Publications and Research
The rich inner world which constitutes our conscious experience undergoes many different types of change. One of the most drastic, yet familiar, types of change to our conscious expereince is that which occurs when we fall asleep each night and enter a dream, or when we awake from a dreamless sleep into wakeful consciousness. In these and related cases (such as when subjects take psychedelics), our conscious experience undergoes a profound shift - the typical experience of dreaming and being awake being very different - which is global in character; it affects and alters all aspects of our conscious experience, from our sense of self and agency to our experience of time and mental imagery.
Despite being central both to our familiar experience of the world and to consciousness science, the concept of a global state of consciousness, understood as a whole and distinct from individual states like dreaming, has received comparatively little philosophical attention. Is there such a thing as a 'level' or 'global' state of consciousness? If so, what does being in a particular state of consciousness - being awake, dreaming, being in a state in which one has insight into the fact that one is dreaming - consist in? Which mental phenomena, beyond paradigmatic states such as wakefulness and dreaming, can be best explained in terms of changes to a subject's global state of consciousness?
1. ''Aphantasia, imagination and dreaming'' (2020). Philosophical Studies 178, 2111–2132.
This paper explores the second question with respect to the global state one occupies while dreaming, starting with the long-standing debate regarding whether dreams are best understood as imaginative or hallucinatory experiences. I argue that the discovery of aphantasia (an imagery disorder in which one lacks the capacity to actively generate visual imagery) raises novel explanatory considerations for the on-going philosophical and empirical debate over the nature of dreams. In particular, I argue this raises a challenge to the view that dreams involve active forms of imagination.
A blog post which explains the key ideas can be found here.
I was also interviewed by the Philosophy Exchange about this paper. The podcast can be found on Spotify here.
2. Depression as a Disorder of Consciousness'' (forthcoming). The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science. https://doi.org/10.1086/716838 . Awarded The Popper Memorial Prize.
I extend some of the ideas in this literature to debates on the nature of depression within philosophy of psychiatry. In the paper I put forward and develop a novel hypothesis about the nature of depression according to which depression involves a change to a subject’s global state of consciousness. I draw out two key implications of this hypothesis for the neurobiology of depression and the emerging clinical field of psychedelic psychiatry.
I recently wrote (with Jonathan Birch) a public philosophy article in Psyche + Aeon which summarises the main idea, which can be found here.
I was recently interviewed about my research on depression by Sean Moncrieff on Newstalk Radio.
If you are struggling to access my papers, please send me an email on cmkw2 AT cam DOT ac DOT uk.
A paper on natural kinds and the neuroscience and psychology of dreaming.
A paper on conceptual change and the science of consciousness.
A paper on the nature of global states of consciousness.
A paper on natural kinds and animal sentience research.
A paper on natural kinds and the problem of other minds.