The term philosophy, which comes from Greek origins, means “love of wisdom.” The study of philosophy involves asking fundamental questions to better understand people’s place in the universe and their relationships and responsibilities to each other.
Like some branches of psychology and many wisdom traditions, key philosophical frameworks attempt to make sense of human existence and experience and to connect those experiences to the world at large. These include logic, ethics, epistemology, and metaphysics.
The formal study of logic helps in decision-making and in interrogating arguments and (seemingly) rational thought. Axiology is a fancy term for the study of ethics and aesthetics; this type of philosophy seeks to understand what makes individuals and actions “good” or “right.” Epistemology examines belief, opinion, and objective knowledge; as such, it can help people understand whether their closely held beliefs derive from objective or subjective information. Metaphysics questions the nature of reality and whether abstract concepts like “truth” or a higher power exist; it tries to understand why the universe is ordered the way that it is.
People interact with the world through sensory information, and their reactions to their surroundings can be accounted for by recognizable physical and biological processes. Philosopher David Chalmers called these “easy” problems of consciousness because they could be at least partially explained by cognitive or physical means.
In addition to sensory ways of experiencing the world around them, people have this first-person perspective of their lives that cannot be rationalized away so easily. Some call it consciousness or the human “soul,” but no one has found an evidence-based explanation for it. Chalmers coined the phrase “hard problem of consciousness” in 1995 to explain the phenomenon.
The so-called “Trolley Problem” tests people’s moral decision-making by forcing them to choose quickly between: 1) doing nothing and letting five people die, and 2) killing a bystander to save five lives. There is no “right” solution, as either way, innocent people will die. Thus, people tend to default to one of two philosophical approaches—deontologicalism insists that killing is wrong, so non-interference is preferable, even when more people die; utilitarianism, on the other hand, favors the option with the best possible outcome (in this case, killing the bystander to save more lives). In real life, though, throwing someone under the bus, even if it’s for the greater good, tends to have serious consequences.
Psychology and neuroscience show us that many of our belief systems are adaptive; the aesthetics of what we find pleasing and the ethics of societal conduct evolved over time to aid in human survival and reproduction. As such, all philosophy has psychological underpinnings. Key philosophical inquiries including the relationship between mind and body, the meaning of free will and faith, the nature of consciousness, and what constitutes happiness, are simply components of our brains' operating system, and as such can be framed philosophically or scientifically.
Plato said that thinking is "the mind in conversation with itself," and core modes of self-interrogation in psychotherapy and psychology are indeed built on philosophical precepts. Both Socratic dialogue and stoicism are evident in the principles of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy (REBT). CBT and especially REBT counsel people to examine and dispute their beliefs and to tolerate unpleasant feelings—shades of Epictetus. The connection is bidirectional: There is evidence that people's positions on philosophical questions as central as the existence of free will are influenced by their individual temperament and personality.
It depends on how you define "illusion." Psychologist and neuroscientist Michael Graziano developed his Attention Schema Theory of consciousness to explore this question. Essentially, he argues that the human brain evolved an oversimplified model of how it processes sensory input and directs attention (called a schema) so as not to get overwhelmed by the physical details of what’s happening. Graziano suggests that our subjective inner experience (or consciousness) only feels nonphysical, because over the years, our brains have adopted schemas as a type of mental shortcut, so we’re not aware of all the physical processes that are actually occurring as we have firsthand experiences in the world.
Some experts believe that certain cognitive processes and even mental states extend outside of the individual mind, often into the physical world. For example, an Alzheimer’s patient might write down important information in a notebook that they could then refer back to, or someone might rely on their spouse or a group of friends to help them recall important details or creatively problem-solve. In addition, most people turn to the internet as a source of knowledge they don’t have readily available in their own heads.
Human brains evolved to recognize patterns, identify cause and effect, and generally seek out meaning in life. When events, whether fortunate or not, occur by chance, it can be hard psychologically to accept the outcome. People tend to blame themselves for problems that are out of their control or the result of bad luck; this can lead to great anguish, such as in survivor’s guilt. Science suggests that accepting randomness in life often leads to reduced emotional suffering.