Exploring Metaphysics

Course No. 4182
Professor David Kyle Johnson, Ph.D., University of Oklahoma
King's College
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Course No. 4182
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Course Overview

What comes to mind when you hear the word “metaphysics”? Forget the ancient philosophers and ivory tower professors pontificating on irrelevant abstractions. The truth is, while metaphysics is among the oldest strands of philosophical thought—an inquiry into the very nature of reality—metaphysics is also on the cutting edge of today’s scientific discoveries.

Physicist and Great Courses professor Sean Carroll explains the relationship between metaphysics and science this way: “Philosophers are very good at uncovering inconsistencies or mistakes in the kinds of causal heuristic understanding that scientists are often willing to accept. So for a physicist like me, philosophers can be very helpful in explaining what the problems are in our current versions of quantum mechanics, or in the origin of the arrow of time, or the nature of probability, or what counts as an ‘explanation.’”

Metaphysics, then, is an applied philosophy, a tool for thinking through concerns in a wide range of other disciplines, including

  • psychology,
  • neuroscience,
  • theology,
  • artificial intelligence,
  • relativity, and
  • quantum mechanics.

Most forms of structured thinking spring from metaphysics, and metaphysicians still think through the big questions about humans and the universe: the relationship between the mind and the brain, how consciousness emerges from neurochemical processes, the existence of God, human free will, the possibility of time travel, and whether we live in a multiverse or even a computer simulation.

Reflect on these issues and more in Exploring Metaphysics, a mind-bending tour of philosophy applied to the forefront of today’s knowledge. Over the course of 24 fascinating lectures, philosopher David Kyle Johnson, an award-winning scholar and professor at King’s College, takes you on a journey through the limits of today’s knowledge. He identifies our fundamental assumptions about the world—and then proceeds to challenge those assumptions point by point.

By teasing out the logical inconsistencies, paradoxes, and often unsettling implications of what we “know” about ourselves and the world around us, Professor Johnson poses challenging questions and covers a startling range of human inquiry. Exploring Metaphysics doesn’t offer all the answers, but it does ask questions you would be hard pressed to find anywhere else. You’ll be surprised to learn what relativity, quantum mechanics, and neuroscience imply about human free will and that time travel is not as crazy as it sounds.

From Humanity to the Nature of Reality

Forget what you think you know about yourself and your place in the world. Professor Johnson opens the course with three units that will surely alter your view of what it means to be a conscious, free person. Drawing from the realms of psychology, neuroscience, artificial intelligence, and philosophy, the first half of the course examines the defining traits of being human.

In the second half of the course, Professor Johnson shifts from the nature of the individual to the nature of the universe. Here metaphysics, science, and theology all intersect. While the scientific method has given us many answers, those answers have also raised a host of new, as yet unanswered questions. These metaphysical questions may seem like science fiction, but they stem from the very concrete world of reality.

Although the subject has ancient roots, the metaphysics you study in this course is far from an esoteric system of thought. Indeed, this material is very much alive today—at the forefront of philosophy, physics, and medical technology. When you complete this course, you will have a much richer perspective on the world around you. Virtually every lecture will challenge some of your bedrock beliefs about yourself and the universe.

About Your Professor

Dr. David Kyle Johnson is Associate Professor of Philosophy at King’s College in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. He earned a master’s degree and doctorate in philosophy from the University of Oklahoma. At Oklahoma, he won the coveted Kenneth Merrill Graduate Teaching Award. In 2011, the American Philosophical Association’s committee on public philosophy gave him an award for his ability to make philosophy accessible to the general public.

