Physics, Philosophy, Physiology: Three Paths, One Spirited Product

Physics, Philosophy, Physiology: Three Paths, One Spirited Product

Friday, 26 January 2007
9:00 a.m.-4:30 p.m.
University of Chicago Divinity School
Swift Hall
1025 East 58th Street
Chicago, Illinois, 60637

Conference day registration: 8:00-9:00 a.m.
Reception: 4:30-6:00 p.m.

What is the role of theories in determining ontological solutions?

Is physics as "scientific" as some physicists claim it to be? Is there a "science of psychology" worthy of that name? And is spirituality, being experienced by humans, a worthwhile study for psychological scientists?

Three professors currently at Georgetown University, who stem from diverse academic backgrounds and research interests—George Farre, Dr. Karl Pribram, and Fr. Patrick Heelan—have come together in recent conversations over the past few years to discover both commonalities and conflicts about these and similar questions. Throughout, they have deepened their insights into their fields in light of what they have learned from each other. Their continuing dialogue, which will eventually be published as a book, stands out as one exemplary instance of a constructive, interdisciplinary conversation that has not sacrificed rigor or the distinctions between their respective disciplines. Embracing physics (the evolution of matter), philosophy (philosophical and theological implications), and physiology (the brain and consciousness) this conference will be one preliminary product highlighting the possibilities of what could arise when these three paths converge.

Philosophical paradigms can strongly influence the lens through which one views the scientific enterprise: its guiding premises, choice of method, and the interpretation of results. Particularly with reference to the human person, if understood as both material and spiritual, the dialogue between the sciences and religious studies should continue take note of the impact of philosophical frameworks on the entwined questions concerning matter, mind, and their implications for theological and religious understanding.

The following statements from the keynoters will hopefully shed light on what each hopes to bring to the discussion, and further, how these three threads may be woven together:

George Farre:

What will follow is part of an interdisciplinary approach to the evolution of the human mind from the perspectives of three disciplines. The project is one the three of us have been discussing these past few years, and we have tried to present our thoughts in a reasonably coherent way. This enterprise is inherently difficult due to the differences between the disciplines involved, and consequently between the methodologies that define the bounds of their respective theorizing. Three major disciplines are needed for this endeavor: the physics of matter, the philosophy of human experience, and cognitive neurology. My remit is to present the physics of matter that underlies the overall story in a manner that is intelligible and instructive to those with an interest in the science of mind, but who are not necessarily specialized in this area of science.

I will also stress revelation as being distinct from, and almost unconnected to, science.

Patrick Heelan, S. J.:

I will address the role of quantum physics and a medley of other sciences in turning our attention to the embodying of human consciousness in the process of understanding and working in the world, with the consequent embodying of human knowing and the de-materializing of space, time, and matter. This scientific-philosophic view turns our theological attention to the humanity of Jesus, especially to the resurrected Jesus and the mystery of human/divine communication in the light of the quantum physics of human embodied consciousness.

The discussion will circle around the role of metaphysics and scholastic philosophy in the theological domain and in the public discourse of the Church. I will take the position that 'Absolute Truth' is not the product of a particular philosophical system (e.g., Greek philosophy or metaphysics) but the discovery of our interiority; this is personal, local, historical, and social within which we discover the life of faith as active within us. This the ground from which we derive hermeneutically the meanings to be given to theological terms.

Dr. Karl Pribram:

Whereas Professor Heelan will present a powerful case for believing that the manner in which we navigate our universe is rooted in our own phenomenal experience, Professor George Farre will develop a story regarding the evolution of matter, including Homo Sapiens Sapiens, which rests on the belief that the events we observe are to be trusted as "real". Are they really? Or are they subject to distortion and even confabulation by our senses and brain processes that root our experience?

To provide some current answers to these age-old queries, I will recount some of my experiences in navigating the world of science. I found that observation itself is not as unitary as it seems. We believe that what we observe with one sense is the same as what we observe with another. But on closer examination this appears to be an act of faith. Not only our subjective experience, but also quantum physics, is based on observations that vary with the instruments used; there are no longer any invariant observables. Our observations "complement" each other.

As an example, I will note the religious experience of human embodied consciousness as testified by human first-person witnesses and its "complementation" with bodily emotions.

Lunch will be provided to the first 100 who register and specify they will attend lunch, and there is no fee to participate. Limited street parking is available and there is a parking ramp located at 55th Street and Ellis Avenue.

Questions may be directed to Megan Doherty at