Consciousness, Self-Consciousness, and Compassion: A Neuroscience-Spirituality Dialogue

May 17 - 21, 2015


Compassion and selflessness are essential elements of many spiritual paths. For example, acting without attachment to the fruits of one’s action is Krishna’s call in the Bhagavad Gita to Arjuna. Compassion is one of the chief characteristics of the Buddha’s 8-fold path. The Abrahamic faiths each proclaim God to be a God of mercy and compassion and the model for human action. But we must ask, does one have to develop a “self” in order to be selfless? Can one be conscious without being self-conscious? And, can one be self-conscious yet act selflessly and compassionately?  

This 5-day symposium will be lead by two philosophers of religion from different traditions and two neuroscientists with different areas of expertise. They will open a conversation that engages the ideas of consciousness, self-consciousness, selflessness, and compassion. What do the different spiritual traditions propose as the lines between consciousness, self and selflessness, between selfishness and compassion?  What do the neurosciences tell us about these ideas and their relationships? The questions raised here are just some of the questions that we hope to explore in our presentations, panel discussions, and open forums.