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.


  1. Your thoroughness and erudition has led to a more bulletproof model of reality; one that I can't fault and which has led to me changing my own mind. Try as I might, speaking as someone with less mental chops to start with, and however much my attachment to the idea of real physical stuff outside consciousness persists, I can't find a weakness. I think you are too kind though. Watching some of the arguments against the model, arguments which you have withstood with manners and good grace, has sometimes found me shouting at my screen! When are we going to see a one on one with Don Hoffman? That would be an awesome dialogue.

  2. This is a great bitesize contemplation of the concept of changing minds. "Intellectual honesty" is key...other terms you use elsewhere, such as parsimony, non-contradiction, empirical adequacy, coherence and so on, are nothing without the intellectual honesty to recognise in a model if any of those principles are found lacking. I have been watching you recently with Derek London, Tim Freke and now also Phil Goff and you're in a rich vein at the moment aren't you..."killing it", we might say! Keep going with this Bernardo, this has rigour (if we're not playing language games). Speaking of language games, that chap on the top row in the Philip Goff debate, who made one or two comments...he was doing just that with that "water and H2O" analogy in relation to causal efficacy!

  3. I stumbled on to your views late in life. The general pursuit was not strictly an intellectual one. My goal was to better inform my world view. Not pursuing a religion was a conscious choice. I always felt that if I lived long enough that science would be the answer. Religion is very often weighted down with obligations of being a civilizing force and a protector of culture. Not that those goals are not important but they are not necessarily consistent with the goal of shining a pure light on reality. So for me Bernardo your incredibly finely tuned internal compass is a God send. Your ability to grab a person by the chin and lead them through the complexities of existence to a simple answer is amazing. As an example the science of physics is astoundingly complex but like everything else it is a product of consciousness. So for me the much ballyhooed praise given to "open mindedness" these days really translates into "anything goes". I don't have much hope that a civilization can survive with that as it's battle cry.

  4. I hereby mandate that all new books must undergo a final proofreading stage composed of at least one twelve hour LSD session.

  5. Society should pilot UBI with metaphysicians, monks, and scientific psychonauts. Without the fear of perishing, metaphysicians can dialogue society towards truth instead of publishing detours. Monasteries can streamline their operations and have more time for mind-body practices. Science needs to do better than claim altered states are perfectly noisy, complex spandrels, and brave psychonauts with appropriate faculties can explore that frontier.

  6. Hello Bernardo !!! I am a Spanish student who is reviewing his work, as he says, it seems that he is bulletproof, very well mounted, interpreted and with a certain air of truth ... Now in Spain a Non-reductionist Materialistic school has emerged, but it seems that They change definitions, they make springboards with language, a mess in my opinion, although it has very good things. It is the philosophical materialism of Gustavo Bueno. My main question that I'm going to ask you, once it happened to me that I went to a fair, I got on an attraction, and being so strong, I noticed how even more it made me dizzy, I thought that having a great centrifugal force, my Blood had dropped from the brain to the feet, that's why I turned white ... Then there was a moment when I began to lose consciousness ... How would that be interpreted from your idealistic vision? How is it that without blood my consciousness stopped feeling in that sense? Could my brain be lacking blood for neurons? what would you say in your vision? Greetings from Spain and thank you very much in advance !!!