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Exploring Metaphysics

Explore the cutting edge of scientific and philosophical understanding with this fascinating course that delves into philosophy, theology, neuroscience, artificial intelligence, relativity, quantum mechanics, and more.
Exploring Metaphysics is rated 3.6 out of 5 by 69.
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Rated 2 out of 5 by from Less Cowbell Eliminative Materialism confirms that "sweet potato fries" do not exist. So enough already.
Date published: 2023-03-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from surprising conclusions! Well, it was something to listen to while awake and with caffeine in the system--complex thought experiments, with shocking conclusions... Very good and enthusiastic speaker
Date published: 2022-06-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent Course and Teacher Despite the majority of 4 and 5 star reviews, before procuring any lectures from The Great Courses, I always read the 'one star' reviews to gain perspective from those who regretted their purchase. Perhaps I'm mistaken but I suspect the bulk of one star reviews written by theists, unwilling to consider any philosophy perceived to threaten their religious dogma. I bought the course anyway and glad I did. The study of reality is of great interest to me and I rate this course and professor Excellent. If you prefer to avoid a challenge to your religious beliefs, run from this course but if you are on a genuine search for metaphysical truth, this is a great place to start I highly recommend Exploring Metaphysics.
Date published: 2022-05-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very interesting I do have an issue with his reasoning. Using his reasoning I should draw an irrational conclusion from the below thought exercise: A car is driving down the street, a child runs in front of the car the car does not break, therefore there must be no driver This is obviously false reasoning as there could be many reasons. The breaks are broken extra
Date published: 2021-06-30
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Exploring Metahistory Once upon a time there lived simple folks who wondered about grass coming up every spring, cows being born and dying and why they had dreams at night. So, the wisest men among the simple folks band together and started looking at things diligently and talking about things in orderly fashion. And the simple folks rejoiced because now they could understand and they gave the wise men food, clothing and respect and called them philosophers. Behold, there were some wicked men among the wise men who were not wise only smart. And they invented new words and put words together in unexpected ways so as to confuse the simple folks. And the wicked men had begotten this course. And the simple folks were perplexed and blamed themselves for not understanding.
Date published: 2020-12-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Highly Engaging I have several of Dr. Johnson's courses and enjoy them all. He is an excellent instructors who makes somewhat difficult material easily accessible. The illustrations and examples that he provides increase interest and clarity and find myself wanting to learn more from him when each concludes. These lectures are a wonderful asset to my collection and I highly recommend his professor.
Date published: 2020-02-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Terrific scope I would give this more than a 5 star rating if that were possible. It covers many, many aspects of the subject, all of them rather thoroughly. I particularly liked his work on quantum mechanics, which doesn't usually get into metaphysics courses. I also was intrigued by his rampant enthusiasm for sweet potato french fries, which I had never heard ot. I'll have to find some!
Date published: 2019-09-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The title matches product conduct The course is an excellent survey of metaphysics. The presenter's pace, tone and occasional digressions added to my enjoyment of the course. If you take the time to read each chapter summary before listening and read a few of his additional reading suggestions your learning experience will be enhanced.
Date published: 2019-09-10
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What comes to mind when you hear the word “metaphysics”? The truth is, while metaphysics is among the oldest strands of philosophical thought—an inquiry into the very nature of reality—metaphysics is also on the cutting edge of today’s scientific discoveries. Now you can take a journey through the limits of today’s knowledge in Exploring Metaphysics. Professor David Kyle Johnson identifies our fundamental assumptions about the world—and then proceeds to challenge those assumptions point by point. You’ll be surprised to learn what relativity, quantum mechanics, and neuroscience imply about human free will and that time travel is not as crazy as it sounds.


David K. Johnson

We can always take comfort in the fact that we can find and do embrace answers to metaphysical questions.


King's College

Dr. David Kyle Johnson is Associate Professor of Philosophy at King's College in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. He earned a master's degree and doctorate in philosophy from the University of Oklahoma.

At Oklahoma, he won the coveted Kenneth Merrill Graduate Teaching Award. In 2011, the American Philosophical Association's committee on public philosophy gave him an award for his ability to make philosophy accessible to the general public.

