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.

Dinosaurs Can't Do Metaphysics

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Posted by | Chris | 1.7.10 | 2 Comments

The fundamental questions facing a project in panpsychism are of the properties of the substance of being. We are familiar with material descriptions of physical phenomena as we are with the description of mental or experiential phenomena. The problems of any ontology regarding substance is the nature of these phenomena (and perhaps our familiarity is an impediment to this because we must redefine them). Panpsychism as I understand it (and would want to phrase it cautiously) would say that all being has potential to exhibit properties that we recognise as material and mental.

In “Panpsychism” Nagel gives four reasons to take panpsychism seriously:

1. Material composition (some form of monism)
2. Non-reductionism (mental properties are not reducible to physical ones)
3. Realism (mental properties are real)
4. Non-emergence (mentality can't come from something that is non-mental)

Each of these could be argued over but if you reject dualism, reductionism and emergence and you're a realist about mental phenomena then you have good reason to consider panpsychism. The problems of dualism seem clear enough to reject it. Emergence is a more interesting case and I think that there is the potential for much argument around this. Any anti-realist denial of mental phenomena seems an extreme and unlikely position but reductionism appears to be a position with considerable support. A common position amongst philosopher and neuroscientists is that we cannot currently explain mental phenomena but we will do one day. The biggest problem with this as I see it is that contemporary scientific practice is rooted in objective third person descriptions and this is incommensurable with a non-reductive account of first person experiential phenomena

The most promising avenue for investigation regarding panpsychism is the connection of both material third person descriptions AND experiential first person descriptions. It is this possibility which Nagel digresses into and then rejects, however in his later work “Conceiving the Impossible” it is precisely this third substance, neither wholly material or wholly mental, which he does argue for, not regarding panpsychism but instead in hope of overcoming the hard problem of consciousness. I think perhaps in his earlier work Nagel was a bit freaked out by panpsychism since he fails to keep up with the imaginative possibilities of the metaphysical project which is required if we are to make progress.

The necessary connection of material and mental properties might mean that every being is an objectively describable third person phenomena and an experiential first person phenomena. However, first person in this context needs to be qualified since it absolutely does not mean conscious. It seems likely that a considered panpsychism will at most attribute mental properties or mentality to being, not full blown conscious experience.

The necessary connection of the mental and material in every being could perhaps be along the lines of the intensive and extensive properties of being. This would be in line with some kind of Whiteheadean/Deleuzean process ontology. After reading Zach’s dissertation I have serious questions about the freedom of Whitehead’s metaphysics. Whitehead says that “life is nature’s bid for freedom” and makes the free consideration of possibilities the mental pole of an occasion. If an occasion is not in fact free, then what mentality does it have?

That process ontology can also be panpsychist brings out an important point: any project of panpsychism will likely be pursued in the context of a wide ranging and radical new ontological project. This would connect with what Alex has called “dynamic materialism”. This of course doesn’t have to be the case, a dynamic materialism could be pursed that was not panpsychist, but dynamic materialism is at least be amenable to panpsychism If a project of dynamic materialist panpsychism is rejected, a dynamic ontology may also provide the means for thinking about real emergence and this presents an interesting contrast. By what criteria do we reject or embrace panpsychism or emergence?

Whatever the outcome of any panpsychist ontological project it seems very likely that our conception of matter and mentality will be radically revised. If we are to imagine new descriptions of matter and mentality I wonder what we should consider as paradigmatic of each?

Is matter exemplified by rock, dust and gas? The constituents of the cosmos are found in patterns of complex organisation and, as exemplified by stars, matter and energy are exchangeable. Is biological matter exemplary of material properties? It is rare in the cosmos and displays greater intensity of complex organisation, but in its constituents it is as mineral as any of the above mentioned materials. Life is minerality at higher speeds and greater complexity.

