Various open-ended meditations: storms, hope and renewal


It's not really my style to write a post about multiple subjects that have only tenuous connections with one another. I tend to prefer focused, coherent meditations about a given topic of importance to me, which lead to clear conclusions. Yet, the last time I defied my own instincts and wrote a rather open-ended, 'mixed bag' post, it somehow shot straight to the position of most popular essay in my blog; ever. Clearly, you found value in my spontaneous meditations, so here is another one, for what it's worth.
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GUEST ESSAY: Daniel Dennett’s brain: deluded or deceptive

By Stephen Davies

(This is a guest essay submitted to the Metaphysical Speculations Discussion Forum, where it was extensively reviewed and critically commented on by forum members. The opinions expressed in it are those of its author.)

Photo source: Wikimedia Commons.
Philosopher of mind Daniel Dennett has a theory that if I deny it, he will say I don’t understand it; if I posit an alternative theory, he will say I am quite simply wrong, mistaken. He is without doubt a supremely confident, persuasive and intelligent interlocutor. His must be an impressive theory—it couldn’t possibly be "the silliest claim ever made" (Strawson), could it?

So what exactly is his theory? He starts off demonstrating how the brain plays tricks on us. We see things that literally are not there. They are illusions. We experience illusions that are ostensibly brain-generated.

Okay, so far so good. Let’s just remind ourselves that this theory is assuming the brain’s fundamental role in experience. This is a choice. The correlations between experience and brain states are there; we then choose a side from which to explain such correlations. The argument is that we experience brain-generated illusions because the physicalist chooses the side of the brain as the primary one.


What do allegedly brain-generated illusions tell us about why we have any subjective experience at all? Precisely nothing


The trickiest thing the physicalist needs to account for so as to justify choosing the brain isn’t merely the huge variety and subtlety of conscious experiences we have; it isn’t merely the great complexity and sophistication of abstract thoughts we have; it isn’t even the profound meaning and emotionality that we experience.

No, the trickiest thing for the physicalist to account for is why we have any experience at all: Why is there the experience you are having right now of being an experiencer? Why doesn't your brain operate functionally correctly but 'in the dark'?

The content of your experience is irrelevant to this question. I’ll repeat this: the content, the particular experience, is irrelevant. It is possible to have subjective experiences that are simple, basic, bland; experiences at the extreme opposite end of the spectrum to the most complex, emotional and meaningful. These bland experiences are just as mysterious.

Equally, we can have subjective experiences that are illusional, delusional, magical and fantastical. And at the other end of the spectrum we can have shared, veridical, consensual subjective experiences of insight, clarity, and perspicacity. The illusory nature of an experience makes no difference to the fact that we are having an experience nonetheless.

The particular content of your experience is irrelevant to the question: Why do we have any subjective experience at all?

Daniel Dennett describes how, from a physicalist perspective, the correlations of brain activity and illusory subjective experiences—when we see things that are not there—show us that these are brain-generated illusions. What does this tell us about why we have any subjective experience at all? Precisely nothing. The veracity of the particular contents of those subjective experiences is irrelevant.

So Dennett can only make use of these assumed-to-be-brain-generated illusions by saying they are analogous to what he thinks is happening with regards the question of why we have any experience at all. We will shortly look at what his argument by analogy is, but it is important to be clear that it is an analogy. There is no direct evidence here.


A non-subjectively-experiencing brain cannot experience the illusion of being subjectively experiencing anything because illusions, too, are subjective experiences


That the analogy itself involves the brain and subjective experiences might lead some to think that there is something more than analogous reasoning going on. But there isn’t. Dennett's analogy holds no more evidential power than if it were about gold and rainbows, or about trains and steam. The analogy is not the thing being tentatively explained.

So what is Dennett’s explanation as to why just having a brain means we also have any experiences at all? He says experience is an illusion, a magical trick, analogous to the magic tricks the brain performs when we fall for a visual illusion. He is arguing that the subjective experience you are having right now is a trick of your brain just like the visual illusions that your brain performs.

Actually I’m not sure that he realises this is merely an argument by analogy. I wonder if his confusing choice of an analogy involving aspects of the thing to be explained has actually confused him to think the analogy is the actual explanation. He actually does appear to be arguing that subjective experience is another trick of the brain, just one more trick alongside the visual tricks.

