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 twomore 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:
Fun conversation among Skye Cleary, Bob Wright, and myself on the topic of philosophies of life, occasioned by the publication of How to Live a Good Life: A Guide to Choosing Your Personal Philosophy (Vintage/Random House).
The vide is below. Naturally, we talk about the book, but also about the relationship between Existentialism and Stoicism, how Skye encountered Existentialism while attending business school (of all places), and Sartre and de Beauvoir’s famous attempt to live a life of freedom.
We ask whether philosophers are a bunch of hypocrites, explore the difference between personal authenticity and social convention, and explain why Stoicism doesn’t mean passive acceptance.
Near the end of the video, Bob wonders what other philosophies (other than our chosen ones of Existentialism and Stoicism) we would find attractive enough to consider practicing them. We conclude, somewhat unusually, by exploring how Wittgenstein would view our book.
Wide ranging video conversation with author and Scientific American contributor John Horgan. We talk about my midlife crisis and how it triggered my move from biologist to philosopher, discuss the point of doing philosophy, and articulate a role for philosophical doubt as as a counterweight to scientific (over)confidence. Enjoy!
Below is an interview I conducted with the prestigious Spanish newspaper El Pais. It covers the basics of Stoicism, how I got into it, and why it is a very useful philosophy of life for the 21st century.
From the description of the video:
What is stoicism and how can it help us manage a life crisis? A doctor and professor of philosophy, Massimo Pigliucci faced a critical juncture with the death of his father and undergoing a divorce. He looked to the ancient philosophers for answers and discovered “virtue ethics,” an approach to life that advances human improvement through the development of values.
“Stoicism tries to eliminate destructive emotions as much as possible while cultivating the positive ones. The Stoics concluded that a good human life is that in which we apply reason in order to improve society. If we improve as people, we will be improving society; and if we work to improve society, we will automatically be improving ourselves,” the professor explains.
Below is a video (a bit more than an hour) of a recent conversation I’ve had with Hardy Haberland, as a guest on his show. Mostly, we talked about Stoicism and how it changed my life, as well as that of others. But Hardy also asked me a number of other questions, including: What are the three books that influenced your life the most? What are your three most favorite movies? What’s the most useful product or service you’ve bought in recent memory? What’s the most important realization you’ve made in the last couple of years? And what would you tell your 20 year old self? I hope you’ll enjoy!
The Institute of Arts and Ideas has just released a 46′ video on “After Darwin,” featuring a conversation among philosopher of biology Tim Lewens, psychologist Zanna Clay, and myself, on the topic of the status and limits of Darwinian theories in evolutionary biology. The event was moderated by David Malone.
Questions we explored include: what is wrong (if anything) with the current theory of evolution? Are heritable non-genetic elements significant to current theories of evolution? Is evolutionary theory reductionist?
My brilliant City College colleague Elise Crull gave the keynote talk at the 2019 Philosophy Day at CCNY. Her chosen topic was metaphysics and the idea of a multiverse. Though Elise and I actually disagree on this particular topic, the talk is energizing and thought provoking. Here it is: