? Thomas the Tank Engine offers clues – by Matyáš Moravec

> consciousness, positioning 3-10-2022 The big idea: do we all experience the world in the same way? – Every human brain is different – it’s time to embrace the diversity of our experiences – by Anil Seth 7-2022 A Stimulating Debate on Consciousness and the Brain – Scientists from around the world gather to debate theories about consciousness.

KEY POINTS – In discussing existing theories of consciousness, a group of scientists also attempts to define what a theory should predict and account for. Scientists sometimes present “falsifiable” hypotheses (educated guesses that can be proven false) when building a theory. In theory building, the “definitive definition” of a phenomenon is the end, and not the beginning, of scientific inquiry.

>parenting, positioning, socialisation 2019 Social Class, Gender, and Contemporary Parenting Standards in the United States: Evidence from a National Survey Experiment Get access Arrow- by Patrick Ishizuka

Social scientists have documented a substantial increase in both mothers’ and fathers’ time spent with children since the 1960s in the United States. Yet parenting behaviors remain deeply divided by social class and gender, with important implications for the reproduction of inequality. To understand rising parental investments in children and persistent class and gender differences in parenting, popular accounts and academic studies have pointed to an apparent cultural shift toward norms of time-intensive, child-centered parenting, particularly for mothers and among middle-class parents. However, prior research has produced inconclusive evidence relating to social class, gender, and contemporary parenting norms. Using data from an original vignette survey experiment conducted with a nationally representative sample of more than 3,600 parents, this study examines cultural norms related to parenting elementary school-aged children, considering how both social class and gender shape views about good parenting. Results indicate that parents of different social classes express remarkably similar support for intensive mothering and fathering across a range of situations, whether sons or daughters are involved. These findings suggest that cultural norms of child-centered, time-intensive mothering and fathering are now pervasive, pointing to high contemporary standards for parental investments in children.

>ID, gender, positioning, patriarchy 9-2022 How to reboot men for the age of gender equality – by Simon Kuper

>ID, persona, self

goodreads 2022 Magnificent Rebels: The First Romantics and the Invention of the Self – by Andrea Wulf 9-2022 How a Group of Young Writers and Poets Revolutionized 18th-Century Literature – Andrea Wulf on the Origins and Enduring Legacy of German Romanticism 9-2022 review by Adam Sisman 9-2022 These Romantics Celebrated the Self, to a Fault – “Magnificent Rebels,” by Andrea Wulf, paints a vivid portrait of the 18th-century German Romantics: brilliant intellectuals and poets who could also be petty, thin-skinned and self-involved 9-2022 Where Our Sense of Self Comes From – How did a group of rebellious German playwrights, poets, and writers in the late 18th century revolutionize the way we think of ourselves and the world? By Andrea Wulf

We accept as self-evident that each of us is free to think and form our own opinions, that we have autonomous selves. Western societies and institutions are founded on this spirit of individual freedom and self-determination. But it is becoming clear that this very core of Western democratic culture is being undermined—be it by Russia’s cyber interference in elections or the widespread dissemination of fake news on social media. Many people assumed that they were at least in control of decisions over their own bodies, until the Supreme Court overruled Roe v. Wade in June. Next up might be . the reversal of the legalization of same-sex marriage and even a return to the criminalization of consensual gay sex.

All of these assaults on autonomy make it even more important to understand the beginnings of the modern self, the origins of that hard-won freedom. I spent the past several years looking for where this idea—taken for granted today, but once quite radical—first emerged and was surprised to discover that it was in a quiet university town called Jena, some 150 miles southwest of Berlin. It was there that, in the 1790s, a small group of rebellious playwrights, poets, and writers revolutionized the way we think of ourselves and the world.

I call them the “Jena Set,” and they are the subject of my new book, Magnificent Rebels. Among them were some of Germany’s most brilliant minds—the poets Novalis and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe; the playwright Friedrich Schiller; the philosophers Johann Gottlieb Fichte, Friedrich Schelling, and Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel; the young scientist Alexander von Humboldt; the combative Schlegel brothers; the formidable Caroline Böhmer-Schlegel-Schelling. These thinkers began to seriously consider a number of existential questions: How do we have control over our own lives? Can we trust the knowledge produced by our minds? And perhaps most importantly, what does it mean to be free?

What happened in jena in the 1790s that brought these questions to the fore? And why Jena? Why Germany? At the end of the 18th century, Germany wasn’t yet a unified nation; rather, it was a patchwork of more than 1,500 states—constituting the Holy Roman Empire—ranging from tiny principalities to powerful dynasties such as the Hohenzollern in Prussia and the Habsburgs in Austria. One unintended advantage of such fragmentation was that censorship was far more difficult to enforce than it was in large, centrally ruled nations such as France and England. Every German state, no matter how small, had its own set of regulations and laws. Germany was small, splintered, and inward-looking. And Germans seemed particularly enamored of the written word. The publishing trade was four to five times larger than that in England. Germans were voracious readers—and books, newspapers, pamphlets, and articles spread new ideas across the population.

