Tuesday, November 22, 2011

A Review, and a Seasonal Guide

This past Friday we had 22 attendees and about half were first time attendees. While the topic was a bit different for BQ, people agreed that we stayed on topic and we kept the discussion mostly philosophical and not political. Kudos to all those who attended! This was a most difficult topic.

Please note that we are not meeting in December. There are so many activities in December that a BQ meeting seems to be just one meeting too many. Stay philosophical. Keep your balance during the holiday season. Concentrate on your relationships with others and don't sweat the conventions of the season. The richness of of the season is in the connections you make, not the gifts you give. Love is a shared richness for both the giver and the receiver. Reach out to the ones you love, even if they are not aware of your feelings, and share of yourself.

What would Socrates do?

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Government By the People

There is a lot going on just now. Occupy Somewhere Movement, the GOP Presidential Primaries, state elections, and so forth. The People are in motion, and the government is reacting to issues domestic and international. The USA fiscal situation is in a mess with no clear way to move towards a resolution, and an imminent implosion of the treasury a possibility. The list of woes goes on and on.

What is the best form of government?

Greece spawned the idea of Radical Democracy where every citizen votes on every issue. To do so in any helpful way every citizen needs to be well informed on every issue, and spend a HUGE amount of time researching, discussing, thinking about, and then acting on each and every issue faced by his society. Socrates found this to be absurd, and also felt that the Every Citizen of Athens was intellectually incapable of carrying out his responsibility. He felt that people who represented special interest were unduly influential in the senate, and that the underlying issues and arguments for and against an issue were often lost to rhetoric, oratory, and sophism. In 2,500 years, have things changed all that much?

What is the best form of Government?

In American Representative Democracy we elect members of our community to represent us in the halls of legislature and empower them with the responsibility of doing the Every Citizen act of governing. We inform them our wishes and our feelings about issues, and they (presumably) tally these messages and come to some sort of conclusion about what is best for our society as a whole. They may have access to better information than we do, or they may be influenced by special interests as the Athenians of old were, and the laws they enact may or may not be in the best interests of all. But on the whole, we would like to believe that the System we have created serves the interests of all, and that we can participate at some level that is appropriate to our level of interest and still get the job of governing done. Is that a realistic assumption? If you half think about a topic, have you done it justice?

Here is another question: If you act in your self interests at the polls, and everyone else does the same, will the outcome be the best for the entire society if we have a majority rule outcome? Isn't this just an exercise in practical utilitarianism? What is the best form of government?

If you look at this question from the perspective of philosophy, and you couch your answer in terms of most desirable outcomes for all the governed, it can be a perplexing question. We want our top officials to be the Enlightened Philosophers that Socrates identified as being the best sort of rulers. We want them to always consider all angles, to apply the best information available and make the best possible decision that leads the country in the right direction. Is that happening? If not, how can we get the principles of philosophy to apply here?

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Problem With Evil

The first problem is that we don't have a good definition of Evil.  It seems situational, relative to our surroundings, arbitrary, and subject to interpretation.  Folks who do nothing but sit around and think about these things trace the origin of Evil to the Creation Myth stage of human development.  They suggest that Evil comes from 2 different sources.  One comes from a titanic struggle between Good and Evil, where Good is represented by creative forces, loving forces, compassion, caring, etc.  Evil is destructive, hating, death oriented, trouble-making, and opposed to the Good in some fundamental way. The second is that Evil is on one end of a spectrum of existence, and Good on the other.  Every act, everything that happens, can be placed on a continuum of Good and Evil, and at some point we can say that things below this line are Evil, and above this line are Good.  There are lesser and greater Goods, and lesser and greater Evils.

Is Evil pain and suffering, or can Evil be not being able to find a parking space when you need one?  Is bad luck Evil?  Is good luck Good?  Is Evil an innate feature of the human condition?  Freud thought so, calling it the Death Drive, and attributing to the human character a battle between Love and Death.  Having lived through Nazi Germany (yes, I invoked it!) as a Jew, Freud was convinced that the Death Drive was alive and well in the human psyche and could not be suppressed.

I just read Hear of Darkness by Joseph Conrad.  Published in 1902, this book describes the mentality of European colonialists who are seeking fortunes in the Belgian Congo in the 1880's and 1890's.  The conditions of depravity and suffering by the natives at the hands of the Europeans, and from the ravages of disease in the Congo are appalling and certainly warrant the title of Evil.  The demented condition of Mr. Kurtz, the pivotal character in the book who "goes native" in order to secure the greatest amount of ivory the company has ever seen, reflects on his condition and what he has seen and mutters, "The horror, the horror..." on two occasions, hinting at the extent of Evil that he has seen, and has created with his actions.  He certainly seems Evil, but can his actions be judged without putting them into context?  Are the inhuman acts that take place between the natives as a normal part of their culture any less Evil?  After all, this would seem to be Man in a natural condition, would it not? 

