‘Galileo’s Error’ published!

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My book ‘Galileo’s Error: Foundations for a New Science of Consciousness’ was published this week. To mark the occasion, I have been involved in putting out a variety of podcasts, videos and articles on its themes. Here is a selection:

Philip Pullman and I were interviewed on the consciousness, panpsychism and the philosophy of His Dark Materials on the BBC’s flagship radio news show (around 1 hour, 22 secs in).

Pullman and I also had a public discussion on consciousness, panpsychism, and the philosophy of His Dark Materials at Blackwell’s bookshop in Oxford.

The physicist Sean Carroll and I argued about panpsychism on his podcast.

I debated ‘Does consciousness point to God?’ with the Christian neuroscientist Sharon Dirckx (actually we only debate God in the last 10 mins).

I wrote a piece for Scientific American explaining why I think Galileo is to blame for the problem of consciousness. I also wrote a piece for The Conversation discussing both this problem and my proposed solution. An extract from the final chapter of my book, discussing how panpsychism can help us deal with the environmental crisis, was published in in Nautilus magazine. Finally, on a lighter note, I wrote a piece for Penguin website on five of the best films to explore the philosophy of AI.

The Author

I am a philosopher and consciousness researcher at Durham University, UK. My research focuses on how to integrate consciousness into our scientific worldview.

10 Comments

  1. A few comments on your discussion with Sean Carroll
    I think there is some confusion between “physics” and “material”. Physics uses math to discourse on the relations observed in matter. But math is simply a language, and a limited one. Most mathematical abstractions don’t exist in nature. There is no such thing as a physical point, line or polygon, for example. They exist in our awareness. The flashlight of science deliberately illuminates only one part of our experience. Obviously the most important part of our experience is not illuminated. Science and math themselves are subjects of our awareness, hence “qualities”, the are qualities whose value is that they produce very accurate quantities. There are other human languages such as literature, science and art, that discourse on other aspects of our experience. A physicist who claims that everything is “physics”, sounds to me much like a musician who claims that everything is music!

  2. ruudhier says

    I’ve read the SA piece. Interesting! Can you please explain how colors, sounds, smells and tastes are not quantifiable? Colors for example represent wavelengths/frequencies of emitted/reflected light, picked up by the cones/rods in my eyes, then transmitted by my nerves and processed by my visual cortex. All of this is quantifiable (in theory) by physics. The way I perceive the color is determines by the physical, chemical and electrical makeup of my brain and nervous system. The fact that for me seeing a color is a different subjective experience than for someone else is because of different quantifiable physical makeup of the other person. Also all of the process is insanely complex and not something we will be able to actually measure in the near future. Perhaps never (without altering the experience that is).

    Am I missing something here? I would really like to understand why colors are not quantifiable. Same goes for smells, tastes and sounds by the way. All of these are perfectly measurable and suggesting they are not and that the inner subjective experience is something science can never explain sounds to me like you’re making some divine argument.

    • I don’t think you can convey in the purely quantitative language of neuroscience the redness of a red experience. If you could, then a blind neuroscientist come know what it’s like to see red just from reading the neuroscience. That expressive limitation of neuroscience entails an explanatory limitation, because to explain these qualities you’d have to be able to express them in the language of neuroscience. I’m not denying that we have the experience because of what’s going on in the brain, but I think that implies that there’s more to the brain that the quantitative language of physical science can convey.

      • ruudhier says

        The problem you are describing sounds to me more like a problem of subjectivity or the absence of objectivity in experience, not one of consciousness per se.

        If you have never seen the color red you will not have the frame of reference to be able to discuss it. Your and my frame of reference will be different because of small biological differences in our eyes (e.g. I could’ve been color blind), because of differences in our nervous system, visual cortex and all other parts of the brain involved, which can include innate properties and experience/memory related properties. For example I could have a childhood memory that gives me a totally different “red” experience.

        This isn’t just a limitation of (neuro)science but I believe it is a limitation of life itself, and the fact that (it seems that) consciousness is a part of our physiological makeup (as described by Integrated Information Theory). This makes it by definition impossible to transfer or reliably share our personal experienced consciousness. It’s not just neuroscience, but nothing at all allows us share or objectively express subjective experiences, because we (the parsers) are a part of the experience itself.

        I haven’t read your book (yet) but have read some of your pieces like the one in The Conversation and I’m wondering what this science of consciousness would look like. What would it be able to achieve or accomplish that (neuro)science now cannot?

