Video conversation: consciousness, panpsychism, and illusionism

Here is another friendly conversation with my colleague Dan Kaufman of Missouri State University, editor of the excellent online magazine, The Electric Agora. This time the theme is consciousness, and particularly two diametrically different approaches to understanding it: panpsychism (the notion that consciousness is somehow an elemental property of matter) and so-called “illusionism” (the idea that, on the contrary, in some important sense consciousness is an illusion). Dan and I disagree with both camps, and try to articulate why their respective supporters are making the same mistake.

After a brief chat about the ongoing pandemic and when it may end, we get right to it, by laying out the so-called “hard” problem of consciousness as articulated by David Chalmers, and which I think is actually a category mistake. We then talk about why panpsychism is not a solution to the hard problem, even admitting there were such a thing.

Since this brings us to talk about the nature of science, Dan and I get into a bit of a side conversation on the currently ongoing battle for the soul of fundamental physics, based on the acceptance or rejection of so-called “post-empirical” science (in my opinion, an oxymoron).

We then go back to our main theme, by way of metaphysics, and specifically the contrast between physicalism and idealism. Trust me, it’s very pertinent. I introduce two different views of metaphysics, so-called “first philosophy,” which goes back to the pre-Socratics, and “scientific metaphysics” a la James Ladyman and Don Ross. (More on that particular topic here. And here are two more related posts I published recently.)

Dan and I then move to Daniel Dennett’s inspired “illusionism.” There too we arrive at the conclusion that this is no solution to the problem of consciousness, though in several respects it gets things much closer to reality than panpsychism. We end by talking about the difference between misrepresentations and useful representations, attempting to improve on Dennett’s view of consciousness. Here is the video:

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Massimo

Massimo is the K.D. Irani Professor of Philosophy at the City College of New York. He blogs at platofootnote.org and howtobeastoic.org. He is the author of How to Be a Stoic: Using Ancient Philosophy to Live a Modern Life.

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