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Research Statement

Drafts available on request.
Time’s Arrow, Temporal Coding and Phenomenal Vehicle Externalism

This paper asks whether our brains can make use of objective temporal order (e.g. Morse code) to realize our experiences. There is plenty of evidence that rate envelope and relative spike time coding are ubiquitous in neural coding. But a look into the foundations of thermodynamics suggests that temporal order constitutively depends on the universal distribution of entropy, and it is not plausible that our experiences constitutively depend on anything as radically extrinsic to us as the universal distribution of entropy. The upshot is a quadrilemma. Assuming that the realizers of our experience can make use of temporal order, we must choose between one of the following four poisons: 1) deflationism about phenomenal consciousness — roughly, the view that which things there is something it is like to be is up to us to stipulate; 2) anti-reductionism about phenomenal consciousness — roughly, the view that phenomenal properties are not reducible to material properties; 3) anti-reductionism about the direction of time — roughly, the view that there exists a primitive time-ordering field which intrinsically distinguishes the past from the future; and 4) radical phenomenal vehicle externalism – roughly, the view that the vehicles of the experiences we call `ours’ actually extend back into the far reaches of the early universe, before the galaxies were formed.

What is it Like to be AlphaGo?

The robots will probably be conscious one day, but what if they are already conscious today? Here I explore the leading reasons for dismissing this possibility and find them wanting. I conclude that it is a live possibility that implementations of leading contemporary AI algorithms (like AlphaGo or AlphaZero) are phenomenally conscious.

Painkillers for the Representationalist’s Headache

Evaluativism is the view that unpleasant pain experience represents bodily disturbance as normatively bad. The killing the messenger objection to evaluativism is that while the evaluativist has a nice story about the rationality of body-directed action in response to pain (like tending to the wound), the evaluativist confronts various obstacles in accounting for the rationality of experience-directed action in response to pain (like taking painkillers). Evaluativists have overcome some of these obstacles without questioning the claim that actions like taking painkillers really are experience-directed in the typical case. Here I will consider some obstacles that evaluativists have not yet overcome, and I will suggest that the best way for evaluativists to overcome these new obstacles is to question that claim after all. I will then develop a positive account of a version of evaluativism that proceeds accordingly, which I call naive evaluativism. According to naive evaluativism, seemingly experience-directed actions like taking painkillers are directed at the bodily badness that pain experience represents in the typical case. We experience painkillers as diminishing bodily badness, and that is why we take them.

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