Panpsychism and Emergence

Posted by | Zachariah | 2.7.10 | 1 Comment

Some general thoughts on panpsychism and emergence, somewhat following on from Chris's previous post.

It is possible to imagine the transition from simple material particles to structures of increasing complexity.

So, as fascinating as the human body is, we can imagine how such a thing might arise over a sufficiently long period of time from the correct organization of such simple particles — provided we set aside subjectivity. Without subjectivity / consciousness / what it is like to be the organism, we can imagine how such complex structures (organisms like us) are the result of the correct assemblage of Lego bricks, as it were.

In G Strawson's paper 'Realistic Monism' he calls this Life*, in the context of a discussion of emergence. If one takes away experience from Life (he calls this Life*), then it is a simple matter to explain the emergence of Life* from non-Life*. But the hard problem remains — how to explain the emergence of experience from that which is wholly non-experiential.

There remains a large explanatory gap between explaining ever more complex structures such as the body, or the brain, or whatever, and explaining experience (considered simply as experience). It seems impossible to imagine how to explain the qualitative, phenomenal features of subjective experience in terms of carbon molecules arranged in just the right way.

In any event, if it were possible to explain something like the feeling of unease one experiences when listening to David Cameron in terms of physical / material constituents (as they are currently understood), it seems one could then ask "Where is this experience located in spacetime?" Note: I am assuming that we are not reducing the experience to an explanation in terms of matter, but rather explaining the experience as matter. I think it would be necessary to do this, because reducing an experience to matter (depending on what you understand by 'reduction'), would at best simply leave the problem unsolved, or at worst deny the existence of experience.

So, if we're realists about experience (Premise 3 of Nagel's 'Panpsychism') then we return to the problem of emergence. I think this debate can be framed in terms of the choice between panpsychism and emergence. By emergence I am thinking of what Strawson calls 'brute' emergence, and what Nagel calls 'ontological' emergence, as opposed to 'epistemological' emergence.

I think that some form of panpsychism is the more profitable avenue to explore. There are many forms of panpsychism, some more lucid than others. I use the term in a somewhat minimal sense, as opposed to brute emergence. Brute / ontological emergence would be the emergence of the experiential / mental from the wholly non-experiential, i.e. from 'dull' or 'inert' matter. Imagine the following: the emergence of a spatial object from nonspatial mathematical points. No matter how many there are, and no matter how one arranges them, it seems impossible for a spatial object to emerge from a nonspatial mathematical point.

However, if we take a point that is minimally spatial, even something vanishingly small, one can begin to imagine how, arranged in the right way, enough such points could give rise to complex spatial objects. Analogous reasoning leads me to believe that some form of panpsychism is valid. By panpsychism, then, I mean that the basic constituents of reality have some kind of ontological similarity to experiential phenomena. This is of course sufficiently vague. My suggestion is to move away from the view of matter as dull and inert. If we allow whatever the 'basic constituents' are to be somehow have an ontological similarity to experiential qualities, and of course what we standardly think of as 'physical' qualities, then it becomes possible to imagine the emergence of complex forms of experience such as ours.


One Response to “Panpsychism and Emergence”

  1. peter
    15/7/10 04:20

    im starting to come round to the view that panpsychism is more expedient and explanatory than emergentism.

    however, i think that both approaches are still tasked with actually explaining HOW thinking arises from being or whether the two are synonomous. - i suppose this is the EXPLANATORY GAP (EG) to which u refer (really like the phrase) and since it is the crux of the whole debate perphaps a good title for a paper too.

    for my thoughts towards an attempt at tackling the EG i would be loathe to priviledge any sort of idealist access (in a hegelian sense whereby we are the one idea thinking itself absolutely) but i struggle to think how else to explain it unless the particular objects subjectify themselves - ie. the in-itself thinks itself for-itself? some french philosophers (laurelle, deleuze) are in this ball-park but i dont know if i understand them completely. - it requires sort of fracture in being else u risk becoming a hegelian.
    i guess this may be a little digressive from our project but i think we need to consider our horizons when we write - ie. what does what we are saying entail?

    "where is experience located in spacetime?" - this is an extremely heideggerian qs. he would answer that "so-foundeness" - the intrinsic state-of-the-mind as expressed from the body (there is no mind-body dualism for heidegger) - can be a place other the spatial co-ordinates of the body. he calls this deseverance. a good example is day-dreaming

    to add three of your comments together zach:

    *realists about experience
    *vanishingly small units add up to make a unit
    *not reducing thought to inert matter but explaining it through dynamic matter


    what are the implications of this?
    it sounds somewhat analogous to iain's slimy being - whereby the "basic constituents" of reality are infinitesimally small (i.e. inifinitismally divisible) but which can coalesce into more complex forms.
    this would seem to go along with what sam and I were saying last week about how there is no brute emergence. each level up the "heirarchy" is contained in the matter (as a dynamic pre-inidividual field of interplaying forces) at its most basic level. therefore, if experience is not to be a brutally emergiung force, the basic constituents of being are thinking. but then the question is, what is nature of this thinking at this level? (if it is fractured and discontinous then u can escape hegel)

Leave a Reply