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Philosophy

The term philosophy, which comes from Greek origins, means “love of wisdom.” The study of philosophy involves asking fundamental questions to better understand people’s place in the universe and their relationships and responsibilities to each other.

What Is Philosophy?

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Like some branches of psychology and many wisdom traditions, key philosophical frameworks attempt to make sense of human existence and experience and to connect those experiences to the world at large. These include logic, ethics, epistemology, and metaphysics.

The formal study of logic helps in decision-making and in interrogating arguments and (seemingly) rational thought. Axiology is a fancy term for the study of ethics and aesthetics; this type of philosophy seeks to understand what makes individuals and actions “good” or “right.” Epistemology examines belief, opinion, and objective knowledge; as such, it can help people understand whether their closely held beliefs derive from objective or subjective information. Metaphysics questions the nature of reality and whether abstract concepts like “truth” or a higher power exist; it tries to understand why the universe is ordered the way that it is.

What are “easy” problems of consciousness?

People interact with the world through sensory information, and their reactions to their surroundings can be accounted for by recognizable physical and biological processes. Philosopher David Chalmers called these “easy” problems of consciousness because they could be at least partially explained by cognitive or physical means.

What is the hard problem of consciousness?

In addition to sensory ways of experiencing the world around them, people have this first-person perspective of their lives that cannot be rationalized away so easily. Some call it consciousness or the human “soul,” but no one has found an evidence-based explanation for it. Chalmers coined the phrase “hard problem of consciousness” in 1995 to explain the phenomenon.

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How Philosophy Helps Us Understand the Mind and Ourselves

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Psychology and neuroscience show us that many of our belief systems are adaptive; the aesthetics of what we find pleasing and the ethics of societal conduct evolved over time to aid in human survival and reproduction. As such, all philosophy has psychological underpinnings. Key philosophical inquiries including the relationship between mind and body, the meaning of free will and faith, the nature of consciousness, and what constitutes happiness, are simply components of our brains' operating system, and as such can be framed philosophically or scientifically.

Plato said that thinking is "the mind in conversation with itself," and core modes of self-interrogation in psychotherapy and psychology are indeed built on philosophical precepts. Both Socratic dialogue and stoicism are evident in the principles of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy (REBT). CBT and especially REBT counsel people to examine and dispute their beliefs and to tolerate unpleasant feelings—shades of Epictetus. The connection is bidirectional: There is evidence that people's positions on philosophical questions as central as the existence of free will are influenced by their individual temperament and personality.

Is consciousness an illusion?

It depends on how you define "illusion." Psychologist and neuroscientist Michael Graziano developed his Attention Schema Theory of consciousness to explore this question. Essentially, he argues that the human brain evolved an oversimplified model of how it processes sensory input and directs attention (called a schema) so as not to get overwhelmed by the physical details of what’s happening. Graziano suggests that our subjective inner experience (or consciousness) only feels nonphysical, because over the years, our brains have adopted schemas as a type of mental shortcut, so we’re not aware of all the physical processes that are actually occurring as we have firsthand experiences in the world.

What is the “Extended Mind Hypothesis”?

Some experts believe that certain cognitive processes and even mental states extend outside of the individual mind, often into the physical world. For example, an Alzheimer’s patient might write down important information in a notebook that they could then refer back to, or someone might rely on their spouse or a group of friends to help them recall important details or creatively problem-solve. In addition, most people turn to the internet as a source of knowledge they don’t have readily available in their own heads.

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