When I was first looking for academic jobs in 2006, I was told by well-meaning professors to keep my research on panpsychism to myself. In the thirteen years since, panpsychism has gone from being something that was laughed at in so far as it was thought of at all, to being a well-respected albeit minority position. This year, for the first time in its history, there was a session on panpsychism at the UK’s main annual philosophy conference The Joint Session of the Mind and Aristotelian Society, which featured talks by me, Luca Dondoni, Marta Santuccio and Gregory Miller. In addition, I organised a panpsychism workshop at the Science of Consciousness conference, which this year was in Interlaken, Switzerland (photos from both events below: Angela Mendelovici, David Bourget, Luke Roelofs).
2019 also saw four books on panpsychism published with major publishers, one of which was a New York Times Bestseller:
- Conscious: A Brief guide to the Fundamental Mystery of the Mind, by Annaka Harris
- The Feeling of Life Itself: Why Consciousness is Widespread but Can’t be Computed, by Christof Koch (Christof and I will be reviewing each other’s books in 2020).
- Galileo’s Error: Foundations for a New Science of Consciousness, by yours truly.
- The Case Against Reality: Why Evolution Hid the Truth from Our Eyes Donald Hoffman (Is Hoffman defending panpsychism? If not, something very close to it; I’ll post some on this soon).
The science of consciousness has come a long way in recent history. For much of the twentieth century, consciousness was a taboo topic, not seen as appropriate subject matter for serious science. Those days are long gone, and it is now generally accepted that we must find a way of integrating consciousness into our scientific worldview. However, although the problem is taken very seriously, it is commonly held that we just need to plug away with our standard ways of investigating the brain and we’ll eventually crack the mystery of consciousness. What this fails to appreciate is that consciousness is radically unlike any other scientific phenomenon.
I think the next stage is to persuade the scientific and philosophical community of the unique status of the problem of consciousness. This has been the focus of my public exchange of letters with Massimo Pigluccio, and something I intend to focus on in 2020. It will be the topic of my plenary talk at the Science of Consciousness conference in Tucson, Arizona this April (Hoffman will also be giving a plenary at this conference).
Panpsychism workshop at the Science of Consciousness conference, Interlaken Switzerland, 25th-28th June 2019
Panpsychism session at the 93rd Joint Session of the Mind and Aristotelian Society, Durham University, UK, 19th-21st July 2019