At Aeon, philosopher Philip Goff argues for panpsychism:
It’s a short essay that only takes a couple of minutes to read.
Goff’s argument is pretty weak, in my opinion, and it boils down to an appeal to Occam’s Razor:
I maintain that there is a powerful simplicity argument in favour of panpsychism…
In fact, the only thing we know about the intrinsic nature of matter is that some of it – the stuff in brains – involves experience… The theoretical imperative to form as simple and unified a view as is consistent with the data leads us quite straightforwardly in the direction of panpsychism.
…the brains of organisms are coloured in with experience. How to colour in the rest? The most elegant, simple, sensible option is to colour in the rest of the world with the same pen.
Panpsychism is crazy. But it is also highly likely to be true.
I think Goff is misapplying Occam’s Razor here, but I’ll save my detailed criticisms for the comment thread.
That’s true of breathing also.
That “bandwagon” is called “critical thinking” or “introductory logic.” You should get on.
IMO your request is invalid. He is saying that reductive materialism precludes life at the level where he believes it to exist, right down at the atomic level and at the level of galaxies and beyond. The only level that reductionist materials believe life to occur is at the level where we find organic life and even at this level it takes a vast amount of, IMO, gullible belief and speculation as to how it came about in the first place.
Segall speaking in a video:
There is the difference as Segall sees it. Reductionist materialists believing that life is an accidental emergence of earthly organisms from a ground of dead mechanical material forces, and Segall believing that atoms are in some way living teleological entities. Not organic life, but entities that have internal regulation, unlike aggregates such as rocks which are governed by mechanical external forces.
I have just noticed your comment. I hope you don’t mind my attempt at relaying your views here. My participation here is quite sporadic and my posts are quite often rushed but I would appreciate any feedback if I have misrepresented your position.
How would you know that you have skin?
Sounds like a house made of straw men.
The first part of that–that there’s no ‘essence of life’ for materialists, is simply a claim with no support whatever. Can you not see that? Are you so blinded by your desires and neediness that you really can’t tell the difference between an unsupported and supported claim? ‘There’s really no fine line’–even if (I) that were true, and (II) it actually meant something specific, nothing would follow from it about whether atoms are alive. It’s all just speculative yearning.
You can’t see that?
Well it is also true of the beginning of the universe, but it is far more apt to make the starting point one which is logically connected with the relevant process being considered.
Happy to entertain other definitions of physicalism. What is your definition?
What would be the materialist answer to the question, “what is the essence of life”? If dead matter in motion is what is fundamentally real, then isn’t life a mere appearance, an accidental product of chance collisions, rather than anything essential?
Scientific metaphysics doesn’t support materialism, but not for the reasons that are widely held among people who don’t understand science. Rather, it’s because what turns out to be fundamentally real are forces or fields that are at once active and reactive. There is nothing ‘passive’ or ‘inert’ about fermions and bosons. The atoms of contemporary physics and chemistry are not the atoms of Epicurus or Lucretius. “Matter in motion” may have been the metaphysics of 17th century physics but it is not the metaphysics of 21st century physics.
That’s precisely what you said you WEREN’T doing in your last post.
OK to change your mind, of course–but now you have to deal with the Kant critique that KN brought up above. Weaseling will be of no use.
So what? You keep on calling those who require empiricism “materialists,” and that’s what I care about, not your modifiers.
And again, I don’t even know what you’re purporting to respond to. He did write the texts that you copied, which is the whole point, not whatever you are imagining the point to be.
Um, that was nothing new. I just used that term in the more recent post.
An empiricist would question the claim that life has an “essence.”
Why do you assume life is “essential”? And how could matter in motion be dead if it was never alive?
Whatever any materialist or non-materialist may say that “the essence of life” is, it doesn’t follow from the fact that “dead matter in motion” is what is “fundamentally real” (whatever these are supposed to mean), that life is “an appearance.”
Many materialists hold that life–and thought–emerge from non-living or thinking material. Others, pan-psychists like Strawson fils, hold that there is no non-thinking matter. There’s not now and has never been any consensus on this matter. Different materialists have different views on it.
But your question is about essences, and many materialists (and non-materialists too) have doubts about such claimed properties. Why bring them up here? Do you have some reason to assert that there must be properties (but, presumably non-haecceities) which are such that whatever has them, has them in every possible world in which they exist? Why get into this modal stuff here?–it’s not any clearer than the mind/body stuff. Certainly, you’re not going to be able to use some claim about essences to convince anybody about your solution to the mind/body problem.
