The Big Question
The Nature of Consciousness

the Philosopher, the Scientist & the Contemplative

What is the nature of Consciousness? How does it arise? What is its relationship to the brain?  What is its relationship to space, time and matter generally?  Is it a universal, irreducible aspect of reality? What do we know about its potential?

Last year, the editors at Scientific American formulated twenty big questions about the future of humanity. “Will we ever understand the nature of consciousness?” was number three.

While contemplatives and philosophers have examined the nature of consciousness for millennia, the scientific study of consciousness has only recently become an exciting new field attracting the attention of scientists from across a variety of disciplines.

Cartesian dualism – along with the contemplative experience and philosophy of the great spiritual traditions – has largely been supplanted by a materialist form of monism that dominates much of modern science and philosophy. Nevertheless, dogmatism of any kind (including materialist) is the enemy of the empirical spirit of science and the reflexive nature of philosophy.  It is helpful then, to attend to the contending and diverse views that exist within the Academy and elsewhere.

Looking beyond academe, it would be hubristic to tackle the ‘big question’ of consciousness while disregarding thousands of years of methodical introspective enquiry represented by the contemplative traditions. The Contemplary takes the view that to understand the nature of consciousness we need open-minded dialogue and collaborative inquiry between experts with various perspectives from within science, the humanities and the contemplative traditions.  In this spirit we were delighted to present a public dialogue in July 2017 between the philosopher David Chalmers, the neuroscientist Olivia Carter and the Buddhist contemplative Alan Wallace.