Luke (lukeroelofs.com & Majestic Equality) is a philosopher of mind at the Centre for Mind, Brain & Consciousness at New York University. Although Luke works primarily on philosophy of mind & metaphysics, their areas of interest include ethics, social & political philosophy, early modern philosophy and philosophy of gender & sexuality. Their book, “Reason, Empathy, and the Minds of Others” is under contract with Oxford University Press.
In Sentientist Conversations we talk about the two most important questions: “what’s real?” & “what matters?”
1:32 Luke’s Intro – Philosophy of Mind
- Linking epistemology (how can we know) and ethics
- Consciousness as “the state that we’re in whenever we’re aware of anything… and any possible variation… of states like that”
3:41 What’s Real?
- Growing up fairly non-religious, but not anti-religious
- Talking to “modern” Christians who focused on “the spirit of Jesus’ ethos”
- Seeking out more forthright religious perspectives
- Being a fairly convinced atheist since 14 yrs
- “There’s very little evidential weight in the specific claims of religious revelation”
- The idea the universe was contrived by a benevolent being… doesn’t seem supported by the very morally mixed character of existence
- “The great majority of existence is neither good nor bad – it’s just dust in space”
- Mysterious ways & ineffability
- Theodicies as reminiscent of the excuses humans make for abuse
- The “Just World” bias leads us to make excuses for suffering
- Faith as belief without evidence or faith as trust in & loyalty to your group
14:00 What (and Who) Matters?
- Going vegetarian. “There was something weird about eating animals”
- Going vegan at 13-14 to spite an annoying person who pointed out the logical inconsistency of being vegetarian
- “Fine… just to spite you I’m going to be vegan”
- Most potential changes in my beliefs wouldn’t change my moral beliefs
- Morality as a somewhat autonomous domain of reasoning
- The epistemology of imagination (of our own future states, or those of other sentient beings) as the link to ethics
- “Any argument will fail against someone who says ‘what if I don’t care about logical consistency'”
- The evolution of morality. The explosion of human intelligence, maybe through social needs?
- Empathy as a side-effect of the value of being able to predict the actions of other agents and maternal commitment
- “I don’t think there’s any clear line that can be drawn that will separate humans from animals in a way that seems like it ought to be morally compelling”
- More “advanced” human capabilities don’t unseat or supercede the more basic question about suffering or flourishing
- “I don’t want to say that a human life and a mosquito life have equal value”
- Degrees of sentience and degrees of moral value
- Sentientism’s focus on the boundary of moral consideration
- The potential convergence between ecocentric, biocentric and sentiocetric perspectives (e.g. re: animal farming and the environment)
- “I had philosophy books instead of social skills”
- “Arguments led to behaviour changes… I get the impression that’s not all that common among more normal people”
34:15 Panpsychism & Metaphysics
- “All things are conscious in the exact proportion to their physical complexity – down to even the simplest physical things which have some unimaginably simple conscious state.”
- Broad Sentientism (consciousness of any sort – pervasive) & Narrow Sentientism (capacity to experience suffering/flourishing – generally animals)
- “We may have a better intuitive grip on which things can have pleasure and suffering than on which things are conscious per se”
- “I understand other minds by reference to my own mind”
- Suffering, pleasure or desire?
- Plant sentience? “There doesn’t seem to be anywhere in a tree that puts everything together”
- Workspace integration & attention. Plants don’t seem to have either. They just have stimulus-reponse pairing
- If there is some type of plant experience it’s importantly different to that of animals
- Animals do have pleasure & displeasure because they have a nervous system that centralises & compares & integrates sensory input because they have a body that moves
- Sentient wholes & parts
- A system could be conscious but also have sub-systems that are in themselves conscious
- Micro-minds and the combination problem. Luke’s “Combining Minds” book
- Some non-materialists claim “the mind can’t have parts.” An indivisible and immaterial soul?
- “Trying to have my cake and eat it too” – seeing value in the integration of a system as well as it’s constituent parts
- Is too much ecocentrism and environmentalism a veneer over anthropocentrism? Maybe that’s unfair as many people do seem to have a genuine environmental concern
- “Maybe I love the biosphere because on some level I was always recognising its structure as an expression of some sort of sentience that I value.”
- “Philosophy is always playing catch up”
- “The cold light of day is not always the best light”
- Illusionism, Keith Frankish and Daniel Dennett
- Consciousness and sentience as biologically evolved classes of information processing?
- “Dennettian Panpsychism” and the convergences between panpsychism and materialist monisms (together against dualism)
- “There’s no consciousness but information processing” vs. “Consciousness is just what information processing is”
- The challenges of terminology re: consciousness
- “Illusionism feels like it’s left something out re: my experience”
- “If I weren’t a panpsychist I might well be a materialist of some fairly aggressive sort.” Other panpsychists prefer dualism as a second option
- “Woo” vs. more materialistic versions of panpsychism
1:01:36 Philosophy and The Future
- Human psychology
- Supernaturalism and anthropocentrism as “kryptonite” for otherwise careful thinkers
- “There are a lot of vegan philosophers”
- Intellectual workers need to be able to disconnect from real-life implications. That can be valuable but it can also block positive behaviour changes
- “The history of progressive movements is full of people who endorse high-sounding ideas but that need a push when it comes to acting”
- Animal liberation is really hard because there’s no one who both can advocate and has a self-interested stake – that makes progress slower
- Justice, solidarity and co-operation – facilitated by tech progress and higher standards of living and interpersonal connection
- Optimistic about the long-run, but we might not have a “long-run”
- If humans manage to get it to get to solve collective action problems (e.g. climate change) in time…
- Otherwise, environmental and resource pressure could dangerously undercut co-operation
- Populism, authoritarianism, nationalism, Trump and Netanyahu. Are we re-playing a lot of early 20th century history? Capitalist over-optimism leads to a collapse and reacitonary, even fascist movements?
- Capitalism is in some ways an improvement – but it also has a potential for global control and subsuming our social functions within it
- The danger of becoming too enamoured with the idea of progress per se. We need to see the real risks of new scientific ideologies. E.g. Eugenics was conceived as a positive idea, then used for horrific ends
- We need to struggle for empathy, equality and liberation
- Listen to those who are being oppressed, often through the intersections of different oppressions
- The need for a combination of naturalism and sentiocentric compassion
- “Majestic Equality” – “High ideals can easily be very empty if they’re not informed by attention to people’s concrete social position.”
Everyone, Sentientist or not, is welcome in our groups. The biggest so far is here on FaceBook. Come join us!
Thanks Graham for the post-production.