Dr. Margarita Vega has been awarded a grant from the John Templeton Foundation through the Science in Seminaries Project offered by the John Carroll University. The award is in the amount of $10,000 for a new course entitled, “Can the Mind be Reduced to its Physiological Basis?”
An important ontological assumption that permeates both academia and popular culture is that the universe is comprised of elementary particles that aggregate in force fields, and that ultimately everything that exists can be reduced to those atomic components. This turns out to be the case as well when we try to explain the mind. We expect science to provide answers, at least, to questions that relate to physical reality; and because we are certain that there must be some basis or relation of our biology to our mind and consciousness, we expect science to solve the mystery of consciousness and intentionality. However, although there has been attempts at explaining the reality of our mental life in terms of physiological processes, there is always some aspect of our mental life that escapes reduction. For that reason, and as a reaction to this kind of reductionism, we also find appeals to a strong dualism, as a way of compensating the weight of materialism. However, this anti-materialistic approach should not leave our best scientific evidence and rationality behind.
These questions are studied by the Philosophy of Mind, one of the most important disciplines in Contemporary Philosophy. A portion of the present course deals with different attempts at reducing the mind to something else like behavior, brain states, or computer functions. The literature in the philosophy of mind is abundant with objections to these physicalist proposals. However, articulating a good theory of the mind that escapes reductionism has not proved to be easy. The students in this course find an explanation of why that has been the case as well as an alternative solution. We will turn to the History of Philosophy, more specifically to Aristotle, to present a non-dualist, non-reductionist model for understanding the mind.