Why Panpsychism Is Probably Wrong

Sep 24, 2016

By Keith Frankish

Is consciousness everywhere? Is it a basic feature of the universe, at the very heart of the tiniest subatomic particles? Such an idea—panpsychism as it is known —might sound like New-Age mysticism, but some hard-nosed analytic philosophers have suggested it might be how things are, and it’s now a hot topic in philosophy of mind.

Panpsychism’s popularity stems from the fact that it promises to solve two deep problems simultaneously. The first is the famous ‘hard problem’ of consciousness. How does the brain produce conscious experience? How can neurons firing give rise to experiences of color, sound, taste, pain and so on? In principle, scientists could map my brain processes in complete detail but, it seems, they could never detect my experiences themselves—the way colors look, pain feels and so on: the phenomenal properties of the brain states involved. Somehow, it seems, brain processes acquire a subjective aspect, which is invisible to science. How can we possibly explain this?

The second problem concerns an apparent gap in our scientific picture of the world. Physics aims to describe the fundamental constituents of the Universe—the basic subatomic particles from which everything is made, together with the laws that govern them. Yet physics seems to leave out something very important from its picture of the basic particles. It tells us, for example, that an electron has a certain mass, charge and spin. But this is a description of how an electron is disposed to behave: to have mass is to resist acceleration, to have charge is to respond in a certain way to electromagnetic fields, and so on. Physics doesn’t say what an electron, or any other basic particle, is like in itself, intrinsically. And, arguably, it never could, since its conceptual resources—mathematical concepts, together with the concepts of causation and spatiotemporal position—are suitable only for describing structures and processes, not intrinsic qualities. Yet it is plausible to think that particles can’t just be collections of dispositions; they must have some intrinsic categorical properties that give rise to their dispositions.


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43 comments on “Why Panpsychism Is Probably Wrong

  • @OP – Is consciousness everywhere?

    Nope! Consciousness is a property of brains, and brains are not “found everywhere”!

    Is it a basic feature of the universe, at the very heart of the tiniest subatomic particles? Such an idea—panpsychism as it is known —might sound like New-Age mysticism, but some hard-nosed analytic philosophers have suggested it might be how things are, and it’s now a hot topic in philosophy of mind.

    “Hard nosed analytic philosophers” can’t understand the physics of subatomic particles so make up whimsical “might-be” notions! – Not really a surprise, is it?
    Stick with the accurate description of “New-Age Mysticism”!

    Panpsychism’s popularity stems from the fact that it promises to solve two deep problems simultaneously. The first is the famous ‘hard problem’ of consciousness. How does the brain produce conscious experience?

    This debunks it own implied claim, that “brains are everywhere”!

    I think that’s a neuroscience question rather than a philosophical one!

    How can neurons firing give rise to experiences of color, sound, taste, pain and so on?

    I think that is basic the biology of rods and cones in the eye etc. connected by nerves to synapses in the brain triggering learned responses, and evolved innate responses.

    Neuroscience For Kids – The Synapse
    http://faculty.washington.edu/chudler/synapse.html

    The second problem concerns an apparent gap in our scientific picture of the world. Physics aims to describe the fundamental constituents of the Universe—the basic subatomic particles from which everything is made, together with the laws that govern them.

    Ah! GAPOLOGY 1.01 !
    Science has gaps into which preconceived woo-interpretations can be forcibly slotted, by those who have stumbled on real gaps, or have failed to educate themselves to fill the imagined gaps derived from their personal ignorance!



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  • Alan,

    I think this misses the point about panpsychism which is an attempt to answer the Hard Problem of consciousness. This has nothing to do with all the functional stuff of brains (the Easy Problem). It asks why is there this extraordinary and vivid quality to our experience? Redness identifying it, its associations, its distinctness form othe colours, even its effect on our epinephrine levels and heartrate is not the problem, it is the apparent vividness of the experience produced by brainstates, a mere machine.

    There is a missing piece of logic in our repertoire that can connect brain states to vivid experience. The point to note is that there is no extra piece of information stored by this quality. It seems a qualitative overlay to tractable knowledge bringing no new insight. I see red, my heartrate rises and I become more attentive, all brain and body state. Oh, but also it is “vivid”, the fact of which I can express but actually adds nothing nove to to the sum total of factsl, indeed it is prosaic.

    Panpsychism proposing that vividness is an “orthogonal” property of matter (say) and cannot be accessed by most physics, further proposes it becomes noticeable, is accessed, because of configurations of matter, energy, brainstates or something. Reasonably this quality overlaying the mechanics of experience is meaningless without the mechanics of experience so it has something to verlay.

    The problems with this account of the Hard Problem is that it is a just so story that solves nothing and makes no useful predictions. Further as described it is an epiphenomenon that is an endpoint, an otherwise functionless spandrel attached, say, to a set of brainstates like thus or so. It just is in this model. Yet our brain produces reports of this experience. How is this possible with an epiphenomenon? How does this vividifying property of matter produce brain states that result in reports of vividness? It would have to summon energy from somewhere to affect our brainstates to generate the report. The epiphenomenon requirement (“orthogonal” to physics) is needed to account for why it will not be detected by probes or scans.

    A more parsimonious account would have it that vividness in some way we do not yet understand, is the result of specific brainstates and brainstate dynamics, and brainstates can be self reported.

    It is an interesting philosophical problem. The value of creating the metaphysics of Panpsychism is to allow logic to test the larger viability of such solutions. None of its “adherents” are seemingly robust in their views, they are rather more testing the philosophical ground.

    The religious apologists get excited over these ideas quite wrongly. What they fail to understand is that the Hard Problem has nothing whatsoever to say about all the behaviours of brains and their information. We may hypothesise the p-zombie, with all the brainstates and therefore behaviours of us, except that they don’t have the vividness. Yet with all the behaviours all the same brainstates they report the vividness…



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  • phil rimmer #2
    Sep 24, 2016 at 7:46 am
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    Alan,

    I think this misses the point about panpsychism which is an attempt to answer the Hard Problem of consciousness. This has nothing to do with all the functional stuff of brains (the Easy Problem).

    It is merely an unsupported assertion that there is something called “consciousness”, which is independent of living organisms and their brains.

    It asks why is there this extraordinary and vivid quality to our experience? Redness identifying it, its associations, its distinctness form othe colours, even its effect on our epinephrine levels and heartrate is not the problem, it is the apparent vividness of the experience produced by brainstates, a mere machine.

    It can ask, but the biological answer is that the endocrine system interacts with the nervous system, producing instinctive emotional responses and subjectively influenced views.

    “Vividness of experience” can easily be experimentally modified with psychoactive drugs which act as neurotransmitters getting into synapses.

    It is an interesting philosophical problem. The value of creating the metaphysics of Panpsychism is to allow logic to test the larger viability of such solutions.

    I am sure philosophers will amuse themselves for hours playing with such superficial notions.

    None of its “adherents” are seemingly robust in their views, they are rather more testing the philosophical ground.

    Science is familiar with “philosophical” fragile speculations, which rapidly fall apart on closer examination when the words are actually defined and connected to physical aspects of the real world.

    There is evidence of physical and mental interactions between various living organisms in ecosystems, and between life and its physical environment, but to suggest that such conscious and instinctive interactions can be attributed to the physical non-living parts of the universe in the absence of organisms, is just New-Age and theological dualism dressed up as philosophy.



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  • Alan,

    I see I have failed to expound the problem that David Chalmers was seeking to address. This-

    It is merely an unsupported assertion that there is something called “consciousness”, which is independent of living organisms and their brains.

    is just wrong. The article is pretty poor and hugely unhelpful. The Easy and the Hard Problem of Consciousness is a dichotomy which separates off 99.99% of the work on consciousness. Pursued by all neuroscientists and psychologists it accounts for (will account for) all our feelings, motivations and behaviours at some future time. This “Easy” Problem is about what we most mean when we talk of consciousness, sub-consciousness and unconsciousness, all the informational aspects of brain, body, culture systems. The little scintilla left, hived off as the Hard Problem, has no informational, behavioural, moral, etc. significance whatsoever. It is simply noting the gap in our understanding of the quality of waking experience and the totality of informational content it may comprise held in brain states.

    Its a subtle concept difficult to get behind but it was a favourite here in the early years. The concensus on panpsychism was it was flawed., that the singular vivid quality is an Illusory quality that accompanies particular brainstates and brainstate sydnamics.

    What is important is that the “Hard Problem” still currently exists as a contraint to our full and easy understanding of waking experience.

    (In 2004 I proposed a theory of brainstate dynamics to Dan Dennette as a partial account for the singular experience in self-conscious mode. He was kind enough to say that he thought something like it was likely to be true….)

    PP Dan has already rejected David Chalmers idea as barking. There may be less of a bus up than you think….



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  • phil rimmer #5
    Sep 24, 2016 at 10:00 am

    Its a subtle concept difficult to get behind but it was a favourite here in the early years.

    I have no problem with accepting that there are areas of mental consciousness which we do not fully understand, and may need further research into mechanisms. Philosophers’ allegedly “subtle concepts”, I am much more sceptical about.

    However, I regard this as an area of research for neuroscientists and psychologists, where New-Age mystics and non-scientific philosophers, have little or nothing to contribute.

    The concensus on panpsychism was it was flawed., that the singular vivid quality is an Illusory quality that accompanies particular brainstates and brainstate sydnamics.

    Psychologists know enough about “vivid” and “intensity” of experience, to advise retailers to use bright lighting on sales displays.

    It is also learning 1.01 that frequency, recency, and intensity, govern what is imprinted on the memory.

    What is important is that the “Hard Problem” still currently exists as a constraint to our full and easy understanding of waking experience.

    I don’t really regard this (imaginary) hard problem, as more than simply incomplete knowledge, where we already know where to look to find further information. . . . . and it is in living organisms, – not in the distant inorganic areas of the universe.



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  • Alan

    However, I regard this as an area of research for neuroscientists and psychologists,

    How on earth is this researched if it is not an informational issue? I still get the impression we are seeing different things here. I suspect you might be a p-zombie. Quine posting here claimed to be…



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  • phil rimmer #7
    Sep 24, 2016 at 10:48 am

    Alan – However, I regard this as an area of research for neuroscientists and psychologists,

    How on earth is this researched if it is not an informational issue? I still get the impression we are seeing different things here.

    It would be researched the same way god-delusions are researched – an examination of the nature of a belief which has no substance in human believers, who project an imagined image of their notions outside themselves and on to the real world!

    It seem pretty probable that a preconceived religious belief in dualism, anti-materialism, and ethereal magic, will be confirmed as the source of such views and such claims.

    Nevertheless, I have no doubt that philosophers can find hours of interest in rambling through shuffling semantic nothingness, which is why I tend to avoid purely philosophical discussions devoid of scientific content.



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  • What is important is that the “Hard Problem” still currently exists as a constraint to our full and easy understanding of waking experience…

    Phil,

    I am not sure why one would expect the understanding of that to be “easy”.

    Of course, most puzzles, even complex ones, become “easy” once one has worked them out, but this is one of the most complex puzzles one can think of – our body (the brain in particular) trying to figure itself out.

    Quantum mechanics as a description of the physical subatomic world isn’t easy to understand (Feynman’s quote here).

    What would make one think that understanding the so-called hard problem would be any easier?

    I suspect that the only way to experience our waking experience as “easy” is just to experience it.



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  • Folks,
    The small bit I can contribute to this discussion involves our idea of emergent properties. If you were to look at a single muscle cell, you’d see the contractile apparatus and probably think….”Ummmm cool, I guess?”

    Anyway, if you organize a whole bunch of them and anchor one side of the bundle to this bone and one side to that bone, you can get the totally unbelievable phenomena of flight. It is an unexpected manifestation and is truly quite difficult (if not impossible) to predict.

    I do not know what Phil knows about this topic and I am not sure about “the Hard Problem”. But, I do think that if you look at a single neuron, you see structure and function that are exquisite. The membrane channels and pumps, (in Richard’s words) unspeakably wonderful. What you’d never predict is that if you cluster a whole bunch of them together and connect them in a certain way, you get the emergent property of awareness.

    It holds for technology as well, few realized that the “web” we are now communicating on is manifest from the old personal computer….

    Anyway, much of this topic is not in my wheelhouse, and I may be a simpleton and be missing a piece of the issue. But, to give a neuron the qualities of an entire brain doesn’t seem to work for me. And, to assert (with seemingly no way to test it) that properties of a brain are shared by single atoms (protons, neutrons, and electrons, right?) sounds far fetched.



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  • My point, Cantaz is that this is perhaps the most difficult problem of all for us. Entirely because there is no mechanism, process, metaphor, parallel that we can invoke to link brain states to the quality (as opposed to the content) of our experiences.

    QM is a math’s and observational enabled doddle by comparison.

    I am gobsmacked at Alan’s answer.



