This is what kept me awake for many nights, and occupied a lot of my time for far too many years. Following my unhealthy intellectual ambition, I’ve written a paper, intended for publication in a peer-reviewed journal, and tried submitting it. The title is suitably grandiose: “Evolutionary Theory of Consciousness: a comprehensive model”, the short name is ETC (see links below for the Abstract). It turns out that the road to publication isn’t smooth sailing (what a surprise, eh?). For one, the intended primary audience is Cognitive Neuroscientists and thereabout, but the paper is 100% theoretical, and that doesn’t fit well in journals that publish experimental data. Secondarily, I’m not exactly playing it safe: what the paper is actually saying can be seen as openly adversarial by many, certainly a problem in purely tactical terms. The fact that it’s long doesn’t help either: the first rejection was mostly on length-grounds, the editor, reviewers and I all agreed that it was simply impossible to thoroughly expose my argument within the word-limits imposed by that particular journal.
Thus, following two rejections via peer review and one rejection from an editor (“Sorry, too philosophical for us”), I’ve decided to play it even less safe, pre-publish the paper, and see if I can get a useful amount of feedback in this way. Perhaps one day I’ll tell the peer-review story of ETC, it has been encouraging and frustrating, usually both at the same time.
By self/pre-publishing, I have a few aims, but they are all about collecting feedback and criticism, with the secondary hope of understanding if I should keep this effort alive. As I don’t swim in neuroscience waters any more, I’d like to collect impressions on whether the theory can indeed be useful to neuroscientists (as I hope). If it may be useful, I’d like suggestions on how/where to get it published. Of course, feedback on how to improve the paper will always be welcome. Criticism on the theory itself would be even better, from any background. If ETC is of no use for neuroscience, I’d still like to understand if it would be worth publishing it under the badge of “neurophilosophy”.
Thus, a few things will happen:
First, you’ll find below a very short survey, a quick and dirty way to collect impressions without asking you to engage in a time-consuming dialogue. If you’ll read the paper, please make sure you’ll also fill-in the survey, it takes 3 minutes max. The current results should be visible once you complete the survey and I will certainly try to crunch the numbers if I’ll get enough data. In all cases, data or not, I will make the results public.
Second: on figshare, where the paper is available, it is possible to post comments. I will read them all, and reply there if my reply is short, otherwise I’ll write a full post in here. Please feel free to comment on this blog with all your thoughts and criticism as well. I’m notoriously slow in replying, by the way…
Third: I will also write a series of posts on ETC, focussing on particular aspects, and mostly concentrating on how ETC agrees or disagrees with various alternative theories of consciousness. ETC is designed to be rather inclusive, a high-level conceptual approach that should allow to interpret and organise lots of different kind of data and lower-level theories. This part should be fun!
Note also that I’ve already tried to address the criticism that could arrive from those who object to computational accounts of consciousness, Peter Hankins was generous enough to publish my thoughts in two posts on his Conscious Entities: “Sergio’s Computational Functionalism” and “Sergio Resurgent“.
Fourth: if you think ETC has some value, please feel free to disseminate as much as you like. I’d like to get plenty of feedback, so I’ll rely on your willingness to share. You can use the built-in sharing functions below, the ones available on figshare, and/or your own channels. If you’ll comment on ETC via your blog or other medium, a pingback should appear here (if you link to this page), otherwise, please notify me in some way, so that I’ll get a chance to read your thoughts and reply. Note also that I don’t use Facebook and have no plans to start now! [Incidentally, this is also an experiment on self-publishing and on open, post-publication peer review: I’m keen to see if it works!]
After all this, I don’t know what will happen. I may drop the subject, I may try again to get the paper peer-reviewed and published, or keep pushing in other ways. It will all depend on the kind and amount of feedback that I’ll be able to collect.
After reading the paper, please fill-in the survey: