The NEH Summer Institute "Investigating Consciousness: Buddhist and Contemporary Philosophical Perspectives" will focus on a complex and rapidly evolving discourse: the convergence of analytic, phenomenological, and Buddhist perspectives in the investigation of consciousness.
The chief intellectual objective of the Institute is to provide a forum for an intensive exploration of several core issues in the philosophical study of consciousness:
- the nature and function of phenomenal consciousness and self-awareness;
- the relation between consciousness and intentionality;
- the nature of the contents of consciousness;
- consciousness and the self/no-self problem
- the interplay between the biological, psychological, social and linguistic dimensions of conscious experience.
- metaphysical theories of consciousness;
- the contents of perception;
- neuroscience, meditation, and consciousness;
- self-awareness and subjectivity;
- methodological issues in the cross-cultural investigation of consciousness.
The investigation of each of these issues will also raise the question of whether a theory of consciousness presupposes a sense of an enduring agent or self, and if so, what the nature and origins of such a sense of self are. Most Buddhist philosophers, and some Western philosophers and cognitive scientists, endorse a no-self view; other Western philosophers and psychologists insist that self-consciousness
is the foundation of all conscious experience, and indeed some Buddhist philosophers seem to endorse a version of this view.
As the investigation of consciousness continues to expand and diversify, the need to integrate analytic, phenomenological, and non-Western perspectives will become a central topic of philosophical refection in the coming years. The directors hope that the Institute will provide a springboard for this integrative work. While the Institute aims to foster dialogue and conversation among philosophers with diverse orientations and approaches to the study of consciousness, it is also conceived as a forum for the careful analysis of ideas, regardless of their source, and for gaining exposure to important ideas in neighboring and related areas.
We expect three types of contributions to this dialogue: first, from philosophers who work in core areas of philosophy of mind and phenomenology; second, from scholars of Buddhist (and Indian) philosophy who can make the Buddhist ideas accessible to the non-specialist; and third, from philosophers who are also trained Buddhist scholars and are thus well placed to advance and enrich the dialogue between Western and Buddhist philosophy. Our expectation is that participants will benefit both from the intense and rigorous discussion of the ideas of the presenters, and from the chance to use these different perspectives to start forging new directions themselves.
The Institute will also examine the ways in which philosophy of mind is currently studied and taught, and explore alternative models. At the undergraduate level, students often have a hard time reconciling various disciplinary approaches to consciousness, and are likely to think that non-Western analyses of experience such as we find in Buddhism lack the rigorous theoretical framework of phenomenology or mainstream analytic philosophy of mind. The institute will aim to address these challenges and misconceptions by forging a new path into philosophy that involves disciplinary, cross-cultural, and historical issues in the study of consciousness, and aims to integrate the results and methods of Buddhist and Western philosophy of mind in the interest of philosophy as a whole.