78: Adam Toon philosophizes about the mind

What People Do

14-11-2023 • 50 min

There is a beautifully un-nail-down-able question-and-answer I have been rolling around, like a stone in a rock polisher, for many years now: What is consciousness?

It’s the big thing that seems to separate us from other animals: We are conscious or self-reflective or imaginative or reasoning in a way that other creatures, great and small, do not seem to be.

This quest, which has carried around in the world of neurologists, psychologists, philosophers, theologians, self-help gurus, physicists and more ...led me to Adam Toon, an Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of Exeter.

His most recent book, Mind as Metaphor: A Defence of Mental Fictionalism (2023, Oxford University Press), discusses a related question he himself has been noodling on: What if our consciousness can make more sense if we admit that many of the truths of reality we hold are convenient fictions? We know some ideas we hold about ourselves and the world aren't true, or not totally true, but they’re useful or convenient or accessible or … well, lots of things.

What if we admit things that aren’t real are useful to believe? Is that the way we can better understand some part of this weird reason, consciousness, self-awareness we seem to have?

Let us find out, and along the way discover what brings a former math-and-theoretical-physics-obsessed guy to the world of thinking about science, not just doing science.

Further stuff you might like:

> Adam also wrote in 2012, as part of a "New Directions in the Philosophy of Science" series, Models as Make-Believe: Imagination, Fiction and Scientific Representation.

> A favorite book of mine on mind is A Strange Loop by Douglas Hofstadter. If you were ever to read it, I would certainly re-read it and discuss it with you!

> A favorite podcast of mine on consciousness is Buddhist. The Amaravati Monastery, like Toon in the U.K., shares episodes online here.