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24 lectures
 |  Average 28 minutes each
  • 1
    How to Explore Metaphysics
    Delve into the world of metaphysics, the study of the fundamental nature of reality. This opening lecture introduces you to the realm of unanswered questions and the limits of scientific understanding. While there will be few definitive answers, the goal will be to understand some of the most important questions we can ask as human beings. x
  • 2
    The Mystery of the Mind and the Soul
    How does the brain produce the mind? This question, which philosophers call the “hard problem of consciousness,” is at the heart of the philosophy of mind. Begin this unit with a look at how brain activity translates into mental activity—consciousness—and what role, if any, the soul plays in all of this. x
  • 3
    Identity Theory—Token and Type
    Survey several ways philosophers have attempted to explain the mind through material means. Two kinds of identity theory offer solutions to the problem of consciousness, yet each has difficulty accounting for the seeming distinction between mental activities and the brains that produce them. x
  • 4
    Functionalism and Artificial Intelligence
    This lecture continues to explore identity theory and takes you to the intersection of science and metaphysics. If our brains are functional—in other words, they operate like a computer program—could computers one day possess consciousness? And if we one day construct “minded” androids, what should our relationship with them be? x
  • 5
    Alternative Theories of Mind
    Wrap up your study of the mind with three final theories. Consider whether minds exist at all, reexamine the relationship between physical and mental properties, and explore whether the mind has any causal power at all. x
  • 6
    The Problem of Personal Identity
    Start the next unit by defining the problem of personal identity over time. Imagine yourself at eight years old and how much you’ve changed since then. Are you still one and the same person? What makes that identity consistent? Revisit the idea of the soul as housing for a person’s “essence.” x
  • 7
    Mind, Memory, and Psychological Continuity
    If the soul hypothesis for personal identity isn’t satisfying, turn to memories and psychological continuity. Would your “self” be preserved if your memories and psychology were transported from one body to another? In this lecture, you’ll be surprised by just how many of our intuitions about personal identity seem to conflict. x
  • 8
    Same Body, Same Brain, and Closest Continuer
    Examine some of the physical requirements for maintaining personal identity. Comas, cryogenic freezing, organ transplants, and Star Trek transporters are just some of the many ways our physical identities could be disrupted. Then see how combining the psychological and physical characteristics led Robert Nozick to construct the “closest continuer” view of identity. x
  • 9
    The No-Self Theory and Time Worms
    Ponder two final theories of the self—the possibility that the “self” doesn’t actually exist as a discrete object, and the notion that the “self” exists in four dimensions. Then turn to a host of problems that arise from considering the self across time. x
  • 10
    The Nature of Truth and Time
    In the last lecture, you saw that the “self” might exist in four dimensions across time, which raises questions about the very nature of time. Here, you’ll explore the problem of human freedom and divine foreknowledge. Then you’ll learn about logical propositions and truthmakers, and see what logic implies about free will and the future. x
  • 11
    Libertarian Free Will
    Take a closer look at human freedom, beginning with “libertarian free will,” which requires the possibility of not choosing as one will. Then discover several challenges to human free will: physical determinism, the random indeterminate nature of the quantum world, and the way our brains make decisions. x
  • 12
    Compatibilistic Freedom
    Is it possible that, even if we lack libertarian free will, we are still free in another way? Interrogate the theory of compatibilism, which says that as long as your actions flow out of your wants and desires, then you are acting freely. After exploring the source of our desires, turn to the moral and legal ramifications of a world without free will. x
  • 13
    Causation, Possible Worlds, and Propositions
    Before shifting from the nature of the self to the nature of reality, take a step back to reflect on causation. What does it mean to say one thing “causes” another? Your exploration takes you into the world of modal statements, truthmakers, possible worlds, propositions, and universals. x
  • 14
    God—Definition and Paradox
    Professor Johnson begins his inquiry into the nature of God with definitions: God as an omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent being. Consider how this definition may generate paradoxes, including conflicts between perfect power and goodness, perfect knowledge and free will, and the impossibility of being perfectly just and perfectly merciful x
  • 15
    God—The Argument from Existence
    The first of three primary arguments in favor of God’s existence is a purely conceptual, deductive argument. The medieval Benedictine monk Anselm argued that, logically, God must exist in order to fulfill our conception of a perfect being. This argument and its objections have raised numerous questions about the nature of existence and the limits of reason. x
  • 16
    God—The Argument from Cause
    The second argument views God as the original uncaused cause at the beginning of the universe. Here you’ll see that this argument, too, has its flaws that range from the indeterminate—uncaused—nature of the quantum world to the much simpler argument that the universe is simply unexplained. x
  • 17
    God—The Argument from Design
    The final argument for God’s existence views God as a cosmic watchmaker who set the world into motion in such a way that life could emerge. Professor Johnson lays out this theory and explores some of its many challenges, including the idea that the universe is not all that fine-tuned and that there may be more than one way to build a universe. x
  • 18
    From Spinning Buckets to Special Relativity
    Transition from the nature of God to the nature of reality. After investigating whether space and time are actual substances or merely relational, Professor Johnson delves into special relativity and explains the counterintuitive implications that the constant speed of light has for speed, motion, length, and time. x
  • 19
    From General Relativity to Space-Time
    Professor Johnson continues his analysis of relativity, this time taking gravity and acceleration into account. See what astrophysicists mean by the curvature of space-time and what it implies about gravity and the very fabric of the universe. Finally, reflect on what space-time implies for human free will. x
  • 20
    Black Holes, Wormholes, and Time Travel
    Revisit the intersection between science and metaphysics. General relativity suggests the universe is a giant block of space-time, so does that mean time travel is possible? Examine the feasibility of traveling to the past or the future, and consider the paradoxes that might result. x
  • 21
    Quantum Mechanics and Wave-Particle Duality
    Enter the wild world of quantum mechanics. After an overview about probability, your study of atomic theory begins with the randomness of radioactive decay, which is undetermined and uncaused. Then shift your attention to the dual nature of light as both a wave and a series of particles. x
  • 22
    Quantum Mechanics, Spin, and Spooky Action
    Continue your study of the quantum world with a look at Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle, which implies a particle’s properties—such as location, momentum, and spin—are indeterminate until someone measures them. This phenomenon has several strange, inexplicable implications—like Schrödinger’s cat. x
  • 23
    Quantum Mechanics, God, and the Multiverse
    Find out how scientists have attempted to answer the questions raised by quantum mechanics. One possibility is that there are multiple universes that exist simultaneously in a fifth dimension. You’ll discover that this theory goes a long way toward explaining reality without violating the laws of physics. x
  • 24
    Do We Live in a Computer Simulation?
    There are still many unknowns about the nature of reality. In this last lecture, you’ll be startled to find out just how likely it is that we live in some sort of computer-simulated world. Professor Johnson walks you through the argument and its implications before summing up what you’ve learned—and what questions still exist. x

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Your professor

David Kyle Johnson

About Your Professor

David Kyle Johnson, Ph.D., University of Oklahoma
King's College
Dr. David Kyle Johnson is Associate Professor of Philosophy at King’s College in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. He earned a master’s degree and doctorate in philosophy from the University of Oklahoma. At Oklahoma, he won the coveted Kenneth Merrill Graduate Teaching Award. In 2011, the American Philosophical Association’s committee on public philosophy gave him an award for his ability to make philosophy accessible...
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Reviews

