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Five Questions with Philip Goff

Five Questions with Philip Goff

In our third installment of our “5 on Fridays” series, philosopher Philip Goff shares his favorite books of all time, the change in philosophy he’d like to see, and the philosophical problem that has kept him up at night since he first learned about it in university.

Keep reading to learn more, and watch our recent Chat with Philip Goff here.

1.  What topic in science do you find particularly fascinating right now?

There have recently emerged challenges to the reductionism which has dominated contemporary science for so long, i.e. the view that physics that runs the show.

For example, the assembly theory of Sara Walker and Lee Cronin, and the recent defence of free will by Kevin Mitchell.

2.  What are you currently watching?

At the moment my wife and I are watching ‘Bodies.’ It’s pretty good. Not my all time favourite, but it’s a very intriguing premise—I’ve no idea what’s going on!

And I’m a huge fan of my fellow-Liverpudlian Stephen Graham, who plays the bad guy in this (or at least I think he’s a bad guy…).

3.  What do you hope to see change in philosophy in your lifetime?

I hope people rediscover the importance of philosophy in the project of finding out about reality, especially when it comes to consciousness. Our immediate awareness of conscious experience is a source of data in its own right, and we should take it as seriously as the data that comes out of experiments.

I think it’s inevitable we’ll get to this point, because you just can’t adequately deal with consciousness in any other way, and it’s going to revolutionise how we think about science, reality, and the nature of the mind.

4.  What big question about our universe keeps you up at night?

One philosophical puzzle I never found an answer to is Sorites paradox. For any heap of sand, if you take away one grain, you’ll still have a heap. That seemingly innocuous premise entails that zero grains of sand is a heap!

I remember hearing that at university and being unable to sleep properly for about a week, and I still don’t have the answer.

5.  What are your top five books of any genre and why?

1. Thomas Piketty’s A Brief History of Equality

Piketty is one of the most comprehensive empirical studies of changes in wealth over time, ending with concrete proposals for making the world better. I think it shows that Martin Luther King was right that ‘the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.’ It gives me hope!

2. Andy Weir’s Project Hail Mary

Incredibly scientifically well-researched sci-fi, which makes it feel very real. The lead character makes contact with a very differently evolved extraterrestrial, and it’s incredible how a real personality emerges from this very alien creature.

3. Saul Kripke’s Wittgenstein on Rule Following

This is a terrible interpretation of Wittgenstein but a very important work of philosophy in its own right. It points to a challenge accounting for the determinacy of thought, which I think will one day radically alter how we think about mind and intelligence. In fact, I ultimately think it leads to the ‘pan-agentialist’ view I defend in my new book although that’s not what Kripke intended!

4. Jeanine Cummins’ American Dirt

Very well-researched, very moving, and humanising story of Mexican refugees to US.

5. Fyodor Dostoevsky’s The Idiot

It’s kind of a cliché to say Dostoevsky, but it’s a cliché because he’s so brilliant!

I love that he just describes humans so well, but out of that a moral vision emerges. And I love anti-heroes. People who everyone thinks are fools, but are actually wise enough to win in the end: Socrates, Jesus, Columbo, Dr. Who.

Purchase Philip Goff’s book, Why? The Purpose of the Universe, available now.