The New Directions in the Study of the Mind Project investigates the viability of non-physicalist and non-reductionist accounts of the mind and mental phenomena, in both philosophy and psychology. The Project is based at the University of Cambridge, and is funded by the John Templeton Foundation.
Traditionally, the question of physicalism is a question about the metaphysics of the mind. A metaphysical account of the mind specifies the most general categories in terms of which we should understand mental phenomena.
Contemporary metaphysics of mind tends to be physicalist, and physicalism holds that the world is fundamentally physical. The fundamental reality of the world is the reality described by physics and physical science: the world of particles, spacetime, forces and fields.
Contemporary metaphysics of mind also tends to be reductionist. All phenomena must be shown to ‘reduce’ (in one or another sense) to physical phenomena. If the mind is real, it must reduce to something physical. If mental phenomena such as consciousness, intentionality, or metaphysical categories such as that of substance, event and property cannot be shown to be physical, then their reality must be called into question.
For the last sixty years or so, reductive physicalism has dominated the metaphysics of mind. The New Directions in the Study of the Mind project at Cambridge aims to investigate alternative options for the metaphysics of mind. Focusing on the two central mental categories of consciousness and intentionality, the project will examine the viability of non-physicalist and non-reductive approaches to the study of the mind.
The project will not explicitly reject physicalism nor all forms of reductionism. Rather, it will open up the discussion and explore alternative approaches in the philosophical and scientific study of the mind. The project is exploratory, not ideological.
However, the New Directions project does reject the assumption that a scientific approach to the mind — in psychology and neuroscience— demands the truth of physicalism. In this way, the project combines a skeptical attitude to physicalism with a fully scientific approach to the mind. In particular, it assumes that questions about consciousness and intentionality can be addressed by the philosophy and science of the mind without assuming that physicalism or reductionism are true.
The following booklet lays out the historical and intellectual background of the project, as well as its guiding research questions.