Alva Noë

Alva Noë is a contributor to the NPR blog 13.7: Cosmos and Culture. He is writer and a philosopher who works on the nature of mind and human experience.

Noë received his PhD from Harvard in 1995 and is a professor of philosophy at the University of California, Berkeley, where he is also a member of the Institute for Cognitive and Brain Sciences and the Center for New Media. He previously was a Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. He has been philosopher-in-residence with The Forsythe Company and has recently begun a performative-lecture collaboration with Deborah Hay. Noë is a 2012 recipient of a Guggenheim fellowship.

He is the author of Action in Perception (MIT Press, 2004); Out of Our Heads (Farrar Straus and Giroux, 2009); and most recently, Varieties of Presence (Harvard University Press, 2012). He is now at work on a book about art and human nature.

The brain has evolved over evolutionary time scales of millions of years. So, what is the likelihood that the relatively recent advent of reading and writing, or motorized transport, or the Internet, could have changed our brains?

How do you know you are not now dreaming?

Any test you might perform, you might be merely dreaming that you are performing.

How can you get outside experience to verify that things are, at least once and for all, the way they seem to be?

This is philosophical skepticism in the potent and daring form that comes down to us from René Descartes.

Teachers and students alike have experienced the curious paradox that beginners, as a rule, tend to think too little about what they are doing because they think about what they are doing too much.

The first time I laid eyes on Michelangelo's Pietà in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican, I let out a sob.

I don't know why. I was surrounded by a dense crowd of tourists; the sculpture was set back behind a thick Plexiglas panel. Whatever view I was able to enjoy was punctuated by the lights of auto-focus cameras reflected in the intervening panel.

An article in The New York Times last month highlighted the concern of museum curators and event planners over finding ways to make works of art accessible to the viewing public.

The director of Harvard's Peabody Museum has turned to brain science for clues to the way art manages — or, as is often the case, fails to manage — to ignite the imagination and pleasure centers of the viewing public.

A friend of mine, a professor at a university in Canada, confided to me a few days ago that she thinks she might be addicted to email.

She feels compelled to check her email all the time. And she feels bad about it. She experiences anxiety if she doesn't check, and anxiety if she does. Email gets in the way of her productivity at work and makes her feel distracted from family when she is at home.

Yup, sounds like addiction to me.

Whether you travel for work or pleasure, you have probably experienced travel fatigue — the distinct exhaustion that comes from too little leg room, bad air, bad food and stress endured while traveling.