Panpsychism preliminaries

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Panpsychism preliminaries

Postby hyksos on July 16th, 2020, 11:47 pm 

I'm going to try to introduce panpsychism here. I will proceed in this exposition by re-stating the Hard Problem of Consciousness in a form that is radically different from its usual presentation on TED Talks and in places such as wikipedia. Armed with this new reformulation of HPOC, we will find the following (startling) results :

(1)
Panpsychism is a monist theory. i.e. it is not dualist.

(2)
Panpsychism has a suspicious boomerang effect. If a person rejects panpsychism "off hand" , that is, they reject panpsychism as a working metaphysical premise, then a few logical deductions ends of bringing them back to it as a conclusion.

HPOC Redux
Many neuroscience textbooks have to lead the reader through the Homunculus Fallacy, and they usually do so in the first 2 chapters. Some neuroscience textbooks explain this fallacy as the first thing in chapter 1, paragraph 1. The H-F proceeds by reminding the reader that you cannot explain vision by reference to a "little man" inside your head that sees what you see. You cannot explain hearing by referencing a little man inside your head that hears what you hear. Such references are ultimately a fallacy, because of infinite regress. We are left asking how the "little man" inside you hears and sees. Perhaps there is an even smaller micro-man inside the little man who sees what he sees and hears what he hears. And then what? A nano-man inside the micro-man? Where does this end?

It has to end. Hearing cannot be described with hearing. Seeing cannot ultimately be described by seeing. This phenomenon in the universe called "Seeing" must eventually be described in terms of something that is not seeing. Hearing and feeling must be described in terms of something that is neither hearing nor feeling. The description of these processes must be stated as neuron cells and their interactions via synaptic neurotransmitters and action potentials among axons. Continually referring to "I see" or "You see" or "He sees" or even "the neuron sees" are fallacies.

Despite the sophomoric position of the Homunculus Fallacy in the literature (literally chapter 1) , it is still often forgotten, overlooked, or not understood by the most literate and intelligent among us. The number 1 place to find the literate and the intelligent screwing this up big time is within the topic of Consciousness.


You will find people on this very forum, (some of whom have left) pretending to be describing consciousness in pure neuronal terms by still smuggling in phrases like ,
  • "We become consciously aware of..."
  • "Rises to our consciousness..."
  • "We experience x"
  • "When x, you will have an experience of y."

Where are these we's and I's and you's in nature? They are not observed by science. Science only ever sees in people's heads an organ called the brain. Within the brain, scientists do not observe fundamental units called "We" nor does science find a central hub location that is the eternal ephemeral "I". Science observes within our bodies and heads only tissues comprised of cells. Those cells are called neurons, and they are connected by a forest-like scaffolding of long wires call axons. Also found there are glia, (presumed to have no effect on cognition) and other cells like blood cells found everywhere else in the body.

Under certain metaphysical frameworks, this problem is doubly bad. In some frameworks, not only is the Homunculus Fallacy being engaged in, but the acolyte must also admit that because "I" is not physically observed, it must therefore not exist. In a world where "I" does not physically exist, the "I" that has experiences must be relegated to an idea. Literally "I" vanishes in a puff of epistemic smoke as it is relegated to a mere conceptual entity existing only in the information-processing sustained among neurons.

Take for example , the metaphysical framework (/dogma) called Eliminative Materialism. If a person has adopted Eli-mat as a working axiom, comma, then in referring to "We have experience" or "Then you experience the feeling of ..." or any other such related verbiage. Not only is this person engaging in H.F. they are also abusing and contradicting their own axioms. There is no "I" in the body that can "Have experiences", because there is no "I" existing at all-- as it is only a conceptual item trapped in the conceptual phenomenon of the information processing among neurons. "The I" is at best a linguistic label for a myth. Indeed, what characterizes Eliminative Materialism is its metaphysical adherence to the axiom that things likes "idea" , "thought" and "feeling" do not really exist, and are acting like conversational wive's tales. In Eli-mat, only bodily tissues comprised of neurons exist. For they are all that is observed. Period.

