Santa Barbara Institute research focuses on the investigation of the nature, origins, and role of consciousness in human existence and the natural world. Following the suggestion of America’s pioneering psychologist William James, such research has three branches:
- first-person observation of mental states
- third-person exploration of mind/brain correlates
- third-person study of mind/behavior correlates
The second and third approaches are already well established in the fields of psychology, neuroscience, and behavioral science. In particular, recent technological advances in cognitive neuroscience are shedding fresh light on mind/brain interactions and the neural bases of specific conscious states. However, while the scientific study of the brain and behavior can reveal much information about the “brain” side of the interaction, such research cannot, by itself, produce data about the nature of conscious mental phenomena themselves. In order to obtain this kind of data, third-person objective studies of consciousness are inherently and fundamentally reliant upon first-person subjective reports of mental processes.
While there is a high degree of rigor in the third-person study of neural and behavioral correlates of consciousness, there is presently no comparable degree of precision or reliability in the domain of first-person observations and descriptions of mental events. The development of such rigor is obviously necessary if the exploration of the “interactions” and the possible “correlates” between mental processes and neural and behavioral events is to achieve its fullest potential. Thus, the possibility of enhancing and refining the first-person observation of the mind is one of the central fields of inquiry at the Santa Barbara Institute.
By embracing neural, behavioral, and introspective approaches to the study of consciousness, the Santa Barbara Institute provides a forum for interdisciplinary classes and research among the disciplines of psychology, neuroscience, philosophy, religion, the health sciences, and other fields.