From Neurons to Shakespeare: Advanced Seminar 2008

by Philip Hefner

Philip HefnerHow does subjective experience arise from neural computation? What accounts for the transition from brain to mind? From what we read in the popular press, one might think that science is on the verge of explaining the connection between neurobiology and subjective experience—and perhaps even “explaining away” our experience, including how our biology accounts for our creative imagination, from a chef’s concocting a tasty meal to Beethoven’s composing a symphony. Religion, including belief in God, may also be considered to be reduced to neurobiological explanation.

Neuroscientists, however, following the lead of philosopher David Chalmers, call this “the hard problem.” They do not at present agree whether this problem can be solved at all or whether it is inherently beyond full explanation. Theologians like Lluis Oviedo call it “the greatest challenge now facing religion and theology from the sciences.”

The Spring 2008 Advanced Seminar, co-chaired by Gayle Woloschak and Philip Hefner will focus on this “hard problem.” A number of theologians and scientists have already accepted invitations to participate in the seminar, but the full schedule of topics and leaders is still being put together. It is likely that the seminar will concentrate on 10 or 11 primary sessions, followed by a series of sessions designed for the involvement of advanced students.

Some useful discussion of this problem, including a basic paper by David Chalmers, is available at http://www.imprint.co.uk/hardprob.html. Psychologist Steven Pinker has written an article in Time magazine, http://www.time.com/time/ printout/0,8816,1580394,00.html.

As the seminar plans develop, they will be available from the ZCRS office and website, www.zygoncenter.org.

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