Jena was only a small town of 4,500 inhabitants, but it was home to an important university. Because of complicated inheritance rules, the institution was nominally controlled by at least four Saxon dukes. In reality, no one was truly in charge. As a result, a broad scope of subjects could be taught. “The professors in Jena are almost entirely independent,” Schiller wrote. There was no university like it in Europe. Drawn by this openness, thinkers who had been in trouble with the authorities in their home states came to Jena. The last decade of the 18th century seemed to find more famous poets, writers, and philosophers living in Jena’s small confines, in proportion to its population, than in any town before or since—the makings of an intellectual hothouse.

Picture the largest auditorium in Jena in the summer of 1794. It was noisy with the sound of several hundred students fighting for seats. They spilled out into the corridors, clambered onto benches in the back; some even climbed onto ladders at the windows to listen to their new professor, Fichte. The air was stale and hot. Fichte stood at the lectern in riding boots with spurs, holding his whip. More bull than racehorse, he was of average height but muscular, with a forceful presence. There was nothing gentle about him. He thundered, insulted, and shouted. He stomped rather than walked, every step an affirmation of his very existence. He ate his snuff tobacco rather than inhaling it.

Philosophy was not just the domain of philosophy students, he insisted, but of society at large. “I am a priest of truth,” Fichte shouted from his lectern. Confident and self-assured, he wanted nothing less than to teach the world how to think. There were no God-given or absolute truths, Fichte said; the only certainty was that the world was experienced by the self—by the Ich, as the Germans say. The Ich, he explained, “posits its own being”—in other words, the self brings itself into existence. Not only that, but through this powerful initial act, it also conjures up the so-called non-Ich—the external world that includes nature, animals, other people, and so on. Fichte didn’t say that the self creates (or controls) the world but rather that it creates our knowledge of the world.

In the mid-17th century, the French philosopher René Descartes shifted emphasis to the self when he famously asserted, “Cogito, ergo sum”—“I think, therefore I am.” But he had been troubled by how the immaterial mind could be joined to a material body. His philosophy was one of dualism, of a division between mind and matter. The German philosopher Immanuel Kant had also given the mind a more important role. He asserted that we are essentially citizens of two worlds, occupying both the internal world of our own perception (the “thing-as-it-appears-to-us”) and the external world (his “thing-in-itself”). Kant explained that we will never truly understand the thing-in-itself, because we’ll always comprehend the external world through our senses and the categories of our mind, such as time, space, and causality. They are like tinted spectacles through which we understand the external world.

Fichte’s starting point for everything was the self, but not Kant’s twofold view of the thing-in-itself and the thing-as-it-appears-to-us. He criticized Kant for not having overcome Descartes’ dualism, in which the external world exists independently of the mind. Not only did Fichte overcome this divided world (when he asserted that our knowledge of the external world was produced by our self) but his Ich was powerful: If the Ich brings itself into existence, it must be free. The Ich, not God or monarchs, was the first principle of everything. At a time when most German rulers demanded complete subordination from their subjects, Fichte gave the self the most exciting of all powers: free will.

This was an idea lit by the fire of the French Revolution—an event so pivotal that no one in Europe was unaffected. When the French revolutionaries declared all men equal, they promised a new social order founded on freedom and the power of ideas. Philosophy left the ivory tower and provoked ordinary people to action. Words and ideas could change the world more fundamentally than could weapons and monarchs. “Things are becoming reality,” the poet Novalis wrote in 1794, “which, ten years ago, would have gone straight to the philosophical madhouse.”

Fichte’s idea of the Ich as the first principle of everything was as revolutionary as any of the political changes witnessed in France. “My system is, from beginning to end, an analysis of the concept of freedom,” Fichte declared—and this radically new concept of a free self carried the potential for a different life. A person “should be what he is,” Fichte told his students in Jena, “because he wants to be it and is right to want to be it.” His own life was proof of the power of his philosophy. Born the son of a poor ribbon weaver in a small village in Saxony, Fichte became the most famous German philosopher of his time, after Kant. He used his mind—his will—to abandon a seemingly predestined path.

Fichte electrified his students and his contemporaries—they called him the “Bonaparte of Philosophy.” More than half of Jena’s 800 students came to his lectures, and many declared him their idol. For the 24-year-old poet Friedrich Hölderlin, the philosopher was the “soul of Jena.” For Hegel, he was a “Titan fighting for humanity.” Schiller and Goethe went to Fichte’s lectures, and Schelling believed Fichte’s ideas to be a “revolution brought about by philosophy.”

But there were also critical voices. Fathers feared Fichte’s influence on their impressionable sons; other observers worried about what they called the “lawless capriciousness of the current zeitgeist.” This new addiction to the Ich, they said, would inevitably lead to egotistical self-absorption. Meanwhile, the German philosopher Johann Gottfried Herder accused Fichte of “disgustingly playing with himself—a masturbation of pure-impure reason.” But whatever people said, it soon became obvious that students and thinkers were not philosophizing anymore, but “fichticizing.” The self had become the starting point of everything.

Jena and its most famous residents—Fichte, Goethe, and Schiller—seemed to exert a magnetic pull. Soon, a new generation of young thinkers arrived in the small university town, including Friedrich and August Wilhelm Schlegel, two brothers who fought the literary establishment. Turning against the polished refinement and rigid metric patterns of earlier 18th-century poetry, they were the first to use the term romantic in its new literary meaning. “We have to believe in the power of words,” Friedrich Schlegel declared. Within the next few years, they founded their own magazine and launched Romanticism onto the international stage. Their lives became the laboratories for Fichte’s Ich-philosophy: They defied social conventions, and the emphasis on individual experience became their guiding light.

Friedrich Schlegel lived with his lover, the divorced writer Dorothea Veit, in his brother’s house in Jena. He called himself a “Dictator-Critic,” a literary critic with a pen as sharp as the French guillotines. He took the obsession with the self to another level when he wrote Lucinde, an erotic autobiographical novel in which he invited readers into his bedroom to watch him and Dorothea make love.

Meanwhile, August Wilhelm Schlegel and his wife, Caroline, had come to the highly unusual arrangement of an open marriage—“an alliance that between ourselves we never regarded as anything but utterly free,” she explained. Before marrying August Wilhelm, Caroline had been imprisoned for being a sympathizer of the French Revolution and had found herself pregnant by a young French soldier, possibly after a one-night stand at a ball. But why, she asked, should her life be destroyed by “one little foolishness” that would have meant nothing had she been a man? She was educated, beautiful, witty, and self-confident. She assumed the role of editor for the Schlegel brothers’ literary magazine, wrote reviews under her husband’s name, translated with him 16 Shakespeare plays (which still make up the standard edition in Germany today), and gave the Jena Set a place where they could think, talk, laugh, and write. And though she didn’t contribute theoretical treatises or essays, she lived and breathed this new Ich-philosophy. She was the embodiment of the empowered free self.

The Jena Set felt invincible. They were embroiled in endless fights with the literary establishments and later with each other. They walked a fine line between free will and selfishness, self-determination and narcissism—a balancing act that seems all too familiar today. Maybe it’s not that surprising to find inflated egos, infighting, and self-absorption in a group of strong-willed men and women who believed in the supreme rule of the self. Freedom brings with it both responsibilities and dangers. The friends in Jena struggled with that, just as we do today. From the moment this seismic shift toward an empowered self rippled out of Jena, people have had to deal with the perils. But Fichte himself never intended his ideas to be a celebration of narcissism. On the contrary, he always insisted that our freedom is tightly bound to our moral obligations. “Only those are free,” he told students during his first lecture series, in 1794, “who will try to make everyone around them free.” Freedom always brings its twin: moral duty. How can we live a fulfilled life in which we follow our dreams while also being a morally good person? How do we reconcile personal liberty with the demands of society? Are we too selfish? Are we treading on someone else’s liberty?

The self, for better or worse, has remained center stage ever since Fichte put it there. The French revolutionaries changed the political landscape of Europe, but Fichte and the friends in Jena incited a revolution of the mind. We may have forgotten Fichte, and we might not talk about his self-determined Ich any more, but we have internalized it. We are this Ich. We’re still empowered by the Jena Set’s daring leap, by the absolute importance they placed on personal freedom. And at a time when we find our democracies hollowed out and threatened by liars, despots, and reactionary politicians, it is up to us to determine how much we want to fight for this legacy. 9-2022 What’s the difference – by Arianne Shahvisi

>socialisation- education, parenting , mental health crisis 9-2022 I’m a psychologist – and I believe we’ve been told devastating lies about mental health – Society’s understanding of mental health issues locates the problem inside the person – and ignores the politics of their distress – by Sanah Ahsan

…”… As a clinical psychologist who has been working in NHS services for a decade, I’ve seen first hand how we are failing people by locating their problems within them as some kind of mental disorder or psychological issue, and thereby depoliticising their distress. Will six sessions of CBT, designed to target “unhelpful” thinking styles, really be effective for someone who doesn’t know how they’re going to feed their family for another week? Antidepressants aren’t going to eradicate the relentless racial trauma a black man is surviving in a hostile workplace, and branding people who are enduring sexual violence with a psychiatric disorder (in a world where two women a week are murdered in their own home) does nothing to keep them safe. Unsurprisingly, mindfulness isn’t helping children who are navigating poverty, peer pressure and competitive exam-driven school conditions, where bullying and social media harm are rife.

If a plant were wilting we wouldn’t diagnose it with “wilting-plant-syndrome” – we would change its conditions. Yet when humans are suffering under unliveable conditions, we’re told something is wrong with us, and expected to keep pushing through. To keep working and producing, without acknowledging our hurt.