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  • Hey Phil,
    Could it be that just because we can ask a certain question ….that does not mean we should expect said question to have an answer?

    It seems to me to be a pure thought experiment, reminiscent of Timothy Leary’s exopsychology or his book “your brain is God”… thoughts?



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  • phil rimmer #12
    Sep 24, 2016 at 6:15 pm

    I am gobsmacked at Alan’s answer.

    I don’t know why!
    All chemical reactions including those in the brain and the endocrine system interacting with the brain, are physical, material, and structured information transmission.

    I am very much a reductionist and physicalist when it comes to debunking “immaterial” ethereal claims and gapology!

    http://www.scholarpedia.org/article/Hard_problem_of_consciousness

    There is no consensus about the status of the explanatory gap. Reductionists deny that the gap exists. They argue that the hard problem reduces to a combination of easy problems or derives from misconceptions about the nature of consciousness. For example, Daniel Dennett (2005) argues that, on reflection, consciousness is functionally definable.
    On his view, once the easy problems are solved, there will be nothing about consciousness and the physical left to explain.

    Reductionists often appeal to analogies from the history of science. These philosophers compare nonreductionists, who accept the existence of the explanatory gap, to 17th Century vitalists concerned about the hard problem of life.
    Comparisons are also made to the scientifically ignorant concerned about hard problems of heat or light (Churchland 1996). Science has shown that the latter concerns are overblown: life, heat, and light can be physically explained.
    Likewise, say reductionists, for consciousness.

    Human brains can’t do self analysis by introspection, so science will move on to other methods as the technology develops – such as recoding brain scans and other details to refer back to later.



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  • Human brains can’t do self analysis by introspection…

    I suspect that we wouldn’t be here talking about the “hard problem” if they couldn’t…

    Nonetheless, I agree that introspection has been proven a long time ago to be wholly unreliable as a tool of scientific investigation.



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  • Alan

    I am very much a reductionist and physicalist when it comes to debunking “immaterial” ethereal claims and gapology!

    But no-one has proposed any such thing, least of all me. David Chalmers has proposed a solution involving a new physical property of matter. He is keen to assert his concern is for a fully physicalist solution. Roger Penrose produced a theory based on entangled QM behaviours in micro-tubules in the brain. The former doesn’t work because of its failure to account for reports of itself, the latter fails because it merely pushes the problem back another stage.

    What gobsmacks me is that no one thinks there is an interesting puzzle to the quality of our moment to moment experience.

    Crooked, It is a hard problem to even frame and it is this striving for understanding that I believe we will increasingly find thwarted even as we achieve increasingly robust facts and mastery of creating consciousness itself.

    Cantaz, the only introspection called for is in asking the question. Analysis and theories from Chalmers and Penrose don’t rely on introspection.

    I was going to go on and talk of what I think are better possible solutions to the problem, but this will be mostly miserable for folk given I seem to be alone in thinking there is even a juicy problem in the first place…

    You chaps have got off lightly…



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  • Why on a website that is dedicated to science and reason is just a ‘magical thinking’ article present? Sheesh, next thing I expect to see is a story about how Astrology might be wrong. Leave fluffy-headed ‘articles’ like this one to the tabloids.



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  • phil rimmer #16
    Sep 24, 2016 at 9:47 pm

    Alan @#14 – I am very much a reductionist and physicalist when it comes to debunking “immaterial” ethereal claims and gapology!

    But no-one has proposed any such thing, least of all me. David Chalmers has proposed a solution involving a new physical property of matter. He is keen to assert his concern is for a fully physicalist solution.

    The link I gave mentions the physicalist assertion from those in support of a “hard problem” notion.

    Roger Penrose produced a theory based on entangled QM behaviours in micro-tubules in the brain. The former doesn’t work because of its failure to account for reports of itself, the latter fails because it merely pushes the problem back another stage.

    I think Quantum Mechanics, is simply looking into the molecular biochemistry issue at the wrong level, in search of unnecessary philosophical complexity. Chemical chain-reactions don’t need philosophical complexity.
    The involvement of QM in biological chemical reactions makes no case for attributing consciousness to inorganic matter.

    What gobsmacks me is that no one thinks there is an interesting puzzle to the quality of our moment to moment experience.

    Philosophers and theologians love interesting puzzles and pseudo-puzzles. Strength of sensory inputs and hormone levels strongly affect our experience, but this is not rocket science.

