Galileo’s Error

Anil Seth Twitter

Finally made substantial progress with Philip Goff’s recent offering on the subject of consciousness, and as someone equally intrigued by the advancements of science and their implications for both neuroscience and the efforts to develop a science of consciousness, I must admit that I find myself in agreement with many of Goff’s assertions, even though I’m not quite completely convinced by all of his arguments. His review of the variety of approaches to understanding the nature of human consciousness and his fairly even-handed treatment of views which differ from his own is especially encouraging, since this approach is less evident in other treatments of the subject.

Justus Sustermans Uffizi Gallery, Florence

One of the most interesting general starting points in Goff’s approach is when he pointed out Galileo’s idea to separate our subjective experience of objects from the objects themselves: “Just as beauty exists only in the eye of the beholder, so colors, smells, tastes, and sounds exist only in the conscious soul of a human being as she experiences the world. In other words, Galileo transformed the sensory qualities from features of things in the world—such as lemons—into forms of consciousness in the souls of human beings.”

This “error” led to the scientific revolution where mathematics could describe the phenomenal world like never before. Galileo also was able to deduce through reasoning alone that objects, no matter how much they weigh, fall at the same rate, by revealing the contradiction in the idea that heavier objects fall faster than lighter objects. Goff takes great pains to point out the value of philosophy in this way:

“It is sometimes claimed that the scientific revolution, and the great progress which followed it, have rendered philosophy impotent as a tool for understanding the natural world. And yet the father of the scientific revolution is in fact the great vindicator of the philosophical method. Galileo is one of the few philosophers to have produced a philosophical argument which nobody has ever disputed; and with this argument he transformed our understanding of the physical world.”

As we know, Galileo’s idea that all objects fall at the same rate was demonstrated by Apollo astronaut, David Scott, who dropped a hammer and a feather during his mission on the moon, and they both hit the surface at the same time. While waking consciousness is made coherent by our ability to remember each moment as it happens and becomes the next moment, our dreaming consciousness, while often remembered, as explained by Goff, may not follow logically in the same way:

“Even in the dreams we do remember when we wake up, what is experienced from moment to moment is often not so tightly bound together by memory. One moment we’re back in high school being taught French by Miss Clarke, and the next moment we’re on top of a mountain without noticing anything has changed. Memory is still recording the dream (if it weren’t we wouldn’t be able to remember it upon waking), but it is not binding moment-to-moment experience into a coherent whole as it does in waking life.”

After reading through this section of the book, I awoke suddenly twice that night from two elaborate dreams: Many of the exact details of the first dream escape me, but realizing that it was quite elaborate in its details surprised me upon waking. Briefly recalling such details after having a dream of such length, made me wish I had gotten up and written it down.

In this dream, I was a teacher or an instructor for a relief agency in a third world area and responsible for helping a large community build relationships for local cooperation between groups. I remember answering questions in a group setting, as well as having one-on-one conversations with individuals in a teacher/student situation. I was definitely enjoying the process and feeling a sense of accomplishment in serving this community. Upon waking, I was surprised at the level of detail within the dream, and how long it seemed to go on. There was barely a hint of light evident in the windows, so it must have been near dawn…

The second dream involved an elaborate journey through a large city. My GPS located the vehicle I drove into the city, and after my activity in town was accomplished, the signal on the GPS screen showed the way back to the car, which took me over a much more elaborate return path, including several buildings, an indoor mall location, a large concrete structure which I had to climb down, and past street vendors with colorful framed images displayed. As I approached the destination, the screen of the GPS showed a network of red boxes connected by red lines. I was frustrated and anxious that I was having so much trouble locating my car, right before I was awakened by someone grabbing my toes.

As the room slowly brightened with the morning light, I was reminded of Emerson…

“I see the spectacle of morning…from daybreak to sunrise with emotions which an angel might share. The long slender bars of clouds float like fishes in a sea of crimson light. From the earth, as a shore, I look out into that silent sea. I seem to partake its rapid transformations; the active enchantment reaches my dust, and I dilate and conspire with the morning wind.”

