Accelerating research on consciousness?

Back in December, psychologist and author Christian Jarrett got in touch to ask what I thought about the new project “Accelerating Research on Consciousness” organised by the Templeton World Charity Foundation. See this news story for more information about the project. Christian incorporated some of my comments into an article for BBC Focus magazine (which I recommend) but I thought I’d post my full reply here, in case anyone is interested. Here it is. I have mixed feelings about the project. I’m delighted to see more funding for experimental work on consciousness. The data collected will undoubtedly be useful. I […]

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Bright shiny colours

What are colours? My view is that they are properties of surfaces in the world around us — albeit complex gerrymanded ones, which can be picked out only by reference to our reactions to them. Blue things are things that evoke a certain distinctive cluster of reactive dispositions in us. Note that that I do not say that they are ones that produce blue sensations in us. I don’t think that experiencing blue involves entertaining a mental version of blueness — a blue quale or phenomenal property. Where then is the quality of blueness ? It’s not out there in […]

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Illusion or identity?

Illusionists believe that consciousness involves no properties that are not detectable and fully describable by third-person science. Any other properties we think are involved are illusory. Suppose that’s right. Still, why should it follow that phenomenal properties are illusory? Why not say that they are properties that are detectable and fully describable by third-person science? It’s true (the objection continues) that we think of phenomenal properties as ones that present a problem for science — that pose a hard problem — but it doesn’t follow that they really do present one. Maybe we are just wrong about them. Suppose that […]

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The trolley problem murder

Moriarty wants to kill Holmes but doesn’t want to run the risk of being convicted for murder. So he plans to get an innocent person to do the dirty work for him. Here’s what he does. First, he persuades Holmes (with whom he is ostensibly on good terms) and three of his Baker Street Irregulars to take part in a real-life philosophical experiment. He will tie the three Irregulars to a trolley track, near to a spur on which Holmes will be tied. He will wait till there are a number of bystanders near where the spur branches off, then […]

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The evil trolley problem

On Tuesday I posted a question on Twitter (prompted by a remark by @bowmanthebard). The question involved a version of the trolley problem, in which one has to choose between letting die and actively killing, but with the twist that the motive for choosing the active option is not to minimize loss of life (in this version it might actually increase it) but to preserve a life especially dear to one. As the question generated some interest, I thought I would set out the thought experiment in more detail here. Another Twitter user @gjfitzgerald described my question as evil, since […]

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Chart topper

In February 2016, my Philosophy Bites interview on the Hard Problem and the Illusion of Qualia reached #1 on the US Top Episodes Podcasts Charts, as reported in this tweet by Steve Wilson, Marketing Manger at Apple Podcasts.

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Something that it is like to be

‘[F]undamentally an organism has conscious mental states if and only if there is something that it is like to be that organism — something it is like for the organism.’ So writes Thomas Nagel in his famous 1974 paper ‘What is it like to be a bat?’ (p.436). It is a compelling thought and one that seems self-evidently true. (I remember coming up with the same idea when I was a teenager and thinking it a great insight, and I’m sure many others have had the same experience.) But is Nagel’s claim correct or might it be seductively wrong? It […]

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Is the hard problem an illusion?

Note: This is a revised version of a letter I sent to The Guardian, responding to a letter by Philip Goff, which itself commented on an article on consciousness by Oliver Burkeman. The letter was deemed too long for publication in the paper, so I am posting it here instead. It is written for a general audience. As a member of the Daniel Dennett camp on the Greenland consciousness cruise referred to in Oliver Burkeman’s article, I should like to respond to Philip Goff’s letter of 28 January 2015. Goff advocates a radical solution to the Hard Problem of explaining […]

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George Botterill

On 21 August 2014, Maria Kasmirli and I gave a joint paper at the ‘Knowing Minds’ conference in Sheffield, held to mark the retirement of George Botterill from the University of Sheffield after 26 years. It was a pleasure to take part, to see so many old friends again, and most of all to express our gratitude to George, under whom we had both studied during our time at Sheffield. Our paper, which was titled ‘Shall we go upstairs? The ethics of implicated consent’, discussed issues surrounding the giving of consent by indirect means. I have posted the slides from […]

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Red pill or blue? Qualia or qualia representations?

Assume for the sake of argument that (1) qualia are real and nonphysical, (2) the physical world is closed under causation (and there’s no overdetermination), and (3) apart from qualia, the mind is physical. Now, you have experiences with qualia. But this isn’t all. You are also aware of having qualia. You can attend to your them, think about them, recall them, and respond to them. And since (given our assumptions) the qualia themselves don’t have any causal effects on you, this suggests that you have representations of your qualia. You represent your experiences as having qualia, and these representations […]

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