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 depends, I think, on how we interpret it. Here are two things it might mean.

The first is that having conscious experiences involves having a certain kind of introspective self-awareness — an awareness of one’s own mental responses to the world. For you to be conscious is for you to know what you are like as you respond to the world, as well as what the world is like as it affects you. I’ll call this introspective subjectivity. Introspective subjectivity, we might say, stresses the ‘like’ part of ‘what it is like to be’.

The second thing Nagel might mean is that to have conscious experiences is to have a form of immediate inner awareness that exists simply in virtue of being the thing one is and that is not dependent upon introspective mechanisms. I’ll call this intrinsic subjectivity. We might say that this stresses the ‘be’ part of ‘what it is like to be’.

These two kinds of subjectivity are very different. Introspective subjectivity is not essentially private. With the right apparatus, another person might monitor the same internal states my introspective mechanisms do and so share my introspective awareness. But intrinsic subjectivity cannot be shared. The only way someone could share what it’s like to be me in the intrinsic sense is to be me, or perhaps a duplicate of me.

Now there doesn’t seem to be any special difficulty in understanding how a creature could possess introspective subjectivity. it would just need to have suitable introspective mechanisms targeting its own internal responses and hooked up in the right way to the rest of its cognitive system. But intrinsic subjectivity looks like a complete mystery. How does this inner awareness arise? What exactly is the subject of it? Which things have it? What does it do? How can we even investigate it? These look like, well, hard problems.

In the literature on consciousness these two kinds of subjectivity aren’t always clearly distinguished. Some theories — most obviously panpsychist ones — are plainly theories of intrinsic subjectivity. If there is something it is like to be a rock, it’s not because the rock is capable of introspection. But other theories look like theories of introspective subjectivity. Higher-order representational theories, for example, attempt to explain consciousness in terms of the internal monitoring of experience. Yet these theories are often discussed as if they were alternative accounts of the same thing.

Nagel’s claim has become the standard starting point for theories of consciousness, but it doesn’t identify a unique explanandum and it has sent researchers off down very different paths. In my view, it is immensely plausible to think that conscious experience involves introspective subjectivity, and developing theories of introspective subjectivity should be a major research programme for cognitive science. But the pursuit of theories of intrinsic subjectivity is, I fear, misguided and futile.

Image credit

Is the hard problem an illusion?

An oddly shaped iceberg

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 how consciousness fits into the natural world. Consciousness, he argues, is not a physical process, but an intrinsic feature of all physical reality. Consciousness is not fundamentally material; rather, matter is fundamentally conscious. A consequence of this view is that everything is conscious to some degree: trees, stones, atoms, quarks — all have a little bit of consciousness. This panpsychist position offers a neat solution to the problem, and Goff argues for it with intelligence and elegance, but I find it hard to take it seriously.

I do agree with Goff on one important point: Consciousness, as we ordinarily conceive of it, cannot be explained by the physical sciences. The Hard Problem, as posed by David Chalmers, can’t be solved by cognitive science. Goff draws the moral that consciousness is not physical in the ordinary sense. I draw the moral that we are conceiving of consciousness wrongly. We are mistaken about what consciousness is.

Our conception of consciousness is derived from introspection — from mentally ‘looking inwards’ at our experiences. When we do this, our experiences seem to have a private ‘phenomenal quality’ to them (think of the sensation of seeing a vibrant green leaf, or smelling coffee grounds, or running one’s fingers over a silk scarf). These phenomenal qualities (or ‘qualia’) seem almost magical and utterly different from the mundane physical properties of our brains.

But maybe that’s an illusion. Maybe when we introspect, what we are aware of are certain patterns of brain activity that seem magical and nonphysical but aren’t really. Moreover, as another cruise participant, Nicholas Humphrey, argued, maybe these brain processes were shaped by evolution precisely to seem magical to introspection. In his 2011 book Soul Dust Humphrey argued that evolution adapted pre-existing neural systems to create an inner ‘magic show’ which carries immense adaptive benefits — enriching our lives and our experience of the world, enhancing our sense of self, and deepening our engagement with each other. In short, maybe evolution has hardwired us to think that we have a magical inner life, and the problem of consciousness is a benign trick that nature has played on us.

Most people, I find, think this suggestion is just as crazy as panpsychism. If there’s one thing we are absolutely certain of (the argument goes) it’s our experience. We may doubt that there is a green patch in front of us, but we can’t doubt that we are having an experience with a green phenomenal quality. This takes us back to the origins of the Hard Problem in Descartes’ sceptical thought experiment mentioned in Oliver Burkeman’s article. There’s something right about this. If we suspect that our senses are misleading us about the external world, then we retreat to more cautious and secure claims about how things seem to us. But (I would argue) such claims should not be construed as infallible reports of the nature of our experiences. Being cautious about the external world doesn’t make us infallible about the interior one. We may be sure that we’re introspecting something, but can we rule out the possibility that we’re mistaken about its nature, just as we may be about the nature of external things? After all, to the spectator a good illusion of something is indistinguishable from the thing itself.

Of course, it’s not so simple to solve the problem of consciousness. For one thing, we need to explain what it means to say that experiences seem to have phenomenal qualities. (It better not mean that they generate further experiences which really do have phenomenal qualities. Otherwise we’d merely have moved the Hard Problem back a step.) But thinking of consciousness as involving an illusion changes the questions we have to answer, and does so, I believe, in a productive way.

On the cruise I proposed the name ‘illusionism’ for the sort of position I have been describing, and the term ‘the Illusion Problem’ for the problem of explaining how the consciousness illusion is created. (I wasn’t claiming to have originated the position or the problem; Daniel Dennett has advocated illusionism for decades, and Nicholas Humphrey has done pioneering work on the Illusion Problem.) For me, the attraction of illusionism is that it allows us to give full weight to the intuitions that motivate views like Goff’s — consciousness really does seem weird — without requiring us to endorse a weird metaphysics. Maybe it’s time to stop banging our heads against an illusory Hard Problem and start trying to solve the hard-ish but solvable Illusion Problem?

The talks from the consciousness cruise, including Jesse Prinz’s introduction to my paper on illusionism, my reply, and the following discussion, were videoed by the Moscow Center for Consciousness Studies and can be viewed on the centre’s Youtube channel. Here is the full playlist.

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 our talk on the presentations page.

Red pill or blue? Qualia or qualia representations?

Hand holding red and blue pills

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 do the causal work. Your awareness of your qualia and your responses to them are mediated by qualia representations. (I assume these are fine-grained analogue representations of some kind. You can detect and respond to changes in your qualia that you can’t conceptualize.) The representations aren’t actually caused by the qualia, of course, any more than the other effects are. They are physical states of your brain and are caused by prior brain events, but things are somehow set up so that they track your qualia perfectly.

Now consider your zombie twin – an exact duplicate of you minus the qualia. Since it is a physical copy of you, this creature will have the same qualia representations you do, and these representations will have the same effects on it as yours do on you. Call this creature a Q-zombie.

Next consider another type of zombie. This one is a physical and phenomenal duplicate of you, except for the qualia representations. It has the same qualia you do, but no representations of them; the brain circuits involved have been fried. Call this creature an R-zombie (for Representational zombie).

The Q-zombie will take itself to have qualia just like yours, and it will display the same qualia-related sensitivities, thoughts, and responses you do. It will have the same reactions to pain and pleasure, the same sensitivity to colours, sounds, and smells, and the same beliefs about the character of its conscious experiences, even though it has no qualia at all.

The R-zombie, on the other hand, will behave – well, like a zombie. The absence of qualia representations will have drastic consequences for its mental life and behaviour. It will not attend to its qualia, or think about them, or respond to them. It will exhibit various ‘blindsighted’ behaviours, reacting unconsciously to external stimuli, but it will show no sign of having conscious experiences and no awareness of pain, pleasure, colour, smell, or any other phenomenal property — even though it does in fact have exactly the same qualia you do.

Now here’s the punchline. Something really unpleasant is going to happen to you – something that will cause a lot of pain (and pain representations). There is an anaesthetic on offer, however. In fact, there are two drugs available: blue pills and red pills. A blue pill will turn you temporarily into a Q-zombie and a red pill will turn you temporarily into an R-zombie.

Which pill would you take? And would you have any trouble deciding?

Image credit: Red Pill or Blue Pill? by Tomaž Štolfa

Dyspeptic definitions

As my followers on Twitter will know, I occasionally make up humorous definitions, especially of terms relating to philosophy and academia, and I’ve gathered them here in the hope they may provide some amusement for readers.

Academia and philosophy

academia (n.) Occupational therapy for people with people with OCD (q.v.).

argumentation (n.) The process of finding and presenting reasons for things one wants to believe.

blind (as in ‘blind refereeing’) (adj.) Identified through Google.

colleague (n.) A rival. See also peer.

conclusion (n.) The starting point for a process of argumentation (q.v.).

CV (n.) A list of things the list-maker has done primarily in order to be able to include them on the list.

enthymeme (n.) A harmless omission in one’s own reasoning. Contrast fallacy.

external examiner (n.) A friend who has lunch with you at work once a year.

fallacy (n.) A fatal flaw in an opponent’s reasoning. Contrast enthymeme.

impact (n.) (of a piece of research) Impressiveness to people who don’t understand it.

journal (n.) A business providing vanity publishing for academics.

monograph (n.) A book purchased only by libraries.

OCD (n.) (Obsessive-compulsive disorder) An obsession with detail and the repetitive performance of meaningless tasks. See also academia.

output (n.) The end product of scholarly digestion.

peer (n.) A rival.

peer review (n.) A lottery in which randomly chosen academics approve or reject the work of their peers (q.v.) without reading it.

PhD (n.) A certificate issued to persons with OCD (q.v.) confirming that they are unfit for work.

philosopher (n.) An expert in everything and nothing.

philosophical method (n.) Intuition, rhetoric, and special pleading masquerading as analysis, clarity, and rational argument.

philosophy (n.) The science of misguided questions.

proposal (n.) Reckless speculation about one could achieve if one had more time, money, and willpower.

reasoning (n.) The process of convincing oneself that one is right.

research (n.) Scholarly work done in order to maintain access to funding for research (q.v.).

review (n.) A short self-promotional piece in the form of an assessment of someone else’s work.

synergy (n.) A miraculous collective epiphany frequently anticipated in a proposal (q.v.).

university (n.) A place where young adults go to avoid learning something.

The real world

evolution (n.) The takeover of the world by mutants.

expat (n.) An immigrant who hates immigrants.

freedom (n.) The absence of all restraints except those necessary for the protection of freedom (q.v.).

hypocrisy (n.) A moral double standard adopted by other people.

pension (n.) The means to enjoy life, usually obtained only when the ability to enjoy life is rapidly waning.

politician (n.) One who promotes the interests of a small group while feigning to promote those of a large group.

public relations (n.) The art of preventing the truth from getting out.

republican (n.) (UK) a right-thinking person; (US) a wrong-thinking person.

SATs ( Tests given to children to ensure that their teachers have learned their lessons.

school (n.) A place where children are kept until they are old enough to learn something.

success (n.) The deferral of failure.

teacher (n.) (1) A person who inspires children with a love of learning and life. (2) A person employed in a school (q.v.).

therapist (n.) A person who addresses their own psychological problems by talking to other people about theirs.

Dyspeptic neologisms

The Moral Dunning–Kruger effect A cognitive bias in which nasty people overestimate their own virtue.

The Meta Dunning–Kruger effect The assumption that, since one has heard of the Dunning–Kruger effect, one does not exhibit it.

dumbing up (n.) The process of replacing crude but sane views with ones that are sophisticated but crazy.

give a tweet (v.) To care enough to write up to 280 characters in reply.

schadenfreudianism (n.) A form of psychotherapy which involves listing the personal and professional failures of the patient’s school friends.

terrination (n.) A sense of creeping dread experienced in a seemingly tranquil domestic setting.

The Cambridge Handbook of Artificial Intelligence

Cambridge Handbook of AI back cover
Cambridge Handbook of AI front cover

edited by Keith Frankish and William M. Ramsey

Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Format: Hardback, paperback
ISBN: HB 978-0521871426  PB 978-0521691918
Publication date: July 2014
Publishers’ book webpage
View on


Artificial intelligence, or AI, is a cross-disciplinary approach to understanding, modeling, and creating intelligence of various forms. It is a critical branch of cognitive science, and its influence is increasingly being felt in other areas, including the humanities. AI applications are transforming the way we interact with each other and with our environment, and work in artificially modeling intelligence is offering new insights into the human mind and revealing new forms mentality can take.

This volume of original essays presents the state of the art in AI, surveying the foundations of the discipline, major theories of mental architecture, the principal areas of research, and extensions of AI such as artificial life. With a focus on theory rather than technical and applied issues, the volume will be valuable not only to people working in AI, but also to those in other disciplines wanting an authoritative and up-to-date introduction to the field.

