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Never Happier to be Proven Wrong

23 Oct

Most people I speak to either love Jeremy Corbyn for his politics or hate Jeremy Corbyn for his politics. I previously found myself in the rarer group of being strongly in favour of his policies, whilst having severe reservations about his political skills and his ability to cut through to the public. Before the campaign of the recent UK election when Labour was languishing in the polls I despaired of Labour ever gaining ground.

How much can change in a short space of time. I was overjoyed when the election campaign transformed Labour’s fortunes, proving wrong my pessimistic predictions. Labour didn’t win, but with 40% of the vote nobody can now say that the party is ‘unelectable’ with Corbyn as leader. And with May adopting Labour policies previously denounced as communist by the Tories, such as an energy price cap, the political centre of gravity has certainly shifted leftwards.

Whilst I doubted Corbyn’s ability to pull it off, I certainly never doubted the importance of a more radical economic agenda. Globalisation is no longer working for ordinary people in UK. The Thatcherism of the 1980s was savage on working class communities and massively increased inequality, but it co-existed with increasing wealth for a fairly large proportion of the electorate. But since the crash of 2008 the vast majority have suffered the worst squeeze on living standards since the 1750s. In contrast the wealthiest have seen their net worth double. We now live in an economy shaped by and for the interests of the top 1%.

People in Europe and the US are seeking radical alternatives, from both right (Trump, Le Pen, PIS in Poland) and left (Podemos, Sanders, Corbyn). If the left can’t persuade the public that a radical reshaping of the economic model is the solution to their woes, I fear that we’re going to find more fascists in parliaments.

Do Electrons Dream of Electric Sheep?

19 Oct

I’ve written quite a few articles recently outlining my ‘simplicity argument’ for panpsychism. One persistent questions is, ‘Why on earth should we suppose matter has an intrinsic nature????’. In this article for LSE’s ‘The Forum’ I try to layout the article in a bit more detail. It’s an old and much discussed argument. I think my slight addition to it is the response to holism.

Poem: Living With a Panpsychist

28 Sep

Seeing as it’s National Poetry Day in UK, I thought I’d re-post the poem I commissioned for the issue of Philosophy Now magazine I guest edited on ‘Radical Theories of Consciousness.’ Big fan of Machter’s work…I may put up some more of his stuff…

Living With A Panpsychist

by Thomas Machter

“Simpler to suppose: all has thought.
Safer to say: in a never
fresh universe, nihil novum.
Subtler to see: that to itself
mind reveals the very nature
of the nature in which it sits.

Am I pissing up the wrong tree?”
Evenings are long, distractions are
great; so what if fine error breeds.
What is it to me if my love
miss-takes the universe and time,
to build an implausible frame?
Reason has led her there, I guess.
But atoms with experience?
“My love! Why go on with this? No,
you’re not barking up the wrong tree;
you’re entangled in its highest
branches, howling wild at the moon!”

I soon regretted this sarcasm,
relented, and apologised.
Chastened, I spread myself far out.
What must it be like to believe
some cranky wayward subtle scheme?
I sunk myself into a broad
range, a general passion, a wide
scope. What thought can not be worked through?
Mind’s a match for the universe.
I contain every conviction.

Is Taxation Theft? (and why the answer matters..)

22 Sep

I have written a lot of short pieces addressing this question (the answer is always no). But this piece for Aeon magazine is the most extensive thing I’ve written so far, and goes into much more detail about the nature of ownership. I’m always amazed at how much this stuff angers people. I’ve been enjoying battling with with terrible arguments on the comment thread (which you have to register for) and the Aeon FB pages…I invite you to join the fun!

I think this is a place where abstract, academic philosophy can really make a practical difference. The way almost everyone (voters and policy makers) think about taxation is demonstrably confused. And (as I say in the article) this matters: this confused sense that my gross income is “my money” is a major stumbling block to economic reform, causes low and middle earners to vote against their economic interests, and renders it practically impossible to correct the economic injustices that pervade the modern world.

Back to writing useless stuff on consciousness…

Grand Finale of Consciousness Debate

11 Sep

Hot off the press:  Final episode of my debate with Professor Papineau (KCL), in which he concedes that I was right on all points of contention and promises not to disagree with me again.

Can a Physicalist be a Panpsychist?

5 Sep

Here‘s the second part of the debate between me and David Papineau (KCL) on ‘Can Science Explain Consciousness?’, hosted by the Panpsycast (which, incidentally, is not a podcast on panpsychism…).

David really surprised me in this part of the discussion by expressing a sympathy for panpsychism!!!! It’s especially interesting as he hasn’t given up his commitment to ‘brute identity’ physicalism: the view that we solve the hard problem of consciousness by means of an empirical identity between conscious states and physical states, analogous to the empirical identity between water and H2O or heat and molecular motion (AKA ‘type-B physicalism’ in David Chalmers’ typology). But whilst most brute identity physicalists identify conscious states with neurophysiological states of the brain, thus making consciousness a property only of physically complex organisms, Papineau is inclined to identify consciousness with a much more basic and much more ubiquitous physical property. Thus he ends up being both a physicalist and a panpsychist.

Galen Strawson is another panpsychist who calls himself a ‘physicalist’, but this is a reflection of his non-standard use of the word ‘physicalism’. Although I would not call myself a physicalist, in fact Strawson and I defend the same view — Russellian monism  — and this view is quite different from standard forms of physicalism. Standard physicalists think that physical science can in principle give us a complete account of the fundamental nature of reality, and consciousness is then accounted for in terms of that reality that physical science has made known to us (I don’t think this can be done, which is why I’m not a physicalist). Russellian monists, in contrast, think that physical science only captures the causal structure of the physical world, telling us nothing about its intrinsic nature. It is this hidden (from the perspective of physical science) intrinsic nature of matter, according to Russellian monism, that explains consciousness.

The interesting thing about Papineau is that he adopts a very standard form of physicalism whilst at the same time being sympathetic to panpsychism. I don’t think there’s another philosopher on the planet who has such a view. (Anyone care to correct me???) If I understand him correctly, Papineau thinks that resistance to panpsychism is largely motivated by the dualist assumption that there is something special or magical about consciousness, that it’s somehow extra to the physical world. Once such assumptions are dropped, according to Papineau, panpsychism looks much more tenable.

I still have very strong philosophical disagreements with David, but it is heartening to see yet another scientifically-minded philosopher not being put off panpsychism by its superficial cultural connotations. I predict that in 50 year’s time the ‘new age feel’ of panpsychism will have completely disappeared, and it will be accepted as the default view of the mind.

Debate: Can Science Explain Consciousness?

28 Aug

Here is part 1 of me and Professor David Papineau from King’s College London debating ‘Can science ever explain consciousness?’ for the ‘Panpsycast’ podcast. We have very different views: David is a physicalist and I am a panpsychist. But over the last ten years or so we’ve had a very productive interaction, and the arguments against physicalism in the first half of my book were very much shaped by my discussions with David. Before I met David I thought all physicalist were just crazy consciousness deniers like Daniel Dennett (here is Papineau and Dennett in recent debate) but he helped me to appreciate the subtleties of his more modest ‘brute identity’ form of physicalism.

(P.s. I have a lot respect for crazy consciousness deniers too!)