• Galileo's Error

  • Foundations for a New Science of Consciousness
  • By: Philip Goff
  • Narrated by: Maxwell Caulfield
  • Length: 8 hrs and 3 mins
  • 4.4 out of 5 stars (169 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

From a leading philosopher of the mind comes this lucid, provocative argument that offers a radically new picture of human consciousness - panpsychism

Understanding how brains produce consciousness is one of the great scientific challenges of our age. Some philosophers argue that consciousness is something "extra", beyond the physical workings of the brain. Others think that if we persist in our standard scientific methods, our questions about consciousness will eventually be answered. And some suggest that the mystery is so deep, it will never be solved.

In Galileo's Error, Philip Goff offers an exciting alternative that could pave the way forward. Rooted in an analysis of the philosophical underpinnings of modern science and based on the early 20th-century work of Arthur Eddington and Bertrand Russell, Goff makes the case for panpsychism, a theory which posits that consciousness is not confined to biological entities but is a fundamental feature of all physical matter - from subatomic particles to the human brain. Here is the first step on a new path to the final theory of human consciousness.

Cover image: Gold Beam Collision Recorded at STAR. Copyright Brookhaven National Laboratory (Creative Commons). Full image available at Flickr.com.

©2019 Philip Goff (P)2019 Random House Audio

Critic Reviews

“In Galileo’s Error, Philip Goff argues for a new approach to the scientific study of consciousness. He offers an accessible and compelling analysis of why our felt experience continues to elude scientific explanation and why the theories that describe consciousness as a fundamental feature of matter have been neglected - and why they now deserve serious consideration. This is a must-read for anyone interested in the future of consciousness studies.” (Annaka Harris, best-selling author of Conscious: A Brief Guide to the Fundamental Mystery of the Mind)

“This is one of the clearest accounts I've ever read about the mystery of consciousness, and the way in which one theory about it, panpsychism, does a great deal to explain how it occurs and what it is. Why shouldn't consciousness be a normal property of matter, like mass or electrical charge? This idea has the glorious simplicity of our first realization that the earth goes around the sun, and not vice versa. Suddenly, the universe appears in a new and much more revealing perspective. Philip Goff's book is altogether a splendid introduction to this fascinating idea.” (Philip Pullman, author of the “His Dark Materials” series) 

“Philip Goff’s new book, Galileo’s Error, introduces the public to a revolutionary approach to one of the most stubborn of mysteries: How does the brain, with its chemical and electrical processes, give rise to a mind, whose thoughts, emotions, colors and tones we apprehend directly?  In this provocative, brave, and clearly written book, Goff makes a compelling case for an initially absurd thesis: that the colors we perceive are instances of universal qualities hidden within all material processes.” (Lee Smolin, author of Einstein’s Unfinished Revolution and founding member of the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics)

What listeners say about Galileo's Error

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    3 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

Good but basic

The book is well-written and builds an excellent arena for competing belief systems. He lays out relevant historical anchor points where world view has changed in the last millennium and articulated that much of our culture’s current popular philosophical position has no more proof than angels and magic beans. He doesn’t say magic beans but he does talk about why angels should not be factored into an evidence-based view of reality than should the idea that matter is dead and mechanistic. The author concludes that pan-psychism shakes out as the most likely accurate explanation of reality but I felt he defended materialism with more substance even while he pointed out its flaws and tendency to use blind faith arguments while criticizing blind faith. I would have liked more discussion of modern pan-psychism because, in the end, I gained little to use in my debates with tribalistic, self-involved, dogmatic worshipers of science as a religion rather than a process for discovery. I will concede that it turned me onto some interesting further study about brain surgery and plant problem solving. I just think he had room to go do much further. It’s a great book if you’re new to the concept of bridging quantum physics and Newtonian physics with consciousness as a principle ingredient. It just feels unfinished.

11 people found this helpful

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Pan-Psychism Explained

Goff makes a great case for the marriage of physics with philosophy. Finding the words, science, and data to explain consciousness have been elusive since the beginning of time. Finally a good explanation for not just how, but why consciousness pervades the universe.

7 people found this helpful

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Great book at describing Panpsychism BUT...

