John Templeton Foundation

Home Approach Program Commitee Other Participants
Contact: Mary Ann Meyers, Ph.D., Senior Fellow 

laying down the endless debates as to whether any action can be completely free and whether consciousness might be a mere side effect of brain processes, automatic and non-conscious mental processes, or some other human psychological process, the working assumption of this symposium is that the answers to those questions are yes and no, respectively. Participants gathered on Amelia Island will address the next generation of questions, namely: In what senses can human action be free? How are free actions produced? What inner processes yield actions that are relatively freer than acts seen as less free? How might consciousness influence behavior? What are the beneficial functions and uses of consciousness? And how does consciousness produce these benefits?

A particular focus is on social reality, that is, those things that exist by virtue of agreements among people, and on interpersonal processes. How do they help us understand the value and importance of human freedom and of consciousness? Of specific interest are the social and interpersonal causes and consequences of free action, such as, amongst others, behavior and decision-making in economic marketplaces. The conversation seeks to elicit how mental facilities like consciousness and free will may be useful for enabling people to interact with each other and to participate in human social systems such as culture. The discussants, seven scientists and five philosophers, will investigate the broad implications of the ability to choose alternative actions for understanding human nature.

By considering “how” questions, the goal is to identify key research themes that will advance the discussion beyond ideology and are of significance not only to the individual participants but also to their research traditions and to a wider public. The often debated “whether” questions (i.e., whether consciousness can ‘do’ anything at all and whether any action is free in any sense) are not likely to be decided to everyone’s satisfaction in the near future, but if, in the long run, affirmative answers are accepted by the broader intellectual community, the work and thought at this symposium in asking—If those things are real, how do they work?—can be ready and waiting to be put to use. The conversation on an Atlantic Ocean island off the coast of northeast Florida takes place under the aegis of the John Templeton Foundation.