Archive for September, 2013

This week, our Honorary President Chris Eddy returns to this ever-popular topic. He says:

“C.Frith and G.Rees say, “Perhaps the major development for consciousness research during the past 50 years has been the demonstration of unconscious, automatic psychological processes … subliminal perception … raises a new problem for the study of consciousness.   Just because subjects can detect or discriminate a stimulus does not mean that they are conscious of it.” (Blackwell’s Companion To Consciousness, pp.15-6)   This means that sentience (i.e., responsiveness to sensory stimuli) can occur unconsciously, and, if this is so, then the sentience of dumb animals cannot be adduced as evidence that they are conscious.

In a separate essay in the same book Frith and Rees say, “inattentional blindness … suggest that attention is required both for brain activity associated with the higher processing of sensory stimuli, and for their subsequent representation as the contents of consciousness”. (p.558)    It is a basic principle accepted by all students of consciousness that phenomenal (i.e., sensory-quality) conscious involves the recognition of likeness and difference (“There’s something it’s like to be conscious”), and likenesses and differences of sensory properties can become conscious only if attention is directed onto them.   So consciousness involves control of attention.   The more intense a sensation is, the harder it is to concentrate your attention on anything else, so “pain” is the consciousness of a sensation as an event which poses a threat to consciousness: sensation is an object of consciousness, not a form of it.

Discourse is is enabled by, but not reducible to, relations between neurons: it is essentially a relation between interlocutors.   By their speech-acts interlocutors implicitly claim authority and assume responsibility in relation to each other (and thereby institute discursive norms) for the direction of attention and action.   By allowing interlocutors to direct each others attention responsibly, , i.e., in accordance with discursive norms,, discourse enables them also to direct their own attention and therefore their actions responsibly.   This is what I think consciousness is.

Simple really.”

Come along this Friday and see if you agree – and make your contribution.



Read Full Post »

The political scientist Samuel Huntingdon coined the phrase ‘Clash of Civilisations’ in the early 1990s, as an expression of the idea that in future, conflicts would not be between different economic systems, but between different cultures, including potential conflict between Islam and the West.

This week’s meeting takes the form of a debate on the issue between Gerry Merrison, who will argue in favour of the idea that there is a clash of civilisations, and Paul Archer, who will argue that this is both a bad description and a dangerous idea.

I hope to see you there for what promises to be……

Read Full Post »

Residents of Swindon may have spotted the new cafe / tea shop / bar on Devizes Road.  The owners, David and Marya Marriott, were pondering French Café Society one day, about how Parisian cafes were the birthplace and nursery of the ideas of great philosophers and artists, and whether they could nurture Swindon’s own café society?

After chatting to  Marya one day, we shared ideas for possible speakers;  having made contact with them, they’ve now set up the first of their Feed Your Head programmes for this autumn.  Regular attenders at Phil Soc may recognise some of these topics.

Feed Your Head events list

As you’ll see, the programme kicks off with a talk by, er, yours truly, along these lines:

Monday 23rd September: “Some Ethical Dilemmas”  Would you kill one person to save five others? Thought experiments such as the famous ‘Trolley Problem’ explore dilemmas such as this, and follow their logic through to their sometimes unpleasant end. And what can science tell us about our reactions to situations like those? Come along and see how your own “instinctive morality” compares with other people.

Each event starts at 7.00pm (unless otherwise advertised) and includes a simple supper or a cake and a coffee. The speaker will talk for 20 minutes or so, then after a break for refreshments there will be 45-60 minutes questions and answers.

There will be a modest charge to cover expenses only. To book a place, phone 01793 611025 (or speak to your waiter/waitress if you visit – and the cakes are really good!).

Café Society starts here….

Cakes and Ale’s Website is at http://www.cakesandalecafe.co.uk

Read Full Post »

Don’t forget this year’s festival in the beautiful buildings of  Malmesbury

This year’s festival will look at the current state of philosophy and its twentieth century origins, with a long-term perspective on the thoughts of Edmund Burke, from Jesse Norman MP. other topics  include Hitler’s Philosophers, Wittgenstein, The Viennese Coffee House, and  Oppenheimer.  See http://philosophytown.co.uk/events.html for details.

Read Full Post »

The Autumn programme kicks off with a talk by our Treasurer, John Little, who will review this topic.  John says: 

For over 200 years, scholars have been trying to strip away centuries of Christian faith positions to uncover the ‘Historical Jesus’, i.e.  the Yeshua who wandered the roads of Galilee. Some have even termed this ‘rescuing Jesus from Christianity’.  Part of this process has been to claim that Paul was the real founder of Christianity. Is this fair?  Recent trends have stressed the Jewishness of both Jesus and Paul and to rehabilitate the latter.  We have now come to see the Gospels as reflecting two early struggles, one between the original community under Jacob (James), the brother of Yeshua, and the self-styled ‘apostle to the gentiles’ Paul, and a second between the emerging faiths of Christianity and Rabbinic Judaism after AD 70.  Why has James been effectively written out of the gospels? Why does one scholar refer to Acts as ‘only fit for burning’? Why do we ignore the cataclysmic effect of the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70? Do we now have a clearer picture of the process by which a Galilean apocalyptic prophet became God incarnate?

 Join us on Friday 13th September from 7.40pm, at the Friends Meeting House on Eastcott Hill.

Read Full Post »