This is a perforce false step for Dennett because the analogy breaks down, it simply doesn’t work. For Dennett not to see this he must either be being deceptive or have confused himself; maybe he actually believes visual illusions are the same as the supposed illusion of having any experience at all.

Another reminder as to why it can only be an analogy: the veracity—or lack thereof—of your subjective experiences is irrelevant to the question of why we have any subjective experience at all; for illusions are also experienced. The explanation of visual illusions cannot simply be copied and pasted to answer the question of why we have any experience at all.

A non-subjectively-experiencing brain cannot experience the illusion of being subjectively experiencing anything because illusions, too, are subjective experiences. The brain has to either be a subjectively-experiencing brain or a non-subjectively-experiencing brain. If it is the former then this is what needs to be explained by the physicalist. If it is the latter, then it can have no experiences at all, including experiences of illusions of being able to experience.

Dennett attempts to explain the actuality of subjective experience by saying it is due to a non-subjectively-experiencing brain having the subjective experience of an illusion that it is subjectively experiencing. When confronted with the glaringly self-contradictory nature of his position, slippery Dennett says, "I’m not saying subjective experience is an illusion, I’m just saying it isn’t what you think it is." He says things like "You cannot possibly know what the true nature of consciousness is merely through introspection. I have proven how wrong introspection can be."


In the face of the absurdity of Dennett’s position, maybe we should reconsider the initial choice: that of trying to explain subjective experience in terms of the brain. Instead, maybe it’s time to account for the correlations between brain states and subjective experience by taking the latter to be the primary side


This is just restating his argument: you are a non-subjectively-experiencing brain tricking itself into having the subjective experience of the illusion that you are having a subjective experience. But if the brain can have a subjective experience of any kind, even if it is a trick, it still needs to be explained how the non-subjective-experiencing brain can perform a trick that leads to subjective experience.

And here the question remains, as unexplained and as mysterious as ever: How can the allegedly non-subjectively-experiencing brain be responsible for subjective experience?

In the face of the absurdity of Dennett’s position, maybe we should reconsider the initial choice: that of trying to explain subjective experience in terms of the brain. Instead, maybe it’s time to account for the correlations between brain states and subjective experience by taking the latter to be the primary side. This avenue of exploration has already proven to be a fruitful one that does not end up in the confused contradictions of Dennett. I encourage all to make the journey.

Copyright © 2020 by Stephen Davies. Published with permission.
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GUEST ESSAY: The onward path of a dissociated alter

By Ben Iscatus

(This is a guest essay submitted to the Metaphysical Speculations Discussion Forum, where it was extensively reviewed and critically commented on by forum members. The opinions expressed in it are those of its author.)


Upon dying, Dave, being a believer in a certain brand of metaphysical idealism, was looking forward to being absorbed into the Universal Mind, perhaps to re-emerge at some other time and place as a new dissociated alter of that Mind.

As he was drawn towards the light, which he interpreted as expanding from his dissociated state into association with All-That-Is, a thought occurred to him: if a dissociated alter is the rational, self-reflective part of All-That-Is, and the nature of All-That-Is without self-reflective alters is rather akin to a crocodile with instinctive behaviour... then how did the apparently thought-out laws of nature originate? How could the rational, mathematical laws of physics, chemistry and biology precede the existence of self-reflective alters? 

This thought was enough to repel him from the light and send him to the Summerlands, which he supposed must be a place of continued personal dissociation for those alters who had the will to continue as they were, but no longer had the need to metabolise their dinner.

In the Summerlands he met a nice girl who appeared to be a perfect soulmate, and he would have continued long in this relationship, probably until his desire for more answers to the ultimate nature of being became stronger than his long, lazy dream of heaven.

After a while, however, Dave was visited by a wise looking man with a beard who invited him to attend an interview with two others. The three sat behind a table, and stared at him with benign reassurance as he stood in front of them. He wondered if this was some symbolic representation of how the number three represented the triune nature of reality, but the thought was cut short.

"Dave," said the man with the beard, "it's time for you to go back. To be reborn."

"I think not," said Dave. "I've only just got here. And in any case, I'm never going back."

The bearded man sighed. "We're here to persuade you or, if that fails, to tell you. It's our will that you return."

"Your will? Well so what? Why should your will trump mine?"

The three men briefly morphed into reptilian creatures (crocodile snouts), then reverted to their benign appearances. "Well it's like this. We are more powerful than you. You might call us gods, or... demons." They then demonstrated their power, by having him pinned to the opposite wall by an unopposable force. For an unbearable instant, a pain like being penetrated by red hot needles pervaded his whole being.

Dave felt a cold horror.

The bearded man informed him: "We get our pleasure from observing and vicariously experiencing your lives, so you have to go back. It's like you getting pleasure from watching a horror flick or a war film. But of course it's much better. Feeling your emotions, laughing at your primitive thoughts." He laughed like the Predator at the end of the film of that name. "But we also get pleasure from telling you what you want to know and experiencing your reaction. Naturally all of it will be erased, like your other memories of who you are and what you have been before. So ask away."

"Why me?" Dave croaked.

"You are sufficiently interesting to us. You're one of our group of participants. A good range of feelings and thoughts. You're coming on nicely."

"I would rather be... extinct... than obey you."

"Extinction is not an option. If your will were strong enough, you could resist. But it's not."

"It is. I insist it is."

"Look. We could simply torture you—you know, like you humans torture cows and pigs on earth. Look on the bright side: at least we don't eat you." They all laughed again. "But it would be much easier to bring that girl you've grown to love in here and torture her. Shall we do that? Shall we give her exquisite pain and make her soul scream in horror? And shall we reincarnate her in a barbarous war-torn state?"

"No! No!"

"So you'll go back. Any more questions?"

Dave felt sick with fear. "Why is the Universe not more benign?"

"It is what it is because we are what we are. You did well to question how there could be rational laws before rational creatures came into existence. The fact is, there couldn't. We are from an earlier universe. We imagined and created this one."

"But that means there's infinite regress: who created the earlier universe before you came into existence?"

"That one had a different type of consciousness. It was metacognitive from the start and it allowed its alters free rein. We're a free threesome and we chose to create this universe."

"When I go back - will it help me if I'm of service to others?"

"Oh no; giving others a sense of entitlement or gratitude keeps them in the game. Loving your enemy, hating him - it all serves us." He smirked.

In despair, Dave said, "What about meditation?"

"Ah, meditation is excessively boring to us. If you do that for thirty years, we might release you and bring in someone more interesting. But you're much too full of lovely faults and doubts. We thrive on those."

As he was on the point of reincarnating, passing through the waters of Lethe, a voice penetrated the last barriers of Dave's dissolving identity: "You only experienced all this because it was the natural outcome of your deeper beliefs. The Universe is rational and consciousness enacts laws of cause and effect. Your beliefs were the cause, your experience is the effect."

"But I did believe in a benign Idealism."

"Too superficially; too intellectually."

"How do I make it deeper?"

"If you really want to believe something at the core of your being, you have to live it. You have to embody it."

So Dave went back.

Copyright © 2020 by Ben Iscatus. Published with permission.
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GUEST ESSAY: Consciousness, animals and human responsibility

By Benjamin Jones

(This is a guest essay submitted to the Metaphysical Speculations Discussion Forum, where it was extensively reviewed and critically commented on by forum members. The opinions expressed in it are those of its author.)


Over the last few hundred years most scientists and philosophers have laboured under the conviction that consciousness is merely a by-product of unconscious matter—many have taken it even further and discredited the existence of consciousness altogether. Due to this belief in the fundamentality of matter we learned to implicitly rank consciousness in hierarchical levels based on the level of complexity of the physical structure within which we believe it to be housed. Humans, we believed, have the greatest level of consciousness. Animals less so—with smaller animals having the least—and the rest of nature, well, it’s all simply inanimate. This view of the world naturally leads to the disregard of animals and nature. I often reads things along the lines of, “ravens are very intelligent creatures you know,” or, “science has discovered that trees have intelligence,” or, “ground breaking discovery—squirrels have feelings!” The fact that we say these things as though they are new discoveries shows just how far we have detached ourselves from reality.

Recently I walked past a caged parrot in a garden. The cage was large as far as cages go. The bird had plenty of toys and ropes to swing around on. The owners, I’m sure, think it is a very lucky bird indeed. And yet it sounded like it was screaming. Not singing, or calling, but screaming. This bird was distressed, lonely and confused. This was self-evident to me (and also to my dog, it seemed).

