A BBC show on panpsychism once again shows that there’s no “there” there

January 8, 2020 • 9:30 am

UPDATE: In the first comment on my thread below, reader Coel calls our attention to a year-old critique of panpsychism by physicist Sabine Hossenfelder, “Electrons don’t think.” It makes some physics-related criticisms of panpsychism that I could not have made, but also adds a nice comment, a response to the claim (made by Goff among others) that the spin, charge velocity, and other properties of particles are part of their “consciousness”.

Part of a reader’s comment:

Your response reveals that you haven’t understood the view you’re attacking, at least if you’re aiming to target the form of panpsychism that is currently taken seriously in academic philosophy (what article was this in response to?). The claim is (A) that physics doesn’t tell us what physical properties are; it merely provides mathematical models that predict their behaviour, and (B) those very properties that physics characterises behaviouristically are, in their intrinsic nature, forms of consciousness.

Part of her response:

artuncut,

You are evading to address my point. If you rename “spin” into “consciousness” you still have the standard model of particle physics and no panpsychism.

“those very properties that physics characterises behaviouristically are, in their intrinsic nature, forms of consciousness”

I like the way Sabine gets in there and battles with the more nescient readers. There are 715 comments!

__________

If you’re sick of panpsychism by now, you can skip this post and the podcast below. But it’s not going away soon, I think, given the vociferous nature and arrant careerism of its proponents. And so it’s incumbent upon us to understand this idea. I’ve listened to the podcast to once again try to understand what it means to say that components of the Universe, like atoms or rocks, are “conscious”.

So here’s a new 48-minute (ends at 44:37) broadcast show that just appeared on BBC Radio 3 (click on screenshot below to hear it). It features three guests (all philosophers) publicizing the resurgent but deeply misguided views of panpsychism: that everything in the Universe has some form of consciousness or some essential component of consciousness, and thus humans are conscious because our brains are cobbled together from semi-conscious atoms and molecules. But there’s also one detractor/skeptic, who happens to be a neuroscientist. Moderator Matthew Sweet, I must say, does a terrific job, asking all the right questions.

I’ll soon stop posting about this, but I wanted readers to see how deeply wrong an idea can be (maybe “woo-ish and untestable” is a better characterization than “wrong”) and still be popular. I am still baffled by its popularity, though nobody I respect has adhered to this idea.

Here is the Beeb’s description of the show; I’ve provided links to the participants.

Panpsychism is the view that all matter is conscious. It’s a view that’s gaining ground in contemporary philosophy, with proponents arguing that it can solve age-old problems about the relationship between mind and body, and also fill in gaps in other areas of our understanding of nature. But is it true? And if it is, how could it change our understanding of ourselves?

Matthew Sweet is joined by panpsychists Philip Goff and Hedda Hassel Morch, the neuroscientist Daniel Glaser, who is sceptical of panpsychism, and Eccy de Jonge, artist, philosopher and deep ecologist, who has written about the 17th-century philosopher and possible precursor of panpsychism, Spinoza.

The gist of the theory is really found in the first 30 minutes, when Goff tries to explain how stuff like atoms and rocks are “conscious”. It turns out that he doesn’t think they’re conscious in the same way that we are, but that atoms and rocks do have a rudimentary form of consciousness that pervades the whole Universe:

Goff: “The fundamental constituents of physical reality, perhaps electrons and quarks, have almost unimaginably simple forms of experience, and the very complex experience of the human or animal brain is somehow derived from the very simple experience of their most basic parts.”

Well, this fails on two counts. First, he doesn’t say what it actually means for an electron to have “experience”. Sure, they have spin and move around, but in what sense is that “experience” if they don’t “experience” it? What he’s saying is more or less what he told Sean Carroll on the podcast I posted yesterday: all matter has “properties,” like mass and spin and velocity, and if you call those properties “consciousness,” then yes, everything is conscious. But then he’s made no advance beyond pure physics.

And this doesn’t solve the second problem: how do the rudimentary consciousnesses of the molecular bits of our brain somehow come together to produce full consciousness in the whole organ: consciousness in which we have qualia—feelings, perceptions, and sensations? This remains a mystery that neither Goff nor Morch appear to solve.

Morch agrees with Goff, saying that tables and chairs aren’t conscious but have conscious constituents, but human brains have conscious constituents that can combine to give us consciousness. This is pure sleight of hand, because this doesn’t answer the Hard Problem of Panpsychism: How do the semisconscious bits of brain stuff combine to make a brain conscious, but the semiconscious bits of tables and rocks don’t? These philosophers don’t tell us, and so there’s a gaping hole in their “theory”—if you want to call an untestable and largely semantic issue a “theory”.

Goff, who dominates the conversation, says that electrons and quarks have experience, and that is their consciousness. He asserts again, along with Morch, that scientific materialism is powerless to solve the problem of consciousness because science is quantitative and consciousness is a qualitative experience that can’t be put in an equation. Science, he avers, can only give us correlations between brain activity and the experience of consciousness, but that approach doesn’t tell us how brains produce consciousness. (I think he’s wrong here: enough correlations produce that understanding.)