Yes, agreed. But my depiction of materialism reflects how many popularizers of science continue to describe it. Just two weeks ago I interviewed physicist Alan Lightman who defended this 17th century view of matter. So it still seems to have some hold over the popular imagination, even among many physicists, at least when they speak to non-physicists.
As a non-materialist and a non-physicalist, my answer to:
what is the essence of life?
is simply: I am not an essentialist either.
You find something wrong with the idea that all is material. So you invent “all is essences.” Talk of essences adds nothing.
I have no formal definition, but whatever “matter” is, it is what it does. If it does conscious stuff it does conscious stuff, and we can gradually expand our understanding of how.
There is no evidence that consciousness is separate from physical brains or can exist without physical brains. There is a big, admitted, problem of how brains work.
Put another way, I find no compelling reason to define “physical” without knowing what it means.
And what it means changes as we learn.
Better to correct them than to follow in their footsteps, no?
I discussed the question of life’s essence with a complexity scientist several months back. I’ll share the exchange here for any interested in how I understand this question.
I’m happy to say all is physical so long as our understanding of “physical” is broad enough to include agency/immanent purpose and feeling/non-conscious sentience.
That linked discussion doesn’t really tell us much.
It doesn’t bother me that we are unable to define “life” or “physical” or “material” or “reality”. I don’t see any value to inventing “life’s essence”. I can live with ambiguity. “Life” is just the name of a box that we humans have created. And maybe there aren’t clear rules as to what goes in that box.
I’ll take reality as it comes.
I don’t think it needs to be “broad enough to include it.” It just needs not to be so broad that it precludes it.
A dubious argument for panpsychism:
I want pansychism to be true, therefore it is true.
Works for William!
So? It’s a distinction without a difference.
No, they’re quite different. There have been a number of empiricists who are not materialists. Hume and Berkeley to name two.
Mach, too. And Carnap. Bas van Fraassen, to take us into the current day.
And there have been materialists who weren’t empiricists. Democritus, for example. And Spinoza.
Welcome to TSZ.
It was because commenter CharlieM quoted you writing the following:
I don’t see why physicalism — or “scientific materialism”, as you put it — “leaves no room for life or consciousness”.
Surely you have some reason for believing it, no?
Not quite. In quantum field theory, particles are excitations of underlying quantum fields, and it’s those fields that are fundamental. But yes, there is no evidence of purpose in the behavior of these excitations — they just do their thing as described by the laws of physics.
If your suggestion is that under physicalism, particles must consult a list of laws in order to decide how to behave, then I strongly disagree. Physical law is descriptive, not normative.
No, they needn’t be dismissed as “mere appearances”, any more than friction and electrophoresis must be dismissed that way. Consciousness, life, friction, and electrophoresis are real phenomena, not “mere appearances”.
“Living” and “conscious” are terms we apply to certain arrangements of matter, whereas other arrangements are “nonliving” and “nonconscious.” The difference in arrangements is, of course, causally relevant.
No. You are bending over backwards to understate both phenomena, and then trying to blame the understatement on physicalism.
The problem is with your reading of physicalism, not with physicalism itself.
I see both consciousness and life as real phenomena requiring explanation. However, I don’t see why we would need to invoke downward causation or “intrinsic capacities” in order to explain them.
Can you explain? Why, for example, wouldn’t weak emergence (with no downward causation) suffice?
I don’t see why. Positing that particles have a rudimentary consciousness does nothing to establish how their individual consciousnesses unite — or even that they unite — to produce the consciousness associated with a human brain.
Not Carnap, really. He said, in effect, ‘go pick..’. But, yeah, there are lots of others. Re Spinoza, because of the infinite and independent attribute of the mental, I don’t think it’s quite right to call him a materialist. I mean everything in the universe has the attribute of extension, yeah, but there’s the parallel performance of mind going on everywhere too.
I’ll give you Democritus, though. And maybe Ryle? Marx?
Well, Carnap’s tricky, right? Because he’s not a materialist because he’s opposed to metaphysics. He does say that doesn’t matter whether our constructional system begins with the physical and constructs the psychological out of that, or if we begin with the psychological and construct the physical out of that. But then he also says that if can’t be captured within the constructional system, then it’s meaningless, and so both realism and idealism are meaningless. I took that to mean that Carnap was a good example of someone who opposed metaphysics as such on empiricist (or logico-empiricist, aka constructionist) grounds.