Exploring Metaphysics is rated 3.5 out of 5 by 61.
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Disappointing Unfortunately, I cannot recommend this course. Besides problems with the presentation (which I address below), it is basically about counterintuitive inferences from physics. He inquires into the nature of a soul and concludes that physics shows it cannot exist. He inquires into the existence of a god and concludes that physics shows all such arguments are fallacious. He inquires into the nature of free will and concludes that physics shows that it cannot exist. In short, he tacitly assumes that all truth of this universe must be determined by physics. If one should ask why this should be so, he ducks. He explicitly declines to examine “truth” itself, saying that this must be reserved for a separate course on epistemology. The first half of the course is devoted to the metaphysical concept of personhood including insight into the mind, insight into personal identity, and the possible existence and implications of free will. The next section of the course addresses causation and the nature of God. The course closes with a series of lectures on special topics such as relativity, black holes, quantum mechanics, etc. As I mentioned, it always comes back to physics. Dr. Johnson has a rapid-fire speaking style. This coupled with the abstract, esoteric nature of his subject material, makes the lectures difficult to follow for beginners. In his discussion on God, he defines “God” as an “all-perfect being.” He assumes that deity is a monotheistic entity essentially like the Christian God. I am surprised that he makes this a priori decision to exclude other religious concepts. In Lecture 6, Dr. Johnson says that someone who provides religious answers to metaphysical questions “is not interested in the truth.” In Lecture 17, Dr. Johnson notes that the teleological argument for the existence of God convinced the philosopher Antony Flew, “one of the most famous atheists,” to believe in God (or, more precisely, deism). However, Dr. Johnson adds that, “His conversion also happened when Flew was older and had weaker mental capacities. Many of us wonder whether his conversion should be considered genuine.” In Lecture 24, the last lecture, Dr. Johnson concludes that there is a 20% probability that we all live in a computer simulation. Well, that would explain the glitches in this course. I listened to the audio version. I believe that the video version would have significantly aided presentation of the material but would not have addressed my fundamental concerns.
Date published: 2018-04-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Presentation The presentation is erudite and yet, very clear. The professor manages to cover a lot of materials in the limited amount of time without compromising quality and clarity.
Date published: 2018-02-10
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Not really philosophy As a student of with a minor in philosophy, I can say the professor did not adequately represent arguements for the existenece of God. In fact, it seems that he does not understand the motion proofs or the traditional conception of the soul. This is more of a course where the professor describes his opinions instead of engaging in a philisophical dialogue. I would suggest reading literature from Dr. Edward Feser if you want more of a traiditonal understanding of metaphysics.
Date published: 2017-10-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Metaphysics I am an old man or what may have been considered an old man when I was born. I knew what the course might be like when I ordered it. What I hadn't been prepared for was a lecturer as passionate and as uncool as I am. I live for metaphysics my father taught me to be passionate about metaphysics as I sat on his knee. Metaphysics is not for everyone. Metaphysics is science in its purestform. It teaches you that the more you know comes with the realization that you know less than you thought you knew. The course is exciting and fulfills my desires of knowing far less at the end of each lecture than when the lecture started. If your ego needs boosting Metaphysics is not for you I am enjoying this course immensely but I think I might have started this course a bit differently. I think I might have started it with a discussion on Keats' poem Ode on a Grecian Urn which I think is a distillation of metaphysics.All of metaphysics fits so easily into Keats' Last two lines understanding truth means that the only way of seeing the universe is to it as if you are a speck of dust.
Date published: 2017-08-15
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Not Really What I Expected I am really only on my 2nd audio disk and may update this. So far I find his presentations and logical premises appearing to be contradicting himself but perhaps I haven't given him enough time and I'm missing something. For instance he first discusses people with disconnected right and left brains.. and how it affects them physically then moves into the description of the mind vs brain vs soul. He disregards soul as not biologically or physically based but still regards mind as an entity while so far I hear nothing sound in his explanations where that also is physically based. In fact i felt his left and right brain split kind of defeating his explanation of the mind - after all, its the person who is aware of their body just doing what it wants and not necessarily what she wants. The functions they are not wanting to occur appear to be robotic almost to me ... inherited from synapses and stored information with no controlling "mind" - therefore I saw no concrete evidence still that the "mind" is physically based. So I am confused at this point. However I recommend this because it makes you think things thru.
Date published: 2017-07-22
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Exploring Coffee Sadly, I lost patience with this very early on. There's no doubting Professor Johnson's breadth of knowledge, or his enthusiasm, but the nature of the subject requires a much more measured delivery. One had the feeling that gallons of coffee had been consumed before the recording of each lecture. Contrast this blizzard with, say, the great Daniel N Robinson, who gives us time to let the implications of his utterances to sink in. Moreover, one questions how much of this is actual metaphysics. Yes, the definition of the subject has always been problematic but a lot of what we hear comes dangerously close to the "hey, wow" pop-philosophy intended to make the subject "accessible", mixed in with a lot of things that the Professor just seems to find interesting. These may or may not be metaphysical, but the overall effect of being repeatedly hit over the head by a clever person makes one much less likely to consider such matters.
Date published: 2017-05-11
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Excellent with qualification Excellent teacher with energy and clarity!!! Highlights quite a bit of the sophistry in current philosophical ideas; for example using incomplete theories like quantum mechanics as an untenable premise for other arguments. So you dont get snowed by the various scientific premises you should have a solid science background before embracing any of the theories discussed in this course.