Despite the embarrassing double-whammy of fallacy-leveraging and blatant self-contradiction, this type of debating is still engaged in by those are who nominally literate, and nominally highly intelligent. It's shocking and dismaying to see people engage in it.

(As a sidebar to be more precise with the above, and more legal) ... I understand that I, the author, and you the reader have experiences. I understand you and I are conscious. But an exposition of consciousness in certain metaphysical frameworks, would mean that ultimately consciousness cannot be explained by consciousness. That would be a supposition that there is a little man inside me that is conscious. I feel subjective experiences because there is a little man inside me that has subjective experiences. This line-of-reasoning is steering the exposition dangerously into the Homunculus Fallacy.

Armed with the above revelations, we are perched in a perfect position to reformulate the Hard Problem of Consciousness in a newer and fresher form. A redux of HPOC, if you like. How do we use science to locate and identify "The I" that is having subjective experience? Or what do we mean when we say "I had an experience"?

Our brain gives us such a strong and automatic feeling of being an I/person/identity. The subjective feeling of this is so strong, and so intuitive for us, that we (fallaciously) believe that being an "I" is a physical fact. The maddening realization is : under many materialist/functionalist frameworks, it simply cannot be physically real. We smuggle this "fact" into our conversational language perhaps not even being aware that we are doing it. It is so easy to overlook that is overlooked.

HPOC Redux : How does a collection of cells in the head connected by axons begin to think it is a unified entity with a consistent personality? Why would some biological tissue in our heads ever start to believe it is an "I" ??




Enter Panpsychism
One simple way out of the twisted labyrinth of difficulties in the preceding section is to simply abandon our pre-existing metaphysical framework, and adopt a new one.

In one form of panpsychism, the ephemeral transcendental thing-a-ma-jig called "The I" does not have to located by science. "The I" is instead, pregiven as an element of the universe. "The I" becomes placed on the same shelf as aspects of the physical universe which just are , as brute facts. Two examples would be mass and electric charge. A more explicit analogy would be that identy-ness or the subjective feeling of "being an I" is as fundamental and brute-factish as the three fundamental forces of the Standard Model and gravity.

Under panpsychism, we are relieved of the burden of the HPOC redux. There is no special rare information processing that must be scientifically associated with a subjective feeling of Idenity-ness, I-ness or what have you. Any information-processing entity sufficiently complex to report upon itself, would be pre-given the conditions of feeling as "The I". It would, as expected also be subject to the force of gravity and things like electric charge. It would say/report that it feels like an _I_ with the same intuitive certainty that we feel.

Under panpsychism a single neuron has identy-ness, but merely lacks the machinery to report on it. Coming back to the homunculus again, we ask that if a whole human being feels like an _I_ , does a little man inside them feel like an _I_? Panpsychism answers yes. Analogously, we notice that a person's hair can become electrically charged and stand up or become frizzy. Hair is charged because it has a little hair inside it that it is charged? Yes. Hair becomes charged because it is comprised of little electrons that are electrically charged. That is the correct answer in terms of physics.

Off-Hand Rejection
Let's now reject panpsychism for spurious reasons. Say it doesn't bode well with our metaphysical prejudices, because it seems religiously flavored like Buddhism, or seems "spooky" , or comes across as woo, or sounds like a revelation some 20-something would come up after ingesting psychedelics. Select your rejection criteria according to taste.

Such rejections at the axiomatic level come at a price. One saddle's one's self with a burden of providing a reductionist account of how the subjective feeling of _I_ emerges as a byproduct of information processing of cells. This must be provided under burden, since if there is no scientific way to explain the existence of the phenomenon called "I" then certainly that "I" thing would not be doing things like "having experiences". If we state that there is I, full-stop, then any additional stipulations about it "having an X" are null and void. It almost hurts to state the obvious here but it is needed : A thing that doesn't exist at all would not be doing something. Non-existing things do not undergo processes.

