Saturday, April 24, 2010

Toward a Science of Consciousness - Galen Strawson: A Metaphysics for Panpsychism

On Friday of the 2010 Toward a Science of Consciousness conference, there was a plenary session on Theories of Consciousness. The third speaker in the session was the philosopher Galen Strawson (his personal website), whose lecture was on A Metaphysics for Panpsychism.

First, here is the most basic definition of panpsychism from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy:

Panpsychism is the doctrine that mind is a fundamental feature of the world which exists throughout the universe. Unsurprisingly, each of the key terms, “mind”, “fundamental” and “throughout the universe” is subject to a variety of interpretations by panpsychists, leading to a range of possible philosophical positions. For example, an important distinction is that between conscious and unconscious mental states, and appeal to it allows a panpsychism which asserts the ubiquity of the mental while denying that consciousness is similarly widespread. Interpretations of “fundamental” range from the inexplicability of mentality in other, and non-mentalistic, terms to the idealist view that in some sense everything that exists is, and is only, a mental entity. And, although the omnipresence of the mental would seem to be the hallmark feature of panpsychism, there have been versions of the doctrine that make mind a relatively rare and exceptional feature of the universe.

Against the backdrop of our immense scientific knowledge of the physical world, and the corresponding widespread desire to explain everything ultimately in physical terms, panpsychism has come to seem an implausible view. Nonetheless, the doctrine retains some attractive and interesting features. The recalcitrance of the mind, and especially consciousness, to fit smoothly into the scientific picture recommends our consideration of them.

Here is the abstract for Strawson's presentation:
A Metaphysics for Panpsychism: Galen Strawson (Philosophy, University of Reading; MIT, Reading, Berkshire United Kingdom)

[1a] We know that experiential phenomena (consciousness) exist in the universe [1b] There is provably zero evidence for the existence of non-experiential phenomena in the universe [1c] Physics (including cosmology) is a part of metaphysics [1d] Sense in which physics already provides a metaphysics for panpsychism [1e] But physics indeterminate in many respects: provides only structural information about reality; theories proliferate concerning the fundamental constitution of space-time-matter [2a] Stuff monism is true (only one kind of stuff in the universe) [2b] Thing monism is true (sense in which only one thing in the universe = itself = space-time-matter) [3a] being is becoming (Wesen ist Werden, thing/process distinction is superficial) [3b] matter is force and conversely (Stoff ist Kraft, categorical property/power property distinction is superficial) [3c] existence is qualitativity (Sein ist Sosein, ‘object’/’property’ distinction is superficial) [3d] the ‘in-itself’ is the for-itself (‘Ansichsein’ ist F├╝rsichsein, panpsychism is true)
Makes perfect sense, yes? Wait, no, not so much.

This was the toughest lecture for me in the entire conference (or at least what I attended of it). I struggled to follow his logic, and I kept finding myself thinking, "Bullshit!" So let's break the abstract down into the specific argument he presents there:
[1a] We know that experiential phenomena (consciousness) exist in the universe
[1b] There is provably zero evidence for the existence of non-experiential phenomena in the universe
[1c] Physics (including cosmology) is a part of metaphysics
[1d] Sense in which physics already provides a metaphysics for panpsychism
[1e] But physics is indeterminate in many respects: provides only structural information about reality; theories proliferate concerning the fundamental constitution of space-time-matter

[2a] Stuff monism is true (only one kind of stuff in the universe)
[2b] Thing monism is true (sense in which only one thing in the universe = itself = space-time-matter)

[3a] being is becoming (Wesen ist Werden, thing/process distinction is superficial)
[3b] matter is force and conversely (Stoff ist Kraft, categorical property/power property distinction is superficial)
[3c] existence is qualitativity (Sein ist Sosein, ‘object’/’property’ distinction is superficial)
[3d] the ‘in-itself’ is the for-itself (‘Ansichsein’ ist F├╝rsichsein, panpsychism is true)
So that is the argument, broken down into it's basic logical assumptions.

I had some serious issues with all of this, not least of which is the inherent anthropic principle at play here, which I categorically reject. But rather than just writing him off, I did a little research.

