About the Book:
This volume is a collection of selected papers presented at the International Conference Mind and Consciousness Various Approaches.
This conference was a multi-disciplinary meeting on the focal theme of mind and consciousness. Delegates from abroad represented academic organization from countries such as Australia, Belgium, Canada, Finland, Japan, Mexico, Sweden, Turkey, Hong Kong, UK and USA. Participants from India represented thirteen universities and seven institutes. The objectives of this conference were: to promote multidisciplinary research on mind and consciousness to work for a better and more holistic understanding of these concepts, and to explore whether Indian theoretical traditions can offer useful insights and solution. The papers in this volume will help towards fulfilling these objectives to some extent.
About the Author:
Chhanda Chakraborti has her Ph. D from University of Utah, USA and M.A from University of Washington. Her current research interest includes Philosophy of Mind.
Prof. Manas Kumar Mandal is a well-known name in Psychology. He did his M.A. and Ph. D from Calcutta University. His Special research interest is in Neuropsychology and Social and Clinical Psychology.
Dr. Rimi Barnali Chatterjee is a Ph. D from Oxford University in book history. She did her M.A. in English from Jadavpur University, Calcutta.
All three Editors are on the faculty Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur, West Bengal, India.
This book grew out of the international conference entitled Mind and Consciousness: Various Approaches, held between January 9-11, 2002 to exchange views, findings, and ideas on the topics of mind and consciousness across the disciplines and borders. The conference was organized by the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Kharagpur, India, at the Institute as part of its Golden Jubilee celebrations.
As may be apparent from the representative papers in this book, this conference, which was the first of its kind at IIT Kharagpur, attracted notable scholars and researchers from both India and abroad. Delegates from abroad represented academic organizations from countries such as Australia, Belgium, Canada, Finland, Japan, Mexico, Sweden, Turkey, Hong Kong, UK, and USA. Participants from India, including research scholars, represented thirteen universities and seven institutes. We wanted to bring together researchers from various disciplines converging on the study of mind and consciousness and blending traditional cultural paradigms. We had amongst us scholars belonging to different disciplines; namely, philosophy, psychology, neuroscience, cognitive science, psychiatry, linguistics, physics and computer science.
The objectives of this conference were: to promote multi- disciplinary research on mind and consciousness, to work for a better and more holistic understanding of these concepts, and to explore whether Indian theoretical traditions can offer useful insights and solutions. We hope that the selected papers in this volume will help somewhat towards fulfilling these objectives.
With such a vast quantity of varied material, it was not possible to envisage a comprehensive volume of proceedings. We have therefore selected those papers which we thought have been particularly successful in making innovative or insightful suggestions in a representative area along the lines of the aforementioned objectives. Since Indian theoretical traditions are rich in expositions on mind and consciousness, a special section in this book is devoted to the papers which discuss Indian philosophical insights.
The book opens with three papers delivered as plenary speeches. The plenary speakers were chosen to set the tone of the conference and to outline the possibility of various multidisciplinary research directions. The next section, the largest in this book, is a medley of different theoretical deliberations converging on mind and consciousness. This section on the theoretical approaches is complemented by another, comprising papers with a distinctive experimental approach. Finally, a separate section has been created for papers on the interface between language and thought.
Among the theoretical papers, first subsection emphasizes the the Indian philosophical approach. Others, treating important and contemporary issues in the Western philosophy of mind, form the next subsection. The third subsection contains those papers which have tried to deal with contemporary issues from one philosophical tradition or discipline from the point of view of another.
Professor E. C. G. Sudarshan is a Nobel-nominated physicist of wide repute with a keen interest in philosophy. Through his experienced eyes, he acquaints us with what he visualizes as the possibility of a hard-core 'science of consciousness'; complete with suggested scope for experimentation. On the other hand, Professor Kapila Vatsyayana, doyen of Indian art and culture, speaks in her inimitable style about systems of thought in India which have employed research paradigms other than the typical empirical kinds. The latent argument is that there are other viable conceptualization techniques, more holistic than separatist in their spirit, for deliberation upon topics such as mind and consciousness. Professor P N Tandon is a well-known brain-surgeon. His paper exhibits his long-standing absorption in questions of mind and consciousness and shares with us the research possibilities which have opened up only recently due to the advances in the field of neuroscience.
Stephen Phillips, a well-known scholar in Indian philosophy, has considered the complex mind-body problem from the perspectives of three very different Indian philosophical standpoints: Sankara's Advaita Vedanta, Gangesa's Navya Nyaya and Aurobindos Theistic Monism. His paper examines the way in which each of these schools of thought has tried to deal with the mind-body problem. The theory of self-illuminating consciousness that knows itselfnou-dualistically' is a central concept of Sankara's Advaita Vedanta. Philips claimsthat by denying the possibility of access to consciousness externally or from a third-person point of view, Advaita has tried to avoid the mind-body problem. However, when it comes to .the issue of authentication of the pronouncement of consciousness on itself, Advaita settles the issue by making the self-illuminating consciousness self-authenticating also. This theory of self-authentication is what Gangesa's Navya Nyaya system finds untenable. The pluralistic Navya- Nyaya system, however, rejects the self-authentication theory and suggests that mind is not distinct from body. In the process, it claims that thus the problem of interrelation between mind and body in terms of causality can be avoided. Phillips argues that even Navya- Nyaya has its own share of mind-body problems in that of 'sensory connectivity'. According to Phillips, Sri Aurobindo, in his interpretation of this 'sensory connectivity' avoids the problem that the Nyaya school faces and has been able to defend a theory of consciousness that is intrinsically self-illuminating, yet is distinct from the Advaita position.