Spinoza is a tricky case in a different way. Although he does recognize thought as a distinct attribute from extension, and thus that every mode can be conceived of in terms of either attribute, he does think that the only kind of causation is efficient causation. So ideas or minds are governed by strictly causal necessitation just as much as bodies are. So not a materialist in the strictest of senses but definitely a mechanistic metaphysician! (There’s a minor but influential interpretation of Kant as having had Spinoza as his real target in the First Critique.)
I don’t have any sense of Ryle’s metaphysical views, if he had any. My impression is that he simply wasn’t interested in metaphysics. Marx certainly was a materialist, but he had so many weird commitments he inherited from Hegel and Feuerbach and others that his materialism doesn’t map neatly onto the Anglophone categories.
Thanks for the reply. Of course, everything depends on what we mean by physicalism. “Scientific materialism” is a phrase coined by Whitehead to refer to a specific sort of physicalism, a sort that has not yet fully internalized relativity, quantum, and complexity theories and which thus views matter as “stuff” with simple location in space that is fully present at an instant in time and that can be exhaustively explained by reduction to its parts. Following a full integration of relativity, quantum, and complexity theories, this view of matter must be entirely rejected. Do we agree so far?
You say there is no evidence of purpose in physics. I would agree that there is nothing like deliberative decision-making of the sort we believe human beings are capable of. However, right at the base of physics in what Eddington called “the supreme law among the laws of nature”–namely, entropy–we see that energy displays a clear directionality and thus a form of teleology toward greater global disorder (Stan Salthe argues this case eloquently: http://www.nbi.dk/natphil/salthe/Purpose_In_Nature.pdf). As complexity theorists studying far from equilibrium systems have argued (e.g., Ilya Prigogine), this tendency toward global disorder can actually facilitate a local tendency toward greater organization (e.g., the temperature gradient between the Sun, deep space, and earth’s surface leads inevitably to the emergence of life, which dissipates the gradient way more efficiently than would non-living chemistry).
So I challenge the idea that physics shows no evidence of telos. There is plenty of empirical and theoretical evidence for it if it hasn’t been ruled out a priori by a metaphysical distaste for final causation.
The idea that special arrangements of fundamentally purposeless, inert, insentient particles could give rise to even non-conscious feeling, experience, or an inward perspective on the world (i.e., something it is like to be a thing) strikes me as nothing short of a miracle. The idea that such arrangements could give rise to living creatures with conscious intelligence capable of understanding the fundamental nature of the universe strikes me as absolutely absurd. Its not just that I find these notions incredible, its that I have never seen a causal explanation for how this sort of emergence (even if “weak”) might work. I cannot even imagine what such a causal explanation might look like. Please enlighten me.
The thing is, for you, it’s miracles all the way down.
Directionality isn’t “thus” a form of teleology. When it comes to entropy, it’s just a statistical fact that moving in some directions will prove less reversible than movement in other directions.
For similar reasons, the elemental composition of the universe is tending to increase toward iron (or nickel 62).
Do dice have a teleology toward seven just because that’s the most likely number for two dice to produce on a single roll?
Nice one. But I think a panpsychist or panexperiential perspective is actually more empirically grounded than reductive physicalism. We only ever have access to the universe via experience. I am in full agreement with contemporary physiological science that we must interpret the goings-on of our experience-imbued bodies according to the same principles we understand to be at work in the goings-on of the rest of the natural world. There is nothing magic about us. There is no vital principle or soul inhabiting our bodies that makes us unique in the universe. But this interpretative maxim cuts both ways, since it implies that we understand what is going on in the rest of the physical world according to the same principles that we know are at work in our bodily experience. This is not an argument that because we are conscious, there must be mini-consciousness in the elements composing us. The Whiteheadian or process-relational understanding of panpsychism I argue for does not locate experience inside of bodies, whether human sized or atomic. Rather, experience is fundamentally relational or intersubjective: it arises between bodies. https://youtu.be/yMyXK2z8NDQ
All I see here is is a modus ponens/modus tollens stand-off. You say, if we’re like the rest of the world, since we’re conscious it must all be conscious too. The panpsychism denier says, since we’re conscious and place-mats aren’t, we aren’t just like the rest of the universe. That place-mats at least SEEM very different from us is a pretty solid empirical datum. Why not take that as evidence of a discontinuity? Is it really much more obvious to you that there is complete continuity in nature? Physical science seems to have done pretty well for itself without requiring that.