Strawson is a very highly regarded philosopher who has not always been a panpsychist. For that matter, panpsychism is a pretty fringe theory in the world of philosophy, although it seems to be making a little bit of a comeback, partly due to Strawson and partly due to David Skrbina's Panpsychism in the West (2007).

Let's start with some of Strawson's basic definitions - these come from a prior conference paper, Conceivability, Identity, and the Explanatory Gap, but they are essentially what he presented this year as well:
Materialists hold that every thing and event in the universe is physical in every respect. They hold that "physical phenomenon" is coextensive with "real phenomenon," or at least with "real, concrete phenomenon," and for the purposes of this chapter I am going to assume that they are right. 1

Monists hold that there is, fundamentally, only one kind of stuff in reality-in a sense that I will discuss further in §6.

Realistic monists - realistic anybodys - grant that experiential phenomena are real, where by "experiential phenomena" and "experience" I mean the phenomena of consciousness considered just and only in respect of the qualitative character that they have for those who have them as they have them.

Realistic materialist monists, then, grant that experiential phenomena are real, and are wholly physical, strictly on a par with the phenomena of extension and mass as characterized by physics. For if they do not, they are not realistic materialists. This is the part of the reason why genuine, reflective endorsement of materialism is a very considerable achievement. I think, in fact, that it requires concerted meditative effort. If one hasn't felt a kind of vertigo of astonishment, when facing the thought that consciousness is a wholly physical phenomenon in every respect, then one hasn't begun to be a thoughtful materialist. One hasn't got to the starting line.

So then, from these he defines himself as a real naturalist - in his words, the opposite of what most philosophers mean by a naturalist (or a real materialist):

Realistic materialism, then, first divides the world into experiential and non-experiential phenomena (it cannot deny the existence of experiential phenomena, and it assumes that physical reality does not consist entirely of experiential phenomena). It then requires one to drain one's conception of the non-experiential of any element that, in a puzzling world, makes it seem especially puzzling that the experiential is physical.

Some philosophers think this is the wrong way round. They think we have to drain our conception of the experiential of any element that produces special puzzlement, leaving our existing conception of the non-experiential in place. But no substantial draining can be done on the experiential side, for in having experience in the way we do, we are directly acquainted with certain features of the fundamental or ultimate nature of reality, as Russell and many others have remarked-whether or not we can put what we know into words in any theoretically tractable way.

Some deny this. "Look," they say, "in having experience we only have access to an appearance of how things are, and are not acquainted, in the mere having of the experience, with how anything is in itself."

The reply is immediate. Here, how things appear or seem is how they really are: the reality that is in question just is the appearing or seeming. In the case of any experience E there may be something X of which it is true to say that in having E we only have access to an appearance of X, and not to how X is in itself. But serious materialists must hold that E itself, the event of being-appeared-to, with all the qualitative character that it has, is itself part of physical reality. They cannot say that it too is just an appearance, and not part of how things are, on pain of infinite regress. They must grant that it is itself a reality, and a reality with which we must be allowed to have some sort of direct acquaintance.

With that foundation, here are some bullet points from his presentation (he talked faster than I could write and did not have much of a power-point, but these are mostly quotes from his lecture, as closely as I could record them).

