Templeton Foundation Asks the Big Questions

Rather, they pay others to ask them. The Templeton Foundation awarded $5 million to a philosopher at UC Riverside to set up a research project centering on the concept of mortality. John Martin Fischer will direct $1 million of that money to conferences on the topic, fund post doctoral research in the area, and maintain a website called The Immortality Project. Fischer plans to give the remaining $4 million to the social science, hard science and philosophy communities by means of a series of a competitions and prizes, according to an LA Times blog.

Fischer, a Cornell PhD, has published peer-reviewed material in journals such as Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, Philosophia, Philosophical Studies and The Journal of Ethics within the past two years. He currently serves as vice president of the Pacific division of the American Philosophical Association and will take over as president next year.

In an interview with The Washington Post, Fischer said the research will pose and answer questions for both the hard sciences and sociology. To the former: What can the human brain's hardware tell us about the likelihood and possibility of life after death? To the latter: How do people make sense of death and how does that understanding impact intellectual life?

This is not the first time the Templeton Foundation slapped a multi-million dollar steak on the table in front of a philosophy professor, tied a napkin around their neck, clapped them on the back and whispered an astonishing "have at."

Templeton gave $4.4 million to Florida State University's Alfred R. Mele to conduct an inquiry on the concept of free will in 2010. Mele called his outlet for the money “Free Will: Human and Divine — Empirical and Philosophical Explorations,” and administered it in a manner similar to what Fischer has outlined for himself.

According to a Templeton brochure, their "core funding" initiatives are devoted to fulfilling the wishes of the late Sir John Templeton, and "Science & the Big Questions" remain central to the foundation's endeavor. They support projects "that attempt to develop new philosophical and theological insights, especially (but not only) in relation to advances in scientific understanding," while making sure to “stand apart from any consideration of dogma.”

Wondering where the Templeton's philosophy and theology initiative will invest next? Play a Pink Floyd record for some stoned high school freshmen at a sleepover party and ask them.