In efforts to destigmatise mental distress, “mental illness” is framed as an “illness like any other” – rooted in supposedly flawed brain chemistry. In reality, recent research concluded that depression is not caused by a chemical imbalance of the brain. Ironically, suggesting we have a broken brain for life increases stigma and disempowerment. What’s most devastating about this myth is that the problem and the solution are positioned in the person, distracting us from the environments that cause our distress. …”…

>socialisation- education, parenting , “mental health crisis”.

the 9-2022 The long read –‘Parents are frightened for themselves and for their children’: an inspirational school in impossible times – Austerity, the pandemic and now the cost of living crisis have left many schools in a parlous state. How hard do staff have to work to give kids the chances they deserve? – by Aida Edemariam

>agency, consciousness, cognition

 goodreads 2022 How the Mind Changed: A Human History of Our Evolving Brain by Joseph Jobelli 8-2022 Will we ever define the conscious mind? – What creates our private, inner universes is still a mystery. – by Joseph Jebelli

Consciousness is the biggest mystery of the brain — a private inner universe that utterly disappears in states such as general anesthesia or dreamless sleep. The “hard problem” of consciousness is to understand why any physical processes in the brain are accompanied by conscious experience. Consciousness may always remain outside the limits of human comprehension, but by process of elimination, we can at least narrow down its physical causes.

>agency, consciousness, attention – work > philosophy/ phenomenology Notes From Someone Else’s Lecture – A consciously playfully look at intentionality and experience at the end of all objects. Jennida Chase

>agency- consciouness, cognition, 1-3-2022 The Three Filters of Consciousness – Three filters frame the domains of human consciousness. – by Gregg Henriques, Abigail Fagan

  • The self, ego, and persona are the three major domains of human consciousness and they are separated by filters.
  • The filter between the experiential self and the ego is called the Freudian Filter; it regulates our subconscious drives and feelings.
  • The filter between the ego and the persona is called the Rogerian Filter, and it represents how we manage our impressions.
  • The filter between basic non or subconscious neurocognitive processes and subjective conscious experiences is called the attentional filter.

These dynamics make clear what each of us knows well as human persons: We must regulate the impressions we create on the social stage. And this means that there is a filter between our private ego and self, and the public self we present to others. In its most basic terms we can call this the private to public filter; however, JUST allows us to both be more specific and connect it with another major domain of psychological thought. Carl Rogers made a number of powerful insights into psychopathology when he realized the central dynamic in navigating the judgments and evaluations of others. Specifically, he saw that trying to meet the demands of others set many people up to discount their core self, what he referred to as the core organismic valuing process, and instead block that and conform. Unfortunately, doing so often leaves people feeling empty and alienated and out of contact. Because of these insights from Rogers, UTOK calls the private to public filter “the Rogerian Filter.”

The Freudian and Rogerian Filters show how the idea of JUST provides a causal explanatory framework for unifying some of the most important insights from psychodynamic and humanistic thought. The last filter is more basic. It refers to the process by which non or subconscious mental processes become objects of perceptual awareness that we can experience. This problem is explored by cognitive neuroscientists and consciousness researchers. One particularly excellent set of analyses on this issue comes from Dehaene’s (2014)3 work on the global neuronal workspace model of consciousness. His work shows how attention is a central focusing aspect of conscious experience (although not synonymous with it). Indeed, we can think about attentional processes as serving as a kind of filter between sub or nonconscious neurocognitive processes and those that appear in our experiential awareness. …”…

>agency- consciouness, cognition, attention 2/1/2022 Your attention didn’t collapse. It was stolen by Johann Hari

…”… a journey that transformed how I think about attention. I travelled all over the world in the next three years, from Miami to Moscow to Melbourne, interviewing the leading experts in the world about focus. What I learned persuaded me that we are not now facing simply a normal anxiety about attention, of the kind every generation goes through as it ages. We are living in a serious attention crisis – one with huge implications for how we live. I learned there are twelve factors that have been proven to reduce people’s ability to pay attention and that many of these factors have been rising in the past few decades – sometimes dramatically. …

…When neuroscientists studied this, they found that when people believe they are doing several things at once, they are actually juggling. “They’re switching back and forth. … This is called the “switch-cost effect”. It means that if you check your texts while trying to work, you aren’t only losing the little bursts of time you spend looking at the texts themselves – you are also losing the time it takes to refocus afterwards, which turns out to be a huge amount …
realised that to heal my attention, it was not enough simply to strip out distractions. That makes you feel good at first – but then it creates a vacuum where all the noise was. I realised I had to fill the vacuum. To do that, I started to think a lot about an area of psychology I had learned about years before – the science of flow states. Almost everyone reading this will have experienced a flow state at some point. It’s when you are doing something meaningful to you, and you really get into it, and time falls away, and your ego seems to vanish, and you find yourself focusing deeply and effortlessly. Flow is the deepest form of attention human beings can offer. But how do we get there? …Prof Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in Claremont …who was the first scientist to study flow states and researched them for more than 40 years. …