Evil is a problem.  What is it?  How can we define it?  How can we elevate it to a status of more than a superficial black-and-white comparison between Good and Evil?

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Nature of Evil

The topic of the existence of Evil in the world has been a hotly contested issue since the dawn of time. What is Evil? Why does Evil exist? How could a loving and caring God create a world in which Evil could exist? These and many other questions have plagued thinkers and theologians through the ages. What we have to do is avoid a naive approach to the question. We need to take a step back, see the big picture, and go through the philosopher's process of taking a simple question and analyzing it like a prosecuting attorney. We can start with the obvious question: What is Evil?

It is attractive to say, Evil results the suffering and death of people for no apparent reason. Earthquakes, tsunamis, terrorist attacks, deranged killers, child molesters, serial killers, and diseases all fall into this category. People killed or maimed without reason or sense, random suffering, innocents suffering and dying, etc. What better example of Evil could there be? The suffering that occurs at the personal level of the sufferer is Evil from their perspective, certainly. From our Objective Observer perspective it also seems senseless and pointless, and therefor Evil.

Philosophers who have considered this point of view have sometimes concluded that these processes might just be part of the normal human condition, and might be chalked up to Bad Luck, or something akin to Karma or Fate. Some people do well, and some suffer. Life is a continuum of Good and Evil, and defining a point along the line that separates Evil from the rest of the Human Condition is a bit arbitrary, and can be hard to defend. One man's suffering is another man's pleasure at times, in this age of masochism and marathons. The senseless death that occurs at time of natural disasters is certainly bad luck for the ones affected and killed, but isn't the shifting of the Earth's crust a normal, natural process that we recognize as a geologic process? How can that be Evil?

Terrorist attacks are a form of warfare, are they not? True, the targets are not "military" in nature and there may not be a declared War between political entities that we like to see when War is declared, but the act of aggression is one typical of warfare, and one many of us play out everyday on the myriad electronic games we (and our children) play on their game consoles. Warfare is a military action taken to support a political purpose or end, in the correct sense of war, and the conclusion of warfare is the establishment of a new political scheme, not a new military one. When War is over the armies go home and the politicians step in and clean up the mess they created.  In that sense War is not Evil, is it? War is a human activity that is planned, executed, and resolved, albeit in a context of human suffering and death, and destruction of property.

Deranged killers are pathological, are they not? They have an issue, maybe a medical one, that drives them to do bad things to other people (and maybe to themselves, too). In a sense, the pathological tag we give them is a way we can identify these people as different from us, as different than the norm we have in our society. Cannibals kill people, too, and eat them, but that is normal in their society, and they don't seem pathological to us. We can see the victim as having an Evil thing done to them, but the perpetrator may be acting on impulses that are organic and/or environmental in origin.

Through the ages thinkers have wrestled with questions of Evil, the origins of Evil, the basis of Evil, and the extent of Evil, and come up with some pretty different ways to think about it. How can we frame a discussion of Evil that allows us to come to some conclusions, to identify Evil in some way we that we can agree, and to couch a discussion of Evil in more than a strictly Christian context. This is our challenge.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Deipnosophist - Really?

Are you familair with that word?  It is based on at least one word you know.  Deipnon is the Greek word for the main meal of the day, what we would consider to be dinner.  Sophist is the term for a persuasive speaker.  Combine them and you have a term for someone who is an entertaining and enjoyable dinner conversationalist. 

I'd like to think that attending Big Questions would develop a deipnosophistic tendency in a person...

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Radical Democracy

Plato hated democracy. He hated the way crowds could be influenced by artful and crafty speakers, but speakers that may not actually have a good argument, or may not have the crowd's best interests at heart. He hated the process of democratic discussion, and rule by the many (ignorant) in favor of the few (enlightened). He favored a Philosophe King, a man who ruled with absolute authority but with absolute objective reason and regard for the good of the nation. An enlightened despot, it has been called. A King, but a King you can believe in, and trust.

