I am a currently a PhD candidate at the CEU in Budapest. Before shifting over to European time I completed an MPhil at the University of Adelaide. In my MPhil thesis, I explored metaphysical issues of mind while keeping one eye on advances in the philosophy of science. More specifically I laid the ground work for a naturalistic conception of emergence that is consistent with mechanistic and dynamical models of explanation, and considered whether such an ‘emergent materialism’ can help us understand how consciousness fits into the natural world. My conclusion is that while there are reasons to be skeptical about the prospects of explaining the ‘phenomenal character’ of experiences (especially of conscious agents that are physiologically very different from ourselves), emergent materialism can help us understand how ‘experience in general’ can be a perfectly natural feature of certain material systems. And, I argue, accounting for the existence of experience is all that is required to vindicate materialism. (My MPhil thesis is available below as is a draft of a recent paper that I gave at the 2017 Oxford Graduate Conference defending the claim in the last sentence).
In my current research I have left the hard problem of consciousness behind. While there is certainly something intrinsically interesting about the challenge of understand how mind can emerge from matter, many of the practical and ethical reasons we are interested in consciousness do not turn on a solution to the hard problem, but rather turn on whether or not we can justifiably measure the presence of consciousness and the forms it takes. Naturally there are considerable methodological issues associated with measuring consciousness. Here I think it is helpful to distinguish between two questions that we can ask about such a system: ‘Does it have experiences?’ and ‘If it does, what are they like?’ The project that I am currently developing involves exploring whether treating ‘experience in general’ as a natural kind can allow us to go beyond our pre-theoretical (behavioural) or intuitive ways of measuring consciousness?