An Interdisciplinary Approach to Philosophical Concerns: Dr. Michael Silberstein Shares Current Research Findings in the Classroom
March 11, 2014   //   By:   //   Research and Academics

EC_E_logo_blue“Some people believe cognitive functions relate to specific areas of the brain,” said Dr. Michael Silberstein, Elizabethtown College philosophy professor and department chair of Politics, Philosophy and Legal Studies. “However there are different levels of explanation. The function and structure is more complex.”

Silberstein, recently published an article relating to neuroscience in the 2014 journal “Philosophy of Science.” As a passionate expert and educator in his field, the professor works to share his knowledge in a variety of ways, from contributing articles to national science publications to presenting lectures across the globe. Silberstein views his area of expertise as an opportunity to present his students with the most current findings.

Continuing this process of exchanging information, Silberstein spoke March 6, at the University of Copenhagen’s Center for Subjectivity in Denmark. His presentation, “Extending Experience with Extended Cognition,” relates “consciousness to the brain, body and the rest of the world.

Some people believe cognitive functions relate to specific areas of the brain.”

The discussion, presented at the Center for Subjectivity, an interdisciplinary venue that attracts a varied audience and contributes to the collaboration of philosophy and empirical science, addressed why consciousness exists at all. “Many people think all consciousness has to do with is the brain, but the brain is only part of the story,” Silberstein said.

The professor was accompanied to Denmark by his wife, Dr. Elizabeth Newell, Elizabethtown College associate professor of anthropology, who has an ongoing relationship with the Museum of Copenhagen and is returning in June for an excavation with E-town students.

Once back in the states, Silberstein plans to travel to the University of Arizona in Tucson to present at the 20th anniversary “Toward a Science of Consciousness” conference in April.  “Science didn’t take the study of consciousness seriously in the 30 years before this conference,” Silberstein said. The 1990s changed that. “In the first year of the conference, I gave a paper,” Silberstein reminisced. Now, 20 years later, he is sharing his expertise in front of an international audience. More than 500 papers were submitted; only 60 were accepted as conference presenters.

Silberstein commented on the present “huge” size of the conference, stating that international experts from many disciplines will be in the audience. The magnitude of the 20th anniversary conference is why the Society for Mind and Matter, for which Silberstein serves as vice president, thought it would be the ideal location and time to host their own smaller forum. At this presentation, Silberstein is scheduled to serve as one of four keynote speakers.

These international forums, as well as his continuing research, provide a broader scope for teaching opportunities. On campus, Silberstein works to instill an interdisciplinary approach in his philosophy students by collaborating with other E-town professors in mathematics, physics, engineering and biology.

As example, at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, April 2, in Leffler Chapel and Performance Center, Silberstein presents “Sticks and Drones: Evolving Ethics to Masters Technology” with Dr. Joseph Wunderlich, associate professor of engineering. The two partnered on the exploration of robotics, computer science and A.I. “It brings the ethical concerns front and center,” Silberstein said.

These disciplines create one of the tracks in the new cognitive science minor that Silberstein and Dr. Aaron Cecala, assistant professor of biology, recently established. Within the past year, Silberstein worked with Cecala, as well as the psychology department, to create the minor that focuses on philosophy, psychology, biology, computer science and even robotics. “The minor has really taken off; there’s already 25 students enrolled,” Silberstein said.

In addition to the minor, the Philosophy Department recently was restructured and expanded, collaboratively including politics, philosophy, and legal studies. “There’s a lot of interest in this area of study today and areas of topics overlap in international, political and social philosophy,” Silberstein said. “These are applied issues, real world concerns, such as drones and global warming that have scientific, ethical and political dimensions.”

About the Author :

Megan Leppo is a graduate of Elizabethtown College and past NOW staff writer.

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