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The Foundations of Mind project, with its associated conference and workshop series, emerged from a sense that the current prevailing approaches of cognitive science and neuroscience, based as they are on reductionism and classical physics, are inherently inadequate as a fundamental foundation for a science of mind. It sought to investigate mind in the most fundamental possible way, not just using the computational metaphor of a processor operating on representations of the world, but in a manner aware of the nuances of dialectic between body and world, and ultimately between self and society.
In particular, it sought to investigate to what extent issues of human meaning and values could admit of scientific explanation. That in turn led to a radical review of what constitutes appropriate methodology even in cognitive science and neuroscience, which are currently founded on precepts that in our considered judgment evince premature closure.
While we acknowledge the necessity of engaging with best academic practice, we also believe that academia in its current form tends toward micro-specialization, and exploitation of students, not least financially. Consequently, we have organized our events both at UC Berkeley and at Omni Commons in Oakland.
The Foundations of Mind project asserts that the proper study of mind is the most important scientific venture in which humanity has engaged. It asserts that certain principles, both moral and scientific, must at all times be upheld. With respect to the former, there has been an overemphasis on invasive procedures that mutilate primates, including humans, to extract data. On the other, there has been fraud as techniques like fMRI have had their findings overplayed. Finally, there have existed charlatans who play on the human experience of sexuality, or claim the right from misinterpretation of religious traditions, to force their followers to renounce independent thought and engage in dangerous and self-destructive practices.
We insist on the right of free inquiry. We are also aware that humans have struggled with explaining mental actions for thousands of years, and indeed that the products of mind are available around us as the arts, as science, and as social organization. In recent years, there indeed has been progress in neuroscience and in computer simulation of behavior. There also has been a growing sense through quantum mechanics that something is missing in our objective explanations of physical nature. This somehow seems to be linked with the mystery of subjectivity — why each of us feels that “I am.” Finally, there has been a surprising decline in innovation despite the hype of the Internet.
We believe that all these issues come from the same source. The proper scientific study of mind must assert that, even if we succeed in a final description of all mental process, democracy requires that we do not impinge on the dignity and autonomy of the individual. It reveres the attempt of the artists to aestheticize our daily experience, and of the spiritual leader to edify us. However, it also refuses to accept any premature closure on the central questions of its subject, be they claims that a solution to the so-called “hard problem” of consciousness will resolve all issues of mind, or that simplistic neural models and data provide explanations.
It argues that the study of mind as an informational and representational system rests on the shoulders of giants — not just in the mental sciences, but in physical sciences. So whatever models we come up with must reflect in complexity the capacity of the greats like Einstein. They must inherit from physics and biology the constraints and properties of those subjects — for the brain is, after all, a physical object. Yet it must also explain the structures and processes with which physicist and chemist have engaged the world.
Finally, we remain open to the idea that reality is an entangled nexus and that we cannot truly perceive without changing it. That has, of course, been accepted in physics since the 1930s; but the consequences may be quite different than you imagine. We invite you to our conferences and workshops to explore this.
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