According to the current scientific paradigm, what we call ‘life’, ‘mind’, and ‘consciousness’ are considered epiphenomenal occurrences, or emergent properties or functions of matter and energy. Science does not associate these with an inherent and distinct existence beyond a materialistic/energetic conception. ‘Life’ is a word pointing at cellular and multicellular processes forming organisms capable of specific functions and skills. ‘Mind’ is a cognitive ability emerging from a matrix of complex interactions of neuronal processes, while ‘consciousness’ is an even more elusive concept, deemed a subjective epiphenomenon of brain activity. Historically, however, this has not always been the case, even in the scientific and academic context. Several prominent figures took vitalism seriously, while some schools of Western philosophical idealism and Eastern traditions promoted conceptions in which reality is reducible to mind or consciousness rather than matter. We will argue that current biological sciences did not falsify these alternative paradigms and that some forms of vitalism could be linked to some forms of idealism if we posit life and cognition as two distinct aspects of consciousness preeminent over matter. However, we will not argue in favor of vitalistic and idealistic conceptions. Rather, contrary to a physicalist doctrine, these were and remain coherent worldviews and cannot be ruled out by modern science.
Keywords vitalism  life  mind-body  mind-body problem  consciousness  consciousness studies  philosophy of mind  basal cognition  mind  morphogenesis  synthetic biology
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