In “Town character,” my recent column about the hometown as hero in mid-Illinois books, I noted that towns, like people, have different personalities. They are born, grow old and die. In middle age they falter in the race against nimbler competitors. They blush with shame at things they have done, and they are capable of collective mourning for a loss, as Springfield still mourns the loss of its industrial economy.
Can towns be said to have lives, however? An answer of sorts, I recently discovered, comes from Eric Schwitzgebel. No, not him, the one who professes from his post in the Department of Philosophy University of California at Riverside.
Schwitzgebel argued in a paper published last year that the United States is literally, like humans, “phenomenally conscious.” By that he means that the nation, as a spatially distributed, concrete entity with people as some or all of its parts, “literally possesses a stream of conscious experience over and above the experiences of its members considered individually.”
The author adds "Of course it’s utterly bizarre to suppose that the United States is literally phenomenally conscious. But . . . . our sense of strangeness is no rigorous index of reality." Indeed, as Illinois has been reminded as it gets to knows its new governor.
The paper is interesting and, better yet, written in sprightly prose.