    I think Occam has a contribution to make, so the “hard problem”, (particularly for non-scientific philosophers carrying historical baggage), is the individual philosopher’s inability to understand the scope of the biology and join up the “easy problems” to cover the big picture: – hence they insist some mysterious gap-filler is required to complete the coverage.



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  • Eddie #17
    Sep 25, 2016 at 12:55 am

    Why on a website that is dedicated to science and reason is just a ‘magical thinking’ article present?

    While this site promotes reason and science, it also presents flawed articles, on which people can practise their analytical skills and critical faculties. It also builds awareness of the levels of stupidity in the general population!

    Sheesh, next thing I expect to see is a story about how Astrology might be wrong.

    Astrology Debunked – Richard Dawkins in Enemies of Reason
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dlMiKrwCRQ0



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  • The reason I mention Penrose in the same breath as Chalmers is to underline the fact that these are scientists (Penrose is currently working on cosmogony the other biggie) with honourable intentions. Francis Crick was another choosing to tackle this disjunction.

    Many sciento-philosophers like Dennett and Patricia Churchland set this question aside as a category error. But this mismatch is entirely the fascinating problem. What is the question to ask about the astonishing quality of our experience, when say, we open our eyes?

    The mistake in thinking the the quality is novel in each of the qualia (redness, roundness, garlicky and was part of Dennett’s dismisal) has led us astray I believe. The “vividness” is simply a super-added quality of what the brain marks out as potentially salient and fits for potential (long term) memorisation.



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  • Phil,

    Cantaz, the only introspection called for is in asking the question

    That is precisely what I meant (@#15)

    What gobsmacks me is that no one thinks there is an interesting puzzle to the quality of our moment to moment experience.

    I thought I made it pretty clear that I do consider it as the most difficult puzzle we face (@#10).



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  • Apologies, Cantaz.

    I wanted to nuance your point on introspection. Much of psychology may be initiated by introspected puzzles, why did I think this, feel that, or do the other? If our accounts don’t actually match our experience it is a good hint something more is possibly going on. Though introspection marked the start of psychology, then flipped to its opposite in behaviourism, it has now matured into a larger thing evidenced by neuroscientists from Damasio (a sense of self) to Ramachandran (aesthetics) keen to talk of the roots of specific personal experience in neurologoical structures.

    I also wanted to not be too specific about who lacked enthusiasm for the topic in answering Alan. The comment was not directed at you.



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  • Phil,

    I appreciate the gesture, but there was no need to apologize.

    I have learned a long time ago that writing messages is not the most effective way to communicate… heck, just look at the correspondence you and Dan had on Pinker, Schopenhauer & Co.!

    🙂



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  • Daniel Dennet to the contrary, consciousness mystifies us because we cannot explain it. Dissecting neurological sites or pathways, talking about brain states all converge on the eternal roundabout of circular reasoning or dead end discourse. Perhaps consciousness is the first and last refuge of religion because it seems to hover like a spiritual force, a supernatural phenomenon above the brain, the material thing that causes it.

    Most puzzling is the subjective nature of conscious experience exclusively confined to the single organism in which it operates. Or put another way, the inexplicable mystery of “I.” The subversive logic of solipsism intrudes when I realize I cannot experience anything or anybody outside of my own skull. How do I know other minds exist when I only have access to my own? Everything exists as long as I live and everything ceases to exist when I die. Now there’s a mystery we’ve all probably contemplated in meditative moments when some neurological feedback fixes our eyes on a stare into oblivion.



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  • …consciousness mystifies us because we cannot explain it.

    We cannot explain it now.

    That doesn’t necessarily mean we won’t be able to explain it at some point in the (likely distant) future.

    500+ years ago, had you shown an iPhone to Leonardo da Vinci, he would have been mystified by his inability to explain it.



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  • The subversive logic of solipsism intrudes when I realize I cannot experience anything or anybody outside of my own skull. How do I know other minds exist when I only have access to my own?

    The only way you do, is to realize you seem share a heck of a lot genetic similarity with your bretheren, so, chances are, they have a min of their own too.

    This is not a new idea, BTW.

    Among others, Konrad Lorenz expressed it clearly almost half a century ago.



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  • @smythe #24

    How do I know other minds exist when I only have access to my own? Everything exists as long as I live and everything ceases to exist when I die. Now there’s a mystery we’ve all probably contemplated in meditative moments when some neurological feedback fixes our eyes on a stare into oblivion.

    I agree – we all probably have (or will) contemplate this mystery.

    I think it might be best answered with a question (and its answer): What difference does it make? (None.)



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  • The “I” is a knowing I.

    “Most puzzling is the subjective nature of conscious experience exclusively confined to the single organism in which it operates. Or put another way, the inexplicable mystery of “I.” The subversive logic of solipsism intrudes when I realize I cannot experience anything or anybody outside of my own skull. How do I know other minds exist when I only have access to my own? Everything exists as long as I live and everything ceases to exist when I die. Now there’s a mystery we’ve all probably contemplated in meditative moments when some neurological feedback fixes our eyes on a stare into oblivion.”

    I read this thread with interest, amusement and frustration. There are a number of statements, such as the one above, that indicate an adequate yet highly imperfect understanding of the problem that I have tried to shed some light on on this site. A simple acknowledgement that there is in fact a problem worthy of the name was all that I was hoping to receive. That goal was never achieved to my satisfaction – not entirely – although some progress was made. As is always the case, the same old presuppositions and errors (which are entirely natural) continued to present themselves – in spite of the most persistent attempts to explain why these presuppositions an errors were precisely that and why.

    In any case, I see some dim understanding of the subtly apprehended view of true idealism (which is not solipsism!) but a whole host of the usual errors as well, as I said before. The “I”, for example, is a mystery in one sense only; that which thinks can never know itself; knowing (a function of the brain), however, is indeed a formidable problem, but is not a permanently inscrutable mystery; and the I as knowing I is merely that which cannot be IT. That is the true meaning of the Cogito, whether Descartes was aware of that himself or not. It is not known, cannot be known; that which knows can never know itself. It (the I) is first and foremost a knowing I, and is not to be confused with the pure subject or a metaphysical being, is not part of the noumenon.

    Our brains, within our skulls, divide the world of actual being into subject and object. The word “it” implies an Otherness. “It thinks” or “thought is” as opposed to “I think, therefore I am” is putting the cart before the horse and expecting it to move forward. The self-consciousness is immediately given. And to think is to BE. So we get an “I”.

    We cannot migrate into the heads of others. And we can never migrate into an external object and know it that way. Even if we could we would still perceive only other objects from that new perspective. I think, therefore it is. IT is mediately given. Knowledge of IT presupposes Being. Perhaps we can define I as that which is not and can never be IT. If you posit IT, a more primary Being (which is the immediately given I) is necessarily presupposed. But the I is not A Being-in-itself. It can never become its own object.

    “No one can understand himself, for to do that he would have to get outside himself; the subject of the knowing and willing activity would have to become its own object.” —Weininger

    So the Self or Pure Subject the intelligible ego, the I in that sense (which is outside the sphere of knowing and being known) does remain a profound mystery.

    (I do not believe that the empirical distinction between inside and outside is a distinction that has any meaning independently of the mind.)



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  • Addendum

    The above comment is not as clear as I would have liked. (Stress from election.) My apologies.

    “It is not known, cannot be known; that which knows can never know itself.”

    My sentence corrected, with an attempt at clarification:

    The I knows and cannot be known; that which knows can never know itself. The knowing I is NOT the real mystery, although it has yet to be fully understood.—The knowing I is not absolutely the subject. The pure subject (devoid of intellect, neither knowing or known) is the mystery par excellence.

    One more additional, crucial point:

    “The subversive logic of solipsism intrudes when I realize I cannot experience anything or anybody outside of my own skull.” (#24)

    Completely false realization. We do in fact “experience” everything and everyone outside our own skin. That is called reality, empirical reality.



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  • I wish I could rewrite my comment above (28). But let me just finish up.

    Solipsism is not idealism. Solipsism is a straw-man. To say that everything is in us and that the outer word doesn’t exist suggests to this reader an inadequate understanding of true idealism. Berkeley was the father of idealism, but it was a very primitive form of it that he presented. This is a very real and legitimate criticism of Wittgenstein, and other critics of idealism. The assumption that idealism is solipsism is an incorrect one, and to present solipsism as idealism is a misrepresentation and simplification of true, i.e, critical, idealism.



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  • Forgot to delete comment 30 (a draft). Sorry.

    @Alan, others

    I wish I could rewrite my comment above (28). But let me just finish up.

