Reply to Jerry Coyne

comments 12

I’m flattered that Jerry Coyne has once again chosen to respond to my work. I just posted a counter response on his blog.

Thanks for this Jerry. But you haven’t really addressed two central arguments:

  1. Consciousness is unobservable, and hence we can’t straightforwardly test theories of consciousness. The best we can do is map correlations, by asking people what they’re experiencing while we scan their brains. But there are various theories that offer explanations of these correlations: the kind of materialist emergence theory you seem to favour, David Chalmers’ naturalistic dualism, my panpsychism. All of these theories are empirically equivalent, so we can’t distinguish between them with an experiment. We have to turn other methods of theory choice (i.e. do philosophy).
  2. The big problem with the materialist emergence view as that it has a huge explanatory gap at its core: between the quantitative properties of physical science and the qualitative properties of consciousness. Nobody has ever made any progress on closing this gap.

You may say, ‘Well look how successful physical science has been; surely this should give us confidence that it’ll one day crack the problem of consciousness.’ But as I argue in detail, this view results from a misunderstanding of the history of science. Yes, physical science has been incredibly successful, but it has been successful precisely because it was designed, by Galileo, to exclude consciousness. It has done very well focusing on the observable, quantitative features of matter, but this gives us no grounding for thinking it will be able to explain unobservable, qualitative properties of subjective experience.

You have provided no response to this central argument. Moreover, why wait for a theory that might never come, when we already have one that is just as parsimonious as materialism but avoids its explanatory gap?

The Author

I am a philosopher and consciousness researcher at Durham University, UK. My research focuses on how to integrate consciousness into our scientific worldview.


  1. cadmar larson says

    I think there is a possible test for consciousness. The materialist are reductionist, in that, inside the material, is everything, from graviton to the ghost in the machine. The mind, the mentalist, believe no, not everything is inside the material, but there is something, unobservable on the outside and possibly in the inside, as well. What if the both are outcomes and creations of another force, something in the order of the GUT, Grand Unifying Theory. Perhaps this force, using p-symmetry or t-symmetry interference with itself creating matter and mind. All our mathematical equations are merely descriptions and not explanations.

    • I am becoming increasingly less a fan of the idea of interjecting some sort of exotic material to explain consciousness.

      I think consciousness might be explained possibly with weak, low frequency electromagnetic fields generated primarily through layer 5 pyramidal neurons in the mammalian cortex. These neurons connect the thalamus with the processing functions in cortex. They are lined up in parallel columns that run from the base of cortex to its surface. There are billions of them and there is evidence that the apical dendrite that extends from layer 5 to the top resonates in sync with other neurons. Structures severing a similar purpose may exist in non-mammalian species or conceivably exist outside of organic life.

  2. Lee Roetcisoender says

    The “mind is matter” argument which you so rigorously tout is an empty and meaningless construct without a vocabulary which can further reduce both mind and matter to one (1) thing: In other words, the ontological primitive. This reductionistic approach would result in a unification theory. Simply espousing the long held tradition of panpsychism that mind is matter is philosophology, and philosophology is both boring and boorish.

    What is required to resolve the hard problem of consciousness is philosophy, not philosophology. Unless or until you or your colleagues are willing to do real philosophy and/or request the assistance of a real philosopher such as myself in a collaborative effort, this endless, childish debate will never end. I just published my work, so my ground breaking metaphysics should be protected by the prevailing copyright laws. It is within this context that I am offering up my work to a serious peer review. You know how to get in touch…


    • Lee,

      I am interested in what you have published but I don’t think metaphysics can be protected by copyright laws. Your actual work itself – your actual words- can be protected but the ideas in it I don’t think can be. If the ideas have some practical benefit I imagine they could be patented but it is hard to imagine patentable metaphysics. Aside from that, I am convinced there is nothing new. Even some ideas I’ve had that I thought were original turned out to have an almost word for word parallel to someone I had read years ago and completely forgotten about. It’s hard to see how anyone avoids academic plagiarism since there is so much in the aether on almost any topic whatever you write is bound to overlap with somebody who might not even know about.

      • Lee Roetcisoender says

        In your own research, have you ever encountered anyone who has put forth the proposition to abandon subject/object metaphysics (SOM) as an underlying architecture of structured, systematic thought?