Each chapter is a specially commissioned survey article from a leading writer in the area — either a philosopher of artificial intelligence or a scientist with strong theoretical interests. There is coverage of the foundations of the discipline, the various facets of artificial intelligence, cognitive architectures, philosophical implications and related programmes. The approach is thematic rather than historical, and the chapters are primarily survey pieces, though critical assessment is also included, where appropriate.

The volume will be suitable for upper-level undergraduates, graduate students, and scholars, with a particular emphasis on the second group. No extensive background knowledge is assumed, either in philosophy or in the primary subject areas themselves.

A companion Handbook of Cognitive Science (2012) has been prepared by the same editors, and the two volumes have been conceived as a pair.


• Accessible and student-friendly, focusing on key topics and avoiding technical jargon
• Includes supporting material, such as annotated chapter-specific further reading sections and an extensive glossary
• Provides concise, authoritative, and up-to-date coverage of a rapidly developing and expanding field


List of tables and figures
Notes on contributors
Introduction, Keith Frankish and William M. Ramsey
Part I: Foundations
1. History, motivations, and core themes, Stan Franklin
2. Philosophical foundations, Konstantine Arkoudas and Selmer Bringsjord
3. Philosophical challenges, William S. Robinson
Part II: Architectures
4. GOFAI, Margaret A. Boden
5. Connectionism and neural networks, Ron Sun
6. Dynamical systems and embedded cognition, Randall D. Beer
Part III: Dimensions
7. Learning, David Danks
8. Perception and computer vision, Markus Vincze, Sven Wachsmuth, and Gerhard Sagerer
9. Reasoning and decision making, Eyal Amir
10. Language and communication, Yorick Wilks
11. Actions and agents, Eduardo Alonso
12. Artificial emotions and machine consciousness, Matthias Scheutz
Part IV: Extensions
13. Robotics, Phil Husbands
14. Artificial life, Mark A. Bedau
15. The ethics of artificial intelligence, Nick Bostrom and Eliezer Yudkowsky


The publishers have made available some online extracts from the book, including the Introduction, Chapter 1, and the index.

The Cambridge Handbook of Cognitive Science

Handbook of Cognitive Science back cover
Handbook of Cognitive Science front cover

edited by Keith Frankish and William M. Ramsey

Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Format: Hardback, paperback
ISBN: HB 978-0521-87141-9 PB 978-0521-69190-1
Publication date: July 2012
Publishers’ book webpage
View on


Cognitive science is a cross-disciplinary enterprise devoted to understanding the nature of the mind. In recent years, investigators in philosophy, psychology, the neurosciences, artificial intelligence, and a host of other disciplines have come to appreciate how much they can learn from one another about the various dimensions of cognition. The result has been the emergence of one of the most exciting and fruitful areas of inter-disciplinary research in the history of science.

This volume of original essays surveys foundational, theoretical, and philosophical issues across the discipline, and introduces the foundations of cognitive science, the principal areas of research, and the major research programs. With a focus on broad philosophical themes rather than detailed technical issues, the volume will be valuable not only to cognitive scientists and philosophers of cognitive science, but also to those in other disciplines looking for an authoritative and up-to-date introduction to the field.

Each chapter is a specially commissioned survey article from a leading writer in the area – either a philosopher of cognitive science or a scientist with strong theoretical interests. The approach is thematic rather than historical, and the chapters are primarily survey pieces, though critical assessment is also included, where appropriate. The volume will be suitable for upper-level undergraduates, graduate students, and scholars, with a particular emphasis on the second group. No extensive background knowledge is assumed, either in philosophy or the primary subject areas themselves.

A companion Handbook of Artificial Intelligence has been prepared by the same editors, and the two volumes have been conceived as a pair.


• Technical jargon is avoided as far as possible and no significant background knowledge of the field is assumed
• Includes supporting material, such as annotated chapter-specific further reading sections and an extensive glossary
• Concise, authoritative and up-to-date coverage of a rapidly developing and expanding field

Table of contents

List of tables and figures
Notes on Contributors
Introduction, Keith Frankish and William M. Ramsey
Part I: Foundations
1. History and core themes , Adele Abrahamsen and William Bechtel
2. The representational theory of mind, Barbara Von Eckardt
3. Cognitive architectures, Paul Thagard
Part II: Aspects of cognition
4. Perception, Casey O’Callaghan
5. Action, Elisabeth Pacherie
6. Human learning and memory, Charan Ranganath, Laura A. Libby, and Ling Wong
7. Reasoning and decision making, Mike Oaksford, Nick Chater, and Neil Stewart
8. Concepts, Gregory L. Murphy and Aaron B. Hoffman
9. Language, Ray Jackendoff
10. Emotion, Jesse Prinz
11. Consciousness, William G. Lycan
Part III: Research programs
12. Cognitive neuroscience, Dominic Standage and Thomas Trappenberg
13. Evolutionary psychology, H. Clark Barrett
14. Embodied, embedded, and extended cognition, Andy Clark
15. Animal cognition, Sara J. Shettleworth


Extracts from the book, including the introduction and Chapter 1, can be read on the publisher’s webpage for the book. You can also download the introduction to the book.

Academic reviews

“a broad and authoritative collection of original essays in the field, collated in one volume, in a highly accessible format, for wider consumption than just those interested in the core subject, augmented further by a glossary of terms and recommendations for further reading in the various aspects of this wide-ranging field. … [D]ense enough to satisfy the more experienced cognitive scientist, but open enough to the student who has some but not a deep or wide background in the cognitive sciences.
Roy Sugarman, Director of Applied Neuroscience, Athletes Performance, Arizona. In Metapsychology, Vol. 17 (2013), Iss. 46. Read the full review.

“[W]e think that volumes like The Cambridge Handbook of Cognitive Science are critically important: they provide a venue for relatively unconstrained data-driven theorizing, and they provide a resource to get young philosophers excited about working within the cognitive sciences. They also provide a high-level text for those who teach at the interface between theoretical and empirical cognitive science.
Eric Mandelbaum, Harvard University, and Bryce Huebner, Georgetown University. Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews 2013.02.22. Read the full review.

“Frankish and Ramsey have brought us a collection of solid contributions covering a range of topics central to contemporary cognitive science from world leading experts. The handbook will be useful for teaching purposes, especially providing first readings on topics, or for researchers seeking to diversify their knowledge and needing clear and broad introductions to unfamiliar areas. … All in all Frankish and Ramsey have collected a strong set of essays which will successfully serve the purposes of a handbook. Impressively the standard is even and high for all contributions and so the usefulness of each chapter will be limited only by particular researcher or teacher preferences and not by failings of particular contributors.”
Glen Carruthers, Macquarie University. Philosophy in Review Vol. 34 (2014), Nos. 1-2. Read the full review.

“Compiling a handbook for a well-established and tightly delineated discipline must be difficult enough. But, Frankish and Ramsey have gone well beyond this in compiling a handbook that aims to guide readers into an emerging, and quite frankly messy, world of interdisciplinary exploration. For this, their efforts should be commended. … the book, as a whole, comes highly recommended. Many of the papers will serve as ideal introductions to their given domains and, taken collectively, readers will be given a broad grounding in this fascinating area of study.”
Sam Clarke, The University of Warwick. Philosophical Psychology, Published online: 19 Jun 2014. Read the full review.

New Waves in Philosophy of Action

New Waves in Philosophy of Action back cover
New Waves in Philosophy of Action front cover

edited by Jesús Aguilar, Andrei Buckareff, and Keith Frankish

Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan
Series: New Waves in Philosophy
Format: Hardback, paperback, 288 pages.
Publication date: 29 Oct 2010
Publishers’ book webpage
View on Amazon


This volume contains a set of state-of-the-art essays by young philosophers on various topics in the philosophy of action. Some of the essays are about the metaphysics of action and agency; some consider the nature of autonomy and free agency; some explore conceptual and normative issues, and some draw on data from psychology and psycho-pathology. But what all of them have in common is that they address some problem related to our existence as human agents. The range of topics covered in this collection is broad. This is intentional. Rather than focusing on one narrow topic, this volume brings together papers that, taken together, introduce readers to some key debates in contemporary philosophy of action. Readers new to the field should come away from the volume with a good sense of current thinking about human action and agency. For their part, established researchers in the field will find the essays to be original contributions that substantially advance many debates about action and agency.