  • Concrete reality: the universe, everything that exists in space-time, and space-time is conceived of as a substance.
  • The only certain, natural fact is consciousness and experience - it's where we start and where we must start.
  • There is ZERO EVIDENCE for non-experiential reality (although some naturalists deny even experience).
  • Space-time is real.
  • Everything is in space-time.
  • No reason to believe that anything non-experiential exists --> Good reason to believe that nothing non-experiential exists.
  • If there is nothing non-experiential then there is no hard problem to solve (referring to the difficult problem of explaining why we have qualitative phenomenal experiences).
  • Matter as distinct from experience is the true mystery (this is what he wants to solve through panpsychism = everything has experience).
  • If we start from the experiential, which is all we can know, everything is then experiential = panpsychism, or pan-experientialism.
  • All the fundamental elements of reality are experiential, but do not in themselves experience, while some combinations do experience.
  • Self consciousness is immanent reflexivity (Harry Frankfurt, Identification and Wholeheartedness, 1987).
  • AOI Thesis (awareness of itself) - All awareness comports awareness of itself (endorsed by Indian philosophy) - most phenomenologists (Husserl, Sartre, Merleau-Ponty, etc) also tend to agree.
  • Irrelational relationality - self identity again, everything is identical with itself.
  • Self-luminosity (experientiality) is the essence of concrete being (Hameroff countered that concrete reality is an oxymoron).
  • The only thing we know for sure is that some elements get together and form a body-mind that experiences --> so only experience is the thing we can know for sure --> It's not thetic, it does not require attention [ Husserl stresses (cf. Ideas, sec. 90, 109), the existence-belief is an indispensable part of the perceptual phenomenon: such experiences are essentially thetic, i.e., there can be no such thing as a perceptual experience without “belief-character.”]

So are you convinced? Did that all make sense, or are you, like me, thinking wtf?

My sense of Stawson's argument is that it is the Intrinsic Nature Argument for panpsychism, as defined at the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy - Strawson's earlier arguments are mentioned in this passage:

Intrinsic Nature Arguments

Another possible argument for panpsychism is neither genetic nor analogical but instead depends on the idea that every actual thing, or kind of thing, must have an intrinsic nature. The objects studied by physics, it is claimed, are described in purely dispositional terms. That is, while an electron, for example, is said to possess “spin”, all this amounts to is that the electron has certain dispositions to behave in certain ways under certain circumstances. It is arguable that dispositions must be grounded in some intrinsic, non-dispositional attributes, but we have no conception whatsoever of what the intrinsic nature of matter might be. In fact, the only intrinsic nature with which we are familiar is consciousness itself. The qualities of conscious experience (to take simply sensory experience: the smell of a rose, the taste of a strawberry, etc.) seem not to be reducible to relations amongst non-experiential states nor entirely specifiable without remainder in terms of their causal powers to produce behavior (and other mental states). They seem instead to possess (or be) intrinsic and irreducible characteristics. If this is the only idea of intrinsic nature we possess, and matter must be assigned some intrinsic nature, it seems that matter must be granted a mentalistic intrinsic nature. The core idea of this argument can be traced back to Leibniz who felt forced to ascribe mentalistic attributes to his monads as the only possible feature which could make intelligible the active forces that seemed to be required in an adequate physics, and which finally laid to rest the dream of a purely mechanical world view. In his discussion of this difficulty, Whitehead describes all “modern cosmologies” as having to admit a “mysterious reality in the background, intrinsically unknowable” (1933/1967, p. 133) and notes that Leibniz “explained what it must be like to be an atom” (1933/1967, p. 132). See Sprigge (1983) for a defense of this argument within an extended discussion of the virtues of panpsychism (for another brief summary of the argument see Sprigge 1999). Another, less idealist, version of the argument is developed in Lockwood (1991), based upon ideas taken from Russell's later philosophy, married to an interpretation of quantum physics. Although far from demonstrative this is, in the words of Timothy Sprigge (1999), “a hypothesis worth exploring as the only alternative to saying that matter is unknowable in its inner essence, and as likely also to cast light on the mind-body or mind-brain relationship.” The currently most extensive discussion of this form of argument in favor of panpsychism, based upon a critique of the conception of causation, can be found in Rosenberg (2005).

Still, one obvious reply to this argument is to bite the bullet of unknowability and accept that the intrinsic nature of matter is either unknown or even essentially unknowable. Belief in such irremediable ignorance would seem neither to entail panpsychism nor to be incoherent, and many might prefer it to panpsychism.

However, recently several philosophers have made remarks somewhat reminiscent of this argument. For example, Galen Strawson has argued for a revised conception of materialism and remarks that “the experiential considered specifically as such—the portion of reality we have to do with when we consider experiences specifically and solely in respect of the experiential character they have for those who have them as they have them—that ‘just is’ physical” (1997/1999, p. 7). Strawson hints that only a “revolutionary development” in physics would allow consciousness to be “discerned and described” by that science. The idea that a revolutionary change in physics may be necessitated by the problem of consciousness is endorsed, suggested or at least hinted at by several distinguished thinkers, including Roger Penrose (1989), John Searle (1991, pp. 123-4), Thomas Nagel (1979, 1986, 1999) and Noam Chomsky (1999; see the remarks about unification and revision on p. 82 for example). Suggestive as these thoughts may be, it only leaves a gap into which the wedge of panpsychism might be inserted. What reason have we to suppose that the hoped for revolution in our understanding of matter at the most fundamental level will involve ascribing essentially mentalistic properties to it? The panpsychist's hope lies in the thought that any modification of our conception of the physical that does not incorporate mind will leave us in an essentially unchanged position, with no explanation of how consciousness emerges from the radically non-mental physical elements of the world. We have seen that this argument has been bruited since at least the time of the Presocratics and it has often led emergentists to reconsider their position when the problem of consciousness is directly considered (it is this worry that probably explains why Morgan, a radical emergentist, retreated into a Spinozistic parallelism of mind and matter; see Morgan 1923, p. 32).

This leads to the final consideration in favor of panpsychism to be considered here, which is a sort of methodological argument. Panpsychism enjoys a metaphysical advantage in that it avoids the difficulties of emergentism, which are greater than is generally thought. Not only is there a problem simply in accounting for the emergence of something so distinctive as consciousness from mere matter, it is surprisingly difficult to articulate a form of emergentism that does not threaten to make the emergent features causally impotent or epiphenomenal. This is not the place to discuss the difficulties of all the varieties of emergentism, but they seem serious.

So, doing more digging around, I came upon a review of Strawson's recent book, Real Materialism and Other Essays, in which the reviewer (also a philosopher: Andrew Melnyk, University of Missouri) rejects Strawson's version of real materialism:

I was much less impressed with the work in the philosophy of mind, partly because it operates within the framework of Strawson's realistic materialism, which I find to be an unsatisfactory basis for a philosophical research program -- for reasons that I will now explain. Realistic materialism is presented in the first two papers of the book, the title essay "Real Materialism" and "Realistic Monism: Why Physicalism Entails Panpsychism", and is a view of the place of the qualitative character of experiences in the wider world.[1] As I understand it, it comprises five claims:

1) Experiential phenomena are perfectly real.

2) Experiential phenomena are such that:

(i) they're "part of fundamental reality" (35);

(ii) we know them to exist with certainty (23);

(iii) in having experience, "we are directly acquainted with certain features of the ultimate nature of reality" (25, 41);

(iv) "the having [of them] is the knowing" (25);

(v) "we can't be radically in error about [their] nature" (55, note 7).

3) Not "all aspects" of experiential phenomena "can be described by current physics, or some non-revolutionary extension of it" (22).

4) Still, experiential phenomena are "physical in every respect" (23, 35, 37).

How can claim 4 and claim 3 be consistent? According to Strawson, we need (a) to distinguish between structural physical features and intrinsic physical features and (b) to adopt the epistemologically structuralist view that physics only gives us knowledge of the world's structural features. Given (a) and (b), claim 3 is true if the qualitative character of an experience is not a structural physical feature of the world. Claim 4 can be true too, however, if, as Strawson holds:

5) The qualitative character of an experience is an intrinsic physical feature of the event of neurons firing (22, 37).

Real materialism, I should note, is not a novel position; as Strawson acknowledges, it is essentially the position proposed by Grover Maxwell in 1978 (51, note 126). Both are inspired by Russell, of course.