How then, are the ‘owners’ of this bird oblivious to its suffering? Are they also unaware of its beauty, its innocence, its aliveness? Do they think it irrelevant that in the wild these birds are majestic, social, singing, playing, celebratory expressions of life? And even if they weren’t, how can we ever come to cage life?

​I wanted to free the parrot but was unable to get to it, and anyway it would have only died if I did. Perhaps that would be better: a few days of freedom over a lifetime of captivity.

That evening I was on Peta UK’s website and discovered that in 2017 alone over 9 million animals were used for the first time in experiments in the EU. A further 12.6 million were used to breed or simply wasted away in cages. How did humanity became so ignorant and dismissive of animals and nature? It is simple, we forgot our nature—which is intimately one with all things. Let me try to explain.


Modern human life has become a constant battle to keep out all that is potentially threatening or uncomfortable about nature. The conceptual mind has become our ruler, but it is merely a small part of our encasement and therefore can never touch the truth of life.


William Blake once wrote, “every bird that cuts the airy way, is an immense world of delight, encased by the five senses.” What is this ‘world of delight’ he speaks of? It must be beyond the five senses because otherwise it could not be ‘encased’ within them. It must be something shared by Blake and the bird because they are both present in the experience. And its ‘delight’ must be inherent within itself, not reliant on the world of the senses.

In religion its name (although misused over the centuries) is God, in spirituality its name is pure consciousness or something similar, in direct experience its name is joy, or freedom, or expansiveness, or love. It is not a special state to be reached but the underlying essence of every experience; the source and substance of the apparent ‘encasement.’

This ‘world of delight’ chooses to forget its unbound nature and becomes apparently encased within a finite experience—the five senses in this example. We could say that emotions, feelings, and conceptual thought also appear to encase it.

As human beings we have the potential, often unrealised, of experientially discovering this ‘world of delight’ as the very nature of experience. This can happen through enquiry, spiritual practice, or spontaneously. Indeed it also happens at many times throughout our lives in the form of happiness, joy, love, beauty, truth, or anytime we experience the gap between or the ground beneath thoughts and feelings.

There is nothing to suggest that animals don’t also have this potential, after all they are just as much an expression of this reality as we are. It seems self-evident, however, that their way of realising it is not through enquiry or exploration, but—as is also the case with humans—in the relaxation of aspects of the encasement which happens in the natural course of life; basically through the relaxation of the body-mind, which allows the peaceful delight at the source of experience to be recognised. On the flip side, when the body is hungry or in pain or in fear, the ‘world of delight’ is obscured by the tightening grip of the encasement.

Since we have this potential—the potential to discover our nature beyond the apparent encasement—and also, on a more everyday level, understand the necessity and ways of making this encased experience as pleasant and enjoyable as possible, we therefore have a great responsibility towards animals.

The most obvious responsibility we have, and one which everyone is capable of, is refraining from doing things which we know cause pain, discomfort, fear, confusion and anything else which makes the experience of this apparent encasement fraught with suffering and apparently absent of the ‘world of delight.’

Sadly, this is a responsibility which human’s have neglected. Whether this started with Christianity’s arrogant disregard for other beings, and whether it was accentuated by modern Materialism’s conviction that reality is fundamentally inanimate, is not clear to me. But this doesn’t excuse or fully explain human disregard, ignorance and sometimes downright maliciousness towards animals and nature in general. It goes much deeper than our past conditioning and worldviews. It stems from our lack of understanding of ourselves; it stems from being so obliviously confined within our own encasement that we forget our shared essence with all existence; we forget the ‘world of delight’ which life truly is.

We haven’t always been so separated from nature’s reality. For tens of thousands of years humans lived harmoniously, reverentially and inclusively with all around us. Pagans, native Indians, and many other ancestral cultures had a deep intuitive knowing of their inherent oneness with nature’s reality. They may have eaten animals but they did so with respect and reverence and therefore lived as a part of the great movement of life.


We learned to define ‘intelligence’ as ‘intellect’ and group this so-called intelligence in with levels of consciousness. The subsequent confusion leads us to believe and feel that anything which doesn’t have the faculty of conceptual thought is a lower level of consciousness.


Modern human life, on the other hand, has become a constant battle to keep out all that is potentially threatening or uncomfortable about nature. The conceptual mind has become our ruler and we therefore regurgitate old habits, ideas, paradigms and theories in the hope that it will bring ‘progress.’ But the conceptual mind is merely a small part of our encasement and therefore can never touch the truth of life; it can never provide us with the intuition and knowing which will end our abuse of animals and nature; it will never infuse the world with the ‘delight’ of its essence.

