One of Goff’s many achievements in this book is that he makes the fundamental problem of consciousness vivid and, moreover, comprehensible to non-experts. As Goff initially sets things out, following a standard characterization of the problem, the trouble is that within our contemporary scientific paradigm, which he traces back to Galileo, we must think of physics as providing explanations in purely quantitative terms: in terms of numerically measurable quantities. And yet it seems that consciousness cannot be explained in this way. Consciousness, as we might say, is “qualitative”, not “quantitative”. So the familiar facts of consciousness seem strange relative to the rest of what we understand.
Philip Goff’s engaging Galileo’s Error is a full‑on defence of panpsychism. It’s plainly a difficult view, but when we get serious about consciousness, and put aside the standard bag of philosophical tricks, it seems that one has to choose, with Wallace, between some version of panpsychism or fairytales about immaterial souls. This is of course too simple; Galileo’s Error lays out many of the complexities. It’s an illuminating introduction to the topic of consciousness. It addresses the real issue – unlike almost all recent popular books on this subject. It stands a good chance of delivering the extremely large intellectual jolt that many people will need if they are to get into (or anywhere near) the right ballpark for thinking about consciousness. This is a great thing.