Claim 3 is a very strong claim, entailing the falsehood of every kind of conventional (non-eliminative) physicalism about experiential phenomena. Why should we accept claim 3, according to Strawson? Why, for example, should we disbelieve the type-identity view that phenomenal properties form a proper subset of neurophysiological properties? One might have expected Strawson to endorse familiar arguments for property dualism, e.g., Jackson's knowledge argument or Kripke's appeal to the necessity of identity, since, though they don't establish that the qualitative characters of experience fail to be intrinsic physical features, they do (if successful) establish that they fail to be structural physical features. In fact, however, he doesn't endorse these arguments, at least explicitly.[2] His official argument for claim 3 is that its negation amounts to eliminativism about experiential phenomena, which "is mad" (22).[3] That the negation of claim 3 amounts to eliminativism is said to follow "from the fact that current physics contains no predicates for experiential phenomena at all, and that no non-revolutionary extension of it could do so" (22, note 17; 56, note 9). Unfortunately, Strawson doesn't here say how he knows this putative fact. In particular, he doesn't say why he feels entitled to rule out the possibility that, exactly as type-identity physicalists suppose, certain immensely complex predicates from current physics in fact pick out the qualitative characters of experiential phenomena, even though this can't be discovered a priori.[4] I conjecture, however, that one way he thinks he can rule out this possibility is by attending introspectively to his own experience (54-55, note 6). For, in his Introduction, he characterizes phenomenal properties as "properties whose whole and essential nature can be and is fully revealed in sensory experience" (12; my emphases). If this characterization of phenomenal properties is correct, then no phenomenal property can be such that some scientific term or concept picks out that very property in a way that represents more of the property's essential nature, e.g., its internal structure, than is represented when we are directly acquainted with that property in experience.[5] But a complex predicate from current physics that picked out a phenomenal property would represent a great deal of the property's internal structure that goes unrepresented when we are acquainted with that property in experience. So no complex predicate from current physics can pick out a phenomenal property.

Presumably, Strawson means the first premise of this argument -- that phenomenal properties are "properties whose whole and essential nature can be and is fully revealed in sensory experience" -- to follow somehow from claim 2. However, he gives no reason, at least that I could find, for believing claim 2. Nevertheless we do need a reason; claim 2 is not forced upon us as claim 1 is. For even if, as Strawson holds, introspection assures us that experiential phenomena exist and hence that claim 1 is true, claim 2 goes much further: it purports to describe experiential phenomena in philosophically sophisticated metaphysical and epistemological terms. Since introspection has evolved by natural selection, as Strawson would allow, it's unlikely to be capable of informing us directly of claim 2 -- or indeed of any claim of comparable philosophical theoreticity. Perhaps claim 2 can be inferred from weaker claims about experience more plausibly regarded as direct deliverances of introspection; if so, however, this will need to be shown. The same points apply, of course, if claim 2 is expanded to include the claim that phenomenal properties are "properties whose whole and essential nature can be and is fully revealed in sensory experience".

Philosophers who accept claims 1, 2, and 3 usually go on to endorse some sort of dualism, of course, treating the qualitative character of an experience as something entirely non-physical, as something not even supervening on or realized by the physical, but not Strawson. Instead, in claim 5, he treats the qualitative character of an experience as an intrinsic physical feature of a neural event. On what grounds? One rationale for claim 5 is that, given claim 1, it follows, more or less, from claims 3 and 4 (see 71). I have already discussed support for claim 3. What about claim 4? Much empirical evidence exists for claim 4, in my view, but it's evidence that experiential phenomena are structural physical phenomena, something that claim 3 actually contradicts. I know of no evidence that experiential phenomena are intrinsic physical phenomena (given Strawson's assumption of epistemological structuralism about physics). So supporting claim 4 is problematic for a realistic materialist. Strawson's endorsement of claim 4 seems in fact to rest on his attraction to a unified view of the world, the idea presumably being that, given claim 4, all features of the world are unified in being physical, whether structural-physical or intrinsic-physical (51). Nevertheless Strawson insists that we have no grasp of "the essential nature of the physical", so he can't substantiate the idea that the intrinsic features of the world that are the qualitative characters of experiences share a genuine physicality with the structural features of the world that physics reveals (46). This first rationale for claim 5 therefore fails.