Thus if the goal here is to explain in reductionist terms, the neuronal correlates of "I am having a subjective experience" then the existence of persistence of the "I" must be elucidated clearly and shown to actually physically exist in one way or another. This is not a burden I saddle the rejector with, but a burden they took on willfully in their spurious rejection of panpsychism.

We note , however that panpsychism is a monist theory. It does not multiply entities as ad-hoc explanations for some phenomenon. No extraneous soul is proposed, and there is no leveraging of vital essences. In many cases, the multiplying of superfluous entities is what makes a theory "unrealistic" to many metaphysical frameworks. Dualist theories with a res cogitans lack the sauciness of Causal Closure of the Physical, (a staple metaphysical nuggets of materialist and functionalist accounts). In more provincial terms, we don't want any spooky essences that lie outside of physics in some way. There is only the physical world, and physical causes entail physical effects.

In an ideal world for the panpsychism-rejector, what would happen is that we would produce a reductionist theory of consciousness, and simultaneously produce an account without leveraging dualism. Then we declare victory, take our trophy and go home. Good and good.

Prima facie, this victory does not seem possible, because the line-of-reasoning proceeds in the next steps. This is made intentionally to look like a mathematical proof.

(1) There are only observed tissues comprised of cells. No we, no I, no you, no "us" physically exists.
(2) We require an _I_ entity in order for that thing to have subjective experience.
(3) By (2), _I_ must be a mental entity, a concept, or idea sustained by the tissues/neurons.
(4) "Concepts" are co-identified with the information processing of connected cells.
(5) The _I_ is an informational entity, by taking (3) and (4).
(6) For the _I_ entity to undergo experiences, it must act on the physical world, causally.
(7) There is an informational entity that acts on the world causally. By (5) and (6) by substitution.
(8) The exists Information which can act on the world causally. by (7)

By logical deduction we conclude that a purely materialistic account ends up providing an example of a dualist theory, whether intended from the start or not. If falls out by consequence whether we like it or not. The "dual substance" here is information. There is this (what to call it? stuff?) that sits outside of physical entities and occasionally interacts with it whenever it is convenient for us to suppose so for purposes of debate. This magical stuff floating outside the mere atoms is called "Information".

What happens next is the materialist rejector throws his hands up in exasperation and declares loudly : But I co-associate the information with the particular states of the atoms moving around!! and then something like, I am not proposing a separately extended dual substance!

The problem here is that the exasperated shouter is in fact stating panpsychism. He is adopting panpsychism, and just swapping out the word "mind" for "information". His metaphysics is declaring that "information is within everything" much the same way as a monk in the mountains of Tibet declare that "mind is in everything". In terms of raw metaphysical commitments, there is no difference between them. They are asserting the same thing.

Much in the same way that a panpsychist declares the subjective feeling of identity to be as fundamental as electric charge, so has the materialist rejector declared that "information" is as fundamental as electric charge.

In conclusion, we see that an irrational rejection of panpsychism on spurious grounds, ultimately ends up like throwing a boomerang that comes back to the thrower.

Where now?
Is there any lesson to be learned in this exercise, and can we extend beyond here?

The narrative nerd battle I described above has two stereotypical debators. A panpsychist and a materialist rejector. But as the topic of Consciousness goes, this is a false dichotomy. It is possible to reject both those metaphysical frameworks, and adopt a third one. While there are many frameworks, the one that comes to mind for here is Epiphenomenalism. This is a purely scientific materialist account of consciousness which is also dualist. However, epiphenomenalism exceeds the scope of this article.
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Re: Panpsychism preliminaries

Postby hyksos on July 17th, 2020, 1:20 am 

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Re: Panpsychism preliminaries

Postby davidm on July 17th, 2020, 7:39 pm 

I come here for stuff like this. :-)

I just finished reading the link to “Is the Universe Conscious?” I guess I’ll get that book.

One can go beyond panpsychism straight to metaphysical idealism, the idea that only mental states exist — it turns metaphysical naturalism on his head. The latter holds that mental states supervene on brains, whereas the former holds that brains supervene on mental states. Then we also have Donald Hoffman, who have I have talked about before.

