Thought: A Journal of Philosophy

Volume 3, Issue 1, March 2014

Luke Roelofs
Pages 59-70

Phenomenal Blending and the Palette Problem

I discuss the apparent discrepancy between the qualitative diversity of consciousness and the relative qualitative homogeneity of the brain’s basic constituents, a discrepancy that has been raised as a problem for identity theorists by Maxwell and Lockwood (as one element of the ‘grain problem’), and more recently as a problem for panpsychists (under the heading of ‘the palette problem’). The challenge posed to panpsychists by this discrepancy is to make sense of how a relatively small ‘palette’ of basic qualities could give rise to the bewildering diversity of qualities we, and presumably other creatures, experience. I argue that panpsychists can meet this challenge, though it requires taking contentious stands on certain phenomenological questions, in particular on whether any familiar qualities are actual examples of ‘phenomenal blending’, and whether any other familiar qualities have a positive ‘phenomenologically simple character’. Moreover, it requires accepting an eventual theory most elements of which are in a certain explicable sense unimaginable, though not for that reason inconceivable. Nevertheless, I conclude that there are no conclusive reasons to reject such a theory, and so philosophers whose prior commitments motivate them to adopt it can do so without major theoretical cost.