David Chalmers

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David Chalmers
David Chalmers TASC2008.JPG
Chalmers in 2008
David John Chalmers

(1966-04-20) 20 April 1966 (age 53)
Sydney, Australia
Alma mater University of Adelaide
Lincoln College, Oxford
Indiana University
Era Contemporary philosophy
Region Western philosophy
School Analytic
Main interests
Philosophy of mind
Philosophy of language
Notable ideas
Hard problem of consciousness; Extended mind; Two-dimensional semantics; Naturalistic dualism
Website Official website

David John Chalmers ( /ˈælmərz/ ; [1] born 20 April 1966) is an Australian philosopher and cognitive scientist specializing in the areas of philosophy of mind and philosophy of language. He is Professor of Philosophy and Director of the Centre for Consciousness at the Australian National University. He is also a University Professor, Professor of Philosophy and Neural Science, and a Director of the Center for Mind, Brain and Consciousness (along with Ned Block) at New York University. [2] [3] In 2013, he was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences. [4]

Philosopher person with an extensive knowledge of philosophy

A philosopher is someone who practices philosophy. The term "philosopher" comes from the Ancient Greek, φιλόσοφος (philosophos), meaning "lover of wisdom". The coining of the term has been attributed to the Greek thinker Pythagoras.

Philosophy of mind branch of philosophy on the nature of the mind

Philosophy of mind is a branch of philosophy that studies the ontology, nature, and relationship of the mind to the body. The mind–body problem is a paradigm issue in philosophy of mind, although other issues are addressed, such as the hard problem of consciousness, and the nature of particular mental states. Aspects of the mind that are studied include mental events, mental functions, mental properties, consciousness, the ontology of the mind, the nature of thought, and the relationship of the mind to the body.

Philosophy of language, in the analytical tradition, explored logic, the nature of meaning, and accounts of the mind.


Early life and education

Chalmers was born in Sydney, New South Wales in 1966 and then grew up in Adelaide, South Australia. [5] As a child, he experienced synesthesia. [5] He also performed exceptionally in maths and secured a bronze medal in the International Mathematical Olympiad. [5]

Sydney City in New South Wales, Australia

Sydney is the state capital of New South Wales and the most populous city in Australia and Oceania. Located on Australia's east coast, the metropolis surrounds Port Jackson and extends about 70 km (43.5 mi) on its periphery towards the Blue Mountains to the west, Hawkesbury to the north, the Royal National Park to the south and Macarthur to the south-west. Sydney is made up of 658 suburbs, 40 local government areas and 15 contiguous regions. Residents of the city are known as "Sydneysiders". As of June 2017, Sydney's estimated metropolitan population was 5,230,330 and is home to approximately 65% of the state's population.

New South Wales State of Australia

New South Wales is a state on the east coast of Australia. It borders Queensland to the north, Victoria to the south, and South Australia to the west. Its coast borders the Tasman Sea to the east. The Australian Capital Territory is an enclave within the state. New South Wales' state capital is Sydney, which is also Australia's most populous city. In September 2018, the population of New South Wales was over 8 million, making it Australia's most populous state. Just under two-thirds of the state's population, 5.1 million, live in the Greater Sydney area. Inhabitants of New South Wales are referred to as New South Welshmen.

Adelaide City in South Australia

Adelaide is the capital city of the state of South Australia, and the fifth-most populous city of Australia. In June 2017, Adelaide had an estimated resident population of 1,333,927. Adelaide is home to more than 75 percent of the South Australian population, making it the most centralised population of any state in Australia.

Chalmers received his undergraduate degree in pure mathematics from the University of Adelaide in Australia [6] and continued his studies at the University of Oxford, [6] where he was a Rhodes Scholar. [7] Chalmers received his PhD in philosophy and cognitive science from Indiana University Bloomington under Douglas Hofstadter, [8] writing a doctoral thesis titled, "Toward a theory of consciousness." [7] He was a postdoctoral fellow in the Philosophy-Neuroscience-Psychology program directed by Andy Clark at Washington University in St. Louis from 1993 to 1995.

University of Adelaide Public university in Adelaide, South Australia

The University of Adelaide is a public university located in Adelaide, South Australia. Established in 1874, it is the third-oldest university in Australia. The university's main campus is located on North Terrace in the Adelaide city centre, adjacent to the Art Gallery of South Australia, the South Australian Museum and the State Library of South Australia.

University of Oxford University in Oxford, United Kingdom

The University of Oxford is a collegiate research university in Oxford, England. There is evidence of teaching as early as 1096, making it the oldest university in the English-speaking world and the world's second-oldest university in continuous operation. It grew rapidly from 1167 when Henry II banned English students from attending the University of Paris. After disputes between students and Oxford townsfolk in 1209, some academics fled north-east to Cambridge where they established what became the University of Cambridge. The two 'ancient universities' are frequently jointly called 'Oxbridge'. The history and influence of the University of Oxford has made it one of the most prestigious universities in the world.

Rhodes Scholarship an international postgraduate award for students to study at the University of Oxford

The Rhodes Scholarship is an international postgraduate award for students to study at the University of Oxford. It was established in 1902, making it the first large-scale programme of international scholarship. The Rhodes Scholarship was founded by English businessman and politician Cecil John Rhodes, to promote unity between English speaking nations and instill a sense of civic-minded leadership and moral fortitude in future leaders irrespective of their chosen career paths. Although initially restricted to male applicants from countries which are today within the Commonwealth, as well as Germany and the United States, today the Scholarship is open to applicants from all backgrounds and from across the globe. Since its creation, controversy has surrounded both its former exclusion of women, and Rhodes' Anglo-supremacist beliefs and legacy of colonialism.


In 1994, Chalmers presented a lecture at the inaugural Toward a Science of Consciousness conference. [8] According to an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education , this "lecture established Chalmers as a thinker to be reckoned with and goosed a nascent field into greater prominence." [8] He went on to co-organize the conference (now renamed "The Science of Consciousness") for some years with Stuart Hameroff, but stepped away when it became too divergent from mainstream science. [8] Chalmers is also a founding member of the Association for the Scientific Study of Consciousness, as well as one of its past presidents. [9]

The Science of Consciousness is an international academic conference that has been held biannually since 1994. It is organized by the Center for Consciousness Studies of the University of Arizona. Alternate conferences are held in Arizona, and the others in locations worldwide. Each conference attracts hundreds of attendees. The conference is devoted exclusively to the investigation of consciousness.

Stuart Hameroff American anesthesiologist

Stuart Hameroff is an anesthesiologist and professor at the University of Arizona known for his studies of consciousness and his controversial contention that consciousness originates from quantum states in neural microtubules. He is the lead organizer of the Science of Consciousness conference.

The Association for the Scientific Study of Consciousness (ASSC) is a professional membership organization that aims to encourage research on consciousness in cognitive science, neuroscience, philosophy, and other relevant disciplines in the sciences and humanities, directed toward understanding the nature, function, and underlying mechanisms of consciousness.

Having established his name, Chalmers received his first professorship the following year, at UC Santa Cruz, from August 1995 to December 1998. In 1996, while teaching there, he published the widely-cited book The Conscious Mind . Chalmers was subsequently appointed Professor of Philosophy (1999–2004) and, later, Director of the Center for Consciousness Studies (2002–2004) at the University of Arizona, sponsor of the conference that had first brought him to prominence. In 2004, Chalmers returned to Australia, encouraged by an ARC Federation Fellowship, becoming Professor of Philosophy and Director of the Centre for Consciousness at the Australian National University.[ citation needed ] Chalmers accepted a part-time professorship at New York University in 2009, and then a full-time professorship at the same university in 2014. [10]

<i>The Conscious Mind</i> philosophy book by David Chalmers

The Conscious Mind: In Search of a Fundamental Theory is a 1996 book by David Chalmers, an Australian philosopher specializing in the area of philosophy of mind.

University of Arizona Public university in Tucson, Arizona, United States

The University of Arizona is a public research university in Tucson, Arizona. Founded in 1885, the UA was the first university in the Arizona Territory. As of 2017, the university enrolls 44,831 students in 19 separate colleges/schools, including the University of Arizona College of Medicine in Tucson and Phoenix and the James E. Rogers College of Law, and is affiliated with two academic medical centers. The University of Arizona is governed by the Arizona Board of Regents. The University of Arizona is one of the elected members of the Association of American Universities and is the only representative from the state of Arizona to this group.

Federation Fellowships are Australian professorial research fellowships that were instigated by the Australian Government as part of their Backing Australia's Ability initiative. They were initially designed to compete with prestigious overseas grants in an attempt to lure back high-profile Australian researchers from foreign institutions. The first round of Fellowships in 2001 were awarded to 15 researchers, 6 of whom were working overseas at the time.

In 2013, Chalmers was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences. [4] He is an editor on topics in the philosophy of mind for the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy . [11] In May 2018, it was announced that he would serve on the jury for the Berggruen Prize. [12]

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (SEP) combines an online encyclopedia of philosophy with peer-reviewed publication of original papers in philosophy, freely accessible to Internet users. It is maintained by Stanford University. Each entry is written and maintained by an expert in the field, including professors from many academic institutions worldwide. Authors contributing to the encyclopedia give Stanford University the permission to publish the articles, but retain the copyright to those articles.