A second rationale for claim 5 appeals to ontological economy (50, 59, 66). I think it can be reconstructed as follows:

Structural physical features exist, but structural physical features can't exist unless intrinsic physical features do too, so intrinsic physical features exist. The qualitative characters of experiences exist also, but, according to claim 3, they aren't structural physical features. So either they're identical with intrinsic physical features, as claim 5 says, or they're entirely non-physical features. The former option -- claim 5 -- is more economical, and hence, other things being equal, to be preferred.

Strawson doesn't argue that other things are in fact equal. Are they? I don't know, though the answer would turn in part on the relative abilities of realistic materialism and its best dualist rival to explain puzzling features of the mind. I also note that this rationale for claim 5 uses the recently-contested premise that structural physical features require intrinsic physical features, i.e., that the physical world couldn't be purely structural.[6]

The points made in the preceding paragraphs only partly explain why I'm not at all drawn to realistic materialism. There's also the point that realistic materialism raises at least two inter-related questions to which, in its present form, it offers no answers. (i) According to Strawson, realistic materialism entails micropsychism, the view that "at least some ultimates are intrinsically experience-involving", which he takes to imply that each ultimate involves a distinct subject of experience (71). Since human subjects of experience are not ultimates, and hence not the subjects of experience involved in ultimates, there must be some way in which the latter combine to form human subjects of experience. But how? Strawson raises this question himself, but he doesn't try to answer it (72). This omission is serious, for so long as the question goes unanswered, realistic materialism hasn't actually told us what my, or your, or any human subject's experiencing of red is. Also, an answer to this question seems necessary for an answer to the second question. (ii) Realistic materialism, when joined with epistemological structuralism about physics, entails that we, i.e., human subjects of experience, can only know about the world's structural features -- except when we attend introspectively to the qualitative characters of our own experiences and thereby acquire knowledge of the intrinsic features of certain neural events in our own brains. But how is this supposed to work? Why does the epistemic handicap we labor under when we enquire scientifically disappear when instead we attend introspectively to our own experiences? What is it about introspection that gives it access to the intrinsic features of certain of our brain events? And why are the intrinsic features of only some, but not all, of our brain events accessible to introspection? These questions are not touched by realistic materialism in its present form.

A recurring theme in Strawson's discussion of realistic materialism is that (i) we have no conception of what it is to be physical on the basis of which we might form any rational expectation at all that the mental couldn't be physical and (ii) this point, though clearly appreciated in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, has been missed by contemporary students of the mind-body problem (e.g., 20, 38-40, 54). I entirely agree that we have no conception of physicality, if physicality is construed in Strawsonian fashion as a genuine property, a genuine meta-property, in fact, that is possessed by all physical properties (20). Nevertheless I strongly doubt that any student of the mind-body problem in the second half of the twentieth century has ever thought that we do have such a conception -- a break with the past perhaps reflected in the terminological shift, to which Strawson attaches no importance, from "materialism" (and "matter") to "physicalism". Recent students formulate the mind-body problem in a way that doesn't require a conception of physicality as a meta-property. They can do so because, unlike philosophers of earlier generations, they are able to draw upon the concrete achievements of the various branches of science over the past hundred years. Thus, pace Strawson, the mind-body problem today -- our mind-body problem -- is to understand how our everyday descriptions of ourselves as thinkers, feelers, and reasoners fits together with the extraordinarily rich scientific descriptions of ourselves provided by cognitive neuroscience, molecular biology, biochemistry, and, yes, even fundamental physics (54). Of course, these scientific descriptions probably don't represent the last word, but so what? They don't need to in order for the mind-body problem to be worth addressing. It's interesting, at least to many of us, to contemplate our best scientific guesses as to the nature of the world and then speculate on how they hang together. Any detailed solution to the mind-body problem that we produce will naturally inherit the provisional and tentative character of the scientific descriptions with which the problem was formulated, but if scientists can tolerate fallibility, why not philosophers too?


[1] And hence a view about intentional states, since Strawson holds that intentional states are experiential states.

[2] He does give an argument that differs only terminologically from Joe Levine's well known Explanatory Gap argument (63).

[3] In his Introduction, Strawson compares deniers of phenomenal consciousness to psychiatric patients (6; and see note 31)!

[4] On 54, note 3, he cites an argument from his own earlier work, but I won't discuss it here.

