Monday, July 26, 2021

A New, Broad-Ranging Interview of Me

At Ideas Sleep Furiously.

Topics include radical skepticism, the value of genuine philosophical dialogue, the value of public philosophy, free will, psychedelics/aliens/telekinesis, defining consciousness, against genius in philosophy, cosmological fine-tuning....


  1. Borderline consciousness? Yes, but how fruitful the concept will be...that is another question. IMO 'rememberable awareness' is the most useful definition of C for most purposes. As for the variability which could shade off into 'borderline' and beyond, I can think of three aspects: the quality, ie the clearness and correctness of awareness of things and place, the degree to which awareness of self is explicitly present, and thirdly, continuity of awareness as opposed to it being intermittent.

    I think I missed the reason for why pundits might wish to deny the possibility of borderline C. ??? Us humans should generally not wish to be in such a state, except when lying down and it is a reassurance that sleep is coming. Given that all the good evidence points to C as being a process of construction occurring within one's own brain whilst awake, its presence, absence, and/or quality will usually be a question of practical fact. IMO we have every reason to believe that the same will be true of other animals but we can only guess on the basis of assumptions. I personally assume that we should base these guesses on the degree to which we can reasonably believe the creature in question has a model of self in the world.

  2. I finally found the time to listen, Eric. Most interesting … thanks!

    Your voice was inaudible when you were identifying the your favorite non-fiction book so could you repeat your answer here? I’d also be interested to learn if you can name a work that was most significant to your thinking in Philosophy. FWIW, mine would be Philosophy in the Flesh by Lakoff and Johnson (1999).

    I have a problem with your attempt to define consciousness by example. The list you provide as examples are all contents of consciousness, rather than examples of consciousness. As I’ve pointed out before the confusion between consciousness and the contents of consciousness is one of the premier causes of confusion in consciousness discussions.

    To illustrate the difficulty, if I were to define the word ‘apple’ by example, I would point to varieties of apples such as Fuji, McIntosh, Golden Delicious and so on. But to parallel your approach I would be pointing to parts of an apple such as skin, flesh, seed, calyx etc., which is not a definition of ‘apple’ by example. Examples of consciousness, then, would specify individual consciousnesses, such as your consciousness, my consciousness, a dog’s consciousness and so on. But since all but our own can only be inferred and are opaque, a definition by example is neither possible nor useful.

    Be that as it may, your list of consciousness contents is quite instructive if we’re to construct a definition of consciousness. Note that the elements of your list can all be characterized as feelings. Per Wm. James’ terminology in his 1884 address “The Function of Cognition”:

    Having elsewhere used the word 'feeling' to designate generically all states of consciousness considered subjectively, or without respect to their possible function, I shall then say that, whatever elements an act of cognition may imply besides, it at least implies the existence of a FEELING.

    To accommodate related philosophical issues, in later years he broadened the terminological choice to “feelings and thoughts” and in 1909 indicated that the reader “may substitute” for “feeling” the term ‘idea’ taken in John Locke’s broad sense, or else “state of consciousness” or “thought.” Despite his later revisions, however, I believe his original formulation of consciousness as feelings (sentience) was an inspired simplification that allows us to pursue a definition of consciousness with some clarity.

    With the additional observation that feelings, both sensory (physical) and emotional, are biological representations of external and internal sensory events (physical) and biochemical and neurochemical states (emotional), we can define consciousness as:

    A streaming representation in feelings of external and internal sensory events (physical sensations) and neurochemical states (emotions) that is produced by activities of an organism’s brain.

    In response to my initial suggestion of a similar definition using the word ‘simulation’, you remarked that it wouldn’t satisfy everyone's ideas about what consciousness is. But accommodating a range of opinions is not the point of a definition. In the case of a phenomenon such as consciousness, a definition must specify what the phenomenon IS.

  3. Isn't it...phenomenal is noumenal being and noumenal is phenomenal being... defining the isness of unconscious being and conscious being...

    So we are alive and for 2500 years we have been learning more and more about our bodies...
    ...Yogis and Monks seem to be, in part, leading the way in relating sensation and emotion...

    Philosophy Is at it's best when we ask questions about mentation but needs to (as a practice) also relate thinking with sensing and feeling...

    Practicing relating the thought sense and feel of one's life at least gives us...more...