Public exchange of letters with Massimo Pigliucci

comments 3

Massimo Pigliucci and I have had a series of twitter rows on the topic of consciousness and panpsychism. Recently we decided to go old school and write some letters, which you can access here. I’ve just written my second. Subscribe to follow the debate!

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. There is a fundamental conundrum. Mind is a subjective experience (and an individual experience unless you are a radical idealist). Science is based on common experience. You cannot explain a subjective experience using common experience. So any science trying to do so is impossible. Science can approach an explanation but there will always be a subjective gap.

  2. Lee Roetcisoender says

    Let me add some clarity to James’ contribution. Mind is not a subjective experience, mind is an objective experience, one that is radically indeterminate. Mind uses rationality, the only tool in its toolbox to make sense of that indeterminate-ness. It does this by building intellectual constructions. Most of those constructions are handed down through ones immediate culture. Or, as one matures, one can choose from a variety of constructions intrinsic to cultures worldwide, with which, one can build ones own personally tailored world view.

    Rationality is a discrete binary system just like the immune system. The immune system is not mind, even though it is a form of consciousness. As a system, the mind possesses a greater intensity of power and therefore a higher degree of self determination build into that system. As a result of this dynamic, mind has the capacity to be prejudiced, bigoted and biased, whereas the immune system does not.

    As with the system of mind, when confronted with something new, the immune system contrasts that unknown against it’s own catalogue of what is known. Those knowns are objective knowns which correspond to an objective reality. If the unknown does not match anything within the catalogue of knowns, the immune system immediately begins creating an architecture of diverse anti-bodies until a match is found with which to fight of the unknown pathogen.

    Mind works exactly the same way with one fundamental distinction, mind possesses a greater degree of self determination. When mind is confronted with something new, the first thing mind does is contrast that unknown against a catalogue of perceived knowns. Unfortunately, those knowns are not objective knowns, they are subordinative knowns, which simply means that those perceived knowns are subordinate to the “power” of interpretation, i.e., a degree of self determination which the mind possesses, hence the word subjective. As a species, homo sapiens are completely incapable of being objective even when confronted with overwhelming, objective, evidence. That in a nutshell is James’ subjective gap. It’s called prejudice, bigotry and bias, the infamous subjective gap.


  3. lucca says

    Hi Philip,

    I recently listened to your appearance on Sean Carroll’s podcast. I’m personally not really convinced one way or the other.
    However I would have loved to have heard you and Sean discuss the thought of having two people who are physically exactly the same, down to the last neuron!
    While I’ve always wondered about why I am me and not someone else, the possibility of two identical beings with different consciousnesses seems easier to explain with panpsychism than just materialism.
    It would have been interesting to hear Sean’s take on that considering he is also an astute Everettian, implying there are many versions of Sean with their own consciousness.

    How do you believe this scenario fits into panpsychism?


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