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Anik Waldow  

University of Sydney, Winner of the 2023 Annette Baier Prize

Self-Enactment in the Face of Doubt: A Deep Dive into Montaigne’s Essays

Thinking of selves relationally means accepting that self-conceptions depend in complex ways on social and institutional influences that can enhance, but also obstruct the self’s capacity for reflective thought. This talk explores a specific aspect arising from this intermingling of selves, individuals, groups, and institutions. How can the self that no longer trusts the norms inculcated by socially established customs and habits preserve its own mental sanity and self-trust? The threat ensuing here is that of ‘madness’ conceived as the loss of rationality triggered through the self’s retreat to its own inner realms. A way out of this predicament, I argue, requires what Montaigne describes as the duplication of the self in the melting away of its original ‘form’. I propose that his process is best understood as an exploratory second-person enactment of thought that arrays the self in time and space. Engaging in this process is essential to salvaging the self’s command of its own rationality.

Bronwyn Finnigan

Australian National University

Self-related processing reduction or modification? The Buddhist theory of no self and the mechanisms of mindfulness 

There is robust evidence that mindfulness-based interventions (MBIs), such as MBSR and MBCT, have beneficial effects for a range of disorders. Less well known are the mechanisms by which they exert their therapeutic effects. The Buddhist doctrine of no-self has been theorised as a central mechanism for MBI efficacy. No-self has been operationalized as the reduction, removal, or elimination of self-referential information or sense of self across a wide range of self-related processes (SRPs). That no-self is a mechanism for mindfulness, so understood, has been challenged in a series of studies led by or involving Willoughby Britton and Jared Lindahl. They argue that there is currently no evidence that the benefits of MBIs come from a global reduction or elimination of SRPs and suggest that the hypothesis itself is based on mistakenly importing ideas from a religious worldview that is inconsistent with that of psychology and biomedical health. One recent study contends that while there is evidence of a positive association between changes in SRPs and MBI’s beneficial effects, it is better explained in terms of a change in valence of the subject’s self-concept (from positive to negative) rather than ‘Buddhist-derived ego-quieting or multi-level SRP reduction’. I argue that this is a false contrast. I do this by showing that no-self need not be operationalized in terms of a global reduction in SRPs but can justifiably admit valenced changes in a subject’s self-conception as being functionally adaptive. While this does not establish no-self as the mechanism by which MBIs exert their therapeutic effects, nor vindicate theories that interpret no-self in terms of a global reduction in SRP, it shows that no-self can be interpreted in ways that align with existing findings. This challenges the suggestion that no-self is necessarily a mistaken imposition from an interpretive framework that is inconsistent with science.

Dean Rickles

University of Sydney

The No Jootsing Theorem

Epistemically, for beings like us, there is, as Douglas Hofstadter once put it, no "jumping out of the system” [“Jootsing"] to see what reality is ‘really like’. This appears to be a generic result of theories that aspire to totality (theories that include observers/agents in addition to what they observe and interact with). I show how we are faced with a pair of potential stances that have a distinctly Godelian flavour and that both include some kind of limitation on theories of totality: eternal inflation of knowledge versus a strange loop. Using ideas from a recent version of dual-aspect monism based on the decomposition of a totality, I consider whether the two apparently conflicting stances can be reconciled.

Iain McGilchrist  

Associate Fellow of Green Templeton College, Oxford

Bergson and the Brain: what can neuroscience learn from philosophy?

Central to evolution of the bipartite structure of the human brain is the need to pay different kinds of attention to the world, for different purposes, simultaneously. A number of philosophers over the last 350 years, but perhaps pre-eminently among them Henri Bergson, anticipated the findings of recent research into brain lateralisation, by associating the differences between two ways of understanding the world discoverable on introspection with differences in attention. In doing so he, and others such as William James, unknowingly predicted the phenomenological differences associated with the workings of the two cerebral hemispheres.  Bergson’s philosophical framework helps us see the deeper significance of neuroscience, which in turn helps to substantiate his philosophy. This is just one example, but an important one, I suggest, of how neuroscience and philosophy can complement one another in coming to a fuller understanding of the human condition.

Deborah Brown  

AAP President, University of Queensland 

Only Joking Presidential Address

Blind man walks into a bar. What’s the hardest thing for a Newfoundlander? Grade 4. What’s in a joke and should philosophers, attached as we are to our reductio arguments, have a horse in that hockey game? Risibility, as the medievals tell us, is part of our rational nature, a proprium without which we are not fully human. But what is that connection between thinking and laughing? And is it thus ever wrong to laugh as it might be wrong to have certain thoughts? This paper explores these topics of pressing concern and endeavours to come up with more questions to these answers.

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