Sangeetha Menon' s article proposes a fresh look at the subjective nature of consciousness from Indian epistemology and especially from Indian dramaturgy. She contends that clues found in these alternative perspectives could enrich our understanding, particularly of the unification of fragmentary experiences in terms of an 'I'. 'Consciousness considered as moral and the first person' by Indrani Sanyal looks at the way in which moral choices are made by individuals. As society is composed of a plurality of persons, each with his own aims, interests and conception of the good, various principles have become competing paradigms of 'ough t' statements. With the advancement in technology and science, newer 'ought' and 'ought-not' questions are emerging. Sanyal examines the link between these ought questions and consciousness, and propounds an argument based on the analysis of voluntary activity from Nyaya-Vaisesika thought, which is carried out from the first person perspective of the doer of the action.
The section on Western philosophy of mind begins with William Johnston's contribution. In his paper, Johnston has taken the famous 'hard problem' (the claim that consciousness is what makes the mind-body problem really intractable) as the central theme and has looked at both sides of the problem. In his classic article 'What it is like to be a bat', Nagel identified 'consciousness' as the real reason behind the intractability of the mind-body problem. Johnston takes up on one hand Nagel's view along with the positions of other philosophers, such as Jackson, Kripke, McGinn, Searle, and Chalmers, who have contributed to the gradual development of the thesis of the 'hard problem' from Nagel's comment, and the position of Patricia Smith Churchland on the other. Johnston sympathizes more with Churchland's argument that our inability to imagine a phenomenon with our limited existing knowledge-base has very little to offer as a premise to reach any kind of cogent conclusion about the objective nature of the phenomenon itself. The 'intractability' of consciousness, thus, in Johnston's view, is rooted more in our perception of the problem than in reality. However, he concedes that accepting the limitation of our knowledge-base does not ultimately make the problem of consciousness any more tractable for us.
The next three articles are reflections on contemporary issues in Western philosophy of mind. Steffen Borge has raised an interesting question about John Searle's verdict on the 'Chinese Room'. Borge argues that if we shift our stance from a metaphysical one, as Searle has preferred, to an epistemological standpoint and ask whether we have any reasonable epistemic grounds for ascribing 'mind' to a machine (as in the Chinese Room), then the conclusion that Searle drew from the Chinese Room does not seem so inevitable. Closely connected with the 'other minds' problem, Borge's proposal raises hopes for research on Al. Valtteri Arstila assesses the recent efforts of Graham and Horgan to bolster the Knowledge Argument originally developed by Frank Jackson. The Knowledge Argument tries to show the inadequacy of physicalism as the only metaphysical framework. It is based on a thought experiment in which Mar)" a neuroscientist who knows all the physical facts that there are to know about vision but has never had any color experiences herself, is claimed to have a new, additional fact in her experience when she first experiences a color, say, red. There have been many versions, and restatements of this argument and just as many critical assaults on it. Arstila considers a recent redefinition of the argument and argues that the defense fails, as it is based on weak theoretical grounds. Sven WaIter proposes a way to save the independent status of psychology and its specialized study of mind and the mental against the onslaught of argurnents such as 'Multiple realizalibity of mental states' (by Putnam, Fodor), which collectively threaten to reduce mental properties to bare physical features.
Dominic Murphy, on the other hand, has posed an important and timely question about the direction in which psychiatry seems to be going. He points out that psychiatry recently has become more an extension of neuroscience, as the dominant trend is to treat mental illnesses as neuronal dysfunctions, and ultimately as at par with any other physical illnesses that are medically treatable. At this juncture, where distinctions hitherto considered important are being blurred, Murphy feels that psychiatry as a discipline needs to re-evaluate its methodology, as well as its operational assumptions and conceptual foundation. as therapy may not be able to access or manipulate the factors identified as causes by neuroscience. In 'A definition of consciousness and some aspects of it as a physics problem', Tulsi Dass attempts to give a definition of consciousness that incorporates common notions of it, allows for gradations of consciousness in various life forms and can serve as a concrete goal for scientific explanation. The work builds on a research project by Dass and Manoj Srivastava, which proposes a thermodynamics-like formalism for the mental states. James F. Perry proposes that human thought and action may be stratified into three levels of responsibility: random, routine, and reflective. Perry argues that the reflective level has the distinction of becoming the highest form of human action and should be encouraged during the early level of schooling.
In the context of the mind-body problem, the concepts of supervenience and multiple realizability are important explanatory tools. Sanjay Chandrasekharan, in his 'Varieties of supervenience', traces two common versions ofthe supervenience relation to argue that one of them is ineffectual while the other, though effective, clashes with the notion of 'multiple realizability', which is pivotal for research on AI. He contends that a fresh perspective, such as the intervention of the concept of 'swasamvedana' from Indian philosophy, can resolve this conflict. Saunders and Brakel bring up the issue that there is no consensus on the defining characteristics of 'consciousness'. Considering the fact that 'consciousness' is not a natural kind, they contend that perhaps a pluralistic understanding of consciousnesses' would be more appropriate. They cite historical and anthropological studies to argue that although there are 'family resemblances' among various notions, there is no one 'given' common idea of consciousness. Thus, they question the veracity of the assumption that neuroscientific explanation will one day reveal the truth about consciousness, as according to them there is no unique referent to the term 'consciousness'.
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