Is it possible for thoughts to be evil or in some way criminal. For example, suppose I think about committing a crime. I plan it in my mind, and even fantasize about committing the crime. Is this wrong? Is intent to committ a crime wrong?

A footnote here. The intent behind the act counts. But fantasizing and planning purely in the brainpan doesn't count as criminal. The closest the law comes is conspiring to commit a crime. Nonetheless, conspiracy calls for more than idle thought or even idle talk of the "Boy, wouldn't it be something to ..." sort. We do give moral credit for overcoming serious temptation. But deliberately indulging in wicked fantasies seems to be another matter. One reason is that we worry that people who do this regulalrly are more likely to succumb to the temptations that they induce in themselves. But another is that we value the character trait of being repulsed by the repulsive.

Has not science (more specifically, neurobiology) resolved the mind-body question? For example, we know that when the pleasure center(s) of the brain are stimulated the person experiences pleasure. Once again, we know that when we affect one certain part of the brain, this causes the person to lose consciousness. Many thanks, Todd T.

Others on this panel might well have more to say, but briefly, what you point to are correlations between mental states and brain states. How certain sorts of goings-on in the brain give rise to or amount to, for example, the sensation of tasting chocolate or seeing a rainbow is surely a further story. Even someone (like me) who believes that the mind is, roughly, the workings of the brain/body can admit that we're still pretty far from understanding how we get from brain events to full-blown conscious experience. By the way, for a detailed discussion of the so-called "explanatory gap," you might want to get hold of Purple Haze: The Puzzle of Consciousness , by AskPhilosophers.org panelist Joseph Levine.

Can one tolerate something, someone, etc. indefinitely or is there a limit? If there is a limit is there any way of re-igniting tolerance? For instance, if a person in an unhappy marriage, tolerates the situation for a long time (e.g., for the sake of the children) but eventually is unable to put up with the situation - no danger, violence, etc. - just dislike, contempt, etc., for the spouse - is there any way of re-igniting tolerance?

The answer to each of your questions, I fear, is "it depends." It depends on the situation, the person, the problem... Some people can tolerate difficult situations better than others, though it's rather unlikely that anyone has unlimited tolerance. As for reigniting tolerance, I don't know whether there's a recipe, but sometimes trying to develop an empathetic understanding of the other person can help. Some forms of Buddhist practice are relevant to your question. I have in mind particularly so-called "metta" or "loving-kindness" practice. And on larger issues related to your question, I'm rather fond of a book called Radical Acceptance by the American Buddhist teacher Tara Brach. I'd stress, by the way, that even though the book is rooted in Buddhism, it doesn't call for taking on any religious beliefs.

Is telepathy possible or is this just a magician's trick? If the latter how do you account for apparent telepathic occurrences -- do you believe that these are just coincidences?

I suspect that it's not possible, but it's not a question that armchair reasoning will let us answer. There certainly are magician's tricks that simulate telepathy. There are also experiments that are suggestive of something more, though they hardly amount to full-blown proof. The most interesting experiments I know of have to do with the so-called "Ganzfeld" effect. Subjects ("receivers") are put into a mild state of sensory deprivation and talk about what is going through their minds while a "sender," in another location, looks at one member of a set of four images. Later, the "receiver" is shown the four images and asked to pick the one the "sender" had been looking at. On some readings of the evidence, receivers are able to pick the correct target at a rate significantly above chance. The Wikipedia account is a good summary of the experiments and the controversy. As you'll see, the results are hardly overwhelming, and there's plenty of room to argue, but there's at least some room to take...

My younger brother, who is 13, is arguing that he will not go through any drastic changes in personality and mannerisms from now until the future and therefore a child is no different from an adult. I argued in the contrary stating that he will go through a lot of changes that might radically alter his outlook on life and personality. Is this correct or does it vary from person to person?

If I have it right, your brother thinks he won't change much, because he thinks that people in general don't change much from teen years to adulthood. He then goes on to draw a conclusion: children (or at least, teenagers) aren't really any different from adults. So we have two questions. First, is the premise true? Is your brother really right when he says that people who have reached the ripe old age of 13 are pretty much as they will be as adults? That's not a philosopher's question as such, though I don't think I'm going out on a limb when I say that many people change a good deal after they get past their teen years. But there's another question: even if we granted your brother his premise, what about his conclusion? It would depend, wouldn't it? It may be that people's basic personality (cheerful or prickly or inclined to fuss-budgetry...) is set by the time they reach their teen years. And it's pretty plausible that mannerisms are laid down early. But I'm guessing your brother thinks his...

I have just found out today that the man I have been dating for 6 months is mildly autistic. I had no idea about this until just a few hours ago, so this realization left me shocked. I understand autism and that it is nothing like mental retardation, or anything to that extent. But still I feel like I am doing something morally wrong by continuing to date him. Should I end the relationship because it isn't fair to him, seeing as he may not fully understand his feelings or mine? Or should I continue the relationship because his autism is only mild? Please let me know what you think, I am completely torn and cannot figure out whether I am doing something horribly wrong or not.

