Bence Nanay is a BOF Research Professor of Philosophy at the University of Antwerp and Senior Research Associate at Peterhouse, University of Cambridge. He has published more than 100 peer-reviewed articles and two monographs with Oxford University Press, with two more under contract. He has also received a number of major grants, including one from the European Research Council.
What are you working on right now?
I have a serious case of self-diagnosed philosophical attention deficit disorder, so I always work on way too many things at the same time. Let me just mention two. I’m writing a very empirically grounded book on mental imagery and its importance in our everyday perception and life in general. I’m also working on a project about how we should think of art and aesthetics in a way that would not make it biased towards the West.
What topic do you think is underexplored in philosophy?
It’s absolutely unbelievable what is going on in our society now. We have a serious crisis of trust in information. Just a couple of weeks ago more than 500 people attended the Flat Earth International Conference in North Carolina. 31% of Americans still, in 2018, believe that Obama was born in Kenya. And this is happening on both ends of the political spectrum. Our attitude towards evidence is truly medieval. It used to be a good idea to rely on testimony and the epistemic division of labor. But that’s all messed up now. This is clearly something philosophers should try to do something about.
The other issue philosophers and especially philosophers of mind should really try to work on is about this huge drain on our attentional resources that the world of social media and permanent access to the internet amounts to. It’s very much a philosophical project to try to find a way to handle this attentional depletion.
What’s your personal philosophy?
Let me answer with a quote from the great New York-based photographer, Saul Leiter:
I don’t have a philosophy, I have a camera. Seeing is a neglected enterprise.
I don’t actually have a camera (not even on my phone), but seeing is indeed a neglected enterprise.
Name a trait, skill or characteristic that you have that others may not know about.
I worked as a journalist for a long time, mainly as cultural journalist, as film-, art- and music-critic. And I learned a skill as a journalist that is very important in academia. If I had a deadline for an article on Tuesday at midnight, I just had to send what I had on Tuesday at midnight. Was it the best possible version of this article I could have written? Certainly not. The same goes for philosophy paper. The aim is to start a conversation, not to have a definitive and unquestionable conclusion. What’s the fun in definitive and unquestionable conclusions?
Who are your favorite philosophers and why?
I’ve always responded to this question in a deliberately obnoxious manner: Charles Darwin, Marcel Proust and Robert Musil. As you notice, none of them were really philosophers (I actually think Darwin was). But I learned more philosophy from Proust and Musil than from any ‘real’ philosopher. In general, novelists are just much better at what traditional philosophers are supposed to be good at: introspection, analysis and clarifying concepts. Proust’s insights about perception are much deeper (and, amazingly, much closer to what we now know from the empirical sciences) than those of any philosophers of perception. Same for Musil and the self.
Which super power would you like to have?
Perfect mind-reading. All the other super-powers are either silly or not super at all. How is being invisible cool unless you are a voyeuristic creep?
What’s your favorite quote?
Un philosophe que je ne comprends pas est un salaud.
Something like: A philosopher I can’t understand is an asshole.
What’s your top tip or advice for APA members reading this?
Take philosophy less seriously.
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