Philosophical work

Philosophy of mind

Chalmers on stage for an Alan Turing Year event at De La Salle University, Manila, March 27, 2012 David Chalmers, delivering a talk at De La Salle University-Manila, March 27, 2012.jpg
Chalmers on stage for an Alan Turing Year event at De La Salle University, Manila, March 27, 2012

Chalmers is best known for formulating what he calls the hard problem of consciousness, in both his 1995 paper "Facing Up to the Problem of Consciousness" and his 1996 book The Conscious Mind . He makes a distinction between "easy" problems of consciousness, such as explaining object discrimination or verbal reports, and the single hard problem, which could be stated "why does the feeling which accompanies awareness of sensory information exist at all?" The essential difference between the (cognitive) easy problems and the (phenomenal) hard problem is that the former are at least theoretically answerable via the dominant strategy in the philosophy of mind: physicalism. Chalmers argues for an "explanatory gap" from the objective to the subjective, and criticizes physicalist explanations of mental experience, making him a dualist. Chalmers characterizes his view as "naturalistic dualism": naturalistic because he believes mental states are caused by physical systems (such as brains); dualist because he believes mental states are ontologically distinct from and not reducible to physical systems. This view could also be characterized by more traditional formulations such as property dualism .[ according to whom? ]

In support of this, Chalmers is famous for his commitment to the logical (though, importantly, not natural) possibility of philosophical zombies. [13] These zombies, unlike the zombie of popular fiction, are complete physical duplicates of human beings, lacking only qualitative experience. Chalmers argues that since such zombies are conceivable to us, they must therefore be logically possible. Since they are logically possible, then qualia and sentience are not fully explained by physical properties alone; the facts about them are further facts. Instead, Chalmers argues that consciousness is a fundamental property ontologically autonomous of any known (or even possible) physical properties, [14] and that there may be lawlike rules which he terms "psychophysical laws" that determine which physical systems are associated with which types of qualia. He further speculates that all information-bearing systems may be conscious, leading him to entertain the possibility of conscious thermostats and a qualified panpsychism he calls panprotopsychism. Chalmers maintains a formal agnosticism on the issue, even conceding that the viability of panpsychism places him at odds with the majority of his contemporaries. According to Chalmers, his arguments are similar to a line of thought that goes back to Leibniz's 1714 "mill" argument; the first substantial use of philosophical "zombie" terminology may be Robert Kirk's 1974 "Zombies vs. Materialists". [15]

After the publication of Chalmers's landmark paper, more than twenty papers in response were published in the Journal of Consciousness Studies. These papers (by Daniel Dennett, Colin McGinn, Francisco Varela, Francis Crick, and Roger Penrose, among others) were collected and published in the book Explaining Consciousness: The Hard Problem. John Searle critiqued Chalmers's views in The New York Review of Books . [16]

With Andy Clark, Chalmers has written "The Extended Mind", an article about the borders of the mind. [17]

Philosophy of language

Chalmers has published works on the "theory of reference" concerning how words secure their referents. He, together with others such as Frank Jackson, proposes a kind of theory called two dimensionalism arguing against Saul Kripke. Before Kripke delivered the famous lecture series Naming and Necessity in 1970, the descriptivism advocated by Gottlob Frege and Bertrand Russell was the orthodoxy. Descriptivism suggests that a name is indeed an abbreviation of a description, which is a set of properties or, as later modified by John Searle, a disjunction of properties. This name secures its reference by a process of properties fitting: whichever object fits the description most, then it is the referent of the name. Therefore, the description is seen as the connotation, or, in Fregean terms, the sense of the name, and it is via this sense by which the denotation of the name is determined.

However, as Kripke argued in Naming and Necessity, a name does not secure its reference via any process of description fitting. Rather, a name determines its reference via a historical-causal link tracing back to the process of naming. And thus, Kripke thinks that a name does not have a sense, or, at least, does not have a sense which is rich enough to play the reference-determining role. Moreover, a name, in Kripke's view, is a rigid designator, which refers to the same object in all possible worlds. Following this line of thought, Kripke suggests that any scientific identity statement such as "Water is H2O" is also a necessary statement, i.e. true in all possible worlds. Kripke thinks that this is a phenomenon that the descriptivist cannot explain.

And, as also proposed by Hilary Putnam and Kripke himself, Kripke's view on names can also be applied to the reference of natural kind terms. The kind of theory of reference that is advocated by Kripke and Putnam is called the direct reference theory.