Series Editors’ Preface
Notes on Contributors
Agency, Ownership, and the Standard Theory; M.E.Schlosser
Failing to do the Impossible; C.Sartorio
Experimental Philosophy of Action; T.Nadelhoffer
Identification, Psychology, and Habits; B.Pollard
Mass Perverse Identification: An Argument for a Modest Concept of Autonomy; Y.Shemmer
Cartesian Reflections on the Autonomy of the Mental; M.Soteriou
The Revisionist Turn: A Brief History of Recent Work on Free Will; M.Vargas
Luck and Free Will; N.Levy
Experimental Philosophy on Free Will: An Error Theory for Incompatibilist Intuitions; E.Nahmias& D.Murray
Agentive Experiences as Pushmi-Pullyu Representations; T.Bayne
Double Bookkeeping in Delusions: Explaining the Gap Between Saying and Doing; L.Bortolotti
The Limits of Rationality in Collective Action Explanations; S.R.Chant


The publishers have made available a sample chapter from the book.

Praise for New Waves in Philosophy of Action

“New Waves in Philosophy of Action is an excellent collection of the most recent and innovative work in the field of philosophy of action, which includes the topics of free will and moral responsibility. The editors have brought together several rising stars , and they have taken care to cover the most intriguing controversies currently unfolding. This would make a wonderful book for a graduate class. It will certainly become required reading for scholars working in this field.”
Michael McKenna, University of Arizona

“This is an excellent collection of papers on action theory. I especially like the fact that the essays are by young philosophers whose ideas will shape discussion for years to come.”
Storrs McCall, McGill University

“This volume is impressive and refreshing testimony to the liveliness of a new generation of philosophers of action – both in advancing well established debates and in helpfully extending the boundaries of the subject.”
John Bishop

In Two Minds: Dual Processes and Beyond

In Two Minds back cover
In Two Minds front cover

edited by Jonathan Evans and Keith Frankish

Publisher: Oxford University Press
Series: Oxford Cognitive Science
Format: Paperback, 384 pages, 22 line figures, 234x156mm
ISBN: 978-0-19-923016-7
Publication date: 29 January 2009
View on Amazon


This book explores the idea that we have two minds. In recent years there has been great interest in so-called dual-process theories of reasoning and rationality. According to dual-process theories, there are two distinct systems underlying human reasoning — an evolutionarily old system that is associative, automatic, unconscious, parallel, and fast, and a more recent, distinctively human system that is rule-based, controlled, conscious, serial, and slow. Within the former, processes are held to be innate and to use heuristics that evolved to solve specific adaptive problems. In the latter, processes are taken to be learned, flexible, and responsive to rational norms.

Despite the attention these theories are attracting, there is still poor communication between dual-process theorists themselves, and the substantial bodies of work on dual processes in cognitive psychology and social psychology remain isolated from each other. This book brings together leading researchers on dual processes to summarize the state of the art, highlight key issues, present different perspectives, explore implications, and provide a stimulus to further work.

The volume includes new ideas about the human mind both by contemporary philosophers interested in broad theoretical questions about mental architecture and by psychologists specializing in traditionally distinct and isolated fields. For all those in the cognitive sciences, this is a book that will advance dual-process theorizing, promote interdisciplinary communication, and encourage further applications of dual-process approaches.


1: Keith Frankish & Jonathan St B T Evans: The duality of mind: a historical perspective
Part I – Foundations
2: Jonathan St B T Evans: How many dual process theories do we need: one, two or many?
3: Keith E Stanovich: Distinguishing the reflective, algorithmic, and autonomous minds: is it time for a tri-process theory?
4: Keith Frankish: Systems and levels: dual-system theories and the personal-subpersonal distinction
5: Peter Carruthers: An architecture for dual reasoning
6: Richard Samuels: The magical number two, plus or minus: dual process theory as a theory of cognitive kinds
Part II – Perspectives
7: Hugo Mercier & Dan Sperber: Intuitive and reflective inferences
8: Valerie Thompson: Dual-process theories: a metacognitve perspective
9: Eliot R Smith & Elizabeth C Collins: Dual-process models: a social psychological model
10: Emma E Buchtel & Ara Norenzayan: Thinking across cultures: implications for dual processes
11: Ron Sun, Sean M Lane & Robert C Mathews: The two systems of learning: an architectural perspective
Part III – Applications
12: Paul A Klaczynski: Cognitive and social cognitive development: dual-process research and theory
13: Matthew D Lieberman: What zombies can’t do: a social cognitive neuroscience approach to the irreducibility of reflective consciousness
14: Clare Saunders & David Over: In two minds about rationality?
15: Leland F Saunders: Reason and intuition in the moral life: a dual-process account of moral justification


The first chapter of the book, ‘The duality of mind: An historical perspective’, is freely available online in pdf format.