We have just come through an exercise of Radical Democracy in the form of our national Budget Deficit Crisis, and we have all seen the messy nature of American democracy in practice. It is partisan, political, self-centered, and riddled with what appears to be corrupt practices. We see our legislators and cringes at their antics, their alliances, and their obstinate refusal to abandon some pet project or local issue of importance in favor of compromise for the greater good. We all believe in a sort of Utilitarian Altruism, don't we? We want our national representatives to work for the good of all Americans, don't we?

What is the best form of government? Is the model we share with the world the best one? How might democracy, and representative democracy in particular, be improved?

Next meeting: August 19, 6:30 pm. You know where...

Friday, July 22, 2011

What do you own?

In our society the concept of personal ownership runs deep. We like to think we own physical objects like property, things, stuff... Tangible property ownership seems a fundamental right and is built in to the idea of self and identity.

But there are things that we possess but may not own to the degree we think we do. How about your body parts and organs? Do you own them in the same way you own a car? Can you sell them? Can you trade them? If an artist wanted to create a collage of human hands are you free to sell one of yours to contribute? In the USA it is against the law to sell you kidneys for organ transplants. You can give one away if you receive nothing for it. Can you give them both away it the result means your own life is no longer viable?

How about your life? Do you own that? Is it yours to do with as you see fit? Can you employ someone to aid you in ending your life? Under what conditions can you willingly give up your life?

Libertarians believe in minimalist involvement of government in the affairs of the people. Let free markets run unchecked, let people make deals and arrange deals that suit them. What role does the government have in restricting this free expression of trade?

The consent of the governed seems to extend to the point that the masses intrude into the realm of the idea of personal liberty and personal property. Laws we create limit what you can do with your body, to the extent that you may not own it in the way you think you do. Are you ok with that?

Meeting tonight at 6:30.

Monday, May 23, 2011

The Faces of God

I have a form that I adapted from a source I've long since lost. It is a questionnaire about God. It asks about your personal God, and his/her characteristics. I think I will pass this out at the next meeting and we can use it as a starting point for a discussion. I hope you enjoy it.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

A Discussion on China?

I suppose you might understand that I have a background as an educator, and at the root of my being I remain a teacher. Judy warned me to try and keep my introductory comments to 10 minutes or less. even talking fast I couldn't do it! Sorry about that!

I thought the conversation went well, and we did cover quite a lot of territory. Qing Dynasty, Sun Yat Sen, Chairman Mao, Deng Xiaoping, and Hu Jintao were all discussed at some length. The plight of the common Chinese person, the ideology of communism, the urban/rural dichotomy of China, the Opium Wars, the Boxer Rebellion, western Imperialism, Chinese isolationism, and the historic hatred of the Japanese. There is a lot to consider in any Chinese discussion, even a casual one. Still, it went well. Didn't it?

So, what for nest time? Any Big Question suggestions?

Please comment.

Friday, April 29, 2011

China Calls

I feel like I've written this blog before, but my Chinese friend called last night and said he has been called back for more meetings. He will not be available for our meeting on May 13, sadly. I have decided to carry on anyway, and will have the planned meeting without him and carry on the best we can. We should stick with our plan to have Chinese food for our potluck that night in all its many wonderful forms. Judy will cook a pot of rice, so you can concentrate on delicious dishes of your choice.

I've finished reading River Town, which I found to be very good in detailing the ins and outs of small town life in rural China. The portrayals of the lives and the mentality of rural Chinese people was most excellent, and I will try and draw on the author's insights in my comments on the 13th. I would also recommend Country Driving by Peter Hessler which is similar in content. He lives in Beijing, has a country "writing studio" in a small town some distance from Beijing, and takes long drives along the Great Wall to have the adventures a traveler might have by doing such a thing. Both these books showcase the Chinese people through the eyes of a careful observer, and he writes very well. I highly recommend them.

Statistics about China cannot convey the reality of living in China. How things get done is so different than what happens here that I find myself asking questions and wondering about how people would put up with what seems to me to be a sort of crazy system. It works, after a fashion. At least for them.

For my distance participants (and there are several of you) I don't see how I can actually involve you if you don't leave comments or make some sort of noise with your questions, comments, and observations on the various topics we cover. I hope to hear from you!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

In Preparation for Our Chinese Discussion

The May, 2008 issue of National Geographic was devoted to the subject China. If you have access to this issue you might like to grab a copy and read the articles. I will have a copy of the map that came in the magazine we can use it for a reference.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Site Changes

Please note the changes to the blog site. Over to the right I have added a calendar section where I show the a planned dates for BQ for the next few months. When the dates are known I will post them. As I work out the topics I will show them next to the dates. If I can figure out how to do it, I will link the topics to the blog where they a discussed. Then you can just click on the topic and go straight to the write up that explains the topic and puts things into perspective. We call this Technology Working For Us.

