Galileo, Panpsychism, and the Hard Problem of Consciousness

28 Jan

Panpsychism and the hard problem

It is sometimes said that consciousness is a mystery in the sense that we have no idea what it is. This is clearly not true. What could be better known to us than our own feelings and experiences? The mystery of consciousness is not what consciousness it is but why it is.

Neuroscience has made considerable progress in understanding the physical mechanisms underlying human behaviour and associated internal functioning. But no one has even the beginnings of an explanation of why some physical systems, such as the functioning brain of a waking human, have experiences. Modern brain imaging techniques have provided us with a rich body of correlations between physical processes in the brain and the experiences had by the person whose brain it is. We know, for example, that a person undergoing stimulation in her or his ventromedial hypothalamus feels hunger. But no one knows why these correlations hold. It seems perfectly conceivable that ventromedial hypothalamus stimulation should do its job in the brain without giving rise to any kind of feeling at all. This is the difficulty David Chalmers famously called ‘the hard problem of consciousness.’

Materialists hope that we will one day be able to explain why consciousness exists in terms of wholly non-conscious physical processes in the brain. But this project now has a long history of failure. The problem with all extant materialist ‘solutions’ to the hard problem is that they always end up redefining consciousness. They start off by declaring that they are going to solve the hard problem: to explain experience itself. But somewhere along the way they suddenly start using the word ‘consciousness’ to refer not to experience but to some complex behavioural functioning associated with experience, such as the ability of a human to monitor its internal states or to process information about the environment. Explaining complex forms of behaviour is an important scientific endeavour. But the hard problem cannot be solved by changing the subject.

I am drawn to an alternative research programme. Instead of trying to explain consciousness in terms of utterly non-conscious brain processes analytic panpsychists hope to explain biological consciousness (i.e. the consciousness of humans and other animals) in terms of simpler forms of consciousness. These simpler forms of consciousness are then postulated to exist in basic forms of matter, ultimately the smallest constituents of the brain (whatever they turn to be). The panpsychist hypothesis is that the ultimate constituents of the physical world, perhaps quarks and electrons, have very basic forms of experience and that the complex experience of human and animal brains is grounded in the simple experience of basic matter. Twenty years ago panpsychism would have been immediately dismissed by scientists and scientifically minded philosophers, if indeed it was thought of at all. More recently, perhaps because of the dismal track record of materialist explanations of consciousness, a growing minority of philosophers and neuroscientists have been seriously exploring the potential of panpsychism to solve the hard problem.

This is not to give up on the hope for a scientific account of consciousness; analytic panpsychism is a scientific project in its own right (albeit at a very early stage of development). Of course the most basic forms of consciousness do not themselves end up getting explained. But, as Wittgenstein said, explanation has to end somewhere. Every theory must have its primitives. The only question is whether and how well they account for the data.

The philosophical foundations of physics

Most philosophers and scientists still hold out hope that consciousness can be explained without postulating additional entities, whether souls or micro-level consciousness. This hope is commonly supported with a bold narrative about the successful history of the physical sciences. At every point in this glorious history, it is claimed, philosophers have declared that certain phenomena are too ‘special’ to be explained by physical science – light, life, chemistry – only to be subsequently proven wrong by the relentless march of scientific progress. There is every reason, then, to expect that consciousness will go the same way, despite the naysaying of philosophers.

However, there is a different way of thinking about the history of physical science and its undeniable and rightly celebrated success. Perhaps the most important move in the scientific revolution was Galileo’s declaration that mathematics was to be the language of natural science. But he felt able to do this only after he had revolutionised our philosophical picture of the world. Before Galileo it was generally assumed that matter had sensory qualities: tomatoes were red, paprika was spicy, flowers smelt sweet. But it’s hard to see how these sensory qualities – the redness of tomatoes, the spicy taste of paprika, the sweet smell of flowers – could be captured in the abstract, austere vocabulary of mathematics. How could an equation capture what it’s like to taste spicy paprika? And if sensory qualities can’t be captured in a mathematical vocabulary, it seemed to follow that a mathematical vocabulary could never capture the complete nature of matter.

Galileo’s solution to this problem was to strip matter of its sensory qualities and put them in the soul. The sweet smell isn’t really in the flowers but in the soul of the person smelling them; the spicy taste isn’t really in the paprika but in the soul of the person tasting it. Even colours, for Galileo, aren’t really on the surfaces of objects but in the soul of the person observing them. And if matter had no qualities, then it was possible in principle to describe it in the purely quantitative vocabulary of mathematics. This was the birth of mathematical physics.

But of course Galileo didn’t deny the existence of the sensory qualities. Rather he took them to be forms of consciousness residing in the soul, an entity outside of the material world and so outside of the domain of natural science. In other words, Galileo created physical science by putting consciousness outside of its domain of enquiry. If Galileo was to time travel to the present day and be told there is a ‘hard problem’ of how to explain consciousness in terms of physical brain processes, he would no doubt reply, ‘Of course there is, I created physical science by taking consciousness out of the physical world!’

This does not, in itself, constitute an argument that there will never be a purely physical account of consciousness. But it does undermine arguments which appeal to the historical success of physical science in order to support the claims that physical science will one day solve the hard problem. The fact that physical science has done extremely well since consciousness was set outside of its domain of enquiry gives us no reason to think that it can adequately account for consciousness itself.

Is consciousness a datum in its own right?

It is twenty years since David Chalmers declared consciousness a ‘hard problem’. Although there is broad agreement that it is, this is often accompanied by vague statements that the problem will go away if we just do a bit more neuroscience. It’s time philosophers and scientists decided whether or not consciousness is a datum in its own right, on equal footing to the data of third-person observation and experiment.

Philosophers like Daniel Dennett and Keith Frankish deny that consciousness exists. This is their solution to the hard problem, and it’s a consistent (if rather implausible) view. Most philosophers believe that consciousness exists but refuse to make postulations in order to account for its existence. They try instead to squeeze it into the world of things we already believe in, things postulated to explain the data of observation and experiment. This research project hasn’t gone well.

If we believe in consciousness, we have to be prepared to make postulations in order to account for its existence. Panpsychism looks to be the most promising way of doing this, avoiding the well-known difficulties associated with the postulation of souls. Perhaps it won’t ultimately work out. But at the moment the serious interdisciplinary work needed to find this out is being hampered by an ideological insistence on the materialist paradigm; an ideological insistence not so dissimilar to that experienced by Galileo from the 17th century Catholic Church.

18 Responses to “Galileo, Panpsychism, and the Hard Problem of Consciousness”

  1. johnmalato February 1, 2017 at 1:25 pm #

    I’m starting to doubt that the hard problem actually picks out an intelligible question with an intelligible answer. In the same way that we answer questions about the nature of liquid water by saying “we know you get liquid water when H2O is at such and such temperature,” we can only answer questions about the nature of consciousness with answers like “we know you get consciousness when matter is arranged such and such.” To ask why such and such arrangement of matter is associated with consciousness makes just as little sense as asking why H2O is water – that’s just the rule. It seems the hard problem of consciousness is a profound existential question on the same level as “why something rather than nothing,” and we don’t even know what an answer to that question would look like.

    It seems straightforward that panpsychism is more economical than physicalism, but neither seem to answer the hard problem. They seen to be competing theories about something that has a fact of the matter, or an empirical right answer. Adjudicating between the theories (even if empirically possible, which it seems it is not) would leave us in the same position we started from – we’d know the facts, but nothing more.

    • johnmalato February 1, 2017 at 1:33 pm #

      Sorry meant more economical than theories like emergentism, that similarly regard consciousness as a datum.

