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Knowing Your Way Around

One area where philosophy and experimental science enjoy a lively and fruitful collaboration is the field of cognitive science. One reason for this is that cognitive science — working, as it does, on such topics as perception, memory, consciousness, action and the like — is not in a position to take any single working definition of any of these for granted. In effect, they are forced to engage in philosophy, whether they like it or not.

A second reason is that, especially in the last 30 years or so, there has developed a shared culture between philosophers working on the nature of mind and scientists working in the same area. There are philosophers — Dennett, Fodor, Block, Searle, to mention only a few — whose writings are bread and butter for cognitive scientists; these philosophical authors are giants of cognitive science.

The same is true in reverse. Marr working on vision or Chomsky on language, to give only two examples, are writers whose works have a canonical importance in philosophy.

Wittgenstein once said that a philosophical problem has the form "I don't know my way around." If so, then it's not surprising that philosophical puzzlement is not limited to philosophers, but that it arises in every domain of theoretical and even practical life. Whether we are physicists, or neuroscientists, or lovers, or citizens, we sometimes get lost.

In this spirit, I am giving a link here to an interview (video and transcript) I did a few weeks ago over at Big Think. My topic is the contemporary neuroscience of consciousness. The segment here is short; I think they'll be posting other segments in coming weeks. My central claim is that the neuroscience of consciousness is a field badly in need of deep philosophical rethinking. I try to suggest what a better neurobiological conception of ourselves might look like.


You can keep up with more of what Alva Noë is thinking on Facebook and Twitter.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Alva Noë is a contributor to the NPR blog 13.7: Cosmos and Culture. He is writer and a philosopher who works on the nature of mind and human experience.

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