Date published: 2017-05-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Knowledgeable instructor I am well pleased with the Metaphysics course so far. The instructor does a fabulous job and I hope to see him on other courses.
Date published: 2017-03-23
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Suffers From Scientism Of the three courses I recently had the pleasure of listening to on consciousness while on vacation, this was the most disappointing. The speaker had a great and engaging voice which made the audio format fine for the material. The discussion of future time and the potential predictability of some future events somehow proving that all future events are preordained missed some logical step for me. Likewise the entire discussion on free will was rather weak, in my opinion. Be aware that this professor chooses only the most materialistic interpretations of quantum physics and presents them as the only reasonable ones, in spite of many internationally known physicists presenting very different interpretations over the past century. Glibly dismissing all of them was really missing the point in favor of his materialistic deterministic worldview that really sits quite nicely in a 19th Century model of physics. I would note that his insistence that brain function is primary and that it explains everything in conscious awareness is a major leap of faith. The brain sciences are nowhere nearly as sophisticated or as complete as he suggests. I can state this clearly as I am a physician specializing in psychiatry, and we know very little about how the brain is related to consciousness or qualia. The final conclusion that infinitely many infinite universes being created every millisecond is a better explanation of the quantum wave collapse than consciousness collapsing the wave function is utterly unpalatable. The final solution he provides is that the best explanation of the quantum weirdness is that we all live in the midst of a computer simulation! Perhaps we can't disprove that notion, but as he pointed out throughout each of the other lecture someone making that claim is the one to actually bear the burden of proof. Perhaps a better explanation is that science isn't yet complete, and maybe consciousness has something more to offer in the mix. Still a fun course to listen to. I just wouldn't base my worldview on the conclusions reached.
Date published: 2016-12-28
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Porely Organized Later on in the course, the Professor admits that Quantum Physics trumps traditional logic. For example, something can be both true and false (on and off, 1 and 0). So, in my opinion, the course should have acknowledged this in the beginning and used to correct the historical approach that the Professor used to organize his lectures. Also, the lecture series suffered from not offering a video option. A Professor's body language goes a long way towards keeping a listeners interest and providing understanding of difficult concepts.
Date published: 2016-07-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from excellent course I enjoyed this course and can recommend it to anyone who is interested in the subject. The audio-only format seems to be fine. (The video vs audio-only choice can be non-obvious – some history courses that you might think are OK for audio-only have stunningly good graphics.) Professor Johnson goes over various proofs for the existence of God, and emphasizes that we should not commit what has sometimes been called the fallacy fallacy – just because an argument is fallacious does not mean the conclusion must be false. With respect to the possible existence of a creator, the last lecture provides a new possibility – we are living in a computer simulation. Of course no one actually believes that, but the logic is well thought out. Heaven forbid I should tell you how to study, but the questions at the end of each lecture are an important part of the learning process, and force active participation. In particular the last question for the last lecture is: “How comfortable are you with sacrificing certainty and knowledge for wisdom and understanding? Do you find yourself wanting to ascribe to a particular metaphysical view, or are you comfortable just saying “I don’t know”?” One result of taking this course is that when metaphysical questions do come up, I am more at ease thinking that if brilliant people cannot agree, why should I have an opinion?
Date published: 2016-06-24
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Intriguing Content; Presentation Not So Good Some very intriguing mysteries are discussed: • Philosophy of mind (theories around the relationship between the brain and the mind) • Identifying personal identity • The existence of free will • The existence of God • The nature of time • The origin of our universe • Do multi-verses exist • The nature of reality itself But I was left feeling like the professor’s style just didn’t help make this course “pop”. It was like he was rushing through a lot of the topics/theories without taking the time to either provide more explanations/examples or let them sink in before he was off to the next topic. He also seemed to “push” his own beliefs/theories to the point of almost over-arguing. You could tell which ones he didn’t believe in because he would start off saying “there are many problems with this…” and then proceed to go through the reasons (without explaining rebuttals), and end up with some mind twisting explanation as to why “logic” dictates it must be wrong. But I am not an experienced philosopher so for all I know he may be using all of the tenants of the discipline appropriately in proving theories! Content good; Presentation not so good; But I would still consider this a solid course and worth listening to if you are interested in exploring the nature of beings and of reality itself. The content was arranged in a cohesive manner and the end of the last lecture nicely summarized all of the topics and conclusions. Pluses: • Engaging discussion on these topics: o Discussion on Philosophy of Mind: theories around the relationship between the brain and the mind, where does mind exist, and whether we can build computers to become “minded” with consciousness (and how we should relate to them if we can) o The problem of identifying personal identity: if our bodies are physically changing every so many years (cells replacing themselves), our personalities changing, and in some cases we lose our memories through amnesia then are you the same person (as a unique identity) you were 30 years ago? Different interpretations on how identity is considered preserved in various science fiction-type thought experiments and scenarios are debated o A being (think the traditional concept of God) having the qualities of omnipotence (all powerful), omniscience (all knowing), and omnibenevolence (all morally good) poses logical contradictions and incompatibilities in and of the qualities themselves o The professor’s arguments against the Cosmological and Teleological arguments for God’s existence (the existence of the world and the design of it, respectively) provide an interesting perspective of the debate regardless of where you come down on the belief Minuses: • The professor provided good thought-provoking thought experiments to consider the above topics but his teaching style didn’t help some of the discussion to sink in; For example there are times he talks too fast when I’d hope for a slowdown and further explanation of a theory • While the professor provides interesting arguments against the existence of the soul and of God it feels like he is steering too much (perhaps feeling a need to over-argue?) vs. allowing the listener to decide for themselves
Date published: 2016-02-26
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Sorry It Wasted Any of My Time At All I thought this course was laughable. This professor may well believe everything he has to say, but he is certainly not the last word on everything. He presumes things about his audience that I personally wasn't prepared for. He assumes we all consider the "soul" (mind, by my definition) to be made up of a substance required by natural law to follow the same laws of physics as any other physical object (but he has not ever heard of ether, which does, nor consciousness, which does not). I am not interested in his favorite fast food chain or his favorite fast foods, so why did I buy this? I want to criticize more than the first two disks, but I found his very vocal tone generally unpleasant. I would hardly put up with this kind of assault on the senses if it hadn't cost me money.
Date published: 2016-01-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Mindblowing Course I had heard of the word Metaphysics but never truly understood what that entailed. I recently took a new job with a 40 minute commute. I get bored easily so I thought I would try a lecture series from my Audible account. This course was more than I could have hoped for. It is perfect for anyone new to the discipline. The teacher is amazing and often had me laughing out loud in my car....to a Metaphysics lecture!! My friends all think I'm crazy and are tired of me telling them all about this course but I don't care. It was fantastic and I will continue to learn more about Metaphysics and Philosophy. Thank you so much for helping me grow and expand my knowledge. It was a pleasure!
Date published: 2015-09-30
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Entertainment Yes, But Wisdom? I had great hopes for this course when it first appeared in the TTC catalogs; it covers some of the most interesting and challenging questions facing humankind in the early 21st Century. However, after purchasing and listening to it multiple times, I was disappointed. I have gone through around 20 TTC courses, and all of them offered teachers who were masters of classic academic pedagogy. I found Dr. Johnson's teaching approach to be quite different. I can understand how others might find him to be a breath of fresh air. But I thought that he was trying to be as much an entertainer as a teacher, to the determent of the latter. I can understand how his approach would be useful in dealing with sleepy sophomores who barely make it to a 9am class after a long night's social events. But how many sophomores purchase and voluntarily work their way through a typical TTC course? TTC did not mention in the course description that Dr. Johnson's specialty is relating philosophical topics to modern popular entertainment, and that movies and TV shows play a big role in almost all of his lectures. Furthermore, the Professor fashions himself as something of an entertainment stylist, frequently modulating his vocal inflections for maximum drama or comedy effect. Actually, the first four lectures proceed quite like any other TTC course. Prof. Johnson does a yeoman's job of setting up the mind-body problem and unfolding the various approaches taken toward it. But then comes lecture five, and the show begins. By lecture 7, we have encountered Star Trek, Dr. Who, Johnny Rockets, the Matrix, the Bourne Identity, fantastic massages and tickle torture. As we proceed further, the Professor mimics the language of his undergraduate students, telling us how "cool" something is, or whether it "sucks". At other points, he puppets an opposing character to argue with; but sometimes his puppet character is a super-attentive student who asks Dr. Johnson all the right questions. For me, this interfered with the learning process. Many of Dr. Johnson's treatments of scientific topics seem a bit shaky; they sometimes are patently tendentious, and in other instances his explications become confusing or misleading for anyone not familiar with the topic. For example, Johnson treats the subtle and contentious issues behind Libet's free will experiments, split brain patient's mental lives, the alleged need for a conscious mental life to allow a quantum phenomenon to "decohere", the question of whether the "fine tuning" of the fundamental physical constants of a new-born universe would have a high probability of allowing for the evolution of intelligent life, and the existence of a "multiverse" as though they were settled matters in the world of science. This is FAR from the truth. I must admit, David Kyle Johnson is a master in the craft of weaving together often-astonishing logical conclusions in the midst of metaphysical and epistemic uncertainty. This is especially true when it comes to questions regarding God; his treatment of the "fine tuning argument" in lecture 17 is especially vigorous. He begins that lecture by discussing the "so called" conversion of atheist philosopher Antony Flew to theistic belief based on the seeming improbability of the evolution of intelligent life. Johnson then runs through a list of objections to the sincerity or relevance of that conversion (including a blanket disparagement of the cognitive abilities of the elderly). For the rest of this lecture, Dr. Johnson puts his clever construction / deconstruction abilities into overdrive. There is much tendentious straining with complex concepts like infinity and mathematical set theory. Johnson is clearly is on a mission in this lecture; perhaps he's the "Flew Avenger". The problem comes when he starts providing arguments against God, as opposed to criticizing arguments for God. In the arc of his God lectures, Johnson first addresses the characteristics that various religions have traditionally applied to God; but eventually, he asserts what God, were She/He to actually exist, MUST be like. This is obviously for the purposes of knocking down a straw man (or straw God-Man). The good Professor certainly seems to lack imagination regarding the possibilities for a divine reality. Another annoying habit is that Dr. Johnson often "punts" when an issue approaches the limits of what can be known. Multiple times he in effect says "that's an issue for epistemology, and I don't do epistemology, so let's assume it's not a problem and move on". This lack of epistemic humility, along with his tendentious vigor, breeds more than occasional hints of hubris in Dr. Johnson's presentations. In philosopher Thomas Nagel's recent book Mind and Cosmos (Nagel's past works are cited appreciably several times by Johnson), Nagel summarizes the mission of good philosophy as follows: "Philosophy has to proceed comparatively. The best we can do is to