I returned to the world determined to integrate the lessons I had learned in my everyday life. When I was reunited with my phone and laptop after taking a ferry back to where they were stashed in Boston, they seemed alien, and alienating. But within a few months, my screen time was back to four hours a day, and my attention was fraying and breaking again. In Moscow, the former Google engineer James Williams – who has become the most important philosopher of attention in the western world – told me I had made a crucial mistake. Individual abstinence is “not the solution, for the same reason that wearing a gas mask for two days a week outside isn’t the answer to pollution. It might, for a short period of time, keep certain effects at bay, but it’s not sustainable, and it doesn’t address the systemic issues.” He said that our attention is being deeply altered by huge invasive forces in wider society. Saying the solution was to just adjust your own habits – to pledge to break up with your phone, say – was just “pushing it back on to the individual” he said, when “it’s really the environmental changes that will really make the difference”. Nigg said it might help me grasp what’s happening if we compare our rising attention problems to our rising obesity rates…

…“Obesity is not a medical epidemic – it’s a social epidemic. We have bad food, for example, and so people are getting fat.” The way we live changed dramatically – our food supply changed, and we built cities that are hard to walk or cycle around, and those changes in our environment led to changes in our bodies. We gained mass, en masse. Something similar, he said, might be happening with the changes in our attention.
I learned that the factors harming our attention are not all immediately obvious. I had been focused on tech at first, but in fact the causes range very widely – from the food we eat to the air we breathe, from the hours we work to the hours we no longer sleep. They include many things we have come to take for granted – from how we deprive our children of play, to how our schools strip learning of meaning by basing everything on tests. I came to believe we need to respond to this incessant invasion of our attention at two levels. The first is individual. There are all sorts of changes we can make at a personal level that will protect our focus. I would say that by doing most of them, I have boosted my focus by about 20%. But we have to level with people. Those changes will only take you so far. At the moment it’s as though we are all having itching powder poured over us all day, and the people pouring the powder are saying: “You might want to learn to meditate. Then you wouldn’t scratch so much.”…

…Today, about 35% of workers feel they can never switch off their phones because their boss might email them at any time of day or night. In France, ordinary workers decided this was intolerable and pressured their government for change – so now, they have a legal “right to disconnect”. It’s simple. You have a right to defined work hours, and you have a right to not be contacted by your employer outside those hours. Companies that break the rules get huge fines. There are lots of potential collective changes like this that can restore part of our focus. We could, for example, force social media companies to abandon their current business model, which is specifically designed to invade our attention in order to keep us scrolling. There are alternative ways these sites could work – ones that would heal our attention instead of hacking it.
Some scientists say these worries about attention are a moral panic, comparable to the anxieties in the past about comic books or rap music, and that the evidence is shaky. Other scientists say the evidence is strong and these anxieties are like the early warnings about the obesity epidemic or the climate crisis in the 1970s…

If the people warning about the effects on our attention turn out to be wrong, and we still do what they suggest, what will be the cost? We will spend less time being harassed by our bosses, and we’ll be tracked and manipulated less by technology – along with lots of other improvements in our lives that are desirable in any case. But if they turn out to be right, and we don’t do what they say, what’s the cost? We will have – as the former Google engineer Tristan Harris told me – downgraded humanity, stripping us of our attention at the very time when we face big collective crises that require it more than ever.
But none of these changes will happen unless we fight for them. Just as the feminist movement reclaimed women’s right to their own bodies (and still has to fight for it today), I believe we now need an attention movement to reclaim our minds. I believe we need to act urgently, because this may be like the climate crisis, or the obesity crisis – the longer we wait, the harder it will get. The more our attention degrades, the harder it will be to summon the personal and political energy to take on the forces stealing our focus. The first step it requires is a shift in our consciousness. We need to stop blaming ourselves, or making only demands for tiny tweaks from our employers and from tech companies. We own our own minds – and together, we can take them back from the forces that are stealing them.”

The above is an edited extract from Stolen Focus: Why You Can’t Pay Attention by Johann Hari

back to top

positioning<> persona/ID > inequality/diversity   12/2021 Evolution of Personhood: Earliest Adorned Female Infant Burial in Europe Reveals Significant Insights   14/12/2021  An infant burial from Arma Veirana in northwestern Italy provides insights into funerary practices and female personhood in early Mesolithic Europe

Jamie Hodgkins, Caley M. Orr, Claudine Gravel-Miguel, Julien Riel-Salvatore, Christopher E. Miller, Luca Bondioli, Alessia Nava, Federico Lugli, Sahra Talamo, Mateja Hajdinjak, Emanuela Cristiani, Matteo Romandini, Dominique Meyer, Danylo Drohobytsky, Falko Kuester, Geneviève Pothier-Bouchard, Michael Buckley, Lucia Mancini, Fabio Baruffaldi, Sara Silvestrini, Simona Arrighi, Hannah M. Keller, Rocío Belén Griggs, Marco Peresani, David S. Strait, Stefano Benazzi & Fabio Negrino 