Is organisation a sign of mentality? There is no doubt that the necessary connection of mentality and materiality is in some way dependent on organisation since the higher grades of mentality appear only in complex biological organisms. I wonder however if to equate organisation and mentality is to trivialise the mental? Perhaps what is needed is a deeper concept of organisation that simply the extensive relational distribution of any matter.

What should we consider as paradigmatic of mentality? Human consciousness? Animal mentality? Plant behaviour? Mineral processes? The fluid boundary between life and non-life is I think easy enough to accept. Any graded scale of mentality seems much more difficult to imagine. This is perhaps because there appears to be such a great divide between the minded and the non-minded. I think, I write I claim self identity and act with foresight and consideration; rocks do not.

Is behaviour a sign of mentality? What is active in forming behaviour? Do only animals behave or do minerals behave also? If matter (living or non-living) behaves by responding to environmental stimulus then what is active is some set of intensive organisational relations.

I’m rambling a bit now since I’ve come past the point where I had thought clearly about these things. I’ll make one last point.

If human consciousness is exemplary of mentality we must also say that it is distinguished by its complexity and intensity. We do not encounter mentality comparable with our own consciousness anywhere else than humans and their brains. The brain is modular and has evolved in stages from lower level systems. The most basic would be regulatory of cardiovascular and other life sustaining systems. Below that is the nervous system which we might consider as an information network in the living body. In animals organisms of lower complexity that sponges (no nervous system) or jellyfish (simple nerve net) and plants I wonder what comparable systems function as organisational networks to maintain the integrity of the organism? Along this evolutionary line and the gradient from mineral to living organism some process of organisation has developed in complexity finally sprouting brain systems which we now associate with our own conscious reflection on this process.

If panpsychism is true then the gradation from mineral process to animal consciousness cannot be one of “enough Lego bricks makes a man (or plastic golem)”. If the parts are not mental then the system will not be either. But I also think that we must be careful of slipping too easily into building block analogies. Consciousness is a process seemingly so far removed from materiality that just sticking bits together (either by chance encounters over billions of years or by some vibrant force) will not sufficiently explain the connection. Whatever mentality is active in being and whatever process is active in materiality I would argue that it will have to be one capable of transforming relations and not simply the result or final product of a string of interactions.

Remains of the day

Posted by | Zachariah | 30.6.10 | 5 Comments

Things philosophical discovered on the Web today:

Noted Post-Marxist Sociologist, Philosopher, and Cultural Critic Slavoj Žižek Welcomes You to the Gym — by Evan Johnston

"We are sitting in front of the TV, being couch potato, watching the illusion of nudity—which is the leotard—and the symbolism of discipline: the headband. She is doing all the work for us. She is getting physical."

That is the best bit, I think. It's better if you read it to yourself in Žižek's voice.

In other news,
Science historian cracks "the Plato code".

I'm still waiting for the film version featuring Tom Hanks.

More books

Posted by | Zachariah | 29.6.10 | 1 Comment

For reference, these are the links from Chris's email:

Panpsychism in the West by David Skrbina. The review is here.

Mind that Abides is the collection of essays to which Iain Grant and Graham Harman have contributed, edited by Skrbina.

Panpsychism texts

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In addition to the links Chris put in the email, I remembered this text.

It is a collection of essays responding to Galen Strawson's paper 'Realistic Monism: Why Physicalism entails Panpsychism'. Strawson responds to all the commentators.

There is a review of it here.

Also, as I mentioned in the email, Strawson has written another paper that deals with the problem in strictly ontological terms, without drawing out the implications for panpsychism. It's called 'Real Materialism' and is the first essay in the eponymous Real Materialism: and Other Essays. (I have the book).

Being Sufficiently

Posted by | Zachariah | 28.6.10 | 5 Comments

In case anyone is wondering about the title of the blog, it's drawn from a joke I heard about the difference between 'Analytic' and 'Continental' philosophers. It goes like this:

Analytic philosophers generally criticize Continental philosophers for not being sufficiently analytic. Contrary to this, the Continental philosophers generally criticize Analytic philosophers for not being sufficiently.

(Thank you. I'm here all week.)