The Center for Neural and Cognitive Sciences, School of Medical Sciences, University of Hyderabad recently hosted an online lecture by Prof. Bernardo Kastrup on “The neuroscientific evidence against physicalism”. The talk held on September 9th, 2021 was part of an online distinguished speaker series initiated by Center for Neural and Cognitive Sciences under the banner of “CogTalk”. The talk was moderated by Prof. Ramesh Mishra, Head, Center for Neural and Cognitive Sciences. CogTalk is an interdisciplinary platform for lectures/interactive sessions by distinguished speakers related to mind and brain sciences. The objective is to engage students, researchers, faculty in cognitive science and spread awareness of research areas which are asking innovative questions and using truly interdisciplinary ideas/methods to answer these questions.

The talk focused on questions related to philosophy of mind. More specifically, on the nature of reality and whether it conforms to the overwhelming materialistic view of the world. Most contemporary theories assume that the world is essentially physical in nature and that all other aspects of the world such as mental states can be reduced to physical states or that they can be defined based on physical laws. Dr. Kastrup proposed an alternate view of reality which he refers to as “analytic idealism” according to which the nature of reality is essentially mental or experiential. We are only aware of the world as we experience it and that our ordinary intuitions of the world regarding its physical nature are incorrect.

To explain his position further, Dr. Kastrup gave the example of a pilot who flies a plane during a storm and bad weather. They may not be able to see anything in the outside world – the rains or the clouds – but they can efficiently fly the plane using the dashboard of dials inside the cockpit. But, even though the dashboard allows the pilot to navigate easily, it would be a mistake to assume that it is reality. Dr. Kastrup argues that our physical understanding of the world is a similar dashboard of dials that helps us navigate through the world but it would be a mistake to assume that it is equivalent to reality.

In response to this example, there were questions from the audience on fundamentally why these questions on the nature of reality even matter? Prof. Mishra opined that we, as human beings, are intrinsically motivated to ponder over the nature of the world and of our existence. Several centuries of art and culture demonstrate this desire to constantly question our place in the universe and the nature of reality. In that context, questions on whether our understanding of reality is accurate becomes critical.

CogTalk is interdisciplinary initiative part of the ongoing iBrain Erasmus+ multi-institutional project on capacity building in higher education of which Prof. Ramesh Mishra is one of the coordinators.