First review of ‘Consciousness & Fundamental Reality’

14 Feb

The first review of my book ‘Consciousness and Fundamental Reality‘ has just come out, by Daniel Stoljar of Australian National University. It has flattery at the beginning and end with razor sharp critique in between, which is my favourite kind of sandwich! I will write a response as soon as I get a chance, probably at the beginning of March.

7 Responses to “First review of ‘Consciousness & Fundamental Reality’”

  1. Tom Strode February 15, 2018 at 5:31 pm #

    I read your article in Aeon. I won’t pretend to understand any of it. My own ruminations on life, the universe, and everything has pretty much concluded that 42 is as good an answer as any. (My hyperlink didn’t paste so you’ll have to settle for an in-text citation http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/history/42-the-answer-to-life-the-universe-and-everything-2205734.html)

    My approach was to look at life and consciousness as an anti-entropy. Not much around right now but given it’s drive to expand and grow in complexity I can hypothesize that, given universe enough and time, that it might come to permeate everything. So we can have a universal consciousness in our universe without it getting underfoot.

    It might even have conquered time from, back there at the end of it, and be watching us. But, have a noninterference policy to avoid the old “murder your grandfather” paradox so beloved by sci-fi writers. That justifies my waving a finger at the sky when things aren’t going quite the way I’d like them to.

    Then I saw this other article in Aeon (https://aeon.co/ideas/you-thought-quantum-mechanics-was-weird-check-out-entangled-time) and I went, “Whoa, there’s a mechanism”. I may not have been that far off after all. So, when I read your article I wondered if you has seen this other one and how it would fit with your theory.

    Which I applaud, by the way. I’m not going to nit pick you by citing dead philosophers like that reviewer. Paint it in broad strokes and screw the math. I didn’t get far in math, Didn’t get far in arithmetic for that matter. That’s why I like 42, it brings it all down to my level.

    Keep up the good work.

  2. algons March 1, 2018 at 12:35 am #

    Here’s my thoughts on the kind of panprotopsychism Stoljar defends.

    I know both panpsychism and panprotopsychism appeal to ignorance (we don’t know this yet). To start, I already think panpsychism has stronger tools to work with, as it puts consciousness as a fundamental element. In other words, as a “starter” of other things, it’d be reasonable for “I” not to know myself, as I know the things that are started. On the other hand, any radical or non-radical physicalist approach, i.e. the kind of panprotopsychism Stoljar defends, puts an objective truth to the fundamental. This is a separate topic but this approach reminds me of panqualiytism a little. We know about objective truths, and yes, we might not know everything but we know what “mathematics” is, we know “logic” and what “fact” means. So the tools you can appeal to with panprotopsychism are more limited.

    However, we’re just getting started. For us to take panprotopsychism seriously, 1) we’re assuming there are panproto “things” or “truths” that we cannot perceive with our existing tools in science 2) we’re assuming there is an arrangement, a combination, a mixup of those objective truths that somehow result in our “subject” quality/truth 3) we’re assuming that it is due to our misperceptions that we cannot perceive this arrangement.

    But I actually want to point out something important about the 3rd argument against physicalist panprotopsychism (perhaps leading to a 4th argument). Realise that this “misperception” isn’t just some illusion or misunderstanding we face in our lives. According to this; there are no subjects that perceive, there are just truths occurring somewhere. So somehow, “greenness”, “roundness”, “time passing”, “pain”, along with ”subject” are just objective (inexperienced) truths occurring somewhere. For the sake of explaining easier, let’s assume that these all happen within “an information”. Realise this: within this “information”, EVERY SINGLE relationship between all those unexperienced qualities/truths somehow is perceived/understood, EXCEPT “subject”.

    Let me explain in a different way. Realise that, while we misperceive/misunderstand things around us (for example Newtonian physics seem more reasonable than quantum physics, wrongly); we are CONCEPTUALLY OPEN to outside objective truths coming together and forming other objective truths. We don’t SEE it, but we are potentially open to that table being formed by another objective truth, an atom. We are open to atom being formed by actually the universe’s fabric being disturbed with a mathematical equation. We are even open to something we don’t directly see/hear: “Time not being independent from another objective truth, spacetime”. We are ALWAYS CONCEPTUALLY OPEN to objective truths’ relationship with each other. But according to this physicalist version of panprotopsychism, SOMEHOW consciousness is actually a broadly physical thing, a truth; but, while are potentially open to EVERY truth coming from each other, we are SOMEHOW causally closed to subject coming from objective truths.

To me, this isn’t just a misperception/ignorance argument at this point. It isn’t a “we lack knowledge on this matter” argument. It claims to start objective/logical/physical, but even within its own paradigm; it’s making an assumption about a specific detail ALTHOUGH there are all indications that the opposite is true. Please note the part after “although”: It’s not that “there are no indications that support that assumption“. It’s that, “there are all indications that support the opposite of that assumption”. If we were to reject those indications, we could reject ANYTHING. You can reject that there’s anything at all, you can reject the existence of universe, you can reject that you didn’t see what you saw a moment ago.

