The sorcery of consciousness: a Sinhala Buddhist discourse on the dynamics of consciousness

Kapferer, Bruce (2000) The sorcery of consciousness: a Sinhala Buddhist discourse on the dynamics of consciousness. Communication and Cognition, 33 (1). pp. 97-120.

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Consciousness has provoked much discussion in recent years. Undoubtedly this has been fuelled by technological developments especially concerning the interest in building machines that in some way can match, mimic and surpass the cognitive capacities of human beings. Presumably this is why some scientists declare that consciousness is the most exciting and important problem remaining for science. In some quarters, what can be regarded as the scientization of consciousness has involved a powerfill attack against metaphysical notions, many approaches especially in philosophy being held as little else than extensions of religious mysticism. Other scientists are even more dismissive stating that even the currently fashionable "question of consciousness" is in itself a mystical question that can never be answered and, perhaps, should not be asked of science (see Guzeldere 1997, for a general survey). Nonetheless, the contemporary focus on consciousness has reenlivened old debates of a positivist/anti-positivist flavour. Many who advocate a "scientific" onslaught on the matter of consciousness assert that it is possible for science to break away from mystical or, by extension, from cosmological, cultural or what might be regarded as commonsense views of consciousness. But perhaps no form of human knowledge concerning human realities and experience can be removed from cosmological, cultural or other organizations of conunonsense, and be immune from reproducing them even though disguising them in scientific dress - a point that Button et al (1995) have demonstrated with reference to debates about consciousness and language. I hasten to add, however, that to say that scientific perspectives reintroduce cosmological, cultural, or mystical arguments into their investigation and understanding does not devalue the scientific enterprise, or render a thoroughgoing investigation of a problem, unscientific. On the contrary, such cosmological or mystical notions can be the very stuff of scientific intuition, directing enquiry along paths that may produce fruitful results and indicating others that may be dead ends. So-called metaphysical or mystical thought is not necessarily a barrier to original understanding, indeed, on occasion it may open up new pathways. Rather than simply trying to expunge cosmology and metaphysics it may be useful, indeed more scientific, to examine what certain cosmological and well-worked out commonsense perspectives have to offer on critical matters of general import. Consciousness is an issue that well-merits such a course.

Item ID: 6109
Item Type: Article (Research - C1)
ISSN: 0378-0880
Keywords: anthropology; consciousness; ritual; Sri Lanka
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Date Deposited: 11 Jan 2010 04:06
FoR Codes: 16 STUDIES IN HUMAN SOCIETY > 1601 Anthropology > 160104 Social and Cultural Anthropology @ 100%
SEO Codes: 95 CULTURAL UNDERSTANDING > 9504 Religion and Ethics > 950404 Religion and Society @ 100%
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