• Wayfarer
    16.1k
    This is the title of a recently-published essay in Aeon. It is admirably brief, and clear. But it is also, I believe, mistaken. However I want to show that it is mistaken in a way that its author cannot anticipate.

    First of all, 'panpsychism' is the belief that 'everything has mind' in some fundamental sense - electrons , other particles, material objects, and so on, have mind, or are in some sense capable of intentional action. This is proposed to solve, or dissolve, the fundamental dichotomy between 'mind and matter' by saying that mind is 'everywhere' (one meaning of 'pan'). All we're seeing with conscious beings is a highly differentiated form of matter, but matter itself is intrinsically conscious.

    The main objection that the author gives is that:

    [Panpsychism] is ‘crazy’ and ‘just obviously wrong’. It is thought to be highly counterintuitive to suppose that an electron has some kind of inner life, no matter how basic, and this is taken to be a very strong reason to doubt the truth of panpsychism.

    He then points out that many successful theories, such as the Theory of Relativity, are also profoundly counter-intuitive, but we now know they're correct.

    Then he says, physics tells us how matter behaves, but it doesn't really tell us what matter is, in its essential nature. And, he says:

    In fact, the only thing we know about the intrinsic nature of matter is that some of it – the stuff in brains – involves experience.

    Now this is where I think the author is mistaken, but not for the reason that he has anticipated.

    I think his mistake is to believe that 'experience' is something that can be known in the third person. In other words, experience is not an object of cognition, in the way that an electron or particle or other object can be. We don't know experiences, we have experiences; so any experience has an inescapably first-person element, that is, it is undergone by a subject. So we can't objectify 'the nature of experience' in the way we can the objects and forces that are analysed by the natural sciences.

    Now, in one sense we can be very clear about our own experiences - we certainly know what an unpleasant or pleasant experience is, and we know that some experiences have specific attributes, across a vast range of experiences. But in all cases, we know those things experientially - we know about those attributes, because they are the constituents of our experience, in a way very different from how we know and predict the behaviour of objects according to physical laws.

    We can see others having experiences, and infer what they're experiencing, but again, we only know experience by experiencing. Experience is never a 'that' to us.

    So, I think the idea of trying to identify what experience, mind, or consciousness is, on the basis of the observed behaviour of objects, or by inferring that it is some property of matter, is profoundly mistaken. It is an attempt to naturalise what is in an epistemic sense prior to any idea of nature.

    I think this is similar to Husserl's criticism of naturalism:

    In contrast to the outlook of naturalism, Husserl believed all knowledge, all science, all rationality depended on conscious acts, acts which cannot be properly understood from within the natural outlook at all. Consciousness should not be viewed naturalistically as part of the world at all, since consciousness is precisely the reason why there was a world there for us in the first place. For Husserl it is not that consciousness creates the world in any ontological sense—this would be a subjective idealism, itself a consequence of a certain naturalising tendency whereby consciousness is cause and the world its effect—but rather that the world is opened up, made meaningful, or disclosed through consciousness.

    Routledge Intro to Phenomenology, p 144.

    So 'panpsychism' has forgotten this fact and then is seeking for what it has forgotten in the inner workings of electrons. 'Look', it's saying, 'there I am!'
  • TheWillowOfDarkness
    2.1k
    Panpsychism is somewhat curious because it reveals the incoherence of substance dualism that it's often born trying to defend.

    In an effort to make "mind" the ubiquitous complement to body, it turns the mind material and gives it to every individuated state. For the panpsychist, minds are individual states of the world, not bodies (as many reductionist claim), which manifest out of all specific states of body in the world.

    The only difference between the emergent materialism and panpsychism is that latter expects experience emerges form all bodies, rather than just a select group (e.g. humans, animals, etc.,etc.). It objectifies not the "nature" of experiences, but experiences themselves, such they are independent states of the world, destroying the separation between the mind and body-- minds are another "material" state.
  • TheMadFool
    13.9k
    As per your logic we can't know anything, after all we can't take mind/consciousness from the equation.

    What is so great about experience anyway? It's all pervading - even animals have it - and we do objectify in these cases. Why is our experience so different that it requires special treatment?
  • TimeLine
    2.7k
    Why is our experience so different that it requires special treatment?TheMadFool

    Perhaps because we are able to articulate it, but surely it is not that easy. All things have consciousness or a mental element present and – like the study of quantum mechanics or say multiverse theory – consciousness is immeasurable neither within ourselves or other objects and the notion that there is something in all matter that enables or emerges this consciousness (thus consciousness itself is this unified element that permeates through everything) is quite attractive because of its almost anti-Kantian conclusiveness that closes further enquiry.

    Nevertheless, panpsychism lacks appeal on some fronts only because it is dangerously close to justifying bizarre possibilities – again, like quantum mechanics – but when you think of what the condition is for being ‘cognitive’ it is questionable that the mind is merely a network of neural processes and that mental constructs is more than the ‘brain’ where input of information viz., biological constraints fails to embody the features of first person experience. Attempting to solve this problem through physical explanations alone simply does not work and a non-reductive approach becomes inevitable.

    I am interested in phenomenal externalism and the subjective qualities of experience that makes us distinct [individually] from others, which renders thought on Buddhism and qualia; is anyone alive or does anyone die? I think that – just like the coupling of space and time – it is important to appreciate both models of embodied cognition, material and panpsychic.
  • Wayfarer
    16.1k
    Panpsychism is somewhat curious because it reveals the incoherence of substance dualism that it's often born trying to defend.TheWillowOfDarkness

    Good observation!

    As per your logic we can't know anythingTheMadFool

    Please point out where in the OP I said 'we can't know anything', or anything I said that could be taken to imply that claim.

    All things have consciousness or a mental element presentTimeLine

    That is what is at issue, though. So to assert that it is the case, is to beg the question.
  • TimeLine
    2.7k
    That is what is at issue, though. So to assert that it is the case, is to beg the question.Wayfarer
    It is why embodied cognition is an interesting model, where the mind is no longer this abstract processor with no connection to the external world and that cognition emerges from the mind-body relationship and our interaction with our environment.
  • Wayfarer
    16.1k
    Agree. Embodied cognition draws a lot on phenomenology, mentioned in the OP.
  • Moliere
    2k
    I'm tempted to lay your emphasis like "We have experience" to say that we are the sorts of being which have experiences, but that doesn't mean

    the only thing we know about the intrinsic nature of matter is that some of it – the stuff in brains – involves experience.

    is false.

    That our brain is involved in experience -- and not identical to or even specified in what kind of relation it might stand towards experience -- can be inferred by the fact that ingesting chemicals, like coffee for instance or even large quantities of food, has an a/effect on experience. What we call matter interacts with the brain through the blood stream, and experience changes. So it's a fair inference from the first-person side of things, at least.

    And at the very least his intended audience -- people who would believe that panpsychism is "just crazy" -- are likely to share this belief with him, even if they do not know it to be the case (I would disagree with the strength of his assertion, but that seems tangential)

    From there the rest of his argument follows just leveraging the desire for consistency which panpsychism offers. Since they believe brains are involved in experience, rather than ask how it is experience arises from what has no experience (as per the belief of the audience), just conceding that everything has some kind of experience (though not necessarily mind, intent, or other features which are very much a part of our experiences) gets rid of the question all together.

    This is just to say that it's not from the behavior of electrons which the panpsychist infers that electrons have experience, but rather from the desire for an explanation of how it is we experience when we previously presumed matter did not experience. "How do the electrons in a rock suddenly become a mind in a different configuration?" being the target question which panpsychism deflates.
  • Wayfarer
    16.1k
    From there the rest of his argument follows just leveraging the desire for consistency which panpsychism offers.Moliere

    Right. So basically, it is a kind of naturalism - that 'experience' must be a feature of the natural world, we just haven't discovered 'experiencum' inside atoms yet. But - it must be there somewhere!

    "How do the electrons in a rock suddenly become a mind in a different configuration?" being the target question which panpsychism deflates.Moliere

    That's exactly it! Thank you.
  • Moliere
    2k
    Hrmm, I usually see panpsychism being proposed contra naturalism, though. At least, self-described naturalists would often object to panpsychism, differentiating themselves by saying they are "non-reductive naturalists" or some such if they agree the problem of consciousness is a problem, but don't want to concede that naturalism is false.

    I don't think you'd find this satisfactory, of course. Obviously it would depend on what is meant by 'naturalism', and you mean 'naturalism' differently than these self-described naturalists. But I'm noting it because it seems noteworthy to me that self-described naturalists would object to panpsychism -- there is a relevant difference for them, even if it isn't one which is strong enough for yourself.
  • Wayfarer
    16.1k
    I think panpsychism is trying to extend naturalism. The paper that I read first was the well-known one by Strawson, which was discussed many times on the old forum (I think it was Realistic Monism: Why Physicalism Entails Panpsychism.)

    My reading was: he admits it's game over for old-school materialism, because there really is no way to get from the equations of physics, to the experience of being - in other words, he acknowledges the reality of 'the hard problem'. But he goes on to say 'as a real physicalist, then, I hold that the mental/experiential is physical'. Why? Because he is acknowledging that there's no way to dispose of the 'hard problem'. So instead of disposing of it, he displaces it, by making consciousness an 'attribute of matter'. So everything is 'still physical' - but physical things themselves have an experiential attribute - which is 'experiencum', a term I just coined for this purpose.

    And my argument is - no such thing!
  • hypericin
    521
    I don't understand your objection. Can you really not reflect on your own experiences? Either you are suffering from massive brain damage, or you are just not thinking clearly about your inner life (it happens).

    But the article seems silly. We know the "intrinsic nature" of one very specialized, hyper-complex entity which might be both unique and uniquely complex over the whole universe, so lets just generalize that to everything, including elementary particles, it's probably true.

    It also presupposes that it makes sense to speak of an "intrinsic nature" of elementary particles or tire irons. This is a massive philosophical leap.
  • Wayfarer
    16.1k
    I don't understand your objection. Can you really not reflect on your own experiences?hypericin

    Indeed you can. I said:

    in one sense we can be very clear about our own experiences - we certainly know what an unpleasant or pleasant experience is, and we know that some experiences have specific attributes, across a vast range of experiencesWayfarer

    But, I also said that experiences are 'undergone by a subject', so that they're not objects in the same way that the objects of physics are. A cannonball will follow a trajectory that is determined by the forces acting on it, and which can be calculated according to Newtonian physics. So it is possible to be objective about such entities, in a way that is not possible about the elements of experience. Experience is always first-person, in other words, it implies a subject. But that subject is also not something that can be known objectively (which is a central point of Kantian philosophy and its successors; this raises many difficult points about the nature of subjectivity and objective knowledge.)

    We know the "intrinsic nature" of one very specialized, hyper-complex entityhypericin

    Which would be?
  • Wayfarer
    16.1k
    Incidental to the above, I notice that Galen Strawson has a new book due out:

    The Subject of Experience
    by Galen Strawson
    Link: http://a.co/e1NlB23
  • tom
    1.5k


    I have just been made aware, via my extensive philosophical network, that critics of Philip Goff might like to sharpen their arguments between now and tomorrow. There is a high probability that this thread might encounter celebrity intervention.

    As a warm-up here's a very interesting discussion:



    And a video of Daniel Dennett listening to Philip Goff

  • Metaphysician Undercover
    10k
    Good observation!Wayfarer

    The principal difference between panpsychism and substance dualism is how they each attribute the source of activity of living creatures. Biology understands living beings as active. Physics understands matter as passive, inert. So philosophical speculations may tend toward contriving ways in which matter could be active, living. The dualist way is to posit a soul, which is a separate, active, immaterial substance, that has the capacity to affect matter at its most fundamental level, causing matter to move in ways unknown to physics. The panpsychic way is to posit the source of such activity as inhering within matter itself.
  • aletheist
    1.5k
    Biology understands living beings as active. Physics understands matter as passive, inert. So philosophical speculations may tend toward contriving ways in which matter could be active, living.Metaphysician Undercover