    • algons March 1, 2018 at 3:16 am #

      I already posted but want to write once more, hopefully articulated better:

Here are my thoughts on the kind of panprotopsychism Stoljar defends.

      First of all, I know both panpsychism and panprotopsychism appeal to ignorance (“we don’t know this yet”). On the other hand, even as a starting point, I think panpsychism already has stronger tools to work with, as it puts consciousness to the center of fundamental. In other words, as a “starter” of other things, it’d be reasonable for “I” (as a conscious being) not to know MYSELF (own), while knowing the things that are started (as if they’re going away from the starting point, “I”). Compared to this, any radical or non-radical physicalist approach, i.e. the kind of panprotopsychism Stoljar defends, puts “objective truths/things” (as defined by physicalism) to the center of fundamental (on a separate note, this approach reminds me of panqualiytism a little). We know something about objective truths/facts. Yes, we might not know every truth but we know what “mathematics” is, we know “logic” and what “fact” means. We know what “objective truths” are like (as referred by panprotopsychists). So the tools you can appeal to with panprotopsychism are limited to those truths, whose “kind” we already somewhat know.

      However, we’re just getting started. For us to take panprotopsychism seriously, we’ll have to make a lot of unreasonable assumptions. Let’s try it;
      1) We’re assuming there are panproto “things” or “truths” that we cannot perceive with our existing tools in science
      2) We’re assuming there is an arrangement, a combination, a mixup of those objective truths that somehow result in our “subject” quality/truth
      3) We’re assuming that it is due to our misperceptions that we cannot perceive this arrangement.

      Now, I actually want to point out something important about the 3rd assumption here (perhaps resulting in a 4th assumption made by the defenders of subject-reducing panprotopsychists, that they might not be realising). Realise that this “misperception” isn’t just some illusion or misunderstanding that we experience every day. According to this assumption; there are no subjects that perceive/experience sensations, there are only objective truths occurring somewhere. In other words, somehow, “greenness”, “roundness”, “time passing”, “pain”, along with ”subject” are just objective (inexperienced) truths occurring somewhere; and “subject” truth (which is, in fact, objective according to this theory) happening alongside other truths makes them “experienced” (in commonly used meaning. This theory doesn’t call this situation actually experience). For the sake of explaining easier, let’s assume that all these “occurrences” happen as part of “an information”. Realise this: within this “information”, EVERY SINGLE relationship between all those unexperienced qualities/truths somehow is perceived/understood, EXCEPT that “subject”.

      Let me explain in a different way. Realise that, while we misperceive/misunderstand things around us (for example Newtonian physics seem more reasonable than quantum physics, but this is because of our misperception); we are CONCEPTUALLY OPEN to outside objective truths coming together and forming other objective truths. We don’t SEE it, but we are potentially open to a table being formed by another objective truth, an atom. We are open to atom being formed by the universe’s fabric being disturbed with a mathematical equation. We are even open to the relations we don’t directly see/hear: “Time is not independent from another objective truth, spacetime”. We are ALWAYS CONCEPTUALLY OPEN to objective truths’ relationship with each other. According to this physicalist version of panprotopsychism, consciousness is somehow actually a broadly physical thing, an objective fact/equation/truth; but while we are potentially open to EVERY truth coming from another objective truth, we are SOMEHOW causally closed to subject coming from other objective truths.



      To me, this isn’t just a misperception/ignorance argument at this point. It isn’t a “we lack knowledge on this matter” argument. This theory claims to start objective/logical/physical, but even within its own paradigm; it’s making an assumption about a specific detail ALTHOUGH all the indications we have promote the opposite. This is important: It’s not that “there are no indications that support panprotopsychists’ assumption“. It’s that, “there are all indications that support the opposite of panprotopsychists’ assumption”. If we were to reject those indications (which are ironically, of the same type that panprotopsychists base their theories on, they’re just truths), we could reject ANYTHING. If you reject that we lack a specific skill, while we’re displaying that very same skill on all other fronts; then you can reject anything. You can reject that there’s anything at all, you can reject the existence of universe, you can assume that you didn’t read these words that you just read a moment ago.

      • Lee Roetcisoender March 1, 2018 at 5:12 pm #

        Panprotopsychism is just a “cutesy” way of taking the moral high ground when one cannot come up reasonable answers to compelling questions, all of which is designed to defect the inadequacy of a priori cognition. David Chalmers meta-problem of consciousness is another example of such a defection. The hard problem of consciousness may indeed be hard, but the meta-problem of consciousness is easy. Unless or until one is willing to address the genetic defect in the underlying form of reasoning and rationality nothing will change, because nothing can change. That statement concisely and succinctly describes the meta-problem of consciousness.

