A Radically Empirical Approach to the Exploration of Consciousness, Alan Wallace



For centuries, theologians and philosophers have proposed a wide range of hypotheses concerning the origins and nature of consciousness and what happen to consciousness at death, without reaching any consensus. Over the past 140 years, cognitive scientists have likewise proposed a diverse array of definitions of consciousness and theories attempting to solve the mind-body problem. Materialists have tended to dominate such discourse, with some arguing that subjective states of consciousness must be equivalent to brain processes or their emergent properties, while others deny the very existence of subjective, conscious experience.

Virtually none of these theories lend themselves to scientific validation or repudiation; they do not appear to moving towards any kind of consensus; and they all lack of any rigorous means of investigating subjective states of consciousness firsthand. In other words, they have all overlooked a key element that initially set “natural philosophy” apart from all other branches of philosophy and theology in the 17th century: the precise, rigorous observation of the natural phenomena under investigation.

While all subjectively experienced mental processes and states of consciousness are undetectable by the instruments of technology, they can be observed with refined attention and introspection. William James, one of the foremost pioneers of experimental psychology and neuroscience, proposed that introspection should play a central role in scientifically exploring the mind. But ever since the rise of behaviorism in the early 20th century, his radically empirical approach proposal has been ignored. Buddhist contemplatives, on the other hand, have adopted this radically empirical approach for millennia, and they have established a large body of consensual knowledge. Thus far, their methods and discoveries have been almost entirely overlooked by the scientific community and the generalpublic. It is high time to correct this oversight.

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