If you have suggestions for the site please drop me a line. I have not provided links to other blog sites mostly because I don't troll for them. If you do, an you have found something particularly good ones let the rest of us know.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

How can we address the issue of China?

I have been thinking about China, and how we can productively discuss this immense topic.  Modern China is a complex morass of social, political, economic, cultural, and international issues that seem like quite a quagmire when it comes to wanting to pluck some out for specific study.  I am not wanting to criticize my readers, but this is also a topic where most American's are woefully uninformed, and it is not easy to get informed.  Where do you start?

I think the problem breaks down into several dichotomies and conundrums.   In no particular order:
  • Political:  democracy vs. communism; the goal of egalitarianism
  • Social:  rural vs. urban; agrarian idealism vs. capitalism and commerce; demonizing capitalism
  • Economic:  poor vs. rich; the Iron Rice Bowl concept; entrepreneurship in modern Chinese economy; the 5 Year Plan and a controlled economy; managed growth and expansion;  foreign investment;  cheap labor; domestic consumerism vs. the Export Economy
  • Historic: exploitation by the west and Japan;  the legacy of feudalism; Dynastic thinking in modern China 
  • Demographic: 1.6 billion people; the pyramid of social hierarchy;   
  • Infrastructure:  communication; transportation; power;  housing;  sanitation;  education
  • Ideology:  the role of ideological thinking in shaping China's social structure
  • China under communism:  Marx, Lenin, and Mao;  Mao and Stalin;  Mao and Nixon;  The Great Leap Forward;  The Cultural Revolution; Tienanmen, 1989; Deng Xiaoping; Hu Jintao
  • Chinese food:  fried rice vs. sweet and sour chicken;  is there more?
I could go on, but you get the picture.  This is not a subject to which we can do justice in one evening.

My personal reading list for China includes some older and many newer titles.  Writers that have been chronicling the changes inside China from a western perspective are very interesting.  I recommend the books by Peter Hessler, River Town, and Country Driving.  Also one called Factory Girls, by Leslie T. Chang.  Pearl Buck's The Good Earth describes life in China of 100 years ago, and yesterday for the rural poor.  I have just finished listening to a 48 lecture series from the Teaching Company called The Fall and Rise of China by Professor Richard Baum of UCLA, which has been an excellent review of China since about 1850 through the present, and covers especially well the ascent of communism and Chairman Mao, and the importance of idealism in the crafting the Chinese state under communism. All of these authors are fluent Chinese speakers, and they relate personal experiences in different strata of Chinese society.  These strata are very important to understanding the way things work in China.

I ran a test over the weekend.  I invited my Chinese friend over for dinner on Sunday and tried the idea out on he and his wife.  I told them about our group, and that I wanted to try and have a conversation about China.  They were agreeable, and have offered to attend on May 13.  So, we are committed to this adventure and now we have to sort through the pile of possible topics and see if we can't make some sense out of it.  If you have suggestions please either send me an email, or leave a comment below.  Thanks!

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Chinese Discussion

It was mentioned that we should do a discussion of China for the next BQ. I contacted my Chinesefriend but he actually will be in China on our date, and is not available this time. I suggest that we keep this idea on file, and have it as soon as the parts can be assembled for a good meeting. It won't be long.

Monday, March 28, 2011

April 15 - Who Are You?

The meeting date in April is the 15th. This is earlier in the month than normal, but things are going on that need to be accommodated. Pot-luck dinner at 6:30. Discussion at 8:00. No other activities on this night, only philosophy, and dialectic philosophy at that.

At the recent Men's Retreat the men were asked, "Who are you?". The simple question, who are you, was for me an old friend with whom I have made peace long ago. Not so for all, however, and it shows again that the simple questions are often the most powerful.

Who Are You?

If you want to look up some ideas ahead of the meeting look into the philosophical areas of Exestentialism, being/becoming, and meditation. This dovetails nicely with the discussions we have been having about living an excellent life, and possibly about the meaning of life, among others. The way you answer this question can be introspective, intentional, idealistic, and/or accusational. Or all of these at once.

Foreword Thinking Thought:
In a meeting to come, I want to revisit the idea of Utopian Communities. If you have a moment to spare, look into the Oneida Community in New York state in the late 1800's. They were a bunch of starry-eyed idealists who committed everything to their utopian vision of community and future society. If your answer to the Who are you? question has an element of idealism in it, would you be willing to commit yourself to that idealism to the extent of joining a community of like-minded folk and creating a new community?