Professor Johnson regularly teaches classes on metaphysics, philosophy of religion, philosophy of mind, and logic, as well as courses on critical thinking and scientific reasoning. He has published papers on human freedom, the problem of natural evil, the multiverse, the existence of souls, and many related topics in such journals as Religious Studies, Sophia, Philo, Philosophy and Literature, and Think. He also maintains two blogs for Psychology Today.

Professor Johnson also publishes prolifically on the intersection of pop culture and philosophy. One of his books, Inception and Philosophy: Because It's Never Just a Dream, inspired an authors@Google talk with more than half-a-million YouTube views. He also has written numerous articles that explore the relationship between philosophical questions and such pop cultural phenomena as The Hobbit, Doctor Who, Batman, South Park, Johnny Cash, Quentin Tarantino, and Christmas.

By This Professor

The Big Questions of Philosophy
Sci-Phi: Science Fiction as Philosophy
Exploring Metaphysics


How to Explore Metaphysics

01: How to Explore Metaphysics

Delve into the world of metaphysics, the study of the fundamental nature of reality. This opening lecture introduces you to the realm of unanswered questions and the limits of scientific understanding. While there will be few definitive answers, the goal will be to understand some of the most important questions we can ask as human beings.

32 min
The Mystery of the Mind and the Soul

02: The Mystery of the Mind and the Soul

How does the brain produce the mind? This question, which philosophers call the “hard problem of consciousness,” is at the heart of the philosophy of mind. Begin this unit with a look at how brain activity translates into mental activity—consciousness—and what role, if any, the soul plays in all of this.

29 min
Identity Theory—Token and Type

03: Identity Theory—Token and Type

Survey several ways philosophers have attempted to explain the mind through material means. Two kinds of identity theory offer solutions to the problem of consciousness, yet each has difficulty accounting for the seeming distinction between mental activities and the brains that produce them.

25 min
Functionalism and Artificial Intelligence

04: Functionalism and Artificial Intelligence

This lecture continues to explore identity theory and takes you to the intersection of science and metaphysics. If our brains are functional—in other words, they operate like a computer program—could computers one day possess consciousness? And if we one day construct “minded” androids, what should our relationship with them be?

29 min
Alternative Theories of Mind

05: Alternative Theories of Mind

Wrap up your study of the mind with three final theories. Consider whether minds exist at all, reexamine the relationship between physical and mental properties, and explore whether the mind has any causal power at all.

26 min
The Problem of Personal Identity

06: The Problem of Personal Identity

Start the next unit by defining the problem of personal identity over time. Imagine yourself at eight years old and how much you’ve changed since then. Are you still one and the same person? What makes that identity consistent? Revisit the idea of the soul as housing for a person’s “essence.”

27 min
Mind, Memory, and Psychological Continuity

07: Mind, Memory, and Psychological Continuity

If the soul hypothesis for personal identity isn’t satisfying, turn to memories and psychological continuity. Would your “self” be preserved if your memories and psychology were transported from one body to another? In this lecture, you’ll be surprised by just how many of our intuitions about personal identity seem to conflict.

28 min
Same Body, Same Brain, and Closest Continuer

08: Same Body, Same Brain, and Closest Continuer

Examine some of the physical requirements for maintaining personal identity. Comas, cryogenic freezing, organ transplants, and Star Trek transporters are just some of the many ways our physical identities could be disrupted. Then see how combining the psychological and physical characteristics led Robert Nozick to construct the “closest continuer” view of identity.

30 min
The No-Self Theory and Time Worms

09: The No-Self Theory and Time Worms

Ponder two final theories of the self—the possibility that the “self” doesn’t actually exist as a discrete object, and the notion that the “self” exists in four dimensions. Then turn to a host of problems that arise from considering the self across time.

29 min
The Nature of Truth and Time

10: The Nature of Truth and Time

In the last lecture, you saw that the “self” might exist in four dimensions across time, which raises questions about the very nature of time. Here, you’ll explore the problem of human freedom and divine foreknowledge. Then you’ll learn about logical propositions and truthmakers, and see what logic implies about free will and the future.

27 min
Libertarian Free Will

11: Libertarian Free Will

Take a closer look at human freedom, beginning with “libertarian free will,” which requires the possibility of not choosing as one will. Then discover several challenges to human free will: physical determinism, the random indeterminate nature of the quantum world, and the way our brains make decisions.

