Mind and Matter Researcher Spotlight: Alex Carruth and Valtteri Arstila

Mind and Matter philosophers join their expertise to understand the metaphysics of sensory experiences

The Mind and Matter profiling action employs two University Researchers working within the field of Theoretical Philosophy—one with a primary focus in Metaphysics and the other with a primary focus in Philosophy of Mind.

Dr Alex Carruth completed his doctorate under the supervision of Professors Sophie Gibb and E. J. Lowe at Durham University, UK. From 2013 he worked at the Philosophy Department in Durham in various research and teaching roles, before joining the University of Helsinki in September 2020. He works in metaphysics, the philosophy of science and the philosophy mind; on topics such as ontological categories, properties, powers, consciousness, mental causation and emergence. He is also interested in the philosophy of games, and is currently developing research on the metaphysics of games and on games and agency.

Dr Valtteri Arstila joined the University of Helsinki from the University of Turku, where he holds a docentship in philosophy with a specialization in the philosophy of psychology. He works on empirically informed philosophy of mind, with a particular interest in subjective time, and theories of consciousness and time-consciousness. Valtteri is the principal investigator in Temporality in Predictive Processing, a research project funded by the Academy of Finland.

Whilst Alex and Valtteri address questions concerning mind and matter from distinct philosophical sub-disciplines, there are many points of overlap in their approach to this fascinating field of study. They agree that cross-disciplinary cooperation—through initiatives such as Mind and Matter—is crucial to making progress in this field and that philosophical work on mind and matter should be informed by empirical findings. Furthermore, they share the view that the relationship between philosophy of mind and metaphysics is reciprocal and intertwined: philosophical theories about the mind should make their metaphysical commitments clear and be informed by developments in metaphysics; likewise one yardstick by which the attractiveness of a particular metaphysical theory can be measured is the extent to which adopting that theory can help to clarify or make progress regarding difficult questions concerning mind and matter.

These joint interests have led to a collaborative research paper (currently a work in progress) on how different metaphysical theories of properties impact the debate concerning the nature of conscious sensory experiences, and in particular whether such experiences (a particular visual or auditory experience, say) should be considered to be essentially representational. What surprised the authors is that as with their previous experience of cross-disciplinary collaboration, even this kind of intra-disciplinary project heavily required each party to contribute skills and expertise distinct to each philosophical sub-discipline.