Welcome to a Bitterroot College short course in

Philosophy & Psychology

I am interested in how philosophy and psychology intersect in our everyday life orientation; how our ideas, beliefs and values inform our sense of who we are, what we want, etc.  You do not have to be an expert in either of these fields to have an interest in the kinds of life questions that arise in both orientations.



Course Overview

Philosophy and Psychology – Course Overview

     This short course will focus on five fundamental mysteries of human experience that raise many questions without answers within the fields of philosophy and psychology.  A mystery is an area of human experience that can be approached and glimpsed to some degree but cannot be fully comprehended, explained or understood.  Although fundamental mysteries cannot be grasped, they may grasp you and enhance your being.  If you are open to it.  Perhaps they are like gifts that keep on giving....

     Each of the five areas focuses on a specific existential mystery that is experienced by ordinary people every day. The point of our investigation will not be to ‘solve’ these mysteries but to see them more clearly and fully, to experience their self-transformative profundity, and to appreciate their significance, especially regarding how they manifest themselves continuously in your own personal life. Access to these incomparable mysteries will be facilitated through guided written assignments.

     Thus, our method of investigation will focus on a subjective investigation and interpretation of the individual experience of participants in the course vis-à-vis  these essential life mysteries. Your own lived experience of these areas of human mystery will be a fundamental aspect of the 'textbook’ for the course.

                         Here is an overview of the enduring mysteries that we will examine:

1. The mystery of being - January 29

          - Nature, world, space-time, phenomena, God, etc.
         - Written reflection: Who I am

2. The mystery of consciousness - February 5

          - Sensation, intuition, brain/mind, cognition, memory, imagination, pan-psychism, etc.

          - Written reflection: This experience changed my life

3. The mystery of language - February 12

          - Sense, meaning, interpretation, descriptions, stories, etc.

          - Written reflection: The word is love

4. The mystery of the self - February 19

          - self-knowledge, reason, emotion, love and desire, etc.

          - Written reflection: Being Embodied

5. The mystery of others - February 26

          - Relationship, empathy, inter-subjectivity, interdependence, care, community, etc.

          - Written reflection: How others will talk about me when I'm gone


Personal growth and development; enhanced in-seeing; joy; astonishment; awe; wonder; happiness; wisdom

Philosophy & Psychology

This short video (11:33) by Eric Dodson in many ways reflects my own perspective on the relationship between Philosophy and Psychology and how I would like to pursue the intersection of these two fields of study in the few meetings of this course.

Week 1. The Mystery of Being

The text below, from which I have taken some lengthy excerpts, traces the idea that "Nature loves to hide" her secrets, beginning from the 5th century BC up to the present day.  According to the author, Pierre Hadot, an accomplished philosopher and historian of the ancient Greek and Roman world, attempts to unveil the secrets of nature have followed either a Promethean (scientific/technological) or Orphic (poetic/artistic) vector of development down through the ages.  The generative tension between the Promethean and Orphic attitudes may be a productive place to begin our reflection on the mystery of being. 

Week 1. The Mystery of Being

In this video Joseph Campbell reminds us that our curiosity of the mysterious and the magical, the psychological foundation of our religious and spiritual traditions, dates back 200,000 years.  "In the human heart and the human mind, no matter what the race, the culture, the language, the tradition, there is the possibility of experiencing the sense of a mystery. An awesome mystery. A very terrifying mystery inhabiting the entire universe. The very mystery of being itself." (Joseph Campbell) 

Week 1. The Mystery of Being

 Gabriel Marcel's  two-volume work entitled The Mystery of Being is based on the Gifford Lectures he delivered at the University of Aberdeen in 1949 and 1950. The first series of lectures is entitled "Reflection and Mystery," and the second series of lectures is entitled "Faith and Reality."  The text below is a brief summary of the main themes of this work.

Week 2: Living Universe - Consciousness and Reality (55:00)

 Since the time of Plato, the human understanding of the universe has moved through two epoch-defining paradigms: the universe as a great mind, and then the view of the universe as a great machine. Today, philosophers, physicists and cosmologist envision an organismic view of the universe, thought of as an evolving, self-generating, and ultimately living process.   In this view, consciousness is fully integrated with the evolving cosmos as cosmic self-consciousness and humans are integral to it.

Week 2. The Mystery of Consciousness - Panpsychism


What is consciousness? Why does it even exist? It's been said that the only thing we know for certain is our own experience. But how do we account for this most subjective phenomenon within the science of consciousness? How can science with its objective metrics even begin to engage with the felt nature of the inner subjective life?   Professor of philosophy at Durham University, Philip Goff, discusses consciousness and the panpsychist view with Naheed Mustafa  from CBC Radio. (51:00)

Week 2. Consciousness and the Spread Mind theory

 In his book, The Spread Mind, Riccardo Manzotti argues that our bodies do not contain subjective  experience. Yet consciousness is real, and, like any other real  phenomenon, is physical. Where is it, then? Manzotti's radical hypothesis is  that consciousness is one and the same as the physical world surrounding  us. Drawing on Einstein’s theories of relativity, evidence about dreams and  hallucination, and the geometry of light in perception, and using vivid,  real-world examples to illustrate his ideas, Manzotti argues that consciousness  is not a “movie in the head.” Experience is not in our head: it is the  actual world we live in.  Check out the brief video in the next section.

THE SPREAD MIND book by Riccardo Manzotti pdf for download (docx)


Week 2: Consciousness and the Spread Mind theory (3:18)

In this brief video, philosopher Riccardo Manzotti argues that your consciousness is one and same as the world you are experiencing.  Your consciousness of the apple is, in Manzotti's view, identical to the apple of which you are conscious.

Week2: Consciousness and the double slit experiment

 In the early days, Quantum researchers did various experiments on electrons, the tiny particles that seem to fly around the nucleus of an atom and of which everything in our present existence is made. The results of these experiments caused the world of physics to question many of its laws, and even had Einstein losing it over what it all meant.  The most important experiment was  the Double Slit Experiment. The video explains. (A more detailed explanation is posted in the next section below.)

Week2: Consciousness and the double slit experiment

Double Slit experiment explained (docx)


Week 2: Brains do not produce consciousness (7:41)

Professor Raymond Tallis: We are not now and never will be able to account for the mind in terms of neural activity.  - The mind is not a computer. Neurons firing aren't 'about anything'. If one is seeking the origin of human distinctiveness, the brain is the wrong place to look. Our distinctiveness stems from a shared space of meaning ... Tallis is a non-dualist, sympathetic to a roughly 'extended mind' approach in which the social sphere with others co-constitutes the mind.  

Week 2: Consciousness is fundamental to all reality

 On the cutting edge of neuroscience and quantum physics, scientists are beginning to find incontrovertible evidence that there is more to the mystery of consciousness than we previously thought.   It is now becoming clear that consciousness exists independently of the brain. Consciousness is "non-local," existing beyond the physical human body, beyond space and time itself, as mystics and spiritually awakened beings have always pointed out.  A new paradigm; the great awakening of humanity.   

Week 2: What is Panpsychism, Animism, etc.? (15:04)

 An explanation of Panpsychism including historical views like Animism, Hylozoism, Religious views like Pantheism and Panentheism, and more modern views like Panexperientialism, Panprotopsychism, Constitutive Cosmopsychism, Constitutive Panpsychism, Non-Constitutive Panpsychism, Constitutive Micropsychism and more.  Also including Thomas Nagel's argument for Panpsychism, and William James's combination problem for panpsychism.   

Week 2: Materialsim cannot explain consciousness -7 min read



Week 3: The Mystery of Language

This file has several articles referencing different aspects of the mystery of language that I thought would be pertinent to our investigation.  I have included salient excerpts from each article and links to the articles themselves.  Enjoy!

The Mystery of Language - Articles with Excerpts (pdf)


Week 3: the Mystery of Language (3:02)

In this short video, Noam Chomsky, "the father of modern linguistics,"  poses some fundamental questions about the emergence of language among humans: Why is there language at all?  What caused it to emerge when it did?  Are all languages basically the same?  Check it out!

Week 3: the Mystery of Language

Probing the mystery of how human language began

                                                                                                                           By Richard Lederer   Jan. 25, 2020    

Because language defines the human experience, we humans naturally wish to trace the act of speech back to its very beginnings. Modern linguists know that humankind was not born with a ready-made language. They contend that our kind, over the course of millennia, evolved language and that our words trembled into birth.

          Estimates of how long it has been since humans began speaking vary from 80,000 to a half-million years. But we’ve known how to write for scarcely 6,000 years, from the invention of cuneiform writing in Mesopotamia and hieroglyphic writing in ancient Egypt. The millennia that stretch between the first articulate grunts and exclamations and the time of the first inscriptions are a riddle wrapped in an enigma lost in a labyrinth. But the fact that the origins of language are shrouded in the mists of prehistory did not stop early theorists from offering imaginative answers to the mystery of how language began.

          According to the “bow-wow theory” of language origin, the first human words were imitations of the cries of animals and other sounds in nature. It was argued that since children learn to speak by imitating sounds they hear — a dog is a “bow-wow” and a train a “choo-choo” — humankind’s first words were onomatopoeic and echoic, like click, boom and splash.

          The “ding-dong theory” of language origin posited a mystical a priori correspondence between sound and sense, a special “ring” inherent in every object in nature. For example, when we say the word long, we create a long tube with our mouth. When we form words such as little, itty-bitty and teeny-weeny, we force air through a small opening. The word for mother in most languages begins with the letter m, which we make by putting our lips together in the manner of a suckling babe. Thus, primitive humans intuited the relationship between words and the things words stand for.

          The “pooh-pooh theory” proposed that words were originally spontaneous exclamations and interjections of fear, anger, disgust, joy and other emotions. The drawn-out ooohhhs and aaahhhs heard at fireworks displays are the raw matter out of which the first words were spooled out. From such involuntary sounds thrust from the lips all languages began.

          A fourth concept, the “yo-he-ho theory,” located the source of speech in the grunts, gasps, groans, ughs and whews evoked by physical labor. When our primordial ancestors cooperatively dug up roots and bulbs, held a beast at bay or hacked up a carcass, they vocalized rhythmic sounds that became associated with common tasks. When these sounds were repeated around the campfire at the end of a day’s labors, they became names for the activities that brought them to life.

          As beguiling as these surmises are, they are fraught with problems. For example, if the ding-dong theory were true and all objects had a distinctive ring, why are there so many different languages? If a natural ring inhabits a dog, why is the animal called perro in Spanish, chien in French, Hund in German and kelb in Arabic?

          If language arose from emotional exclamations, why is it that all people don’t cry out, “Ouch!” when they are hurt? (Some scream words that can’t be printed here.)

          If, as the bow-wow theory claimed, words arose from the sounds of nature, why are there so few echo words in most languages? How did we create names for animals that don’t make characteristic sounds, like worms, clams and herrings? What about words like beauty, science and the?

          Lassie, Rin Tin Tin and Snoopy bark arf, bow-wow and woof; but they do that because they are English-barking dogs. The rest of the world, it appears, doesn’t hear ear-to-ear with us:

          Brazilian, au-au!

          Chinese, wang-wang!

          French, gnaf-gnaf!

          German, wau-wau!

          Hebrew, hav-hav!

          Japanese, wan-wan!

          Russian, gav-gav!

          Swahili, hu-hu-hu-huuu!

          Swedish, voff-voff!

          And 60 million Italians are convinced their dogs bark like Bing Crosby — boo-boo!

Alas, there is no carbon dating test that can establish when and how the first speakers created the first words. All such explorations are built on the foundations of guesswork. Still, these conjectures indicate our urge to find answers to the transfixing question “How did human language begin?”       


Irving Finkel, at the British Museum, poses with 4,000-year-old clay tablet of story of Noah’s Ark.

Week 3: Language, Hermeneutics and Interpretation (4:10)

 The term 'hermeneutics' refers to the interpretation of a text, speech, or symbolic expression (such as art). It is also used to designate attempts to theorize the conditions  of possibility for our having access to (or the possible reasons for our failing to access) the meaning-carrying expressions of others, be they contemporary or past, or belonging to familiar or culturally distant traditions.  In short, hermeneutics shows interpretation to be fundamental to all linguistic expression.