Jonathan Springer examines the mind-body problem

By Jacob Pierce|@JacobPierce1_DE|Daily Egyptian

The question of what consciousness is has plagued philosophers since Plato’s time. A presentation for the New Humanist Forum hopes to find another answer.

The New Humanist Forum is hosting the presentation “Consciousness Re-Explained” by Jonathan Springer, a software engineer from Carbondale, on April 19.  The lecture examines Daniel Dennett’s “Consciousness Explained,” a book published in 1991, while also presenting Springer’s ideas.

The novel proposes the theory of consciousness coming from interaction between physical and cognitive processes in the brain, and then compares it to several different viewpoints on the topic, Springer said.


He said he plans to use Dennett’s book and his own experience as a software engineer to discuss consciousness, especially Artificial Intelligence.

Springer’s point of view falls more toward the functional viewpoint, he said. Consciousness is a human’s physical manifestation of brain and body; the way one comprehends the cerebrum actually working. Springer said at one point there was a lot of support for the metaphysical viewpoint.

“It just seems incredible that something as subtle as consciousness could just be a bunch of neurons interacting,” he said. “Over time, more people seem to have argued for the functional point of view.”

People still question what consciousness is with an artificial being, Springer said. Some of the lessons learned from the artificial intelligence side could someday be applied to the philosophy side.

“It is sort of incredible to imagine that we could create a machine that would be for all intents and purposes intelligent,” Springer said.  

Robert DeFilippis, a novelist and retired organizational development consultant from Carterville, said there is a whole spectrum of thinking when it comes to consciousness. Scientists constantly question consciousness, as they only have theories and no direct answer.

There is the functional way of looking at it, and then the metaphysical way, DeFilippis said.

This is thinking of consciousness much like one looks at matter and energy, it makes up the universe. It is the molecules, it is people, it is everything, he said. 

Consciousness, or experiencing things subjectively, separates humans from most animals, he said.

DeFilippis, one of the founding members of the forum, said the group focuses on the value of human beings, and the worth and dignity of every person.

“I would focus it on the Buddhist principle that this life is what we worry about, the next life can take care of itself if there is one,” he said.  

MJ Smerken, a retired social services worker from Murphysboro, said she became involved with the forum when she went to a service at the Carbondale Unitarian Fellowship.

After Smerken — who is on the planning committee — attended her first meeting, she was asked to create a presentation.

She said the forum, which was founded in spring of 2000, discusses various humanism and sustainability topics. 

“We have had one on religious fervor, one on human evolution, one on the philosophy of love,” she said. “We try to get a wide variety of topics and interests.”

The presentation starts at noon on Sunday at the Unitarian Fellowship. The New Humanist Forum meets at 12:15 p.m. on the third Sunday of each month at the same location.

Jacob Pierce can be reached at [email protected] or at 536-3311.