28 min
Compatibilistic Freedom

12: Compatibilistic Freedom

Is it possible that, even if we lack libertarian free will, we are still free in another way? Interrogate the theory of compatibilism, which says that as long as your actions flow out of your wants and desires, then you are acting freely. After exploring the source of our desires, turn to the moral and legal ramifications of a world without free will.

28 min
Causation, Possible Worlds, and Propositions

13: Causation, Possible Worlds, and Propositions

Before shifting from the nature of the self to the nature of reality, take a step back to reflect on causation. What does it mean to say one thing “causes” another? Your exploration takes you into the world of modal statements, truthmakers, possible worlds, propositions, and universals.

29 min
God—Definition and Paradox

14: God—Definition and Paradox

Professor Johnson begins his inquiry into the nature of God with definitions: God as an omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent being. Consider how this definition may generate paradoxes, including conflicts between perfect power and goodness, perfect knowledge and free will, and the impossibility of being perfectly just and perfectly merciful.

29 min
God—The Argument from Existence

15: God—The Argument from Existence

The first of three primary arguments in favor of God’s existence is a purely conceptual, deductive argument. The medieval Benedictine monk Anselm argued that, logically, God must exist in order to fulfill our conception of a perfect being. This argument and its objections have raised numerous questions about the nature of existence and the limits of reason.

27 min
God—The Argument from Cause

16: God—The Argument from Cause

The second argument views God as the original uncaused cause at the beginning of the universe. Here you’ll see that this argument, too, has its flaws that range from the indeterminate—uncaused—nature of the quantum world to the much simpler argument that the universe is simply unexplained.

27 min
God—The Argument from Design

17: God—The Argument from Design

The final argument for God’s existence views God as a cosmic watchmaker who set the world into motion in such a way that life could emerge. Professor Johnson lays out this theory and explores some of its many challenges, including the idea that the universe is not all that fine-tuned and that there may be more than one way to build a universe.

28 min
From Spinning Buckets to Special Relativity

18: From Spinning Buckets to Special Relativity

Transition from the nature of God to the nature of reality. After investigating whether space and time are actual substances or merely relational, Professor Johnson delves into special relativity and explains the counterintuitive implications that the constant speed of light has for speed, motion, length, and time.

29 min
From General Relativity to Space-Time

19: From General Relativity to Space-Time

Professor Johnson continues his analysis of relativity, this time taking gravity and acceleration into account. See what astrophysicists mean by the curvature of space-time and what it implies about gravity and the very fabric of the universe. Finally, reflect on what space-time implies for human free will.

29 min
Black Holes, Wormholes, and Time Travel

20: Black Holes, Wormholes, and Time Travel

Revisit the intersection between science and metaphysics. General relativity suggests the universe is a giant block of space-time, so does that mean time travel is possible? Examine the feasibility of traveling to the past or the future, and consider the paradoxes that might result.

29 min
Quantum Mechanics and Wave—Particle Duality

21: Quantum Mechanics and Wave—Particle Duality

Enter the wild world of quantum mechanics. After an overview about probability, your study of atomic theory begins with the randomness of radioactive decay, which is undetermined and uncaused. Then shift your attention to the dual nature of light as both a wave and a series of particles.

30 min
Quantum Mechanics, Spin, and Spooky Action

22: Quantum Mechanics, Spin, and Spooky Action

Continue your study of the quantum world with a look at Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle, which implies a particle’s properties—such as location, momentum, and spin—are indeterminate until someone measures them. This phenomenon has several strange, inexplicable implications—like Schrödinger’s cat.

31 min
Quantum Mechanics, God, and the Multiverse

23: Quantum Mechanics, God, and the Multiverse

Find out how scientists have attempted to answer the questions raised by quantum mechanics. One possibility is that there are multiple universes that exist simultaneously in a fifth dimension. You’ll discover that this theory goes a long way toward explaining reality without violating the laws of physics.

30 min
Do We Live in a Computer Simulation?

24: Do We Live in a Computer Simulation?

There are still many unknowns about the nature of reality. In this last lecture, you’ll be startled to find out just how likely it is that we live in some sort of computer-simulated world. Professor Johnson walks you through the argument and its implications before summing up what you’ve learned—and what questions still exist.

30 min