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Is it a common belief among philosophers that the external world does not exist

Is it a common belief among philosophers that the external world does not exist independently of consciousness? That consciousness creates the material world rather than the other way around? How can anyone believe this?

I'd say it's an extraordinarily uncommon view among philosophers. Very few philosophers have believed it throughout the history of the discipline (Bishop Berkeley is the most obvious exception) and I can't think of any contemporary philosophers who do, though I'm sure there are some somewhere. Berkeley was an idealist (that's the usual name for such views) because he thought the conception of matter found in Locke, Newton and other thinkers of the time was incoherent. If you read his Three Dialogues Between Hylas and Philnous, you may find some of his arguments more interesting that you would have thought.

We could add: orthodox theological views hold that not that our minds make matter, but that God creates the world. And accordng to that same orthodoxy, God isn't a material being. So the view that some mind may be the source of matter is actually not at all uncommon. And for various reasons, contemporary New Age and Magical thinkers often favor a view that puts mind first. If you want a sophisticated treatment of magical ways of viewing the world, I recommend Tanya Luhrmann's Persuasions of the Witch's Craft, still excellent 22 years after it was published.

There's a different sort of view that isn't quite as wild. It doesn't hold that minds make matter, but it does hold that mind brings something to the table. More particularly, the idea is that the world doesn't come pre-sliced into kinds of things; what gets grouped together with what depends on how we classify things. Traditionally, this sort of view was called "nominalism"; to varying degrees and in various ways it's still with us. You can find strains of it in Kantian philosophy, in post-modern thought, under the heading of "social construction," and in various so-called "conventionalist" views in philosophy. Within Anglo-American philosophy, Nelson Goodman was perhaps the staunchest defender of such a view; see his Ways of Worldmaking if you're interested.

So no: the view that mind makes matter is not common among philosophers. But the idea that knowledge has a "constructed" element and that in any case, the world doesn't simply sort itself by itself has a wide variety of defenders.

I'd say it's an extraordinarily uncommon view among philosophers. Very few philosophers have believed it throughout the history of the discipline (Bishop Berkeley is the most obvious exception) and I can't think of any contemporary philosophers who do, though I'm sure there are some somewhere. Berkeley was an idealist (that's the usual name for such views) because he thought the conception of matter found in Locke, Newton and other thinkers of the time was incoherent. If you read his Three Dialogues Between Hylas and Philnous, you may find some of his arguments more interesting that you would have thought. We could add: orthodox theological views hold that not that our minds make matter, but that God creates the world. And accordng to that same orthodoxy, God isn't a material being. So the view that some mind may be the source of matter is actually not at all uncommon. And for various reasons, contemporary New Age and Magical thinkers often favor a view that puts mind first. If you want...

I recently read a story in the news about near death experience...People seeing

I recently read a story in the news about near death experience...People seeing dead relatives, bright lights etc. The article mentioned that the science community is currently researching and one of the things they are doing is placing objects in operating rooms and/or taping pictures to the ceilings to understand if this is purely something the mind makes up to deal with the situation it finds itself in or if this is an indication that conscienceless can survive outside the body. I've never had such an experience but it poses an interesting question... Does philosophy have a perspective on consciousness surviving outside the body and/or does it have an opinion on this kind of experience?

Lots of interesting questions here, and I won't try to do all the issues justice. But a handful of quick thoughts.

First, philosophy doesn't usually have a perspective on a question because the questions philosophy deals with tend to be inherently controversial. Philosophers have views, but there's almost always disagreement amongst philosophers on almost all philosophical topics. This one is no exception. That said if you were to take a poll these days, I'm pretty confident that at least among philosophers in the "analytic" tradition (very roughly: influenced by formal logic, science, careful attention to language and meaning...), you'd find that most don't think there can be consciousness without a body to embody it. This is largely because the more we learn about the workings of the mind, the more we see that it's intimately connected with the functioning of the brain.

Turning briefly to one of your examples: suppose a bit of information were taped to the top of a tall object in an operating room. And suppose it turns out that a patient who reports a near-death experience is able to give a detailed account of the information, even though from the operating table there was no "ordinary" way to see it. What would this show?

It's not at all clear. In particular, it's not clear that it would do much to support the idea that the mind is separate from the body. What we'd have is someone whose brain is functioning now and never actually died. Somehow, this person has some information that we wouldn't expect him to have. But what best explains how he came to have the information is hard to say - even if he reports an experience of floating above the operating table. Saying that the mind separated from the body and travelled up through the room to examine the information doesn't help much. How would that work? Does the bodiless mind have eyes? How did the interaction between whatever was up there on top of that tall object and the disembodied mind work? How did the information get stored? How did the mind reconnect with the patient's brain?

The point isn't that the mind must be embodied. The point is that a case like this would only amount to good evidence for minds separate from bodies if that idea gave us a good explanation for the case. As it stands, it's not clear that it gives us much of an explanation at all, let the best one.

Lots of interesting questions here, and I won't try to do all the issues justice. But a handful of quick thoughts. First, philosophy doesn't usually have a perspective on a question because the questions philosophy deals with tend to be inherently controversial. Philosophers have views, but there's almost always disagreement amongst philosophers on almost all philosophical topics. This one is no exception. That said if you were to take a poll these days, I'm pretty confident that at least among philosophers in the "analytic" tradition (very roughly: influenced by formal logic, science, careful attention to language and meaning...), you'd find that most don't think there can be consciousness without a body to embody it. This is largely because the more we learn about the workings of the mind, the more we see that it's intimately connected with the functioning of the brain. Turning briefly to one of your examples: suppose a bit of information were taped to the top of a tall object in an...

