CFP: Consciousness in a Physical World: Physical Candidates for Phenomenal Experience
Submission deadline: July 15, 2023
Philosophies launched a new Special Issue entitled Consciousness in a Physical World: Physical Candidates for Phenomenal Experience. According to many of the most influential scientists and philosophers, consciousness is totally unexpected (Nagel, Chalmers, Koch, Seth). Although many attempts have suggested ad hoc explanations for consciousness and even sui generis solutions, this is suspiciously reminiscent of anthropocentrism. Why should our own experience be an exception in the physical world?
If one is a physicalist, as we are, every phenomenon, including consciousness, must be identical with a physical phenomenon. The traditional theories about the identity of mind and brain were methodologically sound regardless of their success. However, these theories were mostly based on standard Newtonian physics. Today, physics includes relativity, quantum mechanics, and various modern extensions. In today's physics, can we not revisit identity theories in a ground-breaking and innovative way? Can we be optimistic and consider physical candidates for our experience?
The goal of this Special Issue is twofold. On the one hand, most current approaches to consciousness conceal a hidden form of dualism or idealism (as panpsychist approaches to consciousness), although they claim to adhere to physicalism. For this reason, we welcome a critical overview of existing approaches to point out that they do not meet the criterion of ontological parsimony in a physicalist framework. On the other hand, we encourage to enrich the debate about new physicalist approaches that show what consciousness is in a physical world without requiring the emergence of physically problematic properties.
The Special Issue is aimed at neuroscientists, physicists, psychologists, and philosophers working on a solution to the nature of consciousness that fits within a purely physical framework. What is consciousness identical to in a physical world? In recent decades, philosophers and scientists have too often resorted to obscure terms such as emergence, constitution, or supervenience to avoid the lack of a clear hypothesis about the physical nature of consciousness. Thus, we welcome the attempt to locate consciousness within a fully physicalist framework in which consciousness is not an unexpected or exceptional event. Given the current state of physics, we will consider hypotheses that revise the current limits of physics, provided they are based on general advances in physics (such as quantum mechanics and general relativity) rather than ad hoc solutions.
While most authors today reject a dualistic framework because it seems incompatible with science, it is only fair that many approaches that pay lip service to physicalism do not seem to fit into physics. For example, since Brentano's seminal work on psychology, it has been common to accept intentionality as one of the essential aspects of mind, notwithstanding the utter lack of success in trying to naturalize intentionality. For the same reason, most of the essential features of consciousness (intentionality, first-person perspective, phenomenal character, unity, and many others) have no citizenship in the physical realm at the moment. As a result, most work on the philosophy of the mind, regardless of its conceptual clarity, is regrettably of little or no use to science. Even approaches that purport to locate consciousness in the physical world, such as embodied cognition and enactivism, have often used terminology that is suspiciously dualistic (e.g., what is the "knowledge of sensorimotor contingencies" advocated by Alva Noe?). Similarly, other approaches that seemed to be physicalist, such as Tononi's theory of integrated information, are evolving into forms of idealism or panpsychism.
In contrast, in this Special Issue we welcome approaches that locate consciousness in the physical world and thus propose plausible physical candidates for phenomenal experience. The inevitable cornerstone, of course, is the notion of the physical world. As a starting hypothesis, we will here consider the concept of physics as it is currently understood by physicists themselves, and leave it to the authors to propose conceptual extensions, as long as they are not ad hoc solutions to address the problem of consciousness. In fact, this Special Issue is based on the Copernican conviction that our minds are in no way special and therefore must find an explanation within the same laws and entities as any other physical phenomenon.
A necessary condition for a physicalist theory of consciousness is, of course, the ability to reduce the mental to purely physical phenomena and properties. If this is not the case, and if a residue of irreducible concepts (e.g., intentionality) remains in the theory, the theory cannot be called a physicalist theory of consciousness.
Thus, three categories of contributions are welcome in the Special Issue: 1) contributions that address the notion of physicalism, the current definition of physicalism, and tentative revisions of physicalism; 2) contributions that critique current approaches that qualify themselves as physicalist but end up requiring irreducible concepts; 3) contributions that posit radical hypotheses about physical candidates of consciousness within the physical framework.
Prof. Dr. Riccardo Manzotti