Christine Skarda
philosopher . theoretical neuroscientist . buddhist

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"Perception's Illusion: The Origin of Suffering"  [Download or Play]

About This Lecture:

Presented on January 18, 2008 at the conference “Religion and Cognitive Science” co-sponsored by the Graduate Theological Union and the University of California, Berkeley. [38 minutes]

For audio downloads of the rest of the conference--including a panel discussion with Christine Skarda, Walter Freeman, and Eleanor Rosch--click here.


Perception is a form of life that creates the subject/object structure in which perceivers experience themselves and the objects they perceive as separate, independent entities. Based on this model, philosophers, psychologists and perceptual scientists have tried to explain how a "copy" or "internal representation" (psychological or physiological) of the external world is created within the perceiver. Unfortunately, this model repeatedly encountered problems from the infinite regress problem of internal representations in philosophical and psychological theories of perception to the unresolved binding problem in contemporary neuroscience.

Although it is undoubtedly true that we experience ourselves as substantially independent entities from the objects we perceive, no one has been able to explain how perception works in terms of such independence. Why? Is it that no one has been clever enough yet to find the processes responsible, or is it that the whole picture is a distortion?

I would like to present a model that explains perceptual activity without the assumption of substantial independence and at the same time explains how the "illusion" of independence is generated. Then I would like to integrate this discussion into the wider philosophical context of the search for "the good life," and in particular into the Buddhist view that the root of all suffering is the superimposition by sensory and mental consciousness of an independent mode of existence upon persons and their objects. I hope to develop a modern perspective on the question of why suffering is so difficult to eliminate. -Christine Skarda

"Philosophical Artwork"  [Download or Play]

About This Lecture:

Presented on March 26, 2008 at the conference “Changing Objects in Art and Philosophy” sponsored by the Getty Research Institute at the Getty Center, Los Angeles. [56 minutes]