    Solipsism is not idealism. Solipsism is a straw-man. To say that everything is in us and that the outer word doesn’t exist suggests to this reader an inadequate understanding of true idealism. Berkeley was the father of idealism, but it was a very primitive form of it that he presented. This is a very real and legitimate criticism of Wittgenstein, and other critics of idealism. The assumption that idealism is solipsism is an incorrect one, and to present solipsism as idealism is a misrepresentation and simplification of true, i.e, critical, idealism.

    The I or subject is not absolutely the subject. I have tried to make this point clear. There can be no knowledge of a subject. To say that “everything is subjective” approaches idealism but also misses it by a mile; all knowledge is an object of knowledge; this includes our own selves as bodies. We know no more and no less about ourselves as objects than we do about any other object. The objective world is represented in the brain. In that sense it is dependent upon the brain, and is subjective. But the subject is that which knows the object while at the same time is an object for other subjects. But these other subjects – knowing subjects which include our own subjectivity – are, finally, unknowable, that is, non-objective. That is at least my view.

    Alan, who wrote this: “Consciousness is a property of brains, and brains are not ‘found everywhere’!”, was one hundred percent right. It was gratifying to me to read this sentence. (Dawkins said the same thing to Chopra, and failed to impress him.)



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  • To anyone…

    To be fair to David Chalmers, because the implication of being Chopra-like is a very pungent and sticky smear, he would entirely agree that

    “Consciousness is a property of brains, and brains are not ‘found everywhere’!”,

    For any to think he says otherwise is to misapprehend his idea. He rather thinks you need to have information to be conscious with. He intends a quality (a novel piece of physics) that requires a very particular substrate (of organised information) for it to become manifest.

    I’m afraid, when I have time, I’ll lay out my own theories of consciousness. I happen to think like Damasio that it is a consequence of quite particular particular brain regions and their states, but unlike him I think it evolved not as a qualitative spandrel but actually as an active evolutionary pressure (gene and meme), a new emotional state signalling salience, rewarding self-model maintenance and rewarding action simply as action. Whilst the causal jump from brain state to vividness will defy understanding I claim that there may well be qualities to the brain states and most importantly their dynamics that will get that jump to feel smaller, that mirrors some of the quality of consciousness in its different contexts.



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  • Phil, others

    I certainly wasn’t alluding to Chalmers, Phil. I was explaining why solipsism, the simple claim that “everything is in us” is, in my view, an outdated and obsolete conception. It was a necessary stage along the way, however.

    (What’s going on? We’re not talking to each other anymore? LOL)

    I’d love to hear your views on consciousness. You have issues with “knowledge”; but you are okay with consciousness, I gather.

    Three minutes have past since I wrote the word “gather”. I have been wondering whether machines can be said to have consciousness – that is, potentially; they do not at the present time.—Not so easy to answer that question.

    Enjoy the rest of the week-end, Phil.



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  • I think defining what precisely consciousness is (as opposed to explaining it) is A hard problem, if not THE hard problem. I sometimes wonder if such a definition is even possible without being tautological – although I did come across, many years ago, a passage in Freud where he addresses this problem. I was astonished. It was a short passage, and I understood what consciousness is for a brief moment. Unfortunately, I have forgotten what it was I had learned, and have forgotten where he said it. Finding that again would be like looking for a needle in a haystack.

    No, no allusion to Chalmers. Just expressing my agreement with Alan (who agrees with me): no consciousness without brains – so far.



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  • Dan

    No, no allusion to Chalmers. Just expressing my agreement with Alan (who agrees with me): no consciousness without brains – so far.

    If anything it was a comment more directed at Alan.

    Alan, who wrote this: “Consciousness is a property of brains, and brains are not ‘found everywhere’!”, was one hundred percent right. It was gratifying to me to read this sentence. (Dawkins said the same thing to Chopra, and failed to impress him.)

    Anyone else,

    Panpsychism simply isn’t saying consciousness is any kind of stand alone thing. Consciousness must entail process, energy and time. But then panpsychism has nothing to say about functional consciousness only about its apparent quality during potential-saliency signaling. The way a few people talk here, it seems there is still a misapprehension.



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  • But then panpsychism has nothing to say about functional consciousness only about its apparent quality during potential-saliency signaling.

    I don’t care what it it is or isn’t; no matter how you might try to dress it up there simply is no panpsychism (a term I had not had the displeasure of knowing until I came across this thread), unless you believe in the idea of an omniscient Being who watches over us and knows our innermost thoughts – in God almighty, the creator of the heavens and the earth.