I thought this was a great work in the philosophy of Panpsychism. I thought it did an excellent job at showing the primary challenge for Pansychism of the combination problem. However, I think that Goff should have further elaborated on how IIT could be incorporated with the Pansychism world view. I'd highly recommend Max Tegmark's book Life 3.0 to any readers of this book (the entire book about AI is amazing, but particularly the last chapter on consciousness).
I understand that we need to try to pursue a model of consciousness that best fits the evidence rather than what we wish to be true or on arguements from authority. But I absolutely loved that Goff mentioned the arguements of Bertrand Russell (and Sir Arthur Eddington) were rediscovered. I wish I knew when Goff claimed these arguments had been "rediscovered". Bertrand Russell is perhaps my biggest hero, and I read his book The Basic Writings of Bertrand Russell over 20 years ago. One of his essays contained within "Physics and Neutral Monism" is essentially a gateway to Pansychism. So I found it absolutely fascinating to revisit that book and the annotations I had made in the margins from several decades ago! I would recommend reading the aforementioned Russell essay, as I had to reread for myself.

2 people found this helpful

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Really enjoyed it!

Great book and the narrator is fantastic! I also learned a lot about philosophy in general as the author draws heavily on the thinking of scientists and philosophers going all the way back to Aristotle.

Even tho the book is my read by the author the narrator is a pleasure to listen to.

2 people found this helpful

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A Great But One-Sided Conversation

Here, Goff explores panpsychism and contrasts it with two other prominent theories of consciousness, dualism and materialism. Panpsychism, like dualism but unlike materialism, takes consciousness as fundamental in the universe. Unlike dualism (which operates outside of physics via "psychophysical laws"), Goff considers panpsychism to operate wholly within the bounds of physics. However, to do this (and this is unique to panpsychism), one must consider the "data point" of consciousness as proof of the "qualitative", "internal natures" of "matter". Internal Natures are given their own "technical appendix" in this book.

The use of quotation marks above is not meant to be derisive (except maybe when referencing the technical appendix). It means that Goff's choice of words here are highly consequential. For example, how seriously will you, dear reader, take the "data point" of subjective consciousness? Is "qualitative" analysis really something science currently ignores, a science which has elucidated for us non-quantitative structures such as the biological cell, without needing to reference "internal natures"? And of "matter" - what of the non-massy, non-complex-structure forming photons and radiation of the world? Does this too have an internal nature? If so, why insist on using the words "matter" and "mass" throughout? And if not, what happens to the internal consciousness of a mass when it is converted to non-massy energy?

At times, Goff's focus is too narrow and he does set up and knock down a few strawmen in place of their broader populations - identity theory in lieu of physicalism when discussing zombies, causal structuralism instead of broader conceptions of physics when discussing internal natures, quantitative physical models without considering the more qualitative operands of scientific thinking. But this seems more a constraint of book length than philosophical laziness. In the end, this is one of those books I wish could be more like a live conversation with the author. Read this book. Enjoy the philosophy. And begin your panpsychist conversations here.

2 people found this helpful

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No less than phenomenal. A must-read/listen for anyone interested in contemporary philosophy and the science of consciousness

While I will concede that this book is not for everyone, I would definitely recommend it emphatically to those who may be seeking to put together the puzzle of consciousness, brain science, meaning, morality, and the intrinsic nature of the mind. If you are not turned off but rather excited by the conceptual density of this pursuit, you will adore this book. For me, it provided satisfying answers and exciting new questions related to my ongoing interest in connecting science, spirituality, philosophy, and secular morality. I so love this book that I believe it will be foundational to my continued study of these things. I know for one that I need to go back through it and pick out a long list of authors’ names and titles to continue a newly invigorated curriculum that could finally leave me more satisfied by not just knowing some new philosophy “lingo”, or having familiarity with certain concepts, but, indeed, actually approaching true contentment with a world view i can see as not just logical, but spiritually satisfying. Waaaaay more than one would expect from most any book.

1 person found this helpful

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Uncommonly honest.

Required reading for the Consciousness-obsessed. You'll appreciate this title if you're a fan of Iain McGilchrist or Douglas Hofstadter.

1 person found this helpful

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Well thought out, but at the end something doesn’t fully click

The book is well thought out. It provides a good overview of different approaches to consciousness. That said, while the author does not explicitly claim that it is the sole answer, the book seems to lean heavily in the direction of pan-psychism.

1 person found this helpful

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⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Finally a name to put to my feelings and views of the world. Fun and engaging listen.

1 person found this helpful

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Doesn't seem to make a difference.

"Consciousness", which is poorly defined to begin with, doesn't seem to make much of a difference in our lives if panpsychism is true. I disagree with basically the whole final chapter. "Meaning" involves emotion (so does morality). What gives something significance is that you care about it, not that there's "consciousness". If consciousness can be separated from emotion, then mere consciousness doesn't make anything significant or deserving of moral consideration. This book reminded me that the main use of philosophy, for me, is to help me look at the strength of arguments, imagine other ways of thinking and see how little we actually know about things.

1 person found this helpful