With Prof. Brian Cantwell Smith (University of Toronto)
Many people believe there is a (dreaded) “explanatory gap” between: (i) the private, subjective, 1st-person, phenomenological character of conscious experience; and (ii) public, objective, 3rd-person “detached” theories of empirical science. Nothing in our current scientific world view, it is said, sheds the remotest light on the essentially private, qualitative, “awake” character of what it is like to be a conscious subject. Some even take this to argue that physicalism is false. Consciousness is ineliminably first-person; the (purely) physical world is inexorably third-person; so consciousness must rest on more than a simple material basis.
I will argue that such arguments are based on a mistake. For starters, it is wrong to confuse physicalism (the idea that everything is ultimately physical) with a third-person stance. To do that is to confuse map with territory. What is (allegedly) third-person is something *epistemic*: science as representation, our *understanding* of the physical world. What physicalism claims is that minds are *made of physical stuff*—the physical stuff that physical theory is *about*. And that stuff is not third-person. On the contrary, in fact, I will argue anything made out physical stuff *must have a first-person, indexical content*. It is implicit in the differential equations.
So the traditional debate is upside-down. At least as regards content, it is easy to get to first-base (that is: to first person content). And once you’re at first, it isn’t too hard to steal second. The challenge is how to get to third. How on earth, that is, do we achieve our vaunted third-person content, our third-person perspective, our sacred objectivity? Put it this way: the problem for consciousness is not the *content* of science; it is how we *do* science. That’s what is stunning.
WeWork Park South, New York, NY
Wednesday, June 21, 6 p.m.
Registration required on EventBrite