‘Galileo’s Error’ published!

comments 8

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.


  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

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