develop the rival alternative conceptions in each important domain as fully and carefully as possible, depending on our antecedent sympathies, and see how they measure up. That is a more credible form of progress than decisive proof or refutation." How does Dr. Johnson and his Metaphysics course stack up according to this standard? David Kyle Johnson certainly provides comparisons between alternative approaches, and his antecedent sympathies soon become apparent, which Nagel allows for. However, Johnson puts too much effort into attempting decisive proofs or refutations, which sound clever but often leave the student stranded. Instead of a "credible form of progress", Johnson appeals to an even higher authority than Nagel, i.e. Socrates himself (one of his VERY FEW mentions of the classic Greeks; they are just not as entertaining as The Planet of the Apes). Socrates said that the man who admits that he does not know is truly the wisest. So, arguably it's good to leave students humbly scratching their heads. But Johnson's own disregard of epistemic limits and personal biases certainly do not reflect a wise humility on his part. I must say, however, that despite my misgivings about his histrionic, ego-driven style, I certainly did learn from Dr. Johnson. I was inspired to write out half a notebook of questions and contentions regarding many of Dr. Johnson's points, from almost every lecture. While listening, I often heard my mind saying "wait a minute, not so fast". But David Kyle Johnson keeps moving -- the show must always go on! Still, if you can stay up with him, he will give you interesting things to think about. So, I resisted my initial instinct to leave this course with one star, and will allow it a fair-to-middling three. I could say a lot more, but my notes go way beyond the word limit for this review. However, I will leave it you to ponder whether and how Dr. Johnson's dismissal of humanity's spiritual heritage and his faith in a bright secular humanist future compare with the pre-superhero roles of Dr. Bruce Banner and Tony Stark in Age of Ultron (yes, a popular movie!). Dr. Johnson, could you argue against Ultron's clever yet epistemically dubious formula for world peace? And would it do any good?
Date published: 2015-08-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Supporting the Intellectually Inquisitive This course is exciting. It is not possible to design a course with greater scope than a course on metaphysics because metaphysics addresses the very question of existence, and professor Johnson addresses as much of the scope as you could expect, given the length of the course. The course begins with the study of the individual, the universe, and God, and goes on from there to look at the very question of existence. The fact that metaphysics is a product of the intellectual world makes the audio format ideal. Graphics would detract from the content. Intellectually demanding courses are not supposed to be “edge of the seat, spell-binders,” but Professor Johnson's approach can hold your attention even when the introduction of a new concept or approach starts to divert your train of thought. The ideas and explanations do come thick and fast, but that is a consequence of trying to cover the universe in twenty-four lessons. There were times when I found a concept or thought train so engaging that I stopped the CD to give me time to absorb the new data. It has been said that taking a course in metaphysics can be the first time you know less about the topics under discussion at the end of the course than you did at the beginning. Professor Johnson does cover intriguing questions and discusses the various historical arguments that have been considered. This course furnishes a basis for building an understanding of the major problems of philosophy. One of the things about taking any course is getting that new base for knowledge. With today's internet, these courses give you a platform on which to build your own knowledge and theories. Possibly, for the first time in the history of the planet, the average student has access to more information than he could possibly structure in one lifetime. A course such as this one will help you develop your own criteria for choosing among the available alternative arguments. These questions will interest you for the rest of your life. Whether the questions will last longer than that is a question worthy of the course. The very definition of Metaphysics is ephemeral. My own interests began with ontology (“What is?” and “why is it like that?”). Professor Johnson furnishes possible boundaries on that question. He does not attempt to impose his opinions as answers, but leaves it to the student to choose which, if any, of the arguments he or she is willing to accept. I do believe that if you come to this course with your own answers firmly entrenched, the course may make you uncomfortable. As an example, I thought I had a minor quibble with the lecturer in lecture 1. Professor Johnson uses the concept of number as an example of qualia (abstract properties existing alone). As a mathematician, I have a very concrete, operational concept of that property and believed Professor Johnson was in error. The way he presented his argument led me to rethink my previous conclusion. He and I find ourselves on opposite sides of the Platonist/Materialist divide concerning views of the mathematical experience at a level deeper than I had considered. The professor is excellent. Some of the reviews take issue with him for not leaving them with a definitive answer to the problems of free will, love, the soul and the existence of God. Others comment on the fact that one or another approach that they prefer has been omitted. Like many of the other reviewers, I too would love to have concrete answers to all of these questions, but I can't fault professor Johnson for not succeeding where the best minds of the past 2500 years have failed. I think a perusal of his reviews proves the adage we discovered in my days as a teacher. If you want good student reviews, teach an easy course to smart people. I believe the patrons of these courses are above average in intelligence, because these courses are taken by the curious, and curiosity correlates with intelligence. So, in my opinion, by its nature, this is not an easy course. I thank him for providing me with the intellectual ammunition to continue this exploration myself.
Date published: 2015-05-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from my favourite Of my 10+ courses this was the best. In fact so good that this is the only course I have listened to then immediately started again to listen through for a second time. From an englishman's point of view the american tone and inflexions can be quite a challenge on the ears but they certainly convey an obvious enthusiasm and delight in the subject. A really thought -provoking lecture set that I find myself quoting to my friends and family.