Mind/Body Problem - a New Twist

One of my correspondents has pointed out that I have missed a key point in my earlier discussion concerning the Physicalist/Dualist interpretation of the mind/body problem. As you recall, I tried to summarize the two camps as being either Physicalist, wherein consciousness is explained by only involking the electrical and chemical physical activities of the brain and associated neurological components, and the Dualist camp wherein these same proceses occur, but a new Mind substance also exist=s that is not physical. The Dualists have two things going on: "brain things" as pointed out by King Julian in the movie Madagascar, and an additional consciousness thing that is what we call the Mind, in common sense terms.

My correspondent pointed out that I had missed the fact that physical things were actually energy things, not inanimate physical matter only. e=mC2, and all that. Mass and energy are equivalent, so that a physicalist is actually one who may be saying that consciousness arises not from "simple" chemistry and electrical impulses, but by the transfer of energy only. If we look at this at the level of the neuron and synapse, instead of talking about Ca pumps and membrane permeabilities we should really be talking about energy transfers. Mind is energy. Matter is energy. All there is is energy.

There is apparently a school of thought around this idea, which I have not yet discovered or studied. As with many things that are initially counter-intuitive, there is also a grain of truth here, and teasing it out may take some time. I may need to read something about this in order to acquire the ternimology to talk about it with some sense. My university education is 30 years old at this point and is aging. However, this seems less like a problem in education and more a problem with interpretation. How do we interpret the world around us? Yes, atoms make up the world of the physical, and yes, atoms are made up of smaller particles/waves that have dual physical and energy characteristics. Yet, at the HWI (human/world interface) where I live physical objects are real, and non-physical things are different than that. Invoking an energy explanation of Mind seems like a back-door approach, trying to get around the physicalist/dualist dichotomy using trickery rather than argument.

Help me out. Is there an argument here that I haven't seen yet? Help me get the idea of "matter as energy" as an explanation of the existence of Mind in the front door of this discussion, and justify having us pull up a chair at the table for it.

Arete' - An Excellent Discussion

A small group stayed around after the Canvassing activities were done, and discussed the idea that we all need to live our lives in a spirit of Excellence. I noted that Homer has Hector talking about being remembered not so much for being brave, or being a good man, but for having lived a life of excellence, what in Greek is called Arete'. We kicked around the various ways this might be interpreted in today's society, and in our individual lives. People liked the topic and i have been lobbied to continue the discussion when everyone can attend and participate. Perhaps I will.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

March 18 - What topic shall we choose?

The date is set. Last month's topic was Popular Choice, and it seemed to work well. This month we are hosting the annual Canvass Dinner, which will include a short presentation concerning the financial needs of the Fellowship and our individual roles in satisfying that need. I suppose we might pick the tipic: What is Duty? Socrates was fond of this topic, and I am too.

In ZAMM there is a section near the end where Pursig talks about Excellence in Being, as the Greek source of Quality that Phaedrus was seeking. He quotes Homer when a father is talking to the mother of his son, saying his most fervent hope is that he can live his life with honor and excellence, and it can be said of him that he comported himself with dignity. Phedrus interprets this as a statement of personal Quality, and understands the context to be one of Quality applied to daily and lifelong living. I read into this the idea of the Renaissance Man where each of us has the opportunity to become a complete, rounded individual whose knoweldge and interests span the decades and disciplines, and whose lives are lived as a model for our contemporaries.

Certainly a part of this is the idea of Duty; to ourselves, to our families, to our communities, and to our countries. To be a complete man is to be present and contributing to each of these spheres of life, and not just contributing, but to be a leader and an example for others to emulate. Can we do this? How do we do this? What is the best path to tread to live your life in a way to become an example to others, and an example to yourself? This is a Big Question in itself.

I'd love to hear back from readers about how they feel about the idea of using the concept of personal excellence as a basis exemplarily living. Is this a topic that ever crosses your mind? It yes, how do you respond? If not, does it make sense to think of a life lived in a sort of "high quality" way? Please respond with a comment.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Socratic Question Format

I thought I would take a moment to set down one of the aspects of Big Questions that new people to the meeting may not be familiar with. This is the format of the question itself. Socrates was fond of the "What is ..." question. What is justice? What is duty? What is honor? That sort of thing. When I suggest topics for specific BQ meetings I intend to use the same sort of format, and hope that the dialectic method of examining these questions will be used by the participants.