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  • @ Dan #33

    I have been wondering whether machines can be said to have consciousness – that is, potentially; they do not at the present time.—Not so easy to answer that question.

    The answer necessarily depends on the definitions of “machine” and “consciousness” (as well as “life” and “brain”).

    Is a virus, a cell, an invertebrate, a reptile, a mammal, or any living organism a machine? In some sense(s) I think the answer has to be yes. So what distinguishes these “living machines” from the presumably non- living machines you are referring to (aside from having what we call life)? Some of them have consciousness, though some apparently don’t. There appears to be a certain complexity threshold for consciousness in living machines. If a living machine of sufficient complexity is necessary for (part of the definition of) consciousness, then no non-living machine will ever be conscious, but this is true only because of our definition. It may be that complexity is the key ingredient and we simply haven’t yet produced a non-living machine complex enough for consciousness (perhaps we haven’t given it the right kind of “brain”). What types of structures qualify as brains? We may need to develop more precise (and useful) definitions of all of these words.

    Another question: is the universe (or multiverse if you prefer) a machine, which might have (had or will have) sufficient complexity for consciousness?



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  • PeacePecan, others

    It is very difficult to define consciousness, but one mustn’t exploit this difficulty.

    And the difference between organic and inorganic nature is quantitative, in my opinion. The difference between machines (which are manufactured by man) and inorganic nature (nature’s manufactured articles) may be quantitative as well. (It is interesting how much some machines, like cranes, for example, resemble animals, resemble them physically.) I do think, however, that there are many modes of consciousness – even among living beings – and that language is easily manipulated, words are too easily molded and misused; they can be made to include almost anything. I think it behooves us to narrow our definitions and concepts as best we can. — I could present an argument that a rock has consciousness if I tried hard enough; but I would be stretching the meaning of the word to the point of absurdity but would still be correct on some level.

    A passion bordering on mania, for precision, is the absolute mark of a good, honest, and responsible thinker.

    Having said that, I do think that the idea of a man-made machine with consciousness is an intriguing one theoretically quite possible – although it raises many questions, as you indicated in your comment. But again, we need to be careful; The misuse of language creates a multitude of problems, has serious ramifications.

    As for living machines, how would you respond to this (below)?

    The evolutionary biologist Dr. Randolph Nesse, in a conversation with Richard Dawkins, said that the idea of Man as a machine is “a metaphor that is completely wrong. The body is not a machine. A machine has a blueprint, one master design and a manufacturing process that moves from the blueprint to the finished product, and the finished product is always the same. Man does have a genome that has information, but there is no normal genome, only genes – and those genes that make bodies that end up reproducing more than others go on becoming more frequent in the future. Other genes end up reproducing less frequently and are gone. […] There is no blueprint”



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  • …how would you respond to this (below)?

    I would respond by saying that the “blueprint… master design… manufacturing process… to the finished product… always the same” is incorrect. This is not always true, and is not a necessary part of the definition of a machine. Designs and manufacturing processes are revised for all sorts of reasons; the word evolution applies as well to human designs as it does to those of nature. Humans (specifically) do the selecting instead of nature (generally).

    All Dr. Nesse has described here are some of the differences (as well as similarities) between living machines and non-living machines.



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  • PPecan—
    I wasn’t suggesting that Nesse’s analysis is the last word on this subject; but I remember watching and enjoying that discussion a while back and dug it up because they touched on the subject of Man as a machine. I appreciate your point of view.
    Who is Nesse to lay down a law without any variation? (He seems like a pretty decent and knowledgable chap though.)



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  • Hi Dan,

    This takes us a bit further off topic, but I wanted to let you know that after I responded to your previous question (knowing nothing about the subject aside from what you wrote), I found this article, in which Nesse expands (expounds?) his argument on the subject:
    https://evmed.asu.edu/blog/body-not-machine

    His argument seems to be based on a misunderstanding of what a machine actually is (easy enough to look up) and he seems unaware that nature, through natural selection, actually does design living things (via natural selection), which actually are types of machines (easy enough to see when the definition is understood). He objects to the metaphor because it is not perfect, but this can be said of nearly all metaphors, though in this case his poor definition just makes it worse. He offers the word “soma” as a replacement for machine, but it doesn’t work and cannot be helpful because soma is just another word for body. Yes, we know a body is a body is a body…



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