…”…Virtual dental histology, proteomics, and aDNA indicate that the infant was a 40–50 days old female. Associated artifacts indicate significant material and emotional investment in the child’s interment. The detailed biological profile of AVH-1 establishes the child as the earliest European near-neonate documented to be female. The Arma Veirana burial thus provides insight into sex/gender-based social status, funerary treatment, and the attribution of personhood to the youngest individuals among prehistoric hunter-gatherer groups and adds substantially to the scant data on mortuary practices from an important period in prehistory shortly following the end of the last Ice Age…”…  11/20201  Can guilt help bankers change for the better?   by Gillian Tett

>positioning, privilege



rosalux/pdf gg/pdf 2010 Die politische Produktion ungleicher Kindheiten – Kritik aktueller neoliberaler Transformationsprozesse in der deutschen – Sozialpolitik aus menschenrechtlicher und gerechtigkeitstheoretischer Perspektive – von Klaudia Kachelrieß 1-2021 Every parent I know is worried about their child’s anxiety. Here’s what 25 years of teaching has shown me – My years teaching in universities – and my own children – have changed my attitude to the storm of disability our young people face – by Tegan Bennett Daylight   12/2020   Philippa Perry: ‘Most parents are not evil – they’re lovely people with the wrong tools’ by  Hadley Freeman

…”…Perry’s primary message is that parents need to acknowledge their children’s feelings instead of denying them (“Don’t be silly”) or jazz-handsing them away (“Don’t cry, I’ll get you an ice-cream”). We do that, she writes, because that’s how we were brought up and we copy what our parents did. Also, it’s painful to acknowledge that one’s child has unhappy feelings. But, theory schmeory, I put Perry’s ideas to test in the wild, AKA my house under lockdown: one of my five-year-olds was having a meltdown, screaming that he never got to have any fun any more because we couldn’t go to softplay. I bit back what I wanted to say, which was: “For God’s sake, you have millions of toys – play with them!” Instead, I went full Perry and said: “I can see that you’re upset, and I’m sorry this is so hard. Soon we’ll be able to go to softplay, but I know it doesn’t feel fair right now.” Then he – I swear I’m not making this up – calmed down and, after a little bit of snuffling, played with his millions of toys.  “When you’ve been a therapist for as long as I have, you realise most parents are not evil bastards,” she says. “They are really lovely people who have been given the wrong tools. They love their children, but they treat them like chores.”…”…

agency, consciousness, identity, psycho-neuro-science, self 12/2021 I Feel, Therefore I Am: Neuroscientist Antonio Damasio on Consciousness and How the Feeling-Tone of the Body Underscores the Symphony of the Mind – “Ultimately, we are puppets of both pain and pleasure, occasionally made free by our creativity.” By Maria Popova
“A purely disembodied emotion is a nonentity,” William James wrote in his revolutionary theory of how our bodies affect our feelings just before the birth of neuroscience — a science still young, which has already revolutionized our understanding of the cosmos inside the cranium as much as the first century of telescopic astronomy revolutionized our understanding of our place in the universe…”… 1-2022 ‘Feeling & Knowing’ explores the origin and evolution of consciousness – Neuroscientist Antonio Damasio discusses his latest book

consciousness is generated by a variety of structures within an organism, some neural, some not. What’s more, feelings — mental experiences of body states — help connect the brain to the rest of the body. “The feelings that we have of, say, hunger or thirst, or pain, or well-being, or desire, etc. — these are the foundation of our mind,” Damasio says. In his view, feelings have played a central role in the life-regulating processes of animals throughout the history of life.

In Feeling & Knowing, Damasio suggests that consciousness evolved as a way to keep essential bodily systems steady. This concept is also known as homeostasis, a self-regulating process that maintains stability amid ever-changing conditions. Consciousness emerged as an extension of homeostasis, Damasio argues, allowing for flexibility and planning in complex and unpredictable environments.

Science News spoke with Damasio about why feelings are crucial to understanding consciousness, why consciousness is not exclusive to humans and whether it’s something a computer could ever have. The following conversation has been edited for clarity and brevity. 18/12/2021 Two Streams of Conscious Awareness, described as self and pure awareness. Gregg Henriques, Vanessa Lancaster
…”The self stream involves how we make meaning out of the world and how we attach interpretations, hopes, and fears to our experience. The pure awareness stream refers to the basic experience of “isness,” or simply being in the world without memory or desire. Anchoring ourselves in pure awareness allows us to observe how our identities attach meaning to things in the world…”… 24/11/ 2021 Can quantum mechanics explain consciousness? – Quantum mechanics + consciousness: There is nothing better than mixing two great mysteries to produce an even bigger one. by Marcelo Gleiser

“Despite the tremendous success of quantum physics, its interpretation remains uncertain. The brain, which is made up of neurons, which themselves are made up of molecules, is likely influenced by quantum effects. Can quantum mechanics and neuroscience be merged into a theory of “quantum consciousness”? 2021 Being You: A New Science of Consciousness  by Anil Seth best books of 2021 – by Nigel Warburton  – Anil Seth’s Being You: A New Science of Consciousness.

…”There have been huge advances in both psychology and neuroscience in the last twenty or thirty years that are very significant for philosophy. In the 18th century, there wasn’t a big division between what we call psychology and philosophy, and someone like David Hume quite happily moved between the two. For much of the history of the subject philosophers speculated about the mind from their armchairs without getting involved in what was happening in neuroscience. But now that would be unacceptable. Recent research in neuroscience is too dramatic to do that. It would be absurd to discuss the mind without some awareness of what has been discovered.

This is obviously relevant when thinking about consciousness.

Right. You can’t analyse consciousness from your armchair without awareness of recent findings about the brain and about human behaviour. But similarly, if you’re talking about politics and doing that in a vacuum, that seems to me a fairly meaningless pursuit about the definition of terms, rather than anything that might meaningfully connect with how we live.

I’ve deliberately chosen books that are accessible to a general reader because this is not a site for specialist academic philosophers. And obviously this is limited by the range of books that I’ve actually read. But the best writing that I’ve seen this year uses some kind of empirical evidence, whether that’s science, elements of personal biography, historical archives, or current events.

Obviously the philosophy is foregrounded, there’s a sense in which people are using arguments, building a case, and linking to the history of philosophy, but they’re not afraid to go off-piste, as it were, and draw upon other disciplines to understand the topic they are discussing better.

I think this might lead us to the first of the 2021 philosophy books that you want to recommend, which is written by a neuroscientist: Anil Seth’s Being You: A New Science of Consciousness.

Although Anil describes himself as a neuroscientist, he’s also very well read in philosophy. He uses a certain amount of autobiography in this book too — discussing the phenomenology of his own conscious life in order to illustrate points, drawing on his experience of witnessing a brain operation, and even his mother’s apparent loss of self at a certain point.

It’s a book about the nature of consciousness, one of the most intractable problems that human beings have come across. How do we understand how we, as apparently material beings made of flesh and bone—and, in particular, millions of neurones—get to the position of having qualitative experience, through the experience of the world through our senses, reflection and experience. It’s not an easy problem to unravel. The philosopher David Chalmers talks about the ‘hard problem’ of consciousness, the problem of how you get from physical matter to conscious state—how you explain what the relationship between those two is.

Seth’s approach is more pragmatic in some ways. As a neuroscientist, his view is that we should deal with what he dubs the ‘real’ problem of consciousness; there is some kind of phenomenological thing that we want to explain, but by chipping away at a range of issues that connect physical processes in the brain with certain mental states, we can try to understand the relation and gradually piece together an understanding of what we are.

His own take is that our conscious experience of the world around us is a kind of controlled hallucination created by predictions and revisions that we make. We are not passive recipients of sensory information, we project an expectation and gradually refine that through our interactions with the world. This produces some weird illusions and other phenomena when things go wrong. When things go very wrong, the loss of connection with the world means that the phenomenological experience is not something that other people necessarily share. But, in a sense, we are all hallucinating the world; none of us is getting a direct picture. We project a probable scene, but that’s tested against further sensory input, and a constructive reality emerges that is constantly refreshed. In very general terms, that’s what the book is about.

A few years ago, I interviewed Professor Dick Passingham for this site. He was one of my tutors when I studied experimental psychology. His argument was that the philosophical study of consciousness had been static for decades; only through empirical study could we possibly wrestle with this question. Neuroscience, in other words, was making the philosophy of mind obsolete. But the way you talk about this, you almost view neuroscience as a branch of applied philosophy.

It depends on the neuroscientist, I think. Anil Seth is somebody who is very philosophical in his approach, very thoughtful, and well-read in philosophy. He talks to philosophers and a range of other people interested in the mind. It would be hard not to, in the field of consciousness studies. And there are many contemporary philosophers who aren’t trained as neuroscientists, but who take neuroscience very seriously. Daniel Dennett and Patricia Churchland, for example. Both have been hugely interested in neuroscience. And in a younger generation, Keith Frankish. So there is a sense that those barriers are being broken down. I’m skeptical that philosophy will become obsolete, but it will become much more interesting through the interplay with science, in my view.

And the book is well written.

