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“What We Know and What We Don’t Know”


By Frank Simons

The Meditation Center presents Philosophy of Mind: Part 24, “What We Know and What We Don’t Know” on Thursday, November 16.

The fundamental aim of science is a better grasp of reality. Its history is one of repeated attempts and, of course, repeated failures, a graveyard of theories that weren’t quite good enough, in each case buried by theories we thought were better. In any inquiry, it is important to appreciate both the extent of our knowledge and the extent of our ignorance. This is especially important in any philosophical inquiry because philosophy focuses on questions that we don’t quite yet know how to answer.

This lecture offers a review of some of the high points of the course, structured in terms of the examples with which we began: Descartes’ dream, Einstein’s brain, and Babbage’s steam-driven computers. The course has reviewed and applied concepts from computer science in posing and trying to answer questions about minds. The lectures have examined Cartesian Dualism and its conceptual alternatives, offering a full survey of competing contemporary theories of consciousness and mind. In order to fully appreciate points of debate within and across disciplines, we have examined in detail a range of work in psychology and results in the brain sciences.

This final lecture tries to isolate the most important areas of our ignorance in terms of questions for further thought and further investigation. What is it that we don’t know about Descartes’ dream, about Einstein’s brain, about Babbage’s machine? What are our best options for answering those questions? The most important questions about mind may be those we don’t yet know how to ask.

We know a great deal about the brain at the lowest level and the highest level. We are abysmally ignorant about the vast area in between. Even at the functional level, there is much that we do not know. An example from Diana Deutsch shows a connection between sound perceived as speech and as music. We don’t yet understand that connection. What is happening in synesthesia, in which the senses seem to overlap? Some people who experience synesthesia claim to “see” sounds, for example. The elephant in the room regarding our ignorance of the brain is the mystery of consciousness. Is the question of consciousness a scientific question, a technical question, or a conceptual one? Is it somehow all of these in one?

Professor Patrick Grim, Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, has provided his students with invaluable insights into issues of philosophy, artificial intelligence, theoretical biology, and other fields. Professor Grim was awarded the university’s Presidential and Chancellor’s awards for teaching excellence and was elected to the Academy of Teachers and Scholars.

There will be an opportunity for discussion following the video.

Presentations of the Center are offered without charge. Donations are gratefully accepted.


Video Presentation

Philosophy of Mind: Part 24, “What We Know and What We Don’t Know”

By Frank Simons

Thu, Nov 16, 5:30pm

Meditation Center, Callejon Blanco 4

Free, donations accepted




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