        Panpsychism may indeed be a good model to construct a theory of consciousness, nevertheless, any theory of consciousness will be restrained until one can state with precision what consciousness is exactly; a brief rudimentary description which will accommodate all forms of consciousness, from the most complex of human experience to the experience of sub-atomic particles and space itself. A rudimentary theory is out there but it appears everyone is overthinking the solution. Type monism of which Russelian monism is a single construct is not the rabbit hole which will resolve the hard problem of consciousness. As a model, type monism actually contributes to the problem by creating more variables which lead to more uncertainty. The correct path of inquiry lies with topic monism. Topic monism definitively states that there is only “one thing” and that “one thing” is found in every expression of type monism. That one thing is”that which is unknown”. Just because the unknown has no meaning does not mean that it lacks value, just the opposite is true, the unknown is value. That which is unknown is the prize which is being sought. My question is; why would one settle for the younger sister who is less educated and homely when the older sister is highly educated, poised and beautiful? Clearly type monism is the younger sister.

        All paths of inquiry lead to the unknown and the unknown is as real as it gets. The unknown is the only common point of consensus we as human beings share. Some of us have a chronic relationship with the unknown while others have an acute relationship with the unknown. What is needed is a meaningful relationship with the unknown which is the beautiful older sister. As long a one keeps denying topic monism and deferring to the uneducated younger sister of type monism a meaningful relationship with the unknown will never be realized.

      • algons March 2, 2018 at 2:43 am #

        I’m not against unknown; but my point is; whatever that “unknown thing” is; it will have to have a subject element (I’m using “element” for the sake of language) in it.

        At the end of the day, there are experiences/occurrences (some claim that those occurrences are “unexperienced”). Those experiences include colors, shapes, sounds, pain, pleasure, time passing, 3 dimensions, etc. But they also include logic, thoughts, mathematics, etc. Now, all these are objective “things”, external to us. We are open to the combinations of these “objective stuff”. Even if this stuff is unknown. We experience “greenness” and “frequencies” and we are open to the fact that greenness can come from a different frequency of light. We experience “time” and even if we don’t see “spacetime”, we can accept that time comes from “some stuff” called spacetime. Take it one step further; we don’t even experience 7th, 8th, nth dimensions; we don’t understand anything about them; but we are CONCEPTUALLY open to several dimensions starting from the same point. Keep in mind, what I’m saying here is that; even if we don’t fully understand the difference between various “objective stuff”, we are conceptually open that they would come from other “unknown objective stuff”.

        If that “unknown stuff” didn’t have any element of “subject” (note, subject isn’t a being or a thing; it’s just the nature of “stuff”) in it; i.e. if that unknown stuff was completely an objective truth/fact/stuff; that would mean a claim that the subject is just a combination of this stuff with other stuff, leading to the occurrence of what we call “subject”. But then, on top of all the “ignorance” arguments already used here, there will be the additional claim that “in that space where consciousness is; combinations of all objective occurrences, and even the potentially unknown objective occurrences are conceptually experienced (understood); but somehow that specific combination isn’t”. Again, note that, this is bigger than being closed to seeing/measuring that “unknown stuff”. This is bigger than illusion. This is assuming something when the opposite is already happening. This is basically saying that; the relationship between everything external; experienced or unexperienced always results in a “potential fact” (doesn’t even have to be fact, just the potential of it). But somehow, that “experienced subject” doesn’t result in a “fact”; it doesn’t even result in a “potential/conceptual fact”. Subject is completely irreducible, even in the future, according to what happens in our head.

        To me, assuming that subject comes from an “objective unknown stuff”, is equivalent to seeing a completely blue paper from distance and without having any additional information, claiming that there is no way that a tiny, unseeable dot inside that blue paper that’s red.

  3. Lee Roetcisoender March 3, 2018 at 2:50 am #

    “Subject is completely irreducible, even in the future, according to what happens in our head.”

    This may be true “only” if consciousness is a phenomenal subjective first person experience. But what if consciousness is not a subjective experience at all but is indeed an objective experience of some ‘thing’ we do not recognize nor understand. That ‘thing’ would certainly qualify for an unknown object even if it was indeterminate. The subject/object distinction in our vocabulary is arbitrary. Object could just as easily be distinguished as a pattern that has determinate characteristics, while a subject could be distinguished as an object having indeterminate characteristics, its all a matter of preference.

    And yes, just because one does not recognize the unseeable red dot inside the blue paper perceived from a distance does not mean it is not there as an object.

  4. algons March 3, 2018 at 10:45 pm #

    Well, in this scenario; the subject-reduction is claiming that “there is nothing but red dots in that whole blue paper”. This is the extent of the claim.

    I don’t claim we can understand. I’m only claiming that; if what we call subjective experience is actually objective experience; our brains would be CONCEPTUALLY OPEN to understanding it with infinite intelligence. That’s the case with everything objective that happens inside the brain. Even if we don’t understand some of the objective truths’ relations (that is, objective according to “us”), we are open to potential relationships that can somehow be explained with infinite intelligence. Not the case with “subjective experience”

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