    Just to add another option to the table, Peirce's version of objective idealism understands mind as living and active, and matter as "effete mind, inveterate habits becoming physical laws," such that it is not entirely dead - only "mostly dead" (for fans of The Princess Bride). There is still an element of spontaneity in the universe that is evident in very slight deviations from the laws of nature. Hence "matter is not completely dead, but is merely mind hidebound with habits"; and "dead matter would be merely the final result of the complete induration of habit reducing the free play of feeling and the brute irrationality of effort to complete death."
  • mcdoodle
    1k
    I read around this topic lately. To add another other option...Perhaps it is that we love to universalise, but sometimes the attempt to patch up a universal ontology creates more problems than it solves. A 'phenomenology first' approach implies, to me, that some sort of universal explanation linking matter and consciousness is probably beyond us, and indeed is asking an unanswerable sort of question.

    Thanks for the thread, though :) I like Galen Strawson as a provocateur, for he puts his finger on a sore spot even if he has no healing balm.
  • Philip Goff
    1
    Really interesting response to my article. I have difficulty, though, seeing how you avoid contradiction. You say:

    "We can see others having experiences, and infer what they're experiencing, but again, we only know experience by experiencing. Experience is never a 'that' to us."

    If we can only know experiences through having them, then we can't attribute them to others. But clearly we can attribute experiences to others, so why not to electrons?

    I wonder whether there's a conflation here of different senses of 'subjective'. Experiences are 'subjective' in the sense that they're attributes of a subject. But facts about experiences are still perfectly objective facts about reality.
  • Wayfarer
    16.1k
    If we can only know experiences through having them, then we can't attribute them to others. But clearly we can attribute experiences to others, so why not to electrons?Philip Goff

    Thanks! Didn't anticipate a response from the author, but honoured to have received one.

    I think in this case 'others' are 'other beings'. Leaving aside the problem of solipsism - that my mind is the only real mind - I think it is inferentially sound to believe that other human beings experience themselves in a way similar to the way I experience myself. When I see someone else react after having hit themselves on the thumb with a hammer, even though I can't literally feel their pain, I think it is more than reasonable to believe that they experience the same pain I would in the circumstance, so I am inclined to sympathy - 'poor fellow!' Whereas if I saw a robot malfunction and hit itself, I see no reason the believe that it would feel pain, nor would I feel any sympathy with it - 'take it down to the workshop and get it fixed'.

    And the same would go for any inanimate object. (Actually, reflecting on that, Aristotle's treatise on 'The Nature of the Soul' was called 'De Anima'. I suppose the same etymology is also reflected in 'animal'.) So all that points to what I believe is a basic ontological distinction between 'beings' and 'objects', which I suspect pan-psychism is wanting to blur or eliminate. Because, from the viewpoint of physicalism, it's an inadmissible distinction, because physicalism must be monistic - there is only one fundamental substance, to which panpsychism adds, that substance must be in some sense conscious.

    Also, what I said is that it is a mistake to think that experiences can be known in the third person. That is basically the same criticism as the 'hard problem', which says that all experience has an irreducibly first-person aspect which can't be described in purely third-person terms.

    Now, a lot can be described in purely third-person terms - which is essentially the 'domain of the natural sciences' - but 'the nature of the experiencing subject' is not among them, which is why I referenced Husserl in the OP. His 'critique of naturalism' says more or less the same.

    But facts about experiences are still perfectly objective facts about reality.Philip Goff

    Nothing whatever is 'perfectly objective'. That is the major point of Kant, is it not? That said, I'm not a complete relativist, because I believe there is a 'domain of objective fact' - but that is a pragmatic matter, not an ideal realm.

    Of course, all of this points to some large and weighty philosophical and also historical issues, but that is the general thrust of my criticism of panpsychism.
  • TheWillowOfDarkness
    2.1k


    You actually make the mistake of being sceptical of experience here. All our experiences are "first person." One only knows "red" thorough living their experience. In this respect, it is no different to knowing of experience-- in fact, it's a subset of it. If I know red, a computer or a mountian, it's something of my experience I know.

    All instances of knowledge are "first person", a person's lived experience. Red is no less irreducible than experience. Both can only be accessed with "first person" experience.
  • dukkha
    206
    In fact, the only thing we know about the intrinsic nature of matter is that some of it – the stuff in brains – involves experience. — Philip Goff

    We don't know this at all.

    Regardless, let's say panpsychism is the case, there's still the problem of how the individual (?) inner lives of electrons, etc, give rise to singular cohesive first person experiences. How does my experience of being a human, in a world, emerge from individual particles (that have experience as part of their nature). Is my conscious experience physically located throughout the particles within my brain, only some of them, or is it an emergent entity and exists somewhere else entirely?
  • Janus
    12.4k
    In fact, the only thing we know about the intrinsic nature of matter is that some of it – the stuff in brains – involves experience. — Philip Goff


    We don't know this at all.
    dukkha

    Well, we do know that, as far as we know, having experience always involves having a brain, don't we?

    What we don't know is precisely what it is that has experiences. I can say that I have experiences, but I don't know, precisely, what I am.
  • Rich
    3.2k
    If experience is a process to creating habit, then it is quite possible every living form has experiences, since every life form seems to evolve based upon experiences, even the lowly virus.

    Now, if experience also involves self-awareness, then the jury is out. What we can say is that humans have self-awareness as a general rule, some more than others. Beyond that it is simply a guess probably based upon some brain bias of some sort.

    As for me, the brain doed not equate to consciousnesses or experiences. Consciousness equates to consciousness and the brain seems to be doing all kinds of stuff as is most of the body, as it reacts to experiences of consciousness. My view is that the whole body is conscious - what is normally called body or muscle memory.
  • Janus
    12.4k


    If having experience is defined as having volition, then I would say that is confined, as far as we know, to creatures with brains.

    Volition is self-determination; animals of all kinds are usually supposed to possess volition, do you believe plants do?

    If you define it more broadly, as in "the rock outcrop experienced erosion due to run-off", then that is a different matter.

    Of course none of our categories are absolutely unambiguous; if our knowledge is to be disqualified because it is not absolutely unequivocal, then we could not rightly be thought to have any knowledge.
  • S
    11.8k
    If experience is a process to creating habit, then it is quite possible every living form has experiences, since every life form seems to evolve based upon experiences, even the lowly virus.Rich

    Whether or not a virus is living is an ongoing debate, as far as I'm aware, and it is controversial to give that as an example of a life form.
  • Rich
    3.2k
    The nature of volition is unclear. If a bacteria or virus evolves there is most probably some impulse somewhere that is creating that change. The nature of volition that sits between viruses and humans may simply be a matter of degrees of freedom which are a function of the whole body including the microbes that occupy the human body and participate in any human activity. What is missing from the puzzle is to what degree a virus may be aware of what happening to itand is able to attempt some action based upon this awareness. I guess at an extremely rudimentary level it may have some awareness, enough to continue to evolve.
  • Rich
    3.2k
    Good enough. Then we may have some evidence that non-living life forms evolve based upon experiences. That would make viruses the missing link between living and non-living forms that evolve.
  • Janus
    12.4k


    Yes, I would say that there must be some awareness, which means some sensory structure, in order to qualify as having volition, and hence experience. But the cut-off point, when it comes to organisms, is not at all clear. Whatever the case might be with organisms, however, I would say we have no reason to impute awareness, volition or experience to fundamental particles or non-organic entities in general.
  • S
    11.8k
    Good enough. Then we may have some evidence that non-living life forms evolve based upon experiences. That would make viruses the missing link between living and non-living forms that evolve.Rich

    But the quality of the evidence is what matters more than the existence of the evidence. I doubt its quality. And there's a semantic element to this too, namely what is meant by "experience". Is this watered down thing you call "experience" really experience? Or is it missing one or more essential aspects?
  • Rich
    3.2k
    I would say it is the line between that which experiences evolution via duration (life) and that which doesn't is a very interesting area for inquiry. I personally feel there is a continuum there since life literally relies on the other.
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