For those with access to Oxford Scholarship Online, the full text of the book is available

Praise for In Two Minds

“The chapters in this remarkable collection define the state of the art in one of the most active areas of investigation in current psychology. Bravo!”
Daniel Kahneman, Eugene Higgins Professor of Psychology, Emeritus, Princeton University and recipient of the 2002 Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences

“There’s no two ways about it: this book is the state-of-the-art treatment of the idea that human minds display two radically different forms of cognitive activity. Required reading for anyone with foundational interests in the nature and architecture of the human mind.”
Andy Clark, Professor of Logic and Metaphysics, University of Edinburgh

“A wonderful, thorough, and timely volume with a superb group of contributors. As someone who first broached the possibility of the “dual-process”  approach some forty years ago, seeing how the field has developed is heart-warming. Often volumes such as this have “State of the art” as a subtitle. This one doesn’t. It should.”
Arthur S. Reber, Visiting Professor, University of British Columbia

“For more than a decade, dual-processing theories have been attracting an enormous amount of attention in both cognitive science and philosophy.  If you want to know what all the fuss is about, this volume is the perfect place to start.  It offers an informed historical perspective, an up-to-the minute overview of current theorizing, and a feast of fascinating findings. If you already know what all the fuss is about, the cutting-edge work assembled here is essential reading.”
Stephen Stich, Board of Governors Professor of Philosophy and Cognitive Science, Rutgers University


“Inarguably, this edited collection by Evans and Frankish is the definitive statement of the status quo in this area of work. While the volume does not contain articles by every single major contributor to the approach … it does include articles by most of those who have run or been instrumental in developing the tradition. As such, it is the best place to begin for anyone who would wish to understand what the fuss is about. Indeed, work not directly represented within the volume is repeatedly referred to, allowing the reader to grasp its basic outline and import. … [The book] is the perfect source for coming to grips with the scope and content of this popular and influential program as well as, ultimately, with its internal difficulties. It should be read carefully by anyone who would use the System 1 / System 2 distinction in their own work.”
Konrad Talmont-Kaminski, Marie Curie-Sklodowska University. In Philosophy in Review Vol.30 (2010) No.5. Read the full review.

Mind and Supermind

Mind and Supermind back cover
Mind and Supermind front cover

by Keith Frankish

Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Series: Cambridge Studies in Philosophy
Format: Hardback, paperback, Adobe eBook Reader, 270 pages, 2 b/w illus, 2 tables
ISBN: HB 9780521812030, PB 9780521038119
Publication date: HB 16 September 2004, PB July 2007
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Mind and Supermind offers a new perspective on the nature of belief and the structure of the human mind. Keith Frankish argues that the folk-psychological term ‘belief’ refers to two distinct types of mental state, which have different properties and support different kinds of mental explanation. Building on this claim, he develops a picture of the human mind as a two-level structure, consisting of a basic mind and a supermind, and shows how the resulting account sheds light on a number of puzzling phenomena and helps to vindicate folk psychology. Topics discussed include the function of conscious thought, the cognitive role of natural language, the relation between partial and flat-out belief, the possibility of active belief formation, and the nature of akrasia, self-deception, and first-person authority. This book will be valuable for philosophers, psychologists, and cognitive scientists.

Click this link for a more detailed overview of the book.


List of figures
1. Introduction
2. Divisions in folk psychology
3. Challenges and precedents
4. The premising machine
5. Superbelief and the supermind
6. Propositional modularity
7. Conceptual modularity
8. Further applications
Author index
Subject index.


Praise for Mind and Supermind

Mind and Supermind is a fine book. I’ve read only parts so far, but I am in general delighted to see what you have done with the two strands. Your figure 1 is a very compelling synopsis. I hope your book is widely read, cited, and understood!”
Daniel C. Dennett, Austin B. Fletcher Professor of Philosophy, University Professor, and Co-Director of the Center for Cognitive Studies, Tufts University

“This is an important contribution to our understanding of mind and of the nature of belief. Frankish explores, with care and imagination, the subtle ways in which science and our ‘folk’ image converge and diverge. Folk psychology, according to Frankish, has two distinct theoretical cores. Failure to make this distinction leads to confusion and cross talk. In this well-paced and readable treatment, Frankish offers a clear, constructive and original angle on some of the most persistent and perplexing problems in the field. Recommended reading for anyone interested in the philosophy and science of mind and belief.”
Andy Clark, Professor of Philosophy and Director of the Cognitive Science program, Indiana University

