Archive for January, 2015

This week sees the return of Neil McCallum to the Phil Soc.  He asks:

“Should present day governments apologise for the misdeeds of previous generations? Do we inherit responsibility? If we do, is it a legal or moral burden? How far back should it stretch? How wide should it be cast?”

Using the cases of Alan Turing (The Imitation Game) and the Mau Mau settlement, Neil will discuss the value and virtue of posthumous pardons and belated apologies.

Note: under his pen name Dawood Ali McCallum, Neil has recently had his 4th novel ‘The Final Charge’ published, in which he explores these issues in a fictional War Crimes trial.’


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This week’s meeting is being held jointly with the Swindon Humanists: Deborah Hyde will be talking about skepticism.
Skeptics like an evidence-based approach to life, especially if someone is telling them what to do. The American spelling – ’Skeptic’ – is deliberate. The noun denotes a growing movement of people; more coagulated than coordinated, most of them like science and a rational approach to life.

Deborah is, during the day, a film-industry makeup effects coordinator who also gets on the wrong side of the camera from time to time. She has a website and blog where she discusses the supernatural, folklore and skepticism. http://www.jourdemayne.com/ , and is also the editor of The Skeptic Magazine:

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This week, Chris Eddy will be speaking on this topic. He says:

“After canvassing all current theories of consciousness in The Oxford Companion To The Mind, (1987) Dennett writes as follows: “We seem to be back to our unanswerable question, which suggests we should find a different way of looking at the situation. … It is a familiar theme in discussions of consciousness that human consciousness is somehow tied to our capacity for language … Developing this idea … will almost certainly demand of us a revolution in our habits of thought about these issues …” The Blackwell Companion To Consciousness, 55 articles all peer-reviewed, fails 20 years later to rise to Dennett’s challenge: according to its Index, the word “language” appears on no more than 16 of its 725 pages. Science is in denial about the relation between consciousness and language.

Scientism is the ideology according to which the sciences provide the only source of reliable knowledge, but I claim that creatures like ourselves can be understood most coherently and comprehensively as responsible agents whose interlocutory relations imply interpersonal commitments and entitlements which can be logically analysed and therefore systematically taught, e.g., in the form of the Golden Rule. If this claim is true, Scientism is false, because the question of how we ought to conduct our relations with each other can then be answered authoritatively in philosophical terms. These are the stakes between philosophy and science, so it’s not surprising if the sciences prefer not to tangle with, but rather to draw attention away from, the philosophy of language and its implications, preferring instead to engage publicly in ritual combat with Traditional Religion, – the opponent they know they can beat.

In this talk I shall present a principled basis for distinguishing between the general alertness of dumb animals such as the Antelope and the focused (analytic or aesthetic) attentiveness which characterizes consciousness as it appears in discursive creatures such as ourselves, typified by the Wine-taster, and I shall argue that there are good Darwinian reasons why the latter would not have evolved in dumb animals for whom unconscious information-processing can achieve all that is required for survival.”

Come along this Friday to hear more and to make your own contribution.

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Welcome to 2015! The first week of our new ‘term’ sees the return of John Little, speaking on this topic. He asks:

“Can consciousness exist independently of a working brain? Can it ‘leave the body’? Is there life after death? ”

Theologians can debate these questions, but many NDE researchers argue that if you look at the scientific evidence, the  answer is unequivocally yes. Drawing on four decades’ worth of research on near-death experiences — work that includes cataloguing the stories of thousands of people who have gone through them — they make the case for that controversial conclusion.

Sceptics argue that although NDEs are profound and often life-changing experiences, they nevertheless provide little or no scientific evidence to challenge the prevailing consensus that consciousness is caused by neuronal activity in the brain (in some yet to be understood way).

Recent projects, such as that of Sam Parnia (the AWARE project), have explicitly aimed to provide such good scientific evidence.

How have they fared?  And what light do NDEs shed on the nature of consciousness? Come along to the Friends’ Meeting House this Friday at 7.40 to find out more.

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