  3. Steven Evans says

    ” ‘Galileo’s Error: Foundations for a New Science of Consciousness’”

    The sheer arrogance is breathtaking.
    So can you tell us ***a single fact*** from your “new science”, beyond “neuroscience can’t currently explain consciousness”?

  4. David Randell says

    All motion is relative. 7 billion brains perceive a ‘dropped’ object accelerating towards the earth, when it is the earth accelerating towards the object. Until this is understood all arguments are from ignorance,i.e. futile. “The Final Theory: Rethinking Our Scientific Legacy” 2002/2010 Mark McCutcheon

  5. I sent this on a twitter response but not sure it got thru…

    you really need to watch https://www.whyarewehere.tv/about/

    with Dr.. Ard Louis and Dave Malone.

    Just amazing… goes from Reductionism.Scientism ( Peter Atkins, Alex Rosenberg) to Denis Noble (the guy that discovered proteins behave differently when in a heart as a whole), Marcel Gleiser (physicist that chenged is opinion of grand unification/platonism and now embraces asymmetry [ look at Dirac’s equation – “where’s all this antimatter?]), to “thee” Roger Pemrose – yea that math guy, To Jane Goodall – yep that Jane Goodall, to Frank Wilczek, part of the team that discovered asymptotic freedom/strong force … to… it just keeps going.

    https://www.whyarewehere.tv/people/

    As to your statement on how surprising things are as you mentioned in the Sci America interview – “That’s Just Crazy” , and those ideas that people like Einstein proposed … take a look at the Quantum world. What Bohr and Heisenberg proposed, what Donald Susskind

    ( https://www.youtube.com/user/StanfordUniversity/search?query=susskind ) proposed as to strings. this is where the rubber hits the road.

    This can go further than consciousness, possibly explain purpose. The grand scheme, well beyond trying to define our fleeting experience as a sentient being.

    Yes it is possible that Panpsychism is true – but I think it might be more way more than that; where Panpsychism is just a result of of a grander scheme of things. Where the universal truth is that all energy and matter is purposeful way beyond are capability to theorize.

    I believe Tao may have been right – https://app.ipal0.win/tao?pg=1

    “The tao or truth that can be told is not the eternal Tao.
    The name that can be named is not the eternal Name.
    The unnamable is the eternally real.
    Naming is the origin of all particular things.
    Free from desire, you realize the mystery.
    Caught in desire, you see only the manifestations.
    Yet mystery and manifestations arise from the same source.
    This source is called darkness.
    Darkness within darkness.
    The gateway to all understanding.”

    Sounds a bit like

    But maybe George Carlin was right – the only reason we came into being is that the Earth wanted plastic for itself – needed us –

    “A surface nuisance…”

  6. Andy S. says

    I just finished reading your book Galileo’s Error which I very much enjoyed. That said, I think there is at least one more option to the consciousness problem than the ones you listed.

    I’m curious if you have every explored some of the philosophical aspects of Buddhism (particularly of the Mahayana lineage)? While many look upon Buddhism as a religion, in it’s original form it was more of a philosophy with a particular worldview that had more than a few things to say about the nature of reality and consciousness. I am by no means an expert on the subject, but here are a few of the basic tenets as I understand them:

    Buddhist philosophy rejects both dualism and materialism. Mahayana Buddhism also rejects the concept of intrinsic nature in that it states that nothing (including matter or consciousness) has an objective, independent existence. Rather, everything is defined in how it relates to everything else (not too unlike casual structuralism). The stuff that we normally consider to be things really are more like active processes. Consider the thing we call a river. A snapshot in time of a river isn’t really a river. The ever-changing dynamic interaction of water, air, land, and living things as it flows from past through present to future is a river. All the things we like to think of as nouns are really more like verbs.

    When you quoted Eddington about science consisting of pointers to an underlying reality, I was reminded of a saying by a particular Zen master. He said that trying to describe the fundamental nature of reality with words and pictures was like a finger pointing at the Moon. One must not mistake the finger for the Moon. The Moon can only be experienced, not explained.

    The problem, of course, is that this worldview does not easily lead to propositions that can be verified or falsified in the western traditional sense. Buddhist adepts explore reality (including their mind processes) with their own minds through meditative practices. Like explorers of a far off and mysterious land, they can report back their finding, but those descriptions are merely “fingers pointing at the Moon.” The only way to experience the Moon is to make the trek yourself.

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