Along with the relegation and classification of consciousness on fundamental and relative levels respectively, we learned to define ‘intelligence’ as ‘intellect’ and group this so-called intelligence in with levels of consciousness. The subsequent confusion leads us to believe and feel that anything which doesn’t have the faculty of conceptual thought is less intelligent, and more subtly so, a lower level of consciousness.

If we take our own experience—instead of limited research and theoretical models which often bear little relation to experience—we can quite easily discredit the belief that consciousness or intelligence is based on conceptual thought. If you took away all conceptual thought from the experience of this moment would consciousness (the simple act of being aware) lessen? Quite clearly not. Now imagine or remember a fearful situation, in which thoughts are often greatly diminished or not present at all: what is left? Does the feeling of fear within the body disappear? What about if you were locked in a room for prolonged periods of time: would not being able to conceptualise your situation make it a desirable or neutral one?

Of course not! Granted, conceptual thought adds greatly to our suffering, fear and even physical pain, but it by no means makes up the totality of it. Those who are capable of caging birds must, on some level, believe that if they had the same intelligence and consciousness as the bird then they would be happy locked in a room for their whole life. They must, on some level, believe that the bird is less capable than they are of feeling emotion, physical discomfort, loneliness, despair, confusion, stress, claustrophobia and so on; they must, on some level, believe that these qualities of experience are reserved only for those who have conceptual thought and thus—in their view—more consciousness and intelligence.

This leads to my point: the responsibility we have towards animals and nature is not that of ‘learning’ new things about them, but of rediscovering what we have forgotten; it is not to do more and more research—which is often at the expense of animals and nature anyway—in order to create new theoretical models, gain limited knowledge and make ‘discoveries’ which common sense could have told us of in the first place; no, our responsibility lies not in separating and elevating ourselves even further from the reality of nature into conceptual thought and analysis; it lies, instead, in re-immersing ourselves in that reality, merging into it once again and reconnecting with our awe, reverence and intimate love for this great dance of intelligence.

Behind the veil of separation we have thrown over reality there is a great ‘world of delight.’ Why not let this be the basis of all our endeavours? Maybe then we’ll also become birds cutting the airy way, encased in the five senses but also intimately one with the infinite sky.

Copyright © 2020 by Benjamin Jones. Published with permission.
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GUEST ESSAY: The hare overtaking the tortoise is no illusion: What Zeno’s paradoxes can tell us about the hard problem of consciousness

By Stephen Davies

(This is a guest essay submitted to the Metaphysical Speculations Discussion Forum, where it was extensively reviewed and critically commented on by forum members. The opinions expressed in it are those of its author.)


One of the paradoxes of the pre-Socratic philosopher Zeno, involves a race between a hare and a tortoise. Here is a different version of that paradox: I challenge world-record-holder Usain Bolt to a 100 metre race. My only condition is that he gives me a 10 metre start. He accepts. I’ll now explain why he cannot possibly beat me.

The race begins. To overtake me, Bolt must first reach my starting point at the 10 metre mark. This will take him some time, let’s say roughly one second. In that second I will have moved forward from the 10 metre mark, let’s say 5 metres. 

So now, after one second of the race has passed, Bolt is at the 10 metre point and must reach my new position at the 15 metre point. This will take him about a half of one second, but in that time I will have moved forward again a short distance.

There is no end to this process; however quickly Bolt catches up to where I was, I will have used that time, however short, to move ahead, albeit by a shorter distance each time. However small the time and distances get, Bolt can never catch me, I will always be ahead.

So the paradox is that it is impossible for Bolt to overtake me in a 100 metre race. Because we know that this isn’t true, the paradox is telling us something is wrong in the process that got us to that conclusion. 

What goes wrong with the hare and the tortoise paradox is that the endless series of points that, in my example, Bolt would have to pass through, are not actual points. They are abstractions. The points aren’t there, marked in the ground, they are part of a theory. Bolt does not have to run past an infinite number of actual things, just an infinite number of ideas, an infinite number of abstractions.

It doesn’t seem so impossible now, does it, to run past an abstract idea of endless points. And better still, as each abstract point is a dimensionless point with no length, even if they did exist, how long does it take to run past something that has no length? However many points of zero length you have, zeros don’t add up to anything.
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The irony of Philip Goff's arguments


Over the past few days, panpsychist philosopher Philip Goff and I have exchanged essays criticizing each other's metaphysical positions. See my latest response here. Since these exchanges, shorter discussions have taken place on Twitter, some of which made me realize how ironic philosophical discussions can be.

I've met Philip for the first time in Shanghai, in 2017, when he was still an idealist-leaning cosmopsychist, who subscribed to the view that there is only one cosmic subject. Since then, he became a constitutive panpsychist who adheres to the view that only microscopic particles are conscious, our ordinary subjectivity being somehow constituted by some kind of combination of microscopic little subjects in our brain.

As I pointed out in my criticism, the notion of subject combination is not only physically incoherent ('particles' are just metaphors for field excitations), but also logically incoherent (there is no discernible sense in stating that two fundamentally private fields of experience can combine to form a single derivative one that subsumes the originals).

To defend his view, Philip repeatedly postulated the possible existence of new, entirely speculative "psycho-physical laws of nature" to try and account for the magic of subject combination. This basically means that, instead of explaining subject combination, he simply labels it a brute fact of nature: it just happens; it doesn't need to be explained (i.e. reduced to something else) because it is fundamental. Methinks this is a copout, but alright.

The first irony here is that someone who seems to reason but shoving every problem into the reduction base (microscopic consciousness, laws of combination, everything of any relevance), and thus fails to offer any explanation whatsoever, now charges me of failing to provide a... well, explanation for how dissociation occurs.

Let me explain. If you start, as I do, from a universal subject, you need to make sense of how that one subject becomes many seemingly separate ones, such as you and me. We call it the 'subject decomposition' problem, and it entails a challenge opposite to that of subject combination. I solve the decomposition problem by appealing to the empirically-established psychiatric phenomenon of dissociation, which is just that: a seeming decomposition of one mind into many separate alter personalities.

But such a powerful appeal to an empirical fact is not sufficient for Philip. He says that I have to conceptually explain how, exactly, dissociation unfolds and does what we know it does (i.e. create the appearance of subject decomposition). Otherwise, according to him, my reference to dissociation has no value for defending the notion that there is just one universal subject, of which we are dissociated alters.

Let us take stock of this. The first point of irony I already mentioned: someone who seems to reason by avoiding explanations now demands a conceptual explanation for an empirically-established phenomenon, before he can accept said phenomenon. Make no mistake, reasoning by shoving things into the reduction base not only fails to provide any explanation, it seeks to forever preempt the need for one; it is the very antithesis of explanation.

Now, the second point of irony is this: when philosophers demand an explicit conceptual explanation for some postulated phenomenon, the point of making such a demand is, by and large, to evaluate the plausibility of the phenomenon actually occurring in nature, as opposed to being merely a theoretical invention.

This way, when we demand from physicalists a conceptual explanation for how arrangements of matter can give rise to consciousness, we want to evaluate whether this plausibly happens in nature or not. When we demand from constitutive panpsychists an explicit explanation for how subject combination takes place, we want to judge whether the occurrence of subject combination in nature is plausible.

But if we can already point, empirically, to actual occurrences of the phenomenon in question, the bulk of the value of a conceptual explanation melts away; for if the point is to know whether it is plausible that the phenomenon occurs, we already have the answer. Of course, it is still nice to have a conceptual explanation so we get intellectual closure, but the questions of plausibility and existence are already settled.

There is no empirical demonstration that matter generates consciousness; only that they are correlated. So we need an explicit conceptual explanation for this physicalist notion, so as to evaluate its plausibility. Alas, there is no such explanation. There are only conceptual demonstrations that the phenomenon is impossible already in principle.

There is no empirical demonstration of subject combination occurring in nature (have you ever met two people who merged together and became one single mind?). So we need an explicit conceptual explanation for this combination, so as to evaluate its plausibility. Alas, there is no such explanation. There are only conceptual demonstrations that subject combination is an incoherent notion.

But there are robust empirical occurrences of one mind believing itself to be many; we call it dissociation. That the corresponding belief is an illusion isn't a problem either; on the contrary: the illusion is precisely what we need to account for the fact that you and I believe to be different, separate subjects.