Date published: 2015-05-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from a course like no other Exploring Metaphysics #4182 D.K.Johnson This course requires you to sacrifice certainty and knowledge for wisdom and understanding. Three observations ... 1) TAO 40 says: ... All things under Heaven were created from Something. Something was created from Nothing. Quantum Theory says: ... quantum foam; quantum vacuum fluctuations; Something really can come from Nothing. So, after 2500 years, Q.E.D. ! 2) Socrates was considered the wisest of men by the Delphic Oracle, not for what he knew, but because he knew he did not know. (The Delphic Oracle also revealed that Homer was the grandson of Odysseus.) 3) The 'consciousness intrepretation' of quantum mechanics says that: conscious observation of measurements is necessary for quantum particles to take on certain properties; not just measurements, but the conscious observation of them ! Much of this is beyond wierd, but stay with it. Finishing the course will definitely bend your mind. This is science, not science fiction; a course like no other.
Date published: 2015-05-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Brilliant Brilliant, energizing and uplifting. Best course of the 26 I have purchased. Please, please, please, Great Courses, more from Prof. Johnson.
Date published: 2015-04-18
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Wide ranging but often annoyingly imprecise My opinion of this course is conflicted. On one side I recognize that the professor is quite knowledgeable and is able to cover a broad area. But on the other side I found myself continually annoyed by his oversimplified viewpoint of many of the issues. I repeatedly had the impression that he was lecturing to a class of not especially bright freshmen whom he wanted to “wow” with the mysteries of metaphysics. I often imagined any junior or senior philosophy majors in the back of the room snickering at his imprecise language (though I am long out of school and never was a philosophy major). On a section-by-section basis: the philosophy of mind section is muddled; the philosophy of religion section sounds like he spends too much time lecturing in a Sunday school; his use of math terms is often wrong (though correct often enough to indicate he knows better); and his gallop through the arcane world of quantum mechanics is wide ranging but not likely to mean much to someone who does not know the ideas already. He frequently refers to concepts such as “infinity” or “Heisenberg uncertainty” in language that is incorrect – but then later says it correctly. I can only conclude he knows his stuff but treats his students as too dim to know the difference. The course ends on an hysterical note when he “proves” that there is exactly a 20% chance that the universe is a computer simulation. Perhaps it is my limitation, but I could not tell if he was joking or if he was self-parodying philosophical thought; certainly he could not here be both serious and sane. In summary, if you already know much about metaphysics this course is a good review, and the exercise of identifying where he gets shoddy could be an interesting challenge. But if the material is new to you, be very careful here or you could get some ideas very wrong.
Date published: 2015-04-17
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good to learn this point of view. I've only watched half the program so far. The professor is very articulate. He does an excellent job of presenting the modern views of metaphysics. I am an Aristotelian-Thomistic philosopher and disagree with his perspective. For example his definition of soul is from Descartes. A definition I reject. Thus he is talking past me. I am thinking about his position so I might address his views without talking past him.
Date published: 2015-03-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Thought provoking Metaphysics of diverse topics, ranging from the human mind to relativity. Really good presentation of material that in lesser hands comes across as pedantic. Thought provoking and fun for all listeners.
Date published: 2015-02-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent and Stimulating This is an excellent course. Professor Johnson is a superb lecturer, he is unhesitating, speaks clearly, articulates well, and is very enthusiastic. The subjects about which he lectures are also of great interest. So I highly recommend that you listen to it. You may not agree with everything that Professor Johnson says (I did not) but a good course always raises new questions as well as answering others.
Date published: 2015-02-09
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Exploring Metaphysics I found this course to be miss-labeled. If you are looking for a treatise on Aristotle, this is not it. If you are looking for a modern philosophical enquiry into what is beyond the empirical, this is not it. If you are looking for another sophomoric attack on Christian philosophy, this is it. The author goes to great lengths to point out the logical fallacies of others but resorts to the same blunders himself. To prove his point, he takes the "theory of evolution" and the "big bang theory" as established fact. I think his points would have been more interesting and stimulating had this been a debate, rather than a one-sided oration. Personally, I obviously did not find this course up to the high standards I have come to expect.
Date published: 2015-01-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Course! I've listened to at least 50 of the courses TeachCo has to offer, and in my opinion this is a very good course for those interested in this subject. The present 3.3 overall rating does not do the course justice. The fast pace only shows how well the prof knows his material. For those unfamiliar with metaphysics, it may well seem to move too fast. Thus perhaps some may want to look elsewhere first, and then come back to this course to get a full appreciation of it.
Date published: 2015-01-14
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Exploring Metaphysics Only Great Courses program that I have ever returned. I listened to the first 5 lectures out of 24. The presentation was so bad that I just couldn't listen to anymore of it. I returned the course with the second CD unopened. This professor talks so fast and so clipped that it is impossible to focus on what he is saying. The speech pattern is extremely repetitive with the same emphasis applied in almost every phrase. It all runs together. I usually listen to these CDs while driving - but this course is dangerous for drivers as it puts one to sleep. This is a subject that I am very interested in learning about - and it was a huge disappointment to have purchased this as a birthday gift to myself and then be forced to return it. I was surprised because all the other courses i have purchased were excellent and I enjoyed listening to them several times to make sure I got maximum educational value from each one.