Goff likes panpsychism but not metaphysical idealism, but the linked discussion only touched briefly on the topic of MI so I would have to learn more about his objections. Personally, I am not eager to defend panpsychism or idealism, or Hoffman’s ideas, only to keep an open mind about them because it is pretty clear to me that science has no solution at the moment to the hard problem of consciousness, and may not in principle be able to arrive at one. In the other thread there was a video link to John Searle, who purported to explain consciousness as just what the brains/neurons do/does in the same way that digestion is what the gut does. Then, quite surprisingly, after being pressed on the point, Searle folded his tent and admitted that the analogy didn’t go through.

It doesn’t go through for the same reason as follows from the Goff interview;

The basic idea is that you can’t analyse facts about conscious subjects into facts about more fundamental things. Contrast with the case of a party. All it is for a party to exist is (roughly) for people to be gathered together having a good time. In this sense, we can analyse what it is for a party to exist in terms of something more fundamental: people. I don’t think you can do the same with my conscious mind. You can’t analyse what it is for me to exist in terms of more basic entities. You couldn’t say, for example, “All it is for Philip to be conscious is for lots of little conscious things to be grouped closely together in the right way.” That’s just not what you mean when you say “Philip is conscious.” When we talk about “parties” this is really just a disguised way of talking about something else, namely people. But when we say “Philip is conscious” we are making a basic claim about reality that can’t be analysed in more fundamental terms.


The same problem occurs when people say stuff like “consciousness is an emergent property of matter configured in an appropriate way, like water is an emergent property of molecules configured in an appropriate way.” The problem with this is that just as we know exactly how parties are an emergent property of people coming together to have a good time, and how water is an emergent property of molecules coming together in an appropriate way (and being solid, wet or gaseous according to well understood principles of pressure and temperature) we do not even have a sketch of an account of how consciousness arises out out of neurons firing. Lastly I will point out that Neri’s invocation of the Chinese Room to argue against computer consciousness redounded against his argument in that thread and not against Hyksos, who was not arguing that computers are conscious but requesting a principled account of consciousness. As Hyksos pointed out, the Chinese Room argument supports P-zombies and in so doing deepens Chalmers’ hard problem.
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Re: Panpsychism preliminaries

Postby TheVat on July 17th, 2020, 8:06 pm 

I really like that Goff quote, and the party analogy.

And yes, I also "come here for stuff like this." Hyksos is hitting a discursive stride here that's really something.

PS - I dropped a mod warning in the other PCF thread. You have a legit grievance there.
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Re: Panpsychism preliminaries

Postby hyksos on July 21st, 2020, 4:01 am 

You couldn’t say, for example, “All it is for Philip to be conscious is for lots of little conscious things to be grouped closely together in the right way.” That’s just not what you mean when you say “Philip is conscious.” When we talk about “parties” this is really just a disguised way of talking about something else, namely people. But when we say “Philip is conscious” we are making a basic claim about reality that can’t be analysed in more fundamental terms.

This is 2020, and what we need to do is explain to each other why the word Information is not just a 21st-century placeholder for "spirit."

My response to Goff is to say that science does not even observe a "Philip" in nature. Philip is not a fundamental unit of matter. If we dissect Philip, do we find little Philips inside him? Of course not. We see only cells communicating by action potentials among a mesh of axons. We ultimately admit that Philip is a concept in a mental space of information processing and semantic meaning. But then how does a concept have experiences?

This situation makes no sense, and we keep getting boomeranged back to Chalmers.

This situation would be far easier if Philips, and "I"s and "You"s and "him"s were fundamental pieces of nature, and occurred right next to the fundamental particles of the Standard Model. Then this whole mess would be tied down and explained effectively. No one is perplexed by or plagued by the question : "Why does an electron have a negative charge?" We are perfectly satisfied with : "It do because that be the way it is."

Some contemporary writers do put their foot down and assert that Information really is a separate entity in reality from the mere res extensa. They are adopting epiphenomenalism. Here is a whole book on it : https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/112 ... an_the_Sky
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