Is it possible for the constituent parts of a conscious being to be conscious

Is it possible for the constituent parts of a conscious being to be conscious themselves? Can I infer from the fact that I am conscious that the cells which make up my body are not conscious?

My little toe is conscious, and it is a part of me, perhaps even a "constituent" part. I put in the scare quotes because I am wondering whether "constituent" means "essential"; if it does my big toe is not a constituent part of me. But if "A is a constituent of B" means "A is part of B", then my big toe is a constituent part of me, but the phrase "constituent part" is a tautology - it says that same thing twice. Are there parts of me which are not constituent parts, but some other kind?

You can imagine after surgery a doctor asking, "Is your little toe conscious?", and the answer might be "Yes", and working through to the big toe; the answer then might be, "No".

It is not at all obvious why we should feel the Cartesian tug to say that it is I, not my big toe, that is conscious, except for dubious epistemological reasons such as that we can imagine the consciousness without the toe. The same seems to be true of my psychological parts in Descartes' sense in the Meditations. My thinking might be highly conscious, my feelings almost or completely unconscious, perhaps to my detriment, or the other way round. Is there any reason beyond a fondness for the unity of panpsychism (everything is more or less conscious) to suppose that individual cells might be? You might suppose that my armchair is conscious, but there is no special reason to think so, whereas there is for my cat. Cells don't seem to have the psychological activity usually associated with consciousness.

Naturally my little toe is not a person (or a "self") but why should that prevent it from being conscious? Wasn't that Descartes' mistake?

It's possible that the constituents of a conscious being might be conscious, though there's no strong reason to think that it's true. Some philosophers have speculated that there are primitive little events or occasions of experience that, when arranged properly, make up minds like ours, though this isn't a popular view. Perhaps a little less odd is the possibility that each hemisphere of your brain contains a separate stream of consciousness. The philosopher Derek Parfit (among others) has had some interesting things to say about this based on evidence from cases of people whose corpus callosum (the bundle of nerves connecting the two hemispheres of the brain) has been cut. Whether this would be a case of one conscious being with parts that are also conscious is harder to say. In any case, from the fact that you are conscious, nothing follows one way or the other about whether your cells are. To infer that they must be would be to commit the fallacy of division. To infer that they must not...

Are animals self aware?

Are animals self aware?

It is true that a number of psychologists treat intelligent use of mirrors as evidence of self awareness. But I am not convinced. Animals can gather information about their own bodies via various forms of perception, including, of course, vision. Some can also use a mirror - extending the range of their vision - to get information about their own bodies. But I don't see how that implies that they have any concept of self. My guess is that lots of animals do have something that we might reasonably call 'self awareness'. But I don't know of any serious evidence for this.

I am an animal, and I am at least intermittently self-aware, so yes. But I'm guessing you wanted to know whether non-human animals are self-aware. We could spend some time trying to sort out exactly what counts as self-awareness, and that would be a lengthy though worthwhile exercise. But the short and plausible answer is that some are and some (perhaps most) aren't. One reason to think that some are comes from research with mirrors. Some elephants and some chimps, at least, seem to be able to figure out that what they're seeing in a mirror is their own reflection. You can read a short account of some of the research here .

Does the individual consciousness depend on the actual atoms or only on the

Does the individual consciousness depend on the actual atoms or only on the configuration of the atoms? Suppose we have mastered cryo-freezing and atom-manipulation technology. We can freeze and unfreeze people at will. We freeze Sarah. We replace Sarah's atoms one by one. With all atoms replaced, we wake her up. Is it the "same" Sarah? (the same to herself, not just to us). Thanks, Mario

Let's call the being that results from all this replacement Sarah2. We can ask a pair of questions that seem different. One is whether Sarah2's conscious states will be like Sarah's. I agree with Mark that the answer to that question is yes; at least, it's hard to see why it would be no. But we can ask another question that seems to a different one: is Sarah2 the same person as Sarah? That's a lot more controversial.

A comparison, based on an example by Peter van Inwagen: Suppose little Johnny builds a house from a small number of blocks and leaves it in the middle of the floor. And suppose that I come in and clumsily kick the house over. If I re-arrange the blocks in exactly the same way, then the house I assemble will be indistinguishable from the one Johnny built, but it's not so clear that it's literally the same house. And if I actually replace the blocks with new ones that are just like the old ones, then it's even less clear.

So if we cryo-freeze Sarah, interrupting her normal biological and psychological processes, and then perform this massive replacement, there's at least room to wonder whether it's literally the same person. Sarah2 will no doubt think she's Sarah, but she could be wrong for all that.

This is part of a big debate, of course. One good collection that provides a wide range of background readings with a nice historical introduction is Raymond Martin and John Barresi's anthology Personal Identity, published by Blackwell.

Let's call the being that results from all this replacement Sarah2 . We can ask a pair of questions that seem different. One is whether Sarah2's conscious states will be like Sarah's. I agree with Mark that the answer to that question is yes; at least, it's hard to see why it would be no. But we can ask another question that seems to a different one: is Sarah2 the same person as Sarah? That's a lot more controversial. A comparison, based on an example by Peter van Inwagen: Suppose little Johnny builds a house from a small number of blocks and leaves it in the middle of the floor. And suppose that I come in and clumsily kick the house over. If I re-arrange the blocks in exactly the same way, then the house I assemble will be indistinguishable from the one Johnny built, but it's not so clear that it's literally the same house. And if I actually replace the blocks with new ones that are just like the old ones, then it's even less clear. So if we cryo-freeze Sarah, interrupting her normal...