Times columnist Sathnam Sanghera thinks it would be a good idea to study consciousness. He's right. But he also thinks it is a good idea only so long as you don't do any philosophy and it's all just useful things that involve studying brains and neurons and things. I don't think this is right. Sure, studying brains is a good idea. But why does that mean studying philosophy is not? He explains:
Indeed, a bit of me dies whenever young people say that they want to study philosophy at university. There is a naive view that three years spent pondering questions such as “Why does God allow bad things to happen to good people?” and “Why are we here?” will help you to understand the meaning of life, when the truth is that philosophy is the most whimsical and self indulgent of academic pursuits, raising more questions than answers and too often being an exercise in intellectual showing off for those involved.
Let's leave aside for now the last point. It's perhaps questionable that raising more questions than answers is a bad thing; they might be good questions and it might be worthwhile recognising that there is a question to which we do not yet have an answer. What makes me groan most is the naive view that a philosophy degree involves three years wondering why we are here. We don't do that, at least not in the philosophy degree that I teach for. And I don't really think any other philosophy degree does that either. The meaning of life? Not really our department. What consciousness is, on the other hand, is. Just as it also belongs to those people who look at brains and neurons. What's important is that the philosophers and neurologists talk to each other.
Here's another bit:
Here's another bit:
Take the question “What is consciousness?”, for example. Whereas a philosopher could spend two or three hours wittering on the theme without getting anywhere, consciousness studies would come at it from a physiological angle.I know these columns are supposed to be provocative, but can't we do better than this? Why is the philosopher allowed only three hours? How long does the 'consciousness studies' person get?