Autonomy and Connection


In his book, The Ego Tunnel, to which we shall return in weeks to come, neurophilosopher Thomas Metzinger provides a concise summary of the classical philosophical relationship between consciousness and conscience:

Deeper into the book, Metzinger follows this path into the present, with a focus on the subjective requirements for moral agency:

Of course, intersubjectivity, and the emergence of an intersubjective conscience, requires neurological resources that may be scarce or constrained, resources such as mindfulness and attentiveness. Indeed, these inner resources may even be under explicit attack from a commercialized media environment whose interests may directly oppose those of the autonomous, ethical self and of the healthy group:


In response to these challenges, Metzinger proposes a new form of neuropedagogy that employs a “neurophenomenological toolbox” to focus students on techniques of mindfulness and cognitive enhancement:


Yet such a toolbox conveys limited utility unless it includes tools for connection outside of the autonomous self, tools for engaging family, community, other species, distant cultures, the landscape and the environment. Such a curriculum would balance  techniques of subjective mindfulness with skills and competences oriented towards achieving moral agency and ecological sustainability: Thomas Metzinger placed into dialogue with Tom Wessels.

Such a dynamic curriculum, designed to support the emergence of fully autonomous, ethically aware individual selves while also addressing the diverse needs of the community and the landscape, would offer a strong and durable foundation for a revived tradition of progressive education. In recent years, we have observed such a curriculum slowly taking shape at The Putney School. Through a process of pragmatic experimentation and innovation in response to the observed needs of the present highly networked and mediated generation of teenagers, Putney School is playing a leadership role in seeking educationally sound responses to the sorts of neuropedagogical and ethical challenges Metzinger describes.


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