However, Chalmers disagrees with Kripke, and all the direct reference theorists in general. He thinks that there are two kinds of intension of a natural kind term, a stance which is now called two dimensionalism. For example, the words,

"Water is H2O"

are taken to express two distinct propositions, often referred to as a primary intension and a secondary intension, which together compose its meaning. [18]

The primary intension of a word or sentence is its sense, i.e., is the idea or method by which we find its referent. The primary intension of "water" might be a description, such as watery stuff. The thing picked out by the primary intension of "water" could have been otherwise. For example, on some other world where the inhabitants take "water" to mean watery stuff, but where the chemical make-up of watery stuff is not H2O, it is not the case that water is H2O for that world.

The secondary intension of "water" is whatever thing "water" happens to pick out in this world, whatever that world happens to be. So if we assign "water" the primary intension watery stuff then the secondary intension of "water" is H2O, since H2O is watery stuff in this world. The secondary intension of "water" in our world is H2O, and is H2O in every world because unlike watery stuff it is impossible for H2O to be other than H2O. When considered according to its secondary intension, water means H2O in every world. Via this secondary intension, Chalmers proposes a way simultaneously to explain the necessity of the identity statement and to preserve the role of intension/sense in determining the reference.

Philosophy of verbal disputes

In some more recent work, Chalmers has concentrated on verbal disputes. [19] He argues that a dispute is best characterized as "verbal" when it concerns some sentence S which contains a term T such that (i) the parties to the dispute disagree over the meaning of T, and (ii) the dispute arises solely because of this disagreement. In the same work, Chalmers proposes certain procedures for the resolution of verbal disputes. One of these he calls the "elimination method", which involves eliminating the contentious term and observing whether any dispute remains.

Personal life

Chalmers is the lead singer of the Zombie Blues band, which performed at the music festival Qualia Fest in 2012 in New York. [20]


See also


  1. "The Thinking Ape: The Enigma of Human Consciousness"
  2. philosophy.fas.nyu.edu
  3. "People – NYU Center for Mind, Brain and Consciousness". wp.nyu.edu. Retrieved 11 December 2016.
  4. 1 2 "David Chalmers receives top Chancellor's Award". Australian National University. 17 January 2014. Retrieved 2 October 2018.
  5. 1 2 3 Keane, Daniel (6 July 2017). "Philosopher David Chalmers on consciousness, the hard problem and the nature of reality". ABC News (Australia). Retrieved 28 September 2018.
  6. 1 2 Lovett, Christopher (2003). "Column: Interview with David Chalmers" (PDF). Cognitive Science Online. 1 (1). Retrieved 9 October 2018.
  7. 1 2 "David Chalmers". National Portrait Gallery. Retrieved 9 October 2018.
  8. 1 2 3 4 Bartlett, Tom (6 June 2018). "Is This the World's Most Bizarre Scholarly Meeting?". The Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved 19 June 2018.
  9. "David Chalmers". Edge.org. Retrieved 30 September 2018.
  10. Jackson, Sarah (27 March 2017). "Are We Living in the Matrix?". Washington Square News. Retrieved 9 October 2018.
  11. "Editorial Board (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)". plato.stanford.edu. Retrieved 10 December 2016.
  12. "The Berggruen Prize | Philosophy & Culture | Berggruen". philosophyandculture.berggruen.org. Retrieved 1 June 2018.
  13. Burkeman, Oliver (21 January 2015). "Why can't the world's greatest minds solve the mystery of consciousness?". The Guardian . Retrieved 7 January 2017.
  14. Chalmers, D. J. (1 March 1995). "Facing up to the problem of consciousness" . Retrieved 10 October 2018. In physics, it occasionally happens that an entity has to be taken as fundamental. Fundamental entities are not explained in terms of anything simpler. Instead, one takes them as basic, and gives a theory of how they relate to everything else in the world.
  15. David Chalmers. "Zombies on the web". consc.net. Retrieved 7 January 2017. As far as I know, the first paper in the philosophical literature to talk at length about zombies under that name was Robert Kirk's "Zombies vs. Materialists" in Mind in 1974, although Keith Campbell's 1970 book Body and Mind talks about an "imitation-man" which is much the same thing, and the idea arguably goes back to Leibniz's "mill" argument.
  16. Searle's review of The Conscious Mind 6 March 1997 (subscription required)
    Chalmers' response to Searle and Searle's reply 15 May 1997 (free access)
  17. consc.net Analysis 58:10-23, 1998. Reprinted in The Philosopher's Annual, 1998.
  18. for a fuller explanation see Chalmers, David. The Conscious Mind. Oxford UP: 1996. Chapter 2, section 4.
  19. consc.net Philosophical Review, 120:4, 2011.
  20. Kaminer, Ariel (9 December 2012). "Where Theory and Research Meet to Jam About the Mind". New York Times. Retrieved 2 October 2018.

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