Sure, philosophy hasn’t fared too well on the mind/body problem, but in what areas HAS it fared well? Who says this problem must (or even will) ever be solved?
Finally, I wasn’t being (entirely) facetious with the miracles-all-the-way-down remark. We don’t understand the connection between the unconscious and conscious worlds. Making everything conscious doesn’t really fix that.
Yes, dice have a built-in teleology. Isn’t that obvious?
How does mere matter give rise to life? If living things are entirely matter, does that mean matter is alive?
Not just alive, but aware! It’s a lot to swallow, I think.
Then too, who says we’re conscious? Some consciousness exists for a time, but it can disappear. And some of the brain likely is never conscious in any meaningful way.
That doesn’t mean that I think there’s definitely nothing at all to, say, panexperientialism, but, if the latter is true, it’s so unlike our consciousness that there’s hardly any comparison to be made at all.
Some matter apparently is. On the other hand, though, at its barest and most local, would we ever see matter as being alive? Is DNA considered by itself (or with histones, etc.) alive, really? In what way would it be alive? I’ll grant that it’s an important part of life, but living seems to be meaningful only at a systems level.
At the biochemical level, there doesn’t seem to be much point in discussing whether it’s alive or not. That’s just chemistry, albeit in a living organism. That’s why any sort of vitalism seems to be a useless mistake. A kitten’s alive, but ATP/ADP cycling is just some of the chemistry that makes the kitten alive, without those chemicals being “alive” themselves in any manner that makes a difference.
There are things man was not meant to know.
Stuff I learned from 50s science fiction.
Yes, I think at some point the words get stretched too far to mean much of anything.
I don’t think everything is “conscious.” Most of the time, even our human experience is not conscious. The sort of panpsychism (or perhaps better termed panexperientialism) I’ve argued for suggests that self-organizing processes in nature are, to varying degrees, experiential. The vast majority of this experience is nonconscious.
I follow the line of thought articulated by complexity theorists like Eric Smith and Stu Kauffman, which suggests that matter is primed for life. Is matter alive? In a manner of speaking, sure. Though perhaps it is better to say that matter is “lively,” that in the right conditions physics and chemistry inevitably self-organize into the sorts of biological creatures we are used to calling alive. https://footnotes2plato.com/2015/05/02/eric-smith-on-the-geochemical-inevitability-of-life-on-earth/
Whiteheadian panexperientialism is definitely not vitalism. There is no extra elan or special sauce in addition to the normal processes of physics and chemistry at work in living organisms. The Whiteheadian perspective is that physics and chemistry are themselves already lively, semiotic, telic, and experiential to some degree. Experience =/= consciousness. Consciousness is very rare indeed. In short: experience just means the feeling of inheriting a past and anticipating a future. For the simplest experiential systems, this inheritance/anticipation loop is minuscule and their behavior can be modeled mechanically with a high degree of precision. As systems become more complex, the inheritance/anticipation loop increases in duration, allowing for increased memory and intentionality.
Again, I don’t see why any of this helps. Experiencing doesn’t entail consciousness to you. It does to me. But I actually don’t see that it matters. All the same debates pop up wherever this line is drawn.
That’s my view as well, for what it’s worth.
You may appreciate a story I heard from an old process metaphysician (in fact, a Whiteheadian) I used to know. He once said to Prigogine, “You sly fox, you’ve Bergsonized chemistry!”. Prigogine’s response, “yes, is it not obvious?”
I’ll confess that I haven’t yet read Whitehead. But I’ve read quite a few process metaphysicians and associated scientists (Deleuze, Bergson, Prigogine, Kauffman, Seibt), and something in the general vicinity of process thought seems quite clearly right to me. It’s the only metaphysical view that I find at all attractive, because it’s supported by both science and phenomenology.
In case you’re interested, this essay on Whitehead’s relevance to contemporary scientific cosmology works well as a general introduction to his “philosophy of organism”: https://matthewsegall.files.wordpress.com/2016/06/physics-of-the-world-soul-second-edition.pdf
I wouldn’t much fault what you say there.
I would note that I wasn’t pretending that vitalism had anything to do with Whitehead’s panexperientialism, but was merely responding to petrushka’s comments on life and matter, as well as referring more generally to earlier remarks regarding life and matter.