  3. Is it possible for energy to become aware of itself?

    Sense receptors sense energy, like eyes sense the wavelength of light, the mind has a sense for thought, which can differentiate it from the individual (I think, therefore I am- identifies an internal duality between the thought and the mind’s eye/I). The observation that one’s own thought can generate a force, shows that thought (has physicality) which can be transduced to physicality outside the mind. just as thought inside the mind creates a force, like the force that causes the turning of the steering wheel, that keeps us between the parallel lines in the highway.

    The leading scientific community has not fully differentiated consciousness from self-consciousness of the Human Being (all living things have senses, have a consciousness to sense their environment, even cell receptors on the surface or inside of a single cell can sense its external and internal environments, but it is the Human Being which can self differentiate it, and name it, thus we have our books and libraries of information energy.

    My general observation is all current goals in science do not try to uncover a functional model of how the mind works because science overall appears to think mathematics is more fundamental than energy, Even to identify mathematics as a “thing”, is to say we have a sense receptor for it, and thus it infers a physicality to the nature of mathematics itself. Noble prize Physicist David Gross says fundamental reality is one that can be calculated, measured, or observed. However, this statement, shows the shortsightedness of Physical Science to say that mind is not part of this equation, inferring mind is an illusion, saying there is no physicality to mind. However, how does anyone calculate, measure or observe anything unless a mind is able to sense it, calculate it, or measure it, and thus models that look for the relationship of the mind to physicality and functionality should be functionally developed (physicality guided with functional models). The assumption is incorrect that brain and mind are one in the same. The neural correlates of consciousness are not specifically located into the neurons themselves, but as a collection of them to form a new sense, like a satellite, a sense to see the energies in the Universe.

    We are energy, we are aware of our humanity, which is observable, and self-conscious.

    • Lee Roetcisoender says

      “Noble prize Physicist David Gross says fundamental reality is one that can be calculated, measured, or observed.”

      The assessment of David Gross is a derivative of subject/object (SOM) which simply means; rationality itself is held hostage by that construct. Structured systematic thought is based upon a hierarchy, a hierarchy which creates the foundation upon which everything else is constructed. The entire structure is therefore subordinate to and literally held hostage by its very foundation. SOM is the latent foundation which becomes the prism of how we in the West view the world. SOM is a suppressive model which needs to be jettisoned if the sciences are to move forward.


  4. Lee Roetcisoender says

    Thanks for your interest James.

    “I am convinced there is nothing new.”

    That is a common consensus shared by most individuals, and I would go as far to say that is the very reason Phillip has not engaged with me nor does he take me seriously. He once asked me in a previous post how my models overcome the infamous combination problem of panpsychism. Of course, I gave him an indirect answer hoping it would peak his curiosity to engage with me further. That was the end of it, presumably because he too is convinced the combination problem cannot be overcome.

    In short, can the combination problem of micro-panpsychism be overcome? Absolutely! My methodology is unconventional, nevertheless, my methods work. I start by challenging the very underlying architecture of western metaphysics we inherited from the Greeks. And that architecture is subject/object metaphysics (SOM) itself. If it can be demonstrated that there is no such thing as a “subject”, then there is no combination problem because the subject has been effectively removed from the entire equation. The most common objection to dismantling the model of subject/object metaphysics is this: “I find (SOM) useful.” My response? It may be useful, but it’s the most suppressive metaphysical model on the books, it is the very model which is responsible for creating the infamous combination problem of micro-panpsychism.


  5. Steven Evans says

    “Moreover, why wait for a theory that might never come, when we already have one that is just as parsimonious as materialism but avoids its explanatory gap?”

    More utter drivel. Panpsychism is nothing but explanatory gap.
    You claim it is an ontology of matter – but can provide not *a single* fact about matter despite claiming to know what it is. Also, you accept all physical observations concerning matter and will accept all future observations. So your ontology will always tell us nothing about the behavior of matter.
    You claim panpsychism explains consciousness – but it doesn’t. You are in a worse position than the neuroscientists. You have your claimed panpsychic matter but have made not one single step towards explaining how consciousness arises from it.

    You are loudly announcing a “new science” with absolutely zero facts! You are a complete half-wit and a crank.

  6. Pingback: Jerry Coyne vs. Panpsychism – Emerson Green

  7. Steven Evans says

    Phillip Goff,
    You claim panpsychism is an ontology of matter.
    And yet you cannot provide a single fact about matter based on this theory.

    You claim panpsychism explains consciousness.
    And yet you cannot explain how consciousness arises from panpsychic matter.

    In total panpsychism tells us *zero facts* about reality.

    Or have I missed something, and are you in fact a genius?

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