Date published: 2014-12-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from 3 Reasons Why You Should Buy This Course Next As a Philosophy major, I'd consider myself pretty current in the field and reasonably informed in the subtopics of metaphysics and the philosophy of science, but that didn't prepare me for Kyle Johnson's masterful treatment of these areas in this whirlwind adventure in what it all means! The first time I listened to the course, I knew I'd need to go through it again, but having repeated it again recently, I can now offer three solid reasons why you'll want to purchase and (re)listen to this course: (1) THIS IS HOW PHILOSOPHY *SHOULD* BE TAUGHT! Ambrose Bierce once wrote that philosophy is "a path of many roads, leading from nothing to nowhere." While cynical, this is the impression most people get when tumbling down the various rabbit holes of philosophy. BUT Professor Johnson expertly guides you not only through the relevant issues in metaphysics and how they relate to our everyday lives, he also offers a poignant analysis of the arguments and summarizes the strengths and weaknesses of adopting one or another position. He shows you *how* to think, not *what* to think. (2) THIS IS PRECISELY WHAT WE'RE LOOKING FOR WHEN WE STUDY PHILOSOPHY! "All philosophy begins in wonder," Plato assured us, and that wonder drives our quest for wisdom. As philosophers, we'd like to provide the Oedipal brushstroke of genius to the Sphinx-like riddles of life, fate, and the quest for ultimate meaning. Unfortunately, much of philosophy—especially at the higher levels—is so esoteric and inaccessible that riddles give way to labyrinthine mazes wherein our wonder goes to die at the hands of the Minotaur of apathetic uncertainty. YET here, again, Professor Johnson continually tracks the complexities of metaphysics with real-world implications, and he does so with a passion and energy that we wish every teacher could bring to the fore. You may come out of addressing a metaphysical concept like God, fate, or the existence of your own soul with a few more questions and doubts than you had going in, but afterward you'll be able to understand exactly what's at stake in your (potential) position, as well as the limits to what can really be ascertained by it. (3) THIS IS *WHY* WE CHOOSE TO MAJOR IN PHILOSOPHY! When asked what he could do with a Philosophy major, Bruce Lee once joked that he could think deep thoughts about being unemployed! All joking aside, a philosophy degree is not the most clear-cut asset when planning for a professional future... so what's the point of majoring in it? THIS is why! Again, philosophical training teaches you *how* to think, not *what* to think. And Professor Johnson provides this training in such a fun way. His examples are pulled from academia and pop-culture alike, and the way he uses these examples to illustrate the philosophical points he's making is spot on. For example, when discussing the philosophical problem of self-identity, not only does he reference the classic Theseus's Ship analogy, but he also drives the point home by saying, "If I kick over my kid's Lego house and then rebuild it, he can't show it off to his friends as the Lego house that *he* built." Awesome! All-in-all, this was a fun ride through modern metaphysics, and this ride broaches topics that are very much at the heart of what it means to be scientifically-minded these days, topics like neuroscience, quantum physics, and multiverses. It's a must-have! And remember, Professor Johnson makes it clear that you don't need to agree or disagree with a given position; all you need to understand is precisely to what each position commits you, as well as what is at stake in rejecting others. One more time: not *what* to think, but *how* to think... Well done!
Date published: 2014-10-10
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Exploring metaphysics The topic was impentrable, and the "professor" was the worst of some 10 - 12 Great Books I have listened to. Get a different lecturer.
Date published: 2014-10-10
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Somewhat interesting, but painful I have listened to other courses on philosophy and religion and was particularly interested in the treatment of free will. The subject of free will is so important because if we have it or not changes EVERYTHING. His conclusions were not surprising and are logically consistent with his premises: there is no such thing as a mind, a soul, a person or free will. We are in fact not free and not capable of moral choices. A serial killer does nothing wrong, since we are 100% controlled by DNA & environment. This proves the point I had when I began the course, that without free will everything crumbles: love, hate, good, evil, justice, kindness... All an illusion without free will. He confirms this in great detail. The profess sure knows his material, but should pause long enough to see the big picture. His philosophy leads ultimately to only one possible conclusion, life is meaningless and absurd. This has to be the conclusion in a universe that is purely materialistic. I find it amusing that he finds the concept of each decision we make spawning yet another universe where the opposite decision is taken to be "logically consistent" because, after all, these multiverses are outside our ability to measure them, so their existence is plausible. This kind of ridiculous sci-fi explanation is just that, sci-fi. Ultimately, an "infinity" must be solved, either their is a cause of our universe (an infinite being that defines existence) or an infinite number of universes (for which we have, nor can have, physical evidence) where every possible combination and variation exist. Ultimately,I find the whole multiverse hypothesis to be scientifically absurd. As someone with an MS in science, it would take way to long to go into my heartburn with the hypothesis. This course is a mixture of some interesting metaphysics coupled with what I deem "logical diarrhea". If your whole philosophy contradicts our subjective personal knowledge to such a drastic extent and undermines the whole foundation of everything that makes life meaningful, then perhaps you are asking and answering the wrong questions.
Date published: 2014-08-15
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Cognitive science and physics do not = metaphysics I think that most of the negative reaction to this course is due to people not being used to contemporary analytical philosophy. If you are familiar with the sort of argumentation that is used by Derek Parfit, David Lewis, John Searle and Daniel Dennett you will be familiar with much of the course. Analytical philosophy as it is practiced these days is reliant on thought experiment and is heavily driven by the desire to be congruent with the latest in physics and cognitive science. Ergo we have a course on metaphysics that spends most of its time explaining how the results of cognitive science and physics can be explored with occassionally bizarre thought experiments to unpack our intuitions on free will, personal identity, etc. Somehow we end up with results that are extremely counter-intuitive. There is no free-will, there is no hard problem of consciousness and it will all be computer simulated someday, etc... Like several other reviewers, I found the instructor to be dismissive in a way he has not justified. But for the most part, the best and the worst I can say about him is that he seems ordinary. He is no Dennett (now that would be a Great Course), Searle or Lewis. All in all, I am glad I listened to the course. I learned from his physics presentation and from some of his cognitive science presentation. But I really learned nothing new from the philosophy portion of the course.
Date published: 2014-07-10
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