Long Strange Trip


    Without meaning to, but while honestly following the data and

arguments, I've turned into my opposite.

    I used to be an ardent supporter of computationalism -- the view that the brain is some sort of massively parallel computer and the mind is a virtual machine that logically supervenes on it.  But now it seems quite clear that we are missing something fundamental and crucial in our efforts to understand the cognitive mind and build an artificial intelligence.  Perhaps whatever it is we are missing is compatible with computationalism, but perhaps it is not.  This is one reason I now push pluralism in cognitive science.

    Though a physicalist by temperament, I am now certain that a robust, reductive understanding of consciousness will elude us forever (see here). This is due to a logical property of consciousness itself. In my view, therefore, what lies at the core of being human – our consciousness – will remain essentially mysterious.  Yet, I am not a “mysterion” as that term is usually used: I do think that the current science of consciousness will grow and improve. It is just that I think it will never lead to a deep understanding of consciousness.  Many others agree as is easily inferred from the fact that anti-physicalism is now, once again, flourishing.

    I doubt the above two points are linked, which is too sad for words.  What we are missing in our efforts to understand cognition is not consciousness. I suspect consciousness is got for free (perhaps the internet is conscious) -- if we could but build an artificial intelligence, it would eo ipso be conscious.  And I think consciousness is probably distributed nearly everywhere in the universe (i.e., I think panpsychism has a very good chance of being true -- unfortunately, we'll never know for sure).

    Lastly, though disposed favorably toward progress and optimism, and though I openly encourage students to major in philosophy, I think it is obvious that philosophy has made no progress in the last 3000 years (my paper (ahem) proving this is listed in my publications (it has received over 20,000 downloads as of Fall 2016)).  I have co-edited an issue of Essays in Philosophy exploring this fact (my co-editor was Zach Weber).  The issue is called  Philosophy's Future: Science or Something Else