Solving the hard problem of consciousness with metaphysics

The idea that the hard problem can be solved with metaphysics has been gelling in my mind for quite a while now. There are three threads I’m exploring that are all landing in the same place. First, there’s Bernardo Kastrup’s work. In his theory of analytical idealism, reality is ultimately made of a single, primitive, instinctive mind, and this mind dissociates into a bunch of more complex minds (these are the individual conscious beings that we’re familiar with)....

January 12, 2022

In praise of unconscious subroutines

There’s a certain class of bodily actions that I feel especially grateful for, and that I’ve been noticing more and more recently. I’ll call them unconscious subroutines—little functions, procedures, or actions that your brain and body carry out with next to no involvement from your conscious self. I’m not talking about totally unconscious behaviors like your heartbeat, or the defenses of your immune system, although those are cool too. I’m talking about behaviors that are sort of at the boundary of the conscious and unconscious....

December 25, 2021

Do we experience anything directly?

Observation is theory-laden One of Deutsch and Popper’s oft-quoted phrases is that ‘observation is theory laden’.¹ This is a revelatory point about the nature of science: no statement that we can utter, or observation that we can record, is a pure observation statement, completely divorced of all theory. A statement like ‘there is a table over there’ assumes a whole collection of theories about tables, spatial positioning, and existence. Even a more hard-nosed statement like ‘a copper atom weighs 63....

November 28, 2021

Addenda to consciousness post

I recently published a substack post on consciousness and am using this to write a few extra notes that I excluded from the article for brevity. My goal with the article was to take the reader on a kind of explanatory journey, which meant that I had to take certain intellectual shortcuts and brush over some nuances. Examples: I start the piece with a materialist paradigm in which it’s “obvious” that chairs and atoms are not conscious....

August 11, 2021

Logical impossibility

How is it that we can imagine things that are logically impossible? I’ve always been a little perturbed by this. It was strange to me that we can imagine or even believe things that are logically impossible. It makes sense to me that we can imagine things that are physically impossible. Our imagination is not constrained by the laws of physics. We can imagine physical objects which don’t exist or cannot exist....

June 22, 2021

Reject claims of ultimate ruination

When describing the trajectories of other people’s lives, we sometimes make statements that I’ll call claims of ultimate ruination. They take the form of “X ruined his life”, where X is a very specific event or experience. Whatever X was, it changed the person’s life permanently and irredeemably. Examples of X: a breakup, a professional failure, an unsettling spiritual experience, an injury. These claims are appealing in their drama and simplicity, and terrifying in their implications....

June 9, 2021

Self-concept in dreams

I sometimes have dreams where I’m checking Twitter. This is bad news for me and my social media usage, but it offers a fascinating glimpse into how flexible our brains are. My dreams look like this: I’m interacting with the Twitter web app, clicking around between notifications and mentions, struggling to follow the information coming my way. But notably, my body isn’t there. There isn’t even a monitor and keyboard through which I’m interacting with Twitter....

June 1, 2021

Problems I'm thinking about

This is a list of philosophical questions I’m currently grappling with. Truth and objectivity I tend to be a realist, i.e. I think there are objective truths about the world, whether or not we’re aware of those truths. And for a while I’ve had the view that through science, philosophy, conjecture, reason, and error-correction, we could get closer to knowing those objective truths. (Some thoughts on objectivity here.) Recently I’ve been less sure about (1) the existence of such definite, objective facts describing the world, and (2) whether error-correction actually helps us get closer to those facts....

May 20, 2021

The relative primacy of contemplative and scientific truths

In this post I discuss two methods for understanding reality, and the respective roles they’ve played in my own worldview over time. I conclude with my current thinking about the relationship between these two modes, which is that (1) they can complement each other but have incompatibilities, and that (2) I have no idea which one takes primacy. Two modes of inquiry There are two broad classes of knowledge and truth-seeking that have underpinned my worldview in the past few years:...

May 9, 2021

Homing in on Consciousness: Notes

I read this paper in late 2020 as part of my ongoing study of our neuroscientific understanding of consciousness. These are the notes I took. The full title of the paper is Homing in on consciousness in the nervous system: An action-based synthesis, by Morsella et al, and it can be accessed for free here. Thesis: passive frame theory of consciousness Passive frame theory proposes that the primary function of consciousness is well circumscribed, serving the somatic nervous system....

February 10, 2021