Recent psychological research has been interpreted as casting serious doubts on many crucial aspects of the human experience: that we have “free will” (it’s complicated, hence the scare quotes), that we are at the least capable of rational thinking, and even that we are conscious. Indeed, it has become both fashionable and a bit of a cottage industry to “show,” scientific data in hand, that all those facets of mentation simply do not exist, they are illusions, figments of our imagination (though nobody has really provided an account of why on earth we have them, as metabolically costly as the apparatus that makes them possible is). All of this, of course, despite the staggering crisis in the replicability of results from psychology, which ought to make anyone reading anything in that field a bit cautious before agreeing that we are lumbering rationalizing and self-deluded robots.
Panpsychism is in the news. Check out, for instance, this Oxford University Press blog entry by Godehard Brüntrup and Ludwig Jaskolla. Brüntrup is the Erich J. Lejeune Chair at the Munich School of Philosophy, has published a monograph on mental causation, and is the author of a bestselling introduction to the philosophy of mind. Jaskolla, in turn, is a lecturer in philosophy of mind at the same school, his research focusing on the metaphysics and phenomenology of persons, the philosophy of psychology, and the philosophy of action.
In other words, these are serious people. And so is the paladino-par-excellence of panpsychism, NYU’s David Chalmers. Why, then, are they lending their weight to such a bizarre notion? Let’s talk about it.
Frans de Waal has published an excellent essay on the relationship between language and cognition in Aeon magazine. Both de Waal and Aeon are very much worth paying attention to, which is why I’m devoting this post to the essay, entitled “The link between language and cognition is a red herring.” Though, as it turns out, that link isn’t really a red herring.
Occasionally I have a video conversation with my colleague Dan Kaufman, who is a professor of philosophy at Missouri State University and a graduate of the City University of New York (where I teach, though he wasn’t one of my students!). You may want to check out his writings, he blogs over at Apophenia.
Anyway, the latest such conversation, archived at my YouTube channel (but you can watch it here, video below) is about ideas related to strong Artificial Intelligence and the philosophy of consciousness.