A lot of my work has been about panpsychism, the idea that (roughly) everything is conscious. More carefully put, modern panpsychism is the idea that some incredibly simple version of our own conscious experience is one of the fundamental properties of our universe’s matter, just like mass, charge, and spin, and that human beings inherit our complex consciousness from the intricately-related consciousness of our many material parts.
This contrasts on the one hand with ‘dualism’, the idea that matter is entirely unconscious, so something special and immaterial has to be added to make humans, and with ‘physicalism’, the idea that matter is entirely unconscious, and human consciousness is just an intricate arrangements of those unconscious goings-on.
The most obvious worry about panpsychism is that it’s crazy. More carefully put, it is radically in conflict with the intuitive judgements most Western people would make about what is and isn’t conscious (e.g. that horses are conscious but algae isn’t). In particular, it seems like it might undermine the case for veganism, if it implies that animals and plants are both conscious.
Jed Buchanan and I published a paper on this issue, arguing that our intuitive judgements can be kept, but should be interpreted as tracking how similar to our own consciousness a being’s experiences are: “Panpsychism, Intuitions, and the Great Chain of Being”
But most of my work has focused on various aspects of the ‘combination problem’. This is the worry that having a trillion very simple minds isn’t enough to get you one complex mind, and that therefore panpsychism can’t explain human consciousness.
Five papers of mine address specific aspects of the combination problem.
- “Can We Sum Subjects? Evaluating Panpsychism’s Hard Problem” (this is on the ‘subject-summing problem’: how to get a single subject out of many?)
- “The Unity of Consciousness, Within and Between Subjects” (this is on the ‘unity problem’: how to get unified consciousness in a composite subject)
- “Rational Agency without Self-Knowledge: Could ‘We’ Replace ‘I’?” (this is on some under-discussed problems to do with self-knowledge and agency)
- “Phenomenal Blending and the Palette Problem” (this is on the ‘palette’ problem, how to get a qualitatively diverse consciousness out of relatively homogeneous ingredients)
- Consciousness, Revelation, and Confusion: Are Constitutive Panpsychists Hoist by their own Petard?” (this is on the ‘revelation’ problem, why introspection doesn’t reveal the compositeness of our consciousness)
Here are some presentations I’ve given on topics related to panpsychism and the combination problem that don’t have associated papers:
- “Putting Minds Together and Pulling Minds Apart: The Relatively Mild Impact of Cosmopsychism on Panpsychism’s Combination Problem”, presented at the University of Western Australia, in Perth. Informed by the work of my friend Miri Albarhari, who arranged the talk.
- “Octopuses, Split-Brains, and the Universe: How unified do subjects need to be?”, presented at York University, in Toronto. Informed by the work of my friend Sidney Carls-Diamante.
- “Sympathetic Imagination, Conceivability Arguments, and the Metaphysics of Mind”, presented at the first Bochum ECR workshop in philosophy of mind. Informed by the work of my friend Jakub Mihálik.
Finally, my doctoral thesis, from back in 2015, examines this problem (and partially shares the name of my book, though with a different subtitle): “Combining Minds: A Defence of the Possibility of Experiential Combination”