    • conscienceandconsciousness February 1, 2017 at 2:48 pm #

      Thanks John. Wouldn’t you say, though, that we do have a satisfying explanation in the water case. Once we understand the chemistry, that explains why water behaves the way it does, and that’s all we want explained. But in the case of consciousness, the brain science explains the functioning of the brain and how that governs behaviour, but it provides us with no explanation of why that brain functioning/behaviour is accompanied by experience. This is essentially the argument David Chalmers made when he coined the term ‘hard problem’ : http://consc.net/papers/facing.html You have to take some facts as basic (I’m not demanding an explanation of why there’s something rather than nothing), but those basic facts should explain all the other facts. But it seems the basic facts of physics don’t explain why there’s consciousness. The hope is that adding micro-level consciousness might one day provide with respect to human consciousness what we already have with respect to water.

      • john February 1, 2017 at 9:03 pm #

        Thanks for taking the time Philip – I’ve read a lot of your stuff and I’m pretty excited to talk. But I know the following is a lot, so you need not respond if you don’t have time. But in general (if you remember the brief essay I sent you a few months back), do you think I could handle grad coursework at CEU?

        What I’m trying to see is why philosophical theories of mind brute force explanations less than simple (non-physicalist) brain science. To me, the brain-scientific, panpsychist, and information-processing answers to questions like “why does this brain state have pain-experiential properties?” are on all fours. They all respond with the same category of answer, namely, answers that explain the experiential property of the system with reference to the relationship of some constituents:

        Brain scientist: “You get experience when you get 100 billion neurons arrange brain-wise.”

        Panspychist: “You get experience when a bunch of micro-subjects are phenomenally bonded.”

        Info-processor: “You get experience when the requisite amount or density of information is being processed.”

        And these all seem to be categorically the same as what chemists do with water:

        Chemist: “You get water when you get 1 Oxygen covalently bonded to two Hydrogens.”

        That’s why I don’t see why saying “you get consciousness in its own right when micro-subjects phenomenally bond as the result of a spatial relation” is any more satisfying than “you get consciousness when nerves form brains (problems of vagueness notwithstanding).” They’re both theories of how simples arrange into systems that exhibit new properties. And they both just say “if this system obtains, then you get the new property.” Of course with panpsychism you don’t get a categorically new property. But I don’t know if that makes it any more appealing as an explanation (especially in light of its falsifiability issues).

        But I do see the appeal of panpsychism in terms of explanatory fundamentality – just like water is made of atoms and atoms are made of quarks, experiential states accompany brain states which are made up of micro-subjects.

      • johnmalato February 1, 2017 at 9:05 pm #

        Thanks for taking the time Philip – I’ve read a lot of your stuff and I’m pretty excited to talk. But I know the following is a lot, so you need not respond if you don’t have time. But in general (if you remember the brief essay I sent you a few months back), do you think I could handle grad coursework at CEU?

        What I’m trying to see is why philosophical theories of mind brute force explanations less than simple (non-physicalist) brain science. To me, the brain-scientific, panpsychist, and information-processing answers to questions like “why does this brain state have pain-experiential properties?” are on all fours. They all respond with the same category of answer, namely, answers that explain the experiential property of the system with reference to the relationship of some constituents:

        Brain scientist: “You get experience when you get 100 billion neurons arrange brain-wise.”

        Panspychist: “You get experience when a bunch of micro-subjects are phenomenally bonded.”

        Info-processor: “You get experience when the requisite amount or density of information is being processed.”

        And these all seem to be categorically the same as what chemists do with water:

        Chemist: “You get water when you get 1 Oxygen covalently bonded to two Hydrogens.”

        That’s why I don’t see why saying “you get consciousness in its own right when micro-subjects phenomenally bond as the result of a spatial relation” is any more satisfying than “you get consciousness when nerves form brains (problems of vagueness notwithstanding).” They’re both theories of how simples arrange into systems that exhibit new properties. And they both just say “if this system obtains, then you get the new property.” Of course with panpsychism you don’t get a categorically new property. But I don’t know if that makes it any more appealing as an explanation (especially in light of its falsifiability issues).

        But I do see the appeal of panpsychism in terms of explanatory fundamentality – just like water is made of atoms and atoms are made of quarks, experiential states accompany brain states which are made up of micro-subjects.

  2. conscienceandconsciousness February 3, 2017 at 1:31 pm #

    All really good points. I guess I think the standard scientific explanations are a bit more explanatory than that. I think it’s plausible that if you knew all the basic physical facts, you could in principle work out the superficial characteristics of water. One panpsychist aspiration is to have something like that in the case of consciousness.

    Actually, I’m less optimistic than many of my fellow panpsychists. My fundamental motivation is (i) there are good arguments against physicalism (roughly the knowledge argument, zombie argument) so we need an alternative account of consciousness, and (ii) we need an account of the intrinsic nature of matter, and panpsychism looks to be the best account on grounds of simplicity and parsimony.

    Sure, have you applied to CEU? The deadline for funding was a couple of days ago.

  3. Andrew Robinson March 1, 2017 at 2:51 pm #

    I just read your article on AEON. Why where no comments allowed there? It would have allowed for some nice back-and-forth banter. Anyways, you argument needs more thought…

    In THE HUMAN USE OF HUMAN BEINGS, Willard Gibbs explains that modern day physicists, more specifically quantum mechanics, no longer described reality with things that happen, but rather with the probabilities of what may happen. The Universe at the subatomic level is unpredictable rather than deterministic, even to the point of sometimes violating the Law of Cause and Effect. Maybe in reality, nothing is violated except human “common” sense because it is beyond their ability to understand simple things like that, but that thought would end the conversation here, so let’s not go there. Instead let’s continue this discussion by noting that certain scientists didn’t want to believe that the Universe could be non-deterministic on any level other than the human one, so they postulated there must be something else they are missing in the big picture here, something they called the “hidden variable”. The hidden variable alleviated their fears until variations of the dual-slit experiment seemed to prove that subatomic matter responded to human observation; that human consciousness was actually intervening with matter itself. How does human conscious transmit itself through space to the matter in an experiment, and how would those thoughts and intentions be transformed into directions of what to do next (“should I collapse into a wave or a particle?”, is a question a subatomic particle needs to ask itself) unless matter itself possessed some form of consciousness that governs their activities so that matter could have short term memory and the ability to make decisions? We can imagine that subatomic matter wouldn’t be as intelligent as humans pretend to be, but matter itself would consist of an unlimited number of discrete conscious entities, whose collective behavior could be described by the Schrodinger equation. I would go so far as to say, that maybe consciousness is a property of space-time, and certain structural combinations of organic molecules could elicit or focus more of that particular property into the macro world, much like an alloy of aluminum, nickel, and cobalt can contain and focus more magnetic energy than pure iron can. And maybe, just maybe, the entire structure of the Universe itself, has or can, at times, elicit tremendous quantities of that consciousness component of space-time, a structure which humans could perceive as the actual anatomy of God.

  4. Patrick Daniel March 2, 2017 at 2:42 pm #

    Hi there, layperson here. Excellent article (as was the Aeon one that lead me here).

    I find your panpsychist view fascinating and while I’m very open to materialism, I agree that all the materialist positions I’ve read appear to change the subject, while simultaneously proclaiming to have solved the problem.

    It seems somehow intuitive that existence requires some form of ‘subjectivity’ (i.e. a thing being itself as opposed to another thing) if not experience. Because otherwise, I can’t make sense of how it could be said that a thing, whether animal or electron, is itself, as opposed to anything else. Surely there has to be a point of view relative to which something *is* itself, and that should be both external and internal – the external POV of the things it isn’t and it interacts with, and it’s internal POV by virtue of which its processes and functions are organised into some kind of gestalt.

    It might not be *like* something to be an electron, but surely it is at least *something* to be an electron. The very fact of identity, that something *is* itself leads me to believe that subjectivity, in some form, may be a basic building block of the universe.

  5. David March 2, 2017 at 11:22 pm #

    I’ve just discovered this site (thank you Aeon) and, in fact, panpsychism as a term, though the concept has been familiar to me since childhood.

    When I was a kid I had a transistor radio that picked up exactly three stations (this was rural NZ). One day I dropped it on the concrete floor of the shearing shed and thereafter it picked up only two. What happened to the third station? Either it was housed in the part of the radio that took the impact and its functioning was impaired (which accords with the views of neuroscientists I’ve read concerning the brain-mind relationship) or the radio’s ability to acquire and transmit an external signal had been impaired. My discovery that the kitchen radio still played the missing station recommended the latter theory, and I just naturally transposed it to my view of consciousness. I just always assumed the brain is like a transistor radio and the wild speculations of Dennet et al have always seemed just plain dumb to me.

    This view has been confirmed by my experience of those aspects of life that it’s hard to put a name to: the ‘paranormal’ (dreadful term)/’numinous’ (better)/’the occult’ (accurate in terms of original usage but burdened by associations). Incidentally there are some major semantic issues here, aren’t there: what is ‘soul’ as opposed to ‘spirit’ for instance?

    Sorry to rant, but this subject seems to me fundamental – much more so that such extraneous matters as whether or not a person believes in ‘God’ (whatever that means). I’m also fascinated by the psychology that causes people to fixate on materialistic/atheist/religious speculations to the point of knee-jerk denials of any alternative speculation.

    If you take the foregoing as an introduction to myself, can you recommend reasonably accessible (but a little above ‘Panpsychism for Dummies’) books I might read on the subject of consciousness. I recently read ‘Transcendent Mind’ by Baruss and Mossbridge which I thought a great introduction.

    Thanks for your patience if you struggled through all this post.

  6. David Nyman March 4, 2017 at 3:10 am #

    Hi Philip

    Philip

    What if it’s not possible to avoid the question of why there is something rather than nothing if we hope ever to get a grip on consciousness, as opposed to substituting, trivialising, or even denying it? What I mean by this is perhaps a little different than you might think. I’m going to recommend to you the work of Bruno Marchal, a computer scientist, mathematician and logician at the AI lab of the Free University of Brussels. As he says, “My main research interests are in the Foundation of the Cognitive Sciences, the Foundation of the Physical Sciences, and the Mind-Body Problem”. Here’s a link to his website (under publications, 2007 is particularly noteworthy in my view): http://iridia.ulb.ac.be/~marchal/index.html

    As it happens I’ve been debating and discussing ideas about consciousness and other related matters with Bruno for at least the last ten years, and I must say that over that period he’s really helped me to liberate my thinking from its former ruts and indeed has ultimately prompted a pretty radical change in my views. Having originally started out from a roughly panpsychist orientation, and having defended this pretty strenuously against his patient probing, I must say he’s led me towards what I’d have to say is one of the exceedingly few really novel conceptions I’ve encountered, in 50 years or so of reading and thinking on the topic, of the possible relation of consciousness to, well, “everything else”.

    Without stealing any of Marchal’s originality, I would introduce his approach in a very general way by saying that it takes a refreshingly rigorous mathematician’s approach from the outset. Define your assumptions and stay rigorously within them. This is pretty rare in most treatments of this trapdoor-strewn philosophical landscape, where it’s more typical for folks to be purblind to their often tacit assumptions, not to say undefended presuppositions (does “third-person absolutism” ring any bells?). The foundational motivation for the work, at least as I’ve understood it, stems originally from what are ultimately inescapable implications of the computational theory of mind (CTM). This, when one reflects, is really the default theory assumed by most physicalists (though often rather tacitly so). That is, the mind is assumed to be associated exclusively with the functioning of the brain, in some as yet not fully-defined sense, rather than any contingent material constitution. There are of course some clear exceptions to this (Penrose on the one hand and and the panpsychists on the other being perhaps the most notable), but mostly I find some such assumption to be at least implicitly the case.

    If that is indeed so, as Marchal argues, it immediately becomes conceivable, indeed necessary, that such a mind must in principle be multiply realisable – that there must be what he calls a substitution level for every mind, though we can almost certainly never be assured what that may be (and certainly have no present clue). Further, the assumption of multiple realisability turns out to have profound and unavoidable consequences for physics. Simply put (but I’m afraid not necessarily simply grasped) the assumption of CTM entails a reversal, as Marchal puts it, of the relation between what is now conceived as the complex appearance of q physical reality (henceforth defined as so-called first-person-plural phenomena) and what he terms machine psychology (roughly, specific reflexive “points of view” associated with the machine). This can then be explored systematically in terms of
    “internally” located (and hence, properly, “subjective”) modal logics available to any digital (e.g. Turing) machine – the abstract one, that is, not its “concrete” approximations – of a formally defined minimum logical, or theorem-proving, capability. In some one else’s rather neat phrase, you can grasp at least the general drift that the concrete is now the subjective reflection of the abstract.

    The upshot of all this is the task of justifying (and indeed empirically challenging) a model of the whole of a reality from the computational ground up, at least reality as available to the digital machines that at root, ex hypothesi, we are here taken to be. That’s what I mean by starting from something rather than nothing. But Marchal’s take on this doesn’t rely, as you might expect, on any facile reification of the necessary ontology. He just says – my words, but I think consistent with his – that a theory of this foundational sort must ask, in effect, what is the simplest way for a maximally lazy God to create what confronts us and therefore what we must make shift to give an account of. As a broad overall metaphor, recalling Borges’s Library of Babel, what stems from our initial motivation and assumptions is a Computational Library of similar ilk. But the crucial difference is that, unlike the practically useless plenitude of alphabetic possibility, there is no requirement here to set off on an interminable and most probably fruitless search for the good stuff that must somehow lurk not-even-God-knows-where under the obscuring torrent of incomprehensible or misleading dross. For self-aware digital machines, whose very necessitation is consequent on our foundational assumptions, there is no need of searching, for don’t they already find themselves in relation to a world? Indeed, do we not? So perhaps all that is required of God is to conceive the thing merely as a simple (though nonetheless incredibly algorithmically compressed) bootstrap routine, and thereafter leave it to unfold under its own extensional impetus. The consequence being… well, that’s of course where the devil and the detail begin.

    Marchal takes great pains to argue all this rigorously step by step, often with the aid of less-formal thought experiments, or “intuition pumps”, to ease the weary or those mathematically less firm (me for one). The whole thing has been subject to pretty continuous, not to say ferocious, criticism since the originating doctoral dissertation was published nearly twenty years ago. Throughout this time he has defended the thesis and explicated its motivation and consequences with doggedness and, in my view certainly, insight, not least in the light of its broader philosophical relevance (though he’s equally at pains to keep this distinct from the more formal entailments and defence). Some of the most trenchant and persistent critiques, in addition to the more formal academic context, have taken place in ongoing conversations at: http://groups.google.com/group/everything-list There’s a vast archive going back well over ten years (which marks my own baptism therein). There’s some dross of course, but little bad behaviour and usually (though admittedly not always) a good deal more light than heat.

    It’s interesting that both recent cosmological theory (for example Susskind and Tegmark in different ways) and QM (Deutch and Barbour, for two) have been moving plenitude-wards for some time now. Anyway I hope you’ll find something fundamentally interesting and independently motivated in Marchal’s approach, as I have.

  7. Leon Rodriguez March 4, 2017 at 4:36 pm #

    Let’s ask the question, what’s special about consciousness?

    One answer could be “not much.” That it doesn’t actually privilege itself by dint of its various qualia. Just b/c it experiences are intrinsic & private doesn’t establish that they aren’t fungible to bubbles rippling in a pond.

    Answer “a lot” and then we have to examine what’s unique to the experience of consciousness? After all, lots of creatures exhibit the possession of a conscious life, even bees …

    One argument I have with my fellow Zen Buddhists is that the Buddhist emphasis on consciousness is arbitrary. My thinking is that the Buddhist emphasis is slightly misplaced, that experience itself is the property that permeates everything. B/c personal intrinsic experiences or the extrinsic sources for them are just process states of a thing that sets the corner stone for the Dharma, the present moment, the driving engine for all phenomenological transactions.

    Without information boundaries there would be no transactions, no experience. Without contiguity – (un-separateness) – there’d also be nothing. That’s Sunyata right there, where both boundary conditions & contiguity are fungible.

    The qualia space of consciousness, in the animate & sentient sense, is simply a sensual reflection, a very specialized sense organ. Evidence for it can be observed in octopuses, oppossums, snakes, bees… any creature able of reasoning, in real-time, about their environment. 

    The intrinsic process states of a CPU embody the idea that you have a physical substrate & given sufficient levels of complexity & organization, its intrinsic experiences spawn process states at many different levels. However the Visual Basic app doesn’t experience the underlying C++, the C++ the underlying assembler, the assembler the underlying chip die, the transistor gates the underlying electrons. At what point in this process stack do we start observing some self-organization, even new emergent properties? Eventually A.I. systems will be able to self-generate new degrees of freedom in their process states.

    Animate consciousness however is only privileged by a few things: A corporeal information boundary, active memory retrieval & serial logic, & a vested physiological sense of identity & need for self-consistency. But just b/c our own intrinsic process states are invisible to the rest of the world doesn’t make them illusions, no more than a Visual Basic program is an illusion. 

    The example I like to give is the shared, telescoped, life-horizon of an astronaut & his atomic clock undergoing time dilation. Same experiential frame, a shared information boundary & relative temporal vs. inertial transaction rates, but one is conscious the other is not.

    If we want to an expansive noumenon, >>experience<< itself is the sine qua non of consciousness (direct experience is all there really is anyway…). Underlying experience is essence, and the present moment.

    • Leon Rodriguez March 4, 2017 at 4:46 pm #

      P.S.

      Having meditatively encountered a variation on the “Blue Pearl” consciousness several times, I’ve found myself acquiring the perspective that consciousness itself really is just a highly specialized sense organ.

      The reason I say this is b/c of the sensual nature of the Blue Pearl state: I could feel sensation *IN* the qualia space of consciousness itself, where normally thoughts or bodily sensations arise. A thousand fuzzy motes of blue light, a cloud-like constellation of them, each with a gentle sensation of touch.

      Ten seconds … that’s all that I could sustain & it was very strenuous, but I encountered this state several times.

      Adherents of yogic, tantric & new age views explain their “Blue Pearl” states in more spiritualist terms , which I personally eschew but acknowledge as valid to persons who take refuge in them.

  8. Stathis Papaioannou March 5, 2017 at 10:03 am #

    Another paper of David Chalmers’ (http://consc.net/papers/qualia.html) presents difficulties for panpsychism. If components of the brain have intrinsic consciousnesses which are combined, it would be possible to replace a component with a different but functionally identical one, which would result in the subject behaving in the same way despite having a significant aspect of his consciousness altered. This would imply a fundamental decoupling between consciousness and behaviour: it’s only a fluke that they seem to match up.

  9. stathis March 5, 2017 at 3:36 pm #

    Panpsychism implies that consciousness is substrate-dependent. If a component of the brain has intrinsic consciousness, then a different component may have a different intrinsic consciousness even if it is functionally identical. By David Chalmers’ “fading qualia” argument, this would allow us to change consciousness while leaving behaviour unchanged. The subject might become blind, but his mouth will continue to make noises indicating to the world that everything is just the same.

  10. savantissimo March 6, 2017 at 2:30 pm #

    This is an interesting topic. Some random notes:

    19th c. microwave pioneer Sir Jagadish Chandra Bose, CSI, CIE, FRS’ work: “Response in the Living and Non-Living”, (text at rexresearch) which found that plants and metals have similar “nervous” and “fatigue” responses.

    the Conway – Kochen free will theorem: “if we have a free will in the sense that our choices are not a function of the past, then, subject to certain assumptions, so must some elementary particles.”