Therefore, unlike physicalism and constitutive panpsychism, each of which faces an arguably insoluble problem—namely, the hard problem of consciousness and the subject combination problem, respectively—analytic idealism faces nothing of the kind: we know empirically that subject decomposition occurs. There is no question about its plausibility, even if there were no conceptual models at all to explain how it works.

And as it happens, there actually is a tentative conceptual explanation for subject decomposition based on the notion of inferential isolation. Is it sufficient to make complete sense of dissociation? Probably not, as I suspect a better theory of time is required to achieve that goal (Bernard Carr, time for you to help out here my friend, if you already have something publishable). But it is certainly already way better than any attempt to make conceptual sense of subject combination.

Does the arguable incompleteness of my conceptual model of dissociation impair analytic idealism in any significant way? Of course not. For whether we can make complete conceptual sense of dissociation or not, we know that it occurs and does exactly what it needs to do to substantiate analytic idealism. The value of the conceptual model would be mainly to allow us to evaluate the plausibility of subject decomposition happening. But we already know it happens, whether we can conceptualize it fully or not.

Therefore, that Philip acknowledges dissociation as an empirical fact but then turns around and says, "in the absence of an explanation [for dissociation, Kastrup's] critique of panpsychism as not providing such an explanation seems to me to have no force" sounds dangerously close to sophism to me. Philip is comparing (a) the mere failure to provide a complete conceptual model for an empirically-established fact to (b) the veritable appeal to magic entailed by the entirely speculative and arguably incoherent notion of subject combination. There is just no basis for comparison here.

The job of philosophers in metaphysics is largely to provide speculative conceptual models. So I understand Philip's intuitive attachment to these speculations. But I also see two problems with it: first, the risk of losing touch with empirical reality, which must always come first. We cannot replace reality with speculative conceptual models and live just in our heads. Or perhaps we can, but it certainly wouldn't help us achieve anything useful.

Second, if exaggerated emphasis is nonetheless placed on conceptual models over empirical reality, then one should at least be consistent in such a peculiar choice: Philip cannot demand any conceptual models from me (let alone complete ones) when he, himself, not only fails to provide such models, but shoves the relevant issues into the reduction base as if doing so represented progress. If you talk the talk, walk the walk.

The bottom line is this: while Philip is busy adding consciousness and wholly-speculative "psycho-physical laws" of subject combination to the reduction base of physicalism, and thereby providing not even partial explanations for anything, I am busy leveraging an empirically-established phenomenon to substantiate my views, as well as providing at least partial conceptual models for how it works.

I have lost a great deal of intellectual respect for Philip's positions and arguments. Therefore, I have little motivation to continue the engagement with him. But since I had already committed to a debate in a podcast later in the summer, I will go ahead with that.

Ironically, the only hope that something new may emerge in that debate is the fact that Philip, in his latest response to me, is giving multiple signs that he may, after all, return to the notion of one cosmic subject (plus some postulates of new fundamental laws of nature). Since he was a cosmopsychist just a couple of years ago, then a constitutive panpsychist for the duration of one book, and now seemingly something else already again, who knows what his position will be by the time we debate?


PS: Some readers are getting confused with the terminology. There is no subject combination at the end of dissociation under analytic idealism, because there was only one subject all along (the multiplicity of subjects is illusory). What happens at the end of dissociation is merely the end of an illusion, not a combination of subjects. When you wake up from a dream, or a DID patient is cured, no subjects combine because everything was going on in only one true subject to begin with. We only talk of combination when supposedly true, fundamental micro-subjects allegedly form a non-fundamental macro-subject, as in constitutive panpsychism.
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On changes of mind


During the past couple of weeks, I've had conversations with a few people whose metaphysical views have changed considerably recently, sometimes multiple times over. Two are well known: Tim Freke and Philip Goff. Tim was a kind of idealist for 34 published books but is now, seemingly, a neutral monist. Philip was a cosmopsychist (a kind of idealist, too) until his book Consciousness and Fundamental Reality (2017) but is now a constitutive panpsychist, as per his most recent book, Galileo's Error (2019). These interactions have motivated me to ponder a bit about changes of mind.

What I have to say below, although inspired by these interactions, is general considerations not necessarily applicable to the two people I've just mentioned. Allow me to insist: the below should not be per se regarded as a criticism of Tim or Philip; it's just general considerations.