Emerson belonged to the Transcendentalist Movement which expressed the values of “idealism, nonconformity, self-reliance, free thought, and the divinity of nature.” I often find myself in accord with these values in spite of experiences with a fair amount of resistance or push-back from others I have encountered along the way.

Like Carl Jung, who described “a curious resistance” and “an almost total unwillingness to understand,” his choice of psychiatry when he was preparing for his future career, my own experiences with conversations regarding subjective experience as an indication of a non-physical component to human consciousness, which clearly invokes free thought and the divinity of nature, often met with a similar “unwillingness,” even to suppose that such elements exist at all.

As I awaited the fullness of the morning light to brighten in the room, Emerson’s words echoed in my mind, stirring memories of my own struggles with coming to terms with a number of extraordinary experiences in my life. Reflecting on them now, in my maturity, they seem more clearly to embody the transcendentalist values, and re-enforce my resolve to pursue the path I have actively explored these many years. Reading Philip Goff’s book, “Galileo’s Error,” has also provided additional encouragement to persist in my explorations.

Mixing Solar Energy with Summer Melancholy


There was a curious mixture this past week of 21st century technology and the pleasure one can only experience in a natural setting, surrounded by nature’s greenery. While I sat out in the backyard, sipping on my morning coffee, a half-dozen men set siege to the roof and commandeered our electric service in the kitchen pantry, in the process of installing an array of solar panels on the front of the house.


It’s been a curious mixture in the sense that I often spend time amongst the summer greenery in the backyard when the weather is agreeable, but most often it is a solitary and almost meditative experience of quiet contemplation, with an occasional interruption of birdsong or the rustling of the trees all around me, which is predictably pleasing in its own way.


This particular morning introduced an assortment of unfamiliar interruptions and various other forms of strangeness as a professional crew of electricians and installers intermittently initiated a barrage of grinding, drilling, and hammering sounds as they progressed through the installation process.


Most of us tend to gain an appreciation of our decisions and choices in retrospect generally, as the consequences become more apparent, but for several mornings over the past week, I watched as the drama unfolded in front of me, and it was a much more immediate visceral response that captured my attention—right as I sat there observing the process—when I realized I was no longer only an investigator or an observer of the technological revolution, but truly a participant in it, taking the deliberate step to install the state-of-the-art equipment necessary for harnessing the power of solar energy.



Ninety-three million miles away, the sun is radiating its light energy directly toward the Earth, and after some eight minutes of travel at the speed of light, that energy will now be captured by an array of solar panels on the roof, generating electric power through an astonishingly simple process, converting sunlight into electricity by “exciting electrons in silicon cells using the photons of light from the sun.”



I checked out the science of solar cells on and found this fascinating explanation:


“Solar panels, also known as modules, contain photovoltaic cells made from silicon that transform incoming sunlight into electricity rather than heat.

(“Photovoltaic” means electricity from light—photo=light, voltaic=electricity.”)

As the photons of sunlight beat down upon these cells, they knock the electrons off the silicon. The negatively-charged free electrons are preferentially attracted to one side of the silicon cell, which creates an electric voltage that can be collected and channeled.  This current is gathered by wiring the individual solar panels together in a series to form a solar photovoltaic array.”



The introduction of a very robust and noisy process of implementing 21st century solar science into my normally sedate and quiet morning routine brought out the philosopher in me, as I considered just how interconnected we all are by virtue of our common experiences of sunlight in one sense, but also unique in our perceptions of new experience, which can unfold before us in unexpected ways, while still containing common elements, and inform our thoughts and help us to assimilate that which is uncommon.


In a bittersweet almost melancholy moment, I took notice that the view from the ground on this day still included an over-the-rooftop view of the uppermost branches of the tree out in front of the house, which for some reason seemed to me to appear much taller than they did last summer, and it wasn’t lost on me that this would be one of the last opportunities to enjoy such a view, since the tree is slated for removal shortly. While I have been aware of the inevitability of all of these changes for some time now, actually having witnessed the predicted events as they unfolded prompted me to appreciate the gravity of the decision to go forward with them in real-time.


While contemplating these changes I was inspired to respond poetically to the “melancholy moment,” and decided to include it with this post. You can listen to my recital of the poem at this link: