The Panpsychist Manifesto

Posted by | Zachariah | 14.9.10 | 2 Comments

The following is a summary of our current 'route' to a form of panpsychism.

(1) One-kind-of-stuff
In opposition to classical substance dualism, we asserted that the stuff of experience and the stuff of bodies must be the same kind of stuff. We rejected any dualism of types, arguing that this would create interaction problems.

(2) Non-elimination (Realism about experience)
One might derive from (1) a form of eliminative materialism, arguing thusly: if all that is going on is material (narrowly conceived), then everything is one kind of stuff — matter (/physical/natural). In familiar terms, consciousness is reduced to brain-states: there is nothing going on but electro-chemical brain activity. This has the unfortunate side-effect of eliminating that about which we are most certain existentially: experience. We are most certain about it 'existentially' because the having of experience can be utterly non-veridicial, i.e. it can be utterly mistaken about what one thinks one is having an experience 'about', but not that one is having experience. Therefore, the existence of experience qua experience is certain.

The eliminativist is left with Dennett's curious remarks: “There seems to be phenomenology … But it does not follow from this … that there really is phenomenology.” (Dennett 1991, p. 366) Or, when talking about properties such as “phenomenal qualities” or “the qualitative content of mental states”, Dennett explicitly states: “I am denying that there are any such properties.” (Ibid., p. 372) And again: “I am denying that there are any such properties. But I agree wholeheartedly that there seem to be.” (Dennett 1998, p. 141).

As Galen Strawson has remarked, in this context, the 'seeming' just is the 'having': that there 'seems to be' experience / phenomenology just is for there to be experience.

Taken together, (1) and (2) thus reject substance dualist and eliminative theories.

(3) Panpsychism vs. Emergence
Given (1) and (2), we arrived at a formulation of the problem in terms of (i) emergence theories being posited against (ii) panpsychist theories, because it seems that either (i) experience is a property of material (widely conceived) things only when they reach a certain X, where X represents some level of material complexity, or sufficient organization, or that (ii) experience exists in some form in all things. Or, more cautiously, (ii-a) that whatever the fundamental unit(s) of reality are, they posses the property (if it is a property) of experience (or proto-experience — this will become important shortly).

(4) Non-emergence
We argued that emergence of the kind required to satisfy (1) and (2) was not acceptable. It would be a 'brute' or 'radical' emergence that is not conceivable: while it is possible to get a cricket team from several things that are not cricket teams (simple emergence), it is not possible to get a spatial object from several things that are not spatial, such as mathematical points (brute emergence). We argued that this kind of emergence-of-X from something that is ontologically distinct from X is untenable. There must be something of X in that which it is supposed to emerge from.

(5) Proto-experience
We thus postulated 'proto-experience' as a possible way of satisfying (1) and (2) in the light of (4). This would assert a kind of panpsychism (from 3), wherein not everything has experience, but rather, every fundamental entity (from which all other objects are 'built', so to speak) must posses the property (if it is a property) of proto-experience. One could then imagine a kind of simple emergence taking place, such that experience emerges from proto-experience: i.e., just as we can imagine building a table from atoms, we might now imagine building experience from stuff that has proto-experiential properties. (Although this analogy is perhaps to mechanist in flavour).

(5a) Extreme panpsychism
It is worth mentioning another possible way of satisfying (1) and (2) in the light of (4). This is a kind of 'extreme panpsychism' wherein everything simply has experience, in the way in which we have experience. I mention this because there is no logical inconsistency in proposing this as a solution to the above problem. However, my suspicion is that it is this kind of view that is responsible for some of the derision directed at panpsychism: if one thinks that panpsychism involves the view that rocks and heaps of dirt share in the rich phenomenological experience that we enjoy, the appropriate response may indeed be derision.

Proposing (5) as an alternative to (5a) is a way of arguing for the legitimacy of panpsychism as a potential solution to the so-called 'mind-body problem' (which I would rather call the problem of the difference between the experiential and the non-experiential, even if it is less catchy).

I plan to make another post that will detail a number of the problems that face panpsychist positions, problems that are distinct from the above (which serve, as it were, to arrive at panpsychism as a viable option).

The references are:
DENNETT, D. 1991. Cosciousness Explained. Penguin.
DENNETT, D. 1998. Brainstorms. Penguin.

See also:
CHURCHLAND, P. 1981. ‘Eliminative Materialism and the Propositional Attitudes’, The Journal of Philosophy. 78(2), pp. 67-90.
DENNETT, D. 1988. ‘Quining Qualia’ in Consciousness in Modern Science (A. Marcel and E. Bisiach, eds.) Oxford University Press: Oxford.


2 Responses to “The Panpsychist Manifesto”

  1. peter
    15/9/10 02:08

    excellent post mate, concise and rigourous.

    i have a few quick suggestions from first glance:

    (1) i think we should add here the parmenidian maxim that "what is, is" and this then reinforces the point in (2) that experience "is"

    (3) i'd alter the title here slightly to include the word "brute" before emergence since i think we aren't against it absolutely (as you argue in the next section)

    either in section (3) or perhaps after (5) - as a new section - i think we should bring in the point about how we do not know what matter is. whether this should be a point entirely by itself and juxtaposed against idealism (6) or as an add on to the panpsychist vs emergence section. Or perhaps, even in the discussion about proto-experience - here we could highlight the things i originally scoffed at and that i think others have a knee jerk reaction to.

    again though, great stuff, I think we should all meet up soon to discuss this in more detail

  2. Nicola Masciandaro
    20/9/10 13:42

    Building on the idea that panpsychism elicits a *route* to it, I wonder if topology itself offers such a route, seeing that the problem typically confronts us as a situation of being before something that apparently does not have mind, in a 'here' near a 'there' that seems not to. It those terms the question of panpsychism is the question of the 'there' itself. And the recognition of the panpsychist truth is to allow that every 'there' is a 'here' (in the Parmendian sense you recall).

    Looking forward to seeing how this develops.



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