The ability to change one's own mind is, undeniably, a sign of intellectual honesty. People who refuse to change their minds even in light of overwhelming new evidence or argumentation have an axe to grind, second agendas, and aren't committed to truth. These people aren't to be taken seriously.

At the same time, relatively fast and easy changes of mind may also reflect superficial views held lightly, the lax taking of positions before more careful review of both the data and the arguments available; before thinking things through more thoroughly. If one adopts a position either in favor or against a certain view before actually understanding that view and its implications thoroughly, one is of course more prone to changing one's mind about it at some point. There is thus a sense in which changes of mind aren't just a sign of intellectual honesty, but potentially also of intellectual laxity.

That's why I think authors should not rush to publish their views. One's views must mature inside, gain robustness in the furnace of repeated contemplation, like metal annealing. If publications are made before one actually understands the ins and outs of one's own position, one is liable to contradicting oneself again and again, in subsequent publications, thereby losing credibility. After all, if one can quickly abandon and turn on one's own previous arguments, how credible are one's next arguments?

A similar rationale may apply to what we commonly refer to as 'open-mindedness.' The latter is, of course, a good thing: not to be open-minded is to ignore the potential for getting closer to truth; to ignore evidence and arguments one may not have considered before. But too much of a good thing can also be a sign of some underlying problem: to be open-minded about mutually contradictory views reflects a lack of analytic rigor and thoroughness, an inability to understand the deeper implications of the different views in question. To be open-minded about views that contradict one's own may also betray lightly-held positions one is not really confident of for not having done enough homework about. In summary, too much open-mindedness can be a sign of superficial reasoning.

I believe strongly that I am open-minded, but it won't be easy for you or anyone else to see it from the outside, because I won't lightly declare myself open to views that contradict over 30 years of careful thinking about metaphysics. Indeed, my own analytic idealism has matured in my mind for over 20 years (with the possible exception of my university years, during which metaphysics fell more to the background) prior to my first philosophy publication in 2010. Metaphysics began churning inside me when I was 12 years old, following the death of my father. Slowly, over time, my thoughts on it have congealed and matured. Only when I was 34 did I have enough confidence in the robustness of my ideas to start writing a book about them. By that time, I had already deconstructed my ideas multiple times over, confronted them with all the empirical evidence I could put my hands on, examined every assumption I could identify, dissected the logical structure of my conclusions repeatedly. And in doing all that, I never had publication as a goal, for the motivation behind my effort was my own understanding. Only after my thoughts congealed and I achieved a very high degree of confidence in them, did the idea of publishing come to me.

Largely thanks to that, none of my 12 books (out of which 3 are still in production) contradict another. Instead, my books complement each other, refine each other's ideas with new angles, new language, new perspectives. This doesn't mean that I can't change my mind; I surely can, if confronted with new evidence or previously overlooked arguments. But I don't think this will happen easily, for there are now 34 years of careful and self-critical analysis behind them. Whatever makes me change my mind now would have to be something nontrivial, for I don't think I've overlooked the evidence and arguments commonly available. My currently-held positions aren't merely a reflection of my current dispositions and moods, but the compound result of decades of careful thinking, an edifice built slowly over many years that won't crumble because of relatively minor earthquakes. And thus the inner coherence of my work isn't a sign of close-mindedness, but of a kind of robustness of reasoning that only time can bring about.

The problem is that, if one's livelihood depends on publishing, as is always the case in academia and often in the book publishing industry as well, one simply doesn't have the luxury to wait 20 years to set one's views to paper. Academics must publish papers and books every year, even if subsequent papers contradict previous ones (nobody looks at that, only at the number of publications). Authors who have no other source of income must publish a new book as soon as the initial spurt of sales of the previous one wanes (books sell most in the first six months after publication). And, of course, all they can publish are their current ideas, whether these are mature, robust and reliable or not. In a sense, I have been privileged by fate to not depend on publications for my living, and so I only published once my thoughts had congealed and stood the test of time.

I don't know how to solve the problems I've identified above. For I have also paid a price for my independence: for the past 10 years, I have had a lot less time to do philosophy than I would have had if philosophy had been my day job. There is always a catch, whatever way one looks upon it. What I can say with high confidence regarding my own output, however, is this: it is robust and reliable; I won't change my views lightly, because they have already stood the test of time in my own mind, and survived the furnace of my own self-criticism for many years before I published them.
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