In recent meetings where the floor has been thrown open to popular selection of the topic, these are the questions that have been selected: What is friendship? What is marriage? What is love? What is the meaning of life? Perhaps one of these will be selected. Perhaps another. We will have to see.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

February 18: Attendee's Choice

There is no official topic tonight. We'll throw the session open to suggestion from the attendees and see where it goes. Come with your favorite question in mind, or go with the flow of conversation.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Mind/Body Dualism Revisited

In a post-meeting discussion last night I tried to explain why "normal" life experiences should be just as amazing as many of the exceptional experiences people seemed to want to use as examples of the mind/body problem. I must have failed to put the topic into proper context, because Pursig and myself both see the the experience of conscious mind inside a physical body as something of a miracle. So let me see if I can't make another run at setting up the problem.

The countertop in front of me is a physical object imbued with what I think most of us would agree to be no conscious event. A bucket of salty water is similarly without self-awareness. However, since humans are more like a bucket of salty water than we often realize, there is something going on inside us that makes consciousness happen. Something is happening that seems to go beyond what we understand physical materials have the capability to do, namely become self aware in the way we attribute human consciousness. How does that happen? Where does that happen? THAT was what I was trying to get us to contemplate.

The answer to this question generally falls into two camps. One we can call Physicalism, where the attribute of awareness is attributed to something like "complexity" of the constitution of the being. There are only physical phenomena happening and only one sort of thing exists, and that is the matter of the universe. From the primeval soup we have come, and of soup only are we. There is nothing more.

The second answer invokes a new substance, Mind, and gives it the attribute of consciousness. Mind is not physical. It does not have weight, shape, or location. It is somehow inside us, but not a part of us. At least not a part of us in the sense we can point to it and say "there it is!" We know that we have thoughts and we think we know our own thoughts intimately. Dualists would say that the thoughts are the stuff of Mind, since thoughts are similarly without mass or form. Dualists acknowledge the physical side, but invoke Mind to fill in the gap that seems to exist when talking about matter being animated and aware.

The problem has always been to reconcile the interaction between the physical and the mental realms. How can one affect the other? The common sense account is that our minds are the basis of our individuality and hold the keys to our personality and memories. The physical side is certainly involved, and is the path for sense experiences. Interaction with the environment comes to us through our senses, and rationality comes to us through our Mind. Dualists have to explain how these very different realms get together to form the whole that we are. Physicalists need to explain how physical phenomena only can lead to things like rational thought, awareness, and mental states. Traditionally they have had a hard time doing that.

In this environment are dreams insightful? Maybe. Dreams are usually thought of as being products of our sub-conscious mind, whatever that is. In an active and stimulated state we are awake and conscious. In an inactive and possibly sleeping state our conscious mind is inactive, but there is still some sort of trickle of activity which we call sub-conscious. Is this where dreams come from? If the answer is yes, then isn't this still just consciousness, in a reduced form? If the answer to that question is yes, then have we really gone anywhere with this line of reasoning?

Does the fact that drugs affect our mental states shed light on this problem? I think it does, and points towards Physicalism.

Are near death experiences relevant? I don't see how exactly since so many things may be happening that impact the physical system when the body is under extreme stress things are bound to be jumbled.

Is phylogeny helpful, since we are surrounded by creatures with different levels of complexity and different apparent amounts of awareness? I think phylogeny can offer hints that we can use to make a case but may not offer proof of anything. If you are Dualist looking at phylogenetic diversity, do you end up invoking some sort of Special Providence to explain why humans seemingly have more Mind than other animals? Would a Physicalist argue that human minds are the most developed, hence have the most awareness? The fossil record seems to show evidence of proto-conscious humanoid forms whose complexity may only have been some fractional part of current human brain development. This sort of phylogenetic thinking is really speculative, however, and does not seem to "prove" anything.

Does ontology provide any insights? I think it does. Human development from the egg to adult is marked with a clear physical development that includes things like development and maturation of the brain, and these developments can be tied to behavioral and cognitive traits that we attribute to consciousness. I think it makes a strong case for Physicalism. Could a Dualist claim that the Mind was present at one point of development and not another? How could that be defended?

We didn't do anything with the data identifying those in the group who tended toward Physicalism, and those towards Dualism. It might be interesting to contemplate this question:

What would it take in your own experience to sway you to the other side?

If you are a Physicalist, what life experience cold convince you that Dualism is the correct view?

If you are a Dualist, how could you be convinced that Physicalism is correct? Is there any way at all?