A Cognitive Science Dialogue:

Consciousness East and West

Harris Hall, Room 107, Evanston campus

Friday January 14th, 2005, 4-6 PM, reception to follow

Featuring Alan Wallace and John Searle, moderated by Ken Paller

Sponsored by Northwestern University's Cognitive Science Program

Click here for streaming video of the dialogue (to hold a slide you want to read, click pause button)


This debate between Wallace and Searle will focus on a question at the foundation of Cognitive Science -- how can human consciousness be understood? The roots of contemporary scientific approaches to this question lie firmly in western philosophical traditions. The philosophical approach of attempting to understand human experience via pure reason is now accompanied by a wealth of empirical approaches in cognitive science aimed at understanding the various forces that shape human thought and perception. Observations of the brain in action are sometimes used to explore the underpinnings of subjective experience as well.

A central concern with understanding the human mind is also evident in Buddhism. Meditation has become quite popular in the west and is often used as a method of stress reduction. However, contemplative methods for training the mind were developed in Tibetan Buddhist traditions over many centuries as a strategy for understanding the nature of human experience. Insights derived in this way also involve an empirical approach, but one that is based on introspective experiences rather than objective measurements. Extensive training in meditation can lead to keen abilities to control and monitor one's attention, and ultimately, to expert observations of the human mind in action. This expertise can provide a novel perspective on human consciousness with important ramification for current scientific approaches.

Wallace and Searle will present their separate views on these two traditions from eastern Buddhist thought and from western philosophy, respectively. In an interactive format, they will also explore the ways in which these approaches differ and ways in which future scientific inquiry can be informed by both perspectives.


Recommended readings:

Two articles by Alan Wallace:
Science of Consciousness in the West
Methods for Refining and Examining Consciousness
Alan Wallace has also authored many books
concerning Buddhist perspectives
on the human mind, including:
The Taboo of Subjectivity,
Buddhism with an Attitude,
and Buddhism and Science

Two articles by John Searle:
Why I Am Not A Property Dualist
John Searle has also authored many books
concerning philosophical perspectives
on the human mind, including:
The Mystery of Consciousness,
The Rediscovery of the Mind,
Minds, Brains, and Science


Another book that may be of interest and that entails a similar interchange is
The Monk and the Philosopher: A Father and Son Discuss the Meaning of Life
by Jean-Francois Revel and Matthieu Ricard.