“Frankish’s book is an outstanding original contribution to the philosophy of mind. It is written with immense clarity and rigor, and digs deep. It is easily the most sophisticated and plausible defense of a two-level account of the human mind in the literature. Anyone with a serious interest in philosophy of mind should read it.”
Peter Carruthers, Professor and Chair, Department of Philosophy, University of Maryland

Mind and Supermind is an excellent piece of work, which makes an important contribution to the philosophy of mind and psychology. It focuses on some of the most crucial problems in this field: the adequacy of our ordinary notion of belief and of folk psychology for a scientific conception of the mind, the relationship of thought to language, the nature of consciousness, and especially the problem of what might be called the unity of the mind (is the mind a modular system partitioned into several sub-structures, or is it in some sense a seamless unity?). On all these issues, Keith Frankish brings a new and very interesting perspective. The main theme of the book, that we need a layered conception of the mind, composed mainly of two systems – mind and supermind – has been in the air for some time, especially with philosophers like Keith Lehrer, Jonathan Cohen and Michael Bratman and the discussions about belief vs acceptance. It has been also implicit in many discussions about the nature of “partial” beliefs vs ”full” belief in the Bayesian tradition. One of the great merits of this book is that it brings together all these discussions in a systematic way, dissipates many obscurities and ambiguities, provides a comprehensive framework to understand them, and draws their consequences for many issues in the philosophy of mind. … On the whole the theory proposed here is well articulated, ambitious but at the same time well circumscribed. I found the general line convincing, perhaps because I am myself convinced that we need a layered model of the architecture of the mind, but also because the approach is original and the argument persuasive. The book sheds light, and brings new thought, on many puzzling issues and debates in this field, such as the voluntariness of belief, the nature of modularity, akrasia and self deception. It is also an important contribution in the ontology of mind.”
Pascal Engel, Professor of Philosophy, University of Geneva


“The arguments for believing in a supermind and its potential application in helping us to understand certain puzzling phenomena are well made. Akrasia and self-deception are cases in point. … Frankish’s treatment of first-person authority, in which he develops the idea that avowals are special kinds of ‘performative’— incorporating commitment or re-commitment to premising policies—is also worthy of special attention. … There is a great deal to admire in the book. … It advances some very challenging claims and fertile proposals and is a valuable book. I recommend adopting and sticking to a policy of reading it.”
Daniel D. Hutto in Mind,  vol. 116 (461), Jan 2007, pp. 170-3. Read the full review

“Frankish’s book pins down and clarifies many existing tensions in the philosophy of mind and cognitive science. There are indeed a wide variety of topics whose treatment would become more fruitful if we do not treat the folk-psychological notion of belief as picking up a unitary cognitive kind. These topics go beyond the nature of folk psychology, and include, for instance, the role of perception in belief acquisition, the prospects for naturalized accounts of belief, and the moral psychology of belief, not to mention more empirically orientated ones like the nature of non-conscious thought vis à vis, e.g., self-knowledge and delusion. Frankish does not here deploy the complex machinery of mind and supermind to shed light on these important topics, but they provide one possible direction of future research.”
Josefa Toribio in The Philosophical Quarterly, vol. 57 (226), Jan 2007, pp. 139-42. Read the full review.

“[I]n Mind and Supermind Frankish offers a fresh and challengingly new perspective to debates over folk psychology and the nature of belief. The chief value of this work lies more in its role as a contribution to the sparse but growing literature by philosophers whose concerns about the nature of belief are not explicitly epistemological. But there is much in this book that should be of value for epistemologists (especially those working on doxastic voluntarism and epistemic responsibility). So the potential readership goes beyond those working in the philosophy of psychology. This book merits careful reading by anyone with research interests in folk psychology — and especially philosophers and psychologists interested in the nature of belief.”
Andrei Buckareff, Philosophy in Review, vol. 26, 2006, pp. 254-56. Read the full review.

“[Frankish] takes us on an interesting and stimulating survey of the conceptual issues, … [which] illustrate[s] very well the connections between various positions on folk psychology, rationality, and the concept of belief.”
Dominic Murphy, Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews, 2005.10.20. Read the full review.

There is also some discussion of the book on Eric Schwitzgebel’s blog The Splintered Mind. See the posts here, here, and here. The last of these contains my reply to Dominic Murphy’s review above.