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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Imagine

With apologies to John Lennon Imagine there’re no qualia It’s easy if you try No feel or what-its-likeness Just plain old cog sci Imagine all the zombies Being just like us Imagine there’re no inverts It isn’t hard to do Nothing for Mary to learn And no hard problem, too Imagine all the people Being illusionist You may say I’m a quiner But there’s nothing wrong with that I hope someday you’ll join us And learn what it’s like to be a bat.

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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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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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