An old mate of mine - Jon Cape - has been selected to present a paper at a 'Consciousness Studies' conference in Stockholm (http://www.consciousness.arizona.edu/) this week. I found the abstract for his paper really interesting :
"Despite the huge popularity of reality shows, the nature of reality is hardly a popular subject. Well it sort of is - put God in the title of a book and - for or against Him - you can draw an audience. And yet much of the classical 'God versus the atheists' debate generates more heat than light. It does so because so many of the assumptions behind both sides of that debate remain unexamined, at least outside a fairly narrow and specialist philosophical circle. I thoroughly disagree with Socrates. The unexamined life can certainly be worth living. But unexamined assumptions can at least be fun to explore.
When it comes to the nature of reality, what is the dominant outlook? For many, the answer is so obvious it doesn't merit a name. Still less does it merit examination. Within the worlds of science and philosophy, the prevalent outlook, if named at all, is physicalism - sometimes dressed as scientific naturalism.
Physicalism in western philosophical tradition is a version of monism. Monism took battle with dualism and monism won. Monism thought the world was composed of one kind of stuff. Dualism opted for two. Monism had two types. These two types were called idealism and physicalism. In today's language, to show idealism is to aim for perfection, whether this is realistic or not. Supporters of idealism may or may not have been idealistic in this popular sense. For them, reality was basically one thing and that thing was mental or spiritual in nature. Physical reality flowed from this. Physicalists took the opposite view and won the day. Science would hardly make sense otherwise, would it? Physicalism became, and by and large it remains, the only show in town, the emperor whose writ is law in most of modern intellectual life. In many parts of the physical, biological and social sciences, to appear to question this holy writ is to seriously damage your wealth, professional prospects and credibility amongst your peers. Thus we find arguments which might run the risk of giving this appearance being carefully prefaced by a denial of any such intention. But the empire is much larger. For many of us in all walks of life, we might not give a second's thought to the emperor. But he quietly informs what we can think about the world and our place in it.
Physicalism is often presented as if it is simply science, or what science tells us about reality. But this is not so. Physicalism is one view of reality. It is a dominant view, indeed an emperor in today's world. The emperor's clothes are high fashion. But is he really naked?
In this talk, the conventional wisdom of today, physicalism, will be given a philosophical grilling much in the way that Anthony Freeman ('God In Us', 1993) has done so ably with regard to conventional wisdoms of yesterday."
Watch this space for a link to the eventual paper.