[5] Compare "element having atomic number 79" with "gold", "NaCl" with "salt", and so on.

[6] See chs. 2 and 3 of James Ladyman and Don Ross, Every Thing Must Go: Metaphysics Naturalized (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007).

I am pretty much swayed by this argument as I understand it - there are some logical inconsistencies in Strawson's position that Melnyk exposes in a way that even I can follow.

So why does anyone argue for panpsychism? As I mentioned above, David Skrbina wrote a book on Panpsychism in the West (2007), and he has written other works on the topic as well.

Here is another take on panpsychism from David Skrbina's earlier 2001 online book (a series of PDFs), Participation, Organization, and Mind: Toward a Participatory Worldview:

Evolution unified natural phenomena, especially life, and this allowed people to see life emerging in a kind of continuous process from non-life. A natural conclusion then was that consciousness and mind inhered in all matter, and only became visible to us in the structures that we call life. James noted, in an earlier citation, that a panpsychic hylozoism must be "an indispensable part of a thorough-going philosophy of evolution" (op.cit.). Peirce argued from the perspectives of mathematics and physics that "all mind more or less partakes of the nature of matter" (op.cit.), and saw chaotic dynamics as key in this process. Others, like Bergson, argued (somewhat ambiguously) that mind was a creative phenomenon that emerged de novo in the course of universal evolution. This leaves the process of emergence as mysterious and perhaps inscrutable, and introduces troublesome instances of 'drawing a line' somewhere in the sequence of structural complexity. Rather, I think that we need to redefine the concept of emergence, to more adequately account for the appearance of the new within a connected process of universal evolution1.

To many scientists of the early 20th century, panpsychism was uncomfortably close to the recently discredited theory of vitalism. As a result they largely avoided discussion of it altogether. The first notable scientist to tentatively put forth panpsychist views was the British astronomer Sir Arthur Eddington. His Space, Time and Gravitation (1920) concludes with the observation that physics only addresses the surface structure of matter and energy, and does not have anything to say about the ‘inner content’ of reality. Arguing roughly in the manner of Schopenhauer, Eddington claims that the inner content of reality must be like the inner content of the human, i.e. conscious:
[Physics] is knowledge of structural form, and not knowledge of content. All through the physical world runs that unknown content, which must surely be the stuff of our consciousness. (p. 200)
It is difficult to determine precisely the meaning of this passage; it can be read either as a form of idealism or as panpsychism (though of course Schopenhauer’s argument was clearly panpsychic). Eddington again addresses this theme in 1939, leaning more toward idealism. He argues that physics “abolishes all dualism of consciousness and matter” (1939: 150). Dualism, he claims, contains a logical inconsistency: “Dualism depends on the belief that we find in the external world something of a nature incommensurable with what we find in consciousness” (ibid). Since physics shows that all reality is structurally the same, it must all be commensurate with consciousness, i.e. of the nature of a mental sensation. He elaborates:
Although the statement that the universe is of the nature of ‘a thought or sensation in a universal Mind’ is open to criticism, it does at least avoid this logical confusion. It is, I think, true in the sense that it is a logical consequence of...our knowledge as a description of the universe. (p. 151)
His reference to a universal Mind sounds very Berkelian -- matter as consciousness only with respect to an observing mind, not as a mind in itself. Eddington’s argumentation comes across as a bit confused, but his intention seems clear: that the unified view of physics supports a belief that the content of reality is comparable and even equivalent to the content of mind. (Chapter 7: p. 263-264)
That last line seems to me to be the crux of what panpsychism proposes - that the content of reality is comparable and even equivalent to the content of mind.

This strikes me as the same argument - though from a different angle - that B Alan Wallace makes in some of his books on Buddhism and physics. Rather than rejecting self, as Buddhism tends to suggest, he raises consciousness, which requires a self if you really want to get down to basic premises, to the level of a universal premise from which all things arise - which I objected to in my review of his book, Hidden Dimensions: The Unification of Physics and Consciousness.

So, after all of that - I am not on board with Galen Strawson's argument.


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