Idea Byre

In looking for the next intellectual/religious revolution, we can search for patterns in those of the past. Here is a summary of the major patterns I see, with the axial age as an example, followed by some musings on how we might fulfill these patterns today.

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In a prior article I laid out the major approaches to the philosophical problem of consciousness. I dwelled especially on different forms of panpsychism. Because it is a less familiar approach, many philosophers have resisted even taking it seriously. In this piece I will address what might be the more immediate reactions against it, even as a general approach.

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Every army fights the battles of its forebears. So too does every society fight the intellectual and social battles of the past. Our problems -- environmental and social -- fundamentally cannot be addressed by the society that created them. This is a discussion of what they are, where they come from, and why a more radical approach is required.

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"Religion in Human Evolution" is the late Robert Bellah's magisterial, sweeping account of human intellectual and religious history. I've made frequent reference to it in my essays, especially the broad framework of epochs. A quick summary here may be useful to my readers, and also anyone simply interested in the book -- which I thoroughly recommend.

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The difficulties of human life constitute, as the philosopher Mark Johnston puts it, "structural deficiencies," that include death, pain, and frustration. These cannot be waved away by politics or technological advance, and intellectually they demand a response; some way that we can live comfortably despite them.

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Consciousness is a philosophically "hard problem." Ordinary scientific progress -- in psychology or neuroscience, say -- do not seem capable of addressing it, even in principle. As the philosophers Thomas Nagel and David Chalmers argue, normal science cannot grapple with "what it is like" to be something; subjective experience stands quite apart from science's (reductive) explanations. This may make consciousness more of a philosophy problem than a scientific problem.

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The theoretical reasoning of philosophy and religion created dualism, which split the world into mind and matter. This is not just a cosmological distinction: in everyday human life, dualism is the unseen foundation of thought, and it has caused the major problems we face today.

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