And... as someone with a close relative who is on the high-functioning end of the autistic continuum, I'd like to add Tony Attwood's website and books to the list of recommendations. But I would agree emphatically with Louise: it's a mistake to think that autistic people are unaware of others' feelings, or incapable of empathy. And I really can't see that you'd be doing anything morally wrong at all by continuing the relationship. Having Asperger's or high-functioning autism doesn't make someone morally defective, and it doesn't mean they can't care deeply about other people. What Louise and Eddy and Peter have said is much more like it. This isn't to say that autism spectrum conditions can't complicate relationships. But we could say the same things about many traits of personality and character that have nothing to do with autism. Few of us are perfect; people with autism just have a diagnosis.

Since normal mental function is determined by mere statistics--that is to say, the concept of sanity is based on the way most people behave--is it morally acceptable to treat people with what are perceived to be mental problems?

Let's leave mental health aside for the moment and ask: would it make sense to imagine a situation in which a solid majority of people were physically ill? The answer seems pretty clearly to be yes. For example: we can imagine a pandemic flu infecting a majority of all humanity. Or for that matter, we can imagine a majority of people having some chronic disease like asthma. Physical health isn't a purely statistical concept. Without pretending to put together a fully satisfactory definition, we can presumably agree that whether someone is physically healthy has to do with their functioning. Statistics may have something to do with this (after all, we use statistical techniques in trying to sort out what it's reasonable to expect from a human body), but there's no simple equation between "physically healthy" and "near the statistical average." We can also add: people with, for example, above average lung capacity aren't thereby considered ill, while people with lung capacity well below average ...

Is there a logical contradiction with the notion of having two or more minds? What if it is intelligible that there are two or more minds and that you're the only "self" that is existing but you got so lonely that you created an elaborate delusion (that other minds exist) so that you can escape your loneliness? (Solipsism.) Is the plurality of minds/selves a coherent concept?

I wasn't entirely sure how many issues were on the table here. Your first question seemed to be whether it's contradictory to say that one person has two minds. But as your question continued, the issue seemed to be whether it's possible in general for there to be more than one mind. There's no obvious reason to think there couldn't be many separate minds, and of course what we usually assume is that there are. Whether solipsism is coherent is something that some people have doubted, but I've never found the doubts very convincing. So the question we'll tackle is whether you or I might have more than one mind or self. Interestingly enough, there are serious reasons for saying that the answer is yes. There are two bits here. One has to do with the brain. It has two hemispheres, and in patients with severe epilepsy, sometimes the only way to relieve the symtoms is to sever the corpus callosum -- the bundle of nerves that connects the two sides. Although there is room to argue about the details,...

In my philosophy class I am told that when I am in deep meditation I can understand that I am something other than a composition of body and mind and that this something other is eternal consciousness. In meditation apparently I should experience a state of detachment from both my body and my mind and apparently in this state of detachment I will realsise that I am observing my body and my mind and that this observing is proof that I am something other than my body and my mind, i.e. that I am the observer of my body and my mind and this is proof that I the observer am eternal consciousness. I find this reasoning hard to accept. Surely it is just a sensation of detachment or disassociation I am feeling and cannot be reasonably be accepted as proof of life after death, etc.

Couldn't agree more. I can imagine what it would be like to feel that I was observing my body from some detached perspective. And I can certainly imagine what it would be like to have the sense that I'm aware of various things "passing through my mind" without identifying with them. But even if it somehow seemed to me that I was actually outside my mind observing it (whatever that's supposed to mean), it is a very long step from there to conclusions about what I am, or what my mind is, and how the mind or the self fits into the rest of reality. I'd add: the experiences on offer here are interesting. But anyone who simply offers the conclusions you've described as the only reasonable way to interpret them doesn't seem to me to be doing what philosophy does. There is a large boatload of objections to the conclusion being drawn, and what someone doing philosophy would do is examine the conclusion in light of those objections. It's also worth noting that the meditative traditions don't...

1. Cause must always precede effect. 2. You cannot be conscious of a thought before you think it. 3. Therefore, you cannot consciously cause thoughts. The logic seems infallible. However, it is intensely counterintuitive. It seems like common sense to say, "I consciously create my thoughts."

It may be that I'm missing the point (I haven't had my daily ration of chocolate yet), but what's wrong with this way of looking at it? Conscious or not, a thought can't be its own cause -- at least, not given our usual assumptions. That's what I take your premise 1 to entail. And it seems right: I can't be conscious of a particular thought X before I think it. (It may be, for all that, that I can think it before I'm conscious of it.) But why can't my conscious thought X be the cause of a later conscious thought Y ? For example, my thinking now about a jigger of gin might cause me to think, a moment later, that there's a bottle of gin in the freezer. Or maybe the issue is this: if I'm going to consciously cause a thought about Vienna, the content of that thought must already be part of the thought that does the causing. In that case, I'm conscious of the thought before I've thought it, contrary to premise 2. But then premise 2 ends up suspect, doesn't it? Couldn't I be sitting here...

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