The Panpsychist Manifesto

Posted by | Anonymous | 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.

I try not to think about it...

Posted by | Chris | 13.9.10 | 1 Comment

One of the many interesting things about Iain's talk from the Speculative Realism conference is the way he brushes of challenges of ethics, politics and freedom. When he uses Spinoza to deny free-will you can imagine the murmur of upset that went through the room.

I re-watched
Richard Linklater's film of Philip K. Dick's A Scanner Darkly recently and, leading on from some comments a while back, found a talk where Dick cites Spinoza. Dick's book and Linklater's film are amazing, but also incredibly poignantly sad. As if that wasn't bad enough, Spinoza's words are chilling to me:

Further conceive, I beg, that a stone, while continuing in motion, should be capable of thinking and knowing, that it is endeavoring, as far as it can, to continue to move. Such a stone, being conscious merely of its own endeavor and not at all indifferent, would believe itself to be completely free, and would think that it continued in motion solely because of its own wish. This is that human freedom, which all boast that they possess, and which consists solely in the fact, that men are conscious of their own desire, but are ignorant of the causes whereby that desire has been determined.
(Letter to G.H. Schaller: October 1674)

I think Whitehead has a bit somewhere where he talks about the reaction of a falling stone and an angry man. Whitehead believes in freedom though (even for stones).

What Kind of Emergence?

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A couple of things that I have read recently have given articulation to some things I've been thinking which I hope clarify our panpsychist project. Reading Iain's talk from the Speculative Realism section of Collapse III put into perspective questions of the relation of a transcendental method and a speculative project in panpsychism. I have said before that if we begin from a realism about experience or thought then a question motivating further inquiry is: "Given that there is thought what must the world be like that thought is a part of the world?" This comes close to a transcendental question: "What are the necessary requirements that thought is possible?"

The argument made by Iain is that the two do indeed share something: an interest in the necessary, although not sufficient, conditions for thought. Conditions are necessary in that thought in general would not exist without these conditions but they are not sufficient to determine specific thoughts. For Kant this means that no thought is determined but Iain draws this further out, and this is where he diverges from Kant. Kant's transcendental is legislated by thought, thought grounding thought, and so in this domain it is absolutely certain. But this is impossible for any realism because thought must be the product of something anterior. For Iain this is nature, and so the varieties of thought or forms of thinking are not determined either. Being produces thinking but "we simply have to give up the illusion that the domain of thinking we call reflection is coextensive with thinking tout court" (Collapse V.III, p. 350).

I've also been following the
DeLanda reading group and a post by Levi Bryant really opened something up for me. DeLanda's theory of assemblages is opposed to organic totalities (such as Hegel's) and this is because every part of any system is an entity with structure or power beyond it's relations to the system as a whole. The relations in a system are external to the entities assembled in it and: "The central feature of relations of exteriority is that the components of an assemblage may be detached from it and plugged into a different assemblage in which it's interactions are different".

In Bryant's case this exposition of DeLanda is obviously in the context of an Object Oriented Ontology. But DeLanda being a Deleuzian you could easily make the same kinds of arguments in a powers/process/idealist ontology.
The properties of some entity do not exhaust its being because in a different context it may manifest differently characteristics. This seems especially interesting in relation to panpsychism since the potential for psyche to be manifest may not always be given in an environment. But where conditions are met the psyche which was always a power in reserve may bloom forth.

This still doesn't get us past the idealism/dualism dichotomy but I think it's important to recognise that causality, whether of a pre-individual Ideation or of heterogeneous powers, is a problem which requires work beyond our project. Within the scope of our project we want only to make an argument that panpsychism be taken seriously. I think that we probably have a number of resources to make such an argument.