Galen Strawson on the Consciousness Myth

That was a very enlightening article by Galen Strawson in the TLS about the history of the mind-body problem. He thoroughly debunks the idea that consciousness entered philosophy around 1995. Consciousness had long been regarded as especially problematic for materialism (I was banging on about it in my 1982 book The Character of Mind, following earlier thinkers). Even the phrase “what it’s like” dates back at least to a 1950 article by Brian Farrell (it was not invented by Thomas Nagel, as he himself has pointed out). It’s important that these things be got right.


Intellectual Oscars

It was nice to see the films about Alan Turing and Stephen Hawking doing so well at the Oscars, but I wonder if there would be anything like the same interest if the former had not been gay and the latter confined to a wheelchair. I yield to no one in my admiration of these two men, but it’s clear that the content of their minds was not the point. They are “human interest” stories, not stories about intellectuals. How many people, watching these two films, tried to find out about what these two geniuses actually thought? Perhaps they are the form in which people can accept intellectuals–they must be tormented or persecuted in some way. What about a film about an intellectual who did not have such problems? Or one that investigated the purely intellectual struggles of Turing and Hawking. Still, we should be grateful that these two great thinkers get the Hollywood treatment at all.


Jessie J

I had the good fortune to see Jessie J perform last night in concert at the Fillmore theater in South Beach. She sang with a four piece band to a dedicated and enthusiastic audience. I expected to be amazed by her voice (I listen to her albums all the time) but I was also much impressed with her stage presence and movement. It’s not dancing exactly but it is so integrated with the music, and so basically soulful, that it really made the performance. She gave it her all. She ended with Bang Bang, of course, and it brought the house down. She didn’t sing Big White Room, her great ballad, which really shows off her voice, but for a concert it is a little too serious and heavy. Anyway, I was not disappointed with the phenomenal Ms. Cornish. I think she is simply the best woman pop singer in the world today.

When I got home I watched the 40th year celebration of SNL, which was excellent, except for one thing: a truly horrendous performance by Paul McCartney of Maybe I’m Amazed. I don’t much care for the song, but Paul’s voice is shot–it was painful to listen to. I felt for him, because I am not all anti-Paul. Paul, meet Jessie.



It is an odd thing about an ideology that it is never acknowledged by the person in the grip of it. He or she thinks it is the purest common sense or the soundest theory. No one ever thinks, “Yes, I am an ideologue and proud of it”. Religious ideologies, political ideologies, racial ideologies, gender ideologies, philosophical ideologies: no one in the grip of them ever realizes it. That is why it is so hard to dislodge ideologies, and why they seem to their believers to be completely rational. They always seem to involve an enemy that is demonized, and they consist of simple propositions that can be used to subsume anything that comes along. How do you tell if you are the dupe of an ideology, as opposed to a believer in a true theory? There is no litmus test, but anyone outside the ideology can see that it is operating. I think the clearest sign of it is a habit of generalizing about large classes of people in a derogatory way, without much regard for specific facts. I wonder how long ideologies have been around: did cave men and cave women have them? What about Neanderthals? Are any current apes ideologues? There is no doubt that they are a main curse of the human race, and surely everyone wants to avoid being an ideologue. Yet so many people are. Everyone should make every effort to ensure that they are not in the grip of an ideology, as a basic moral duty, being well aware that ideologies do not proclaim themselves as such. I am probably a victim of an ideology myself: I am thoroughly convinced of the ideology that ideologies are bad–I am an anti-ideology ideologue. And this ideology strikes me as the purest common sense.


The Problems of Philosophers



I have been a professional philosopher for forty years, teaching on both sides of the Atlantic, at University College London, Oxford, Rutgers, UCLA, USC, and elsewhere. People have been talking about the problems of “the profession” (as if that wasn’t about individual philosophers) and I thought it might be useful for me to give my take on the question. Before I became a philosopher I was a psychologist, and I have observed certain differences between these groups. I will simply give a list of the problems I have observed, in no particular order. Warning: there is much that I have not liked. Some of these problems have been more prevalent on one side of the Atlantic than the other. I have not noticed (with a couple of exceptions) much variation among the various groups that make up professional philosophers.


  1. Conformity


  1. Resistance to new ideas


  1. Clubbiness


  1. Fatuous self-importance


  1. Snobbery (especially institutional)


  1. Narrow mindedness


  1. Dishonesty, intellectual and moral


  1. Cowardice, intellectual and moral


  1. Prejudice


  1. Male insecurity


  1. Competitiveness


  1. Professionalism


  1. Complacency


  1. Moral obtuseness


  1. Herd mentality


  1. Malicious gossip


  1. Immaturity


  1. Boringness


  1. Fear of the alien


  1. Envy


  1. Petty ambition


  1. Insincerity


  1. Bullying (real and attempted)


  1. Social snubbing


  1. Lack of humanity


  1. Rule worship


  1. Snideness


  1. Hero worship


  1. Bad writing


  1. Rude questioning


  1. Status obsession


  1. Schadenfreude


  1. Favoritism


  1. Bad clothes and hair


  1. Literal-mindedness


  1. Sycophancy


  1. Factionalism


  1. Nastiness


  1. Absurdity


  1. Lack of judgment


I could go on. I have not seen any improvement in these faults over the years: if anything, they have worsened. Of course, there are plenty of exceptions, but it seems to me that these faults are fairly pervasive. Overall there is a culture of enmity and backstabbing.