What do we see when we look in the mirror?

The sections below are taken from the slides I used for a talk at the Alliance Francaise de Penang in December 2019. I am grateful to the director and team at the AF for the opportunity to make this presentation. The fundamental question We have at least two different pictures of the cosmos and no obvious means of integrating them. We have no intuitive understanding of the micro-scale of physics and chemistry, only a set of mathematical models. But, at the same time, those mathematical models have nothing to say about the familiar world of our own experience of being…

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Escaping the mind-body dualism

In his book Mind and Cosmos, Thomas Nagel suggests neutral monism as a potentially better way of understanding the relation of the mind to the physical world than the traditional alternatives of materialism, idealism and dualism.However, as Peter Godfrey-Smith pointed out in his review in the London Review of Books, Nagel has in mind here an interpretation of the idea of neutral monism that would:Explain the appearance of mental life at complex levels of biological organization by means of a general monism according to which the constituents of the universe have properties that explain not only its physical but also…

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The outer expression of an inner life

In his Journals, Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1855) wrote:It is perfectly true, as the philosophers say, that life must be understood backwards. But they forget the other proposition, that it must be lived forwards.The implication of this is that the person with the life to live has a point-of-view that is incommensurable with the point-of-view of, not just of the philosophers, but of theorists in any discipline. I see this as one aspect of the participant observer duality.Wilhelm Dilthey (1833-1911) was one of the first philosophers to think about this and the distinction between the natural sciences and what is usually called…

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