Comment on Papineau vs Dennett

In 2017, the TLS published a debate about consciousness between David Papineau and Daniel Dennett, focusing on issues raised in Papineau’s review of Dennett’s 2017 book, From Bacteria to Bach and Back. (The debate is behind a paywall, but with limited free access.) Tim Crane, who edited the debate, suggested that I might like to add my thoughts on the exchange in the comments section, which I did. This has seems to have been removed from the TLS site, so I have reproduced it here. I thought this was a useful exchange, but the conciliatory tone on which it ends […]

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‘Illusionism as a theory of consciousness’ translated into Spanish by David Vanegas

David A. Vanegas-Moreno has made a Spanish translation of my 2016 article ‘Illusionism as a theory of consciousness’ , which he has kindly allowed me to share here. David is a psychologist and cognitive scientist from the Universidad de Antioquia, Colombia. His work has focused on the evolution of language and its role in human cognition. At the moment he is working on the “representation wars” in 4E cognitive science, and on the explanatory and integrative approach to cognitive science proposed by the new mechanical philosophy. He posts on Twitter as @evolanguagemind. I am very grateful to David for his […]

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The dynamical combination problem

Panpsychism is the idea that basic physical entities are essentially micro-consciousnesses and that our macro-consciousnesses result from combining the phenomenal natures of the physical entities that constitute us. The view faces the combination problem: how do simple, discrete micro-consciousnesses combine to produce complex, unified macro-consciousnesses? This problem has been much discussed, but there’s an aspect of it that has, I think, been relatively neglected. Here it is. It looks like a sensible methodological assumption that if two entities are qualitatively identical from a physical point of view, then they are phenomenally identical too. If panpsychists don’t make this assumption, then […]

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Essential-state materialism and multiple realizability

Suppose that phenomenal properties, such as the intrinsic feel of pain, are not physical properties in the standard sense. It’s a fair bet that science will be able to identify physical causes for all the effects of experience. So how can phenomenal properties have any effect on us? How does the feel of our experiences make a difference to us? Panpsychists have a neat answer to this. They say that the phenomenal properties of experience are the intrinsic natures of the physical states that play the functional roles of the relevant experiences, including causing their characteristic effects. So (to use […]

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Introducing mephistos

Ich bin der Geist, der stets verneint! — J. W. Goethe, Faust I, 1338 Zombies are not conscious but believe they are. They are as tempted as we are to believe that their experiences possess nonphysical qualitative properties, but they are wrong. I want to introduce another class of creatures, who are conscious but don’t believe they are. They are consciousness deniers. As a nod to the denying spirit depicted by Goethe, I’ll call them mephistos. Let me tell you a little about them. Mephistos are conscious in just the way we are. Their brains are like ours and they […]

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The last word about Mary

What happens when Mary leaves her black-and-white room and has a red colour experience for the first time? Here’s the answer, in outline. (I’ll assume for the sake of argument that Mary has developed the neural circuitry required for colour vision.) Mary’s visual system begins tracking something red, generating a huge set of active, interconnected first-order informational states, which in turn generate a vast range of reactions and reactive dispositions. Call complex of first-order informational and reactive states R1. Mary’s introspective system begins tracking the states in R1, generating a huge set of active, interconnected second-order informational states, which in […]

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Illusionism and compassion

I often get emails from people who have questions about illusionism. Most of them focus on the theory itself, but recently I received one that raised concerns about its emotional and ethical implications. The writer was persuaded that that illusionsm was true, but found it a deeply disturbing view, which, they felt, undermined the bases for empathy and compassion. Why should we care about other people and creatures if what’s happening in them is just a bunch of physical processes with no subjective component? Why should we even care about ourselves, if our subjective experience is an illusion? How, they […]

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What is consciousness for?

In 2015 I was invited to write a short piece on consciousness for the magazine Aeon. The text now appears to be unavailable on Aeon, so I am reposting it here. From the moment we wake we are bombarded with stimuli. Electromagnetic radiation floods our eyes, pressure waves hit our ears, surfaces press against our skins, molecules adhere to the membranes of our noses and tongues. Our sense organs react, sending nerve impulses to our brains, where they trigger waves of neural activity, which may culminate in motor commands to our muscles (shielding our eyes from the light, for example). […]

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Nothing but

Many people find physicalism an inhumane, philistine view. I wish I could dispel that idea. What underlies it, I suspect, is the ‘nothing but’ thought: If we are nothing but matter, then where is our specialness, our value, our subjectivity? But why does it matter what we are made of? Suppose we were immaterial souls instead of physical beings. Would that make us special? Why? Couldn’t we still worry that we were nothing but soul stuff? So where does our specialness come from? Perhaps our physical bodies are infused with a nonphysical essence that confers subjectivity and value? But that […]

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How to annihilate everything

Does reality get on your nerves? Do you sometimes wish there was nothing at all? Then this is the post for you! Read on, and I’ll show you how to prune your ontology down to nothing. It’s easy and won’t harm anyone or anything. Ready? Let’s start by clearing out the attic. We’ll throw out abstract objects and universals, together with mathematical objects and structures. We’ll get rid of possible worlds too — the actual one is more than enough! And we can manage without God, can’t we? In fact, let’s get rid of everything supernatural while we’re at it. […]

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