It has been said that people have made up their minds about the 'great
questions' very early in their lives, and don't want to change them; also that
all the great questions have been exhaustively debated down the ages, and to
start to review them in the last years of one's own life must be unrewarding.
However, advances in human knowledge even in the last 50 years have impinged on
philosophy in startling ways. In particular, neuroscience has begun to locate
the origins of all our thoughts and feelings in the neurons of our physical
brains. The human organism is driven by the brain; consciousness, and with it
our sense of 'being' an independent 'self', owning and directing the organism
and exerting its own 'will', is now seen to be wholly a product of the physical
organism's life history.
It is hard not to conclude that our sense of free will is a profound illusion -
a conclusion which repels even many neuroscientists, and contradicts our deepest
However, properly considered it can lead us to an attitude in our 'selves' which
is profoundly comforting to us, and sympathetic to others.
Remarkably,this attitude is close to that prescribed by the metaphors of two of
the great religions, Buddhism and Christianity.
Isn't this worth investigating, even late in life ?
For an easy kick start into the minds of neuro-scientists see Susan Blackmore's
'Conversations on Consciousness', OUP, £9.99; but the concluding remarks above
may be a step further.
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