    Math / Computer Science professor / SF pioneer / philosopher Rudy Rucker’s writing on hylzoicism, much else to see at his blog.

    This perhaps original argument for panpsychism :

    “*Distinguishable states must differ by >=1 bit
    *No outside agency besides the 2 minimally differing states can do the distinguishing between themselves.
    *……..Otherwise the theory would have to explain how the 3rd thing distinguishes not only the 2 original entities from each other but also how it distinguishes itself from the other two as well.
    *……..This requisite ability to distinguish is logically part of every distinguishable entity.
    *……..This logical nature, this ability to distinguish information, is not just the basis for consciousness but a basic form of consciousness itself.”
    [starting from QM and Langan’s CTMU, considering: particles = interactions = Feynman diagram vertices]

    ***
    And another thought from the same blog:
    “Imagine Indra’s net, filling all space and time with a web whose intersections are jewels, each reflecting all of the others. The jewels may also be seen through other schemata – Leibnizian monads, vertexes in Feynman diagrams, atomic perceptions/ perceivers of varied potentialities and probabilities. What seem from the physical point of view as particles (interactions) are seen from another point of view as perceptions whose collective patterns are thoughts. God is immanent in the totality of the net, these atomic perceptions are collectively a basis (in the mathematical sense) for the power set of all their possible permutations. This power set can be viewed in turn as the total mindspace, which has all possible perceptions and thoughts implicit in it. Parts of it are human thoughts (all the possible human thoughts), thoughts of particular groups, individuals, etc. Most of it is outside the region of human thought. Most of it is far less than God, the totality of the mindspace (plus parts of which we cannot speak) – yet also far more than human. A given jewel/interaction may be parts of beings at all levels: God, gods, angels, humans, animals, plants and cells. Because mindspace is not like physical space, these entities which are categorizations of sets and power sets of jewels may overlap like Venn diagrams.”
    [pardon, keeping a bit anon., one can google quotes in lieu of links]

  11. effcaa March 7, 2017 at 10:35 am #

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts… really interested, added you to my bloglovin. 🙂
    xx finja | http://www.effcaa.com

  12. lorenzo sleakes March 8, 2017 at 10:50 am #

    As Philip says, Galileo perhaps in concession to the Church, took qualia out of the physical realm and into the dominion of the soul. But this extreme move was not necessary. Qualia could have been just made an irrelevant non-factor in his mathematical laws of motion. A blue object and a red one will fall at the same rate.
    Colors and sounds are secondary effects, caused deterministically by physical structure and activity but not the cause of anything until they become part of the mental. Qualia appear as entirely physical and not mental. The colors and sounds that make up my mental world are entirely accidental to my immediate surroundings and have little to do with me.
    So if qualia are really physical qualities and exist in the world outside of minds or souls then where do souls fit in? Such minds or souls have a distinct capacity to bind together qualia into a private unity. Subjective mental beings seem to have an indentity, a continuity that transcends a purely neurological explanation. Reverberations of nerve signals come and go but the same “me” seems to persist as if part of a principle of conservation in its own right. And if complex neural patterns create the subjective observer how is that a single celled amoeba with no brain appears similar to any other self moving animal? Perhaps mental beings are rock bottom parts of the natural order. I speculate where they may be found in this paper. https://philpapers.org/rec/SLESA

  13. Anthony March 14, 2017 at 12:19 am #

    A question or two that’s been bugging me: I know a neuroscientist who told me, if Im remembering correctly, that conciousness is not necessary. That because everything is material it would function identically if there was no conciousness or an illusion of it. But in that case we have to assume that even if humans were not concious they would still come up with the concept and write papers about it and so on. Which seems a little hard to imagine to me. And even if it’s an “illusion”, whatever that means, it’s still affecting the material world in simply that we are discussing it and not doing other things with our time. I’m a layman to the subject. Am I understanding this all correctly? Are those legitimate questions? Got here from Aeon, great article, thanks

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