Beautifully written, easy to read, hard to put down. It’s passionate, it’s not patronising, not simplistic or anything like that. But because he’s such an elegant writer with a light touch, he knows how to get in and out of an issue and on to the next one. In some ways it reminds me of Oliver Sacks’s writing because Seth is very humane and sensitive and thoughtful as a writer. It’s a great book.

free will > philosophy/psycho-neuro-science 5/2021 Is everything predetermined? Why physicists are reviving a taboo idea Superdeterminism makes sense of the quantum world by suggesting it is not as random as it seems, but critics say it undermines the whole premise of science. Does the idea deserve its terrible reputation? By Michael Brooks 4/2021 The clockwork universe: is free will an illusion? – A growing chorus of scientists and philosophers argue that free will does not exist. Could they be right? – by  Oliver Burkeman

…”…Nothing could be more self-evident. And yet according to a growing chorus of philosophers and scientists, who have a variety of different reasons for their view, it also can’t possibly be the case. “This sort of free will is ruled out, simply and decisively, by the laws of physics,” says one of the most strident of the free will sceptics, the evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne. Leading psychologists such as Steven Pinker and Paul Bloom agree, as apparently did the late Stephen Hawking, along with numerous prominent neuroscientists, including VS Ramachandran, who called free will “an inherently flawed and incoherent concept” in his endorsement of Sam Harris’s bestselling 2012 book Free Will, which also makes that argument. According to the public intellectual Yuval Noah Harari, free will is an anachronistic myth – useful in the past, perhaps, as a way of motivating people to fight against tyrants or oppressive ideologies, but rendered obsolete by the power of modern data science to know us better than we know ourselves, and thus to predict and manipulate our choices. …”… 2021 Revisiting Pettit’s formula for freedom in a choice – by Robert Donoghue
This article argues that the neo-republican ideal of freedom as non-domination suffers from prioritizing interpersonal freedom and consequently overlooks relevant threats to indi-vidual liberty that stem from structural and systemic factors. We attempt to underscore his limitation through ananalysisof Pettit’saccount of what constitutes freedom in a given choice. It will be shown that, within the non-domination account, the emphasis placed on the inter-personal dimension of liberty leads to the occlusion of other necessary requirements for achoice to be considered ‘free’. This is made clear when considering the impact of industrialconcentration in capitalist economies.

mind/body  philosophy/psycho-neuro-science 12/2020 Quantum Mechanics, the Mind-Body Problem and Negative Theology
Scientists and philosophers should keep trying to solve reality’s deepest riddles while accepting that they are unsolvable By John Horgan GG-PDF 1999 Russell, Hayek, and the Mind-Body Problem by Edward Charles Feser

Abstract : Consciousness, intentionality, and rationality are all features of the mind that philosophers have thought it difficult to account for in naturalistic terms, but it is consciousness that is often considered the most problematic. In particular, how precisely to explain the relationship of qualia, the subjective, first-person features of conscious experience, to the brain is regarded as the central part of the mind-body problem. I argue that materialism and dualism in all their forms have Wed to explain this relationship, and that their future indicates a need to rethink the conceptions of mind and matter typically presupposed by both common sense and philosophical reflection. As Bertrand Russell suggested in some neglected writings, our knowledge of the material world external to the mind is indirect, mediated by our direct awareness of qualia themselves; and what we know of that external world is really only its causal structure rather than its intrinsic nature. The common assumption that matter as it is in itself is utterly unlike mind as revealed in introspection is thus unfounded; in fact, in our introspection of qualia we are directly aware of features of the brain. Dualism thus errors in assuming the mind to exist over and above the brain, but materialism also errors, in assuming that physics and neurophysiology give us a surer grasp of the nature of the brain than does introspection. Despite its insights, the Russellian view also errors, though, in supposing that in our awareness of qualia, at least, we have a grasp of some of the intrinsic qualities of the material world. Following some leads suggested in the work of F. A. Hayek, I argue that even what we know of the internal world of the mind/brain, the sensory order of qualia, is only its structure. In the fight of the facts about the nature of our knowledge of the natures of mind and matter, the qualia problem dissolves. Ironically, however, the Hayekian position I defend also implies that the other, on the surface less problematic, features of mind, namely intentionality and rationality, are ultimately inscrutable

agency, persona, self, ID 1977 Persons: A Study In Philosophical Psychology by Raziel Abelson Strawson’s Concept of Person – A Critical Discussion – Francis Alakkalkunnel, Christian Kanzian 1959 Individuals: An Essay in Descriptive Metaphysics – by Peter Frederick Strawson

Since its publication in 1959, Individuals has become a modern philosophical classic. Bold in scope and ambition, it continues to influence debates in metaphysics, philosophy of logic and language, and epistemology. Peter Strawson’s most famous work, it sets out to describe nothing less than the basic subject matter of our thought. It contains Strawson’s now famous argument for descriptive metaphysics and his repudiation of revisionary metaphysics, in which reality is something beyond the world of appearances. Throughout, Individuals advances some highly influential and controversial ideas, such as ‘non-solipsistic consciousness’ and the concept of a person a ‘primitive concept’