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Elena Trufanova

Moscow, Russia
Humanities vs. Cognitive Sciences in the Research of Human Subjectivity
Tuesday, 12th September | 9:00 – 10:30

The research of the problem of human subjectivity has taken lately the so-called “cognitive turn”. Rapid development of cognitive sciences, especially in the field of the brain research, has taken over the research of human subjectivity. The classical philosophical problems of the subject, the Self, consciousness, mind, free will etc. are often regarded now as epiphenomena of the physiological processes of the brain, the discipline called neurophilosophy becomes more and more wide-spread. The experiments of B.Libet [Libet et al. 1983] have put into doubt the existence of free will (one of the most cherished “human” abilities). The question was put – is there anything that human is beside the brain? Do we have selves, do we have values, do we have identities, are we free and thus responsible agents?

The cognitive studies have thus not only overshadowed the humanities in their approach to human subjectivity, but have made doubtful the very need for the humanities. If human is indeed no longer responsible for any of his activities (the responsible one is the human brain), then we should research how the Shakespeare’s neurons were working while he was writing a sonnet, what special zone of the brain was active when Kant elaborated “The Critique of Pure Reason”, and the political conflicts can be explained by the malfunctioning of the glial cells.

However the humanities still remain essential for the understanding of the human subjectivity and its manifestations. While cognitive science deals with the natural basis of the human subjectivity, humanities take into account what is born not only from nature but from society, from the social and cultural level of the human subjectivity. Even if the brain activity is the source of culture as well, it doesn’t mean that we can explain cultural development via explanation of the brain processes. The culture and society are born when different “brains” meet and communicate with each other, which creates a whole different plane of reality. And this changes human from animal to the social and cultural being, to the person, who lives not only in the world of instincts, but in the world of meanings. Even if free will is an illusion (from the cognitive science point of view), the culture (European culture for instance) is still built on the values that take into account that humans are responsible rational free agents. Our societal interactions depend of these values. And the research of how these values make us what we are, how they build our subjectivity, is possible only with the help of humanities.