And Goff bangs on, as he did in Sean Carroll’s podcast, that physics cannot tell us what matter really is—all it does is tell us how matter behaves. That, say Goff and Morch, doesn’t tell us what we want to know. As Goff says, “Physics leaves us in the dark about the intrinsic nature of matter–what matter is, in and of itself. . . Panpsychism puts consciousness in that hole.”  This is Panpsychism of the Gaps!

And it sounds to me like more bullshit. Does saying that matter has “experience” now finally tell us about the intrinsic nature of matter? (Never mind that there’s no evidence for the “experiential” part of matter save that it behaves—which is what physics already tells us.) Goff finally pronounces that panpsychism has given us an attractive answer to the “hard problem” of consciousness: how does the brain’s workings produce sensations?

Goff: “The idea is that there’s just matter, nothing spiritual or supernatural, but matter can be described from two perspectives: physical science describes it, as it were, from the outside, in terms of its behavior; but matter from the inside, in terms of its intrinsic nature, is constituted of forms of consciousness. It’s a beautiful way to bring together these two stories.”

No, it’s a beautiful way to describe what comes out of the south end of a cow facing north. Panpsychism does not in any way solve the physical basis of conscious experience. It just punts it down to a lower level, and then adds the claim that when enough semi-conscious atoms come together in a brain, voilà, you have full consciousness! It’s magic!

Neuroscientist Glaser, the only voice of reason beside moderator Sweet, pipes in and says that neuroscience doesn’t need saving by panpsychism—not just yet. It’s early days in trying to understand consciousness, he says, and we don’t even have a clue how the brain produces and comprehends language or stores memories. When we figure out those things, he claims, then we can tackle consciousness, and if we fail at that then we can start thinking about stuff like panpsychism (16:46).

Things begin to get boring at this point (Matthew gave up 30 minutes in), but I listened to the bitter end. de Jonge comes in as a “deep ecologist” (a new term to me), saying that panpsychism is congenial to deep ecologists, who believe that humans are nothing special in natural ecosystems (duhh. . .), and this jibes nicely with panpsychism’s claim that our consciousness is nothing qualitatively different from the consciousness of a rock. We’re all part of the whole! In other words, de Jonge likes panpsychism not because there’s any evidence for it, or because it makes sense, but because it makes humans seem part of a greater whole, just like Deep Ecology.

Finally, Goff claims again (34:08) that materialism bequeaths a bleak and depressing worldview, while panpsychism give us a picture of the world that makes us “more comfortable in our own skin”. He admits that it doesn’t make it true, but I, at least, am not much comforted by thinking that my electrons have experiences. In fact, it freaks me out. Fortunately, it isn’t true.

I’m becoming aware that people like Goff and Morch like panpsychism because, they say, it gives philosophers alone the ability to do what scientists can’t: explaining not only the “intrinsic nature of matter” but also the hard problem of consciousness. In other words, these philosophers are claiming the Big Territory in a turf war between neuroscience and philosophy.

I would argue that although philosophers have a valuable role in helping empirical workers figure out how to properly frame a research program for understanding how consciousness arises, philosophers cannot solve the problem by themselves. And Goff and Morch’s philosophy doesn’t even seem to be real philosophy. As one genuine philosopher told me: “it is just a gimmick on the part of those philosophers who are stunningly ignorant of science, especially the biological sciences.”

I will continue to listen and read, though I’ll try to inflict as little of this as I can on readers. But nothing I’ve heard has convinced me that there’s anything to panpsychism but a lot of puffery and empty assertions about the “experience” of rocks and electrons. It fails to define what that “experience” consists of beyond the physical properties and behavior of matter, and it fails big time in explaining how the “experience” of the organic molecules in our brain can come together to produce human consciousness, when it can’t do that for rocks or viruses. Panpsychism is neither a theory nor a philosophy, but a semantic trick performed by piling a few bogus claims atop each other. Why is it popular? You tell me!

Here’s the show (the answer to the title question, of course, is “NO!”).

And a relevant cartoon by reader Pliny the in Between’s site, The Far Corner Cafe:

142 thoughts on “A BBC show on panpsychism once again shows that there’s no “there” there

  1. “maybe “woo-ish and untestable” is a better characterization than “wrong” …”

    I’d go for “nonsensical” — literally, in that there is no meaningful interpretation of the claim “electrons are conscious”.

    1. Article by Sabine Hossenfelder on panpsychism: electrons don’t think.

      “When I say I “discovered” panpsychism, I mean I discovered there’s a bunch of philosophers who produce pamphlets about it. How do these philosophers address the conflict with evidence? Simple: They don’t.

      “Now, look, I know that physicists have a reputation of being narrow-minded. But the reason we have this reputation is that we tried the crazy shit long ago and just found it doesn’t work. You call it “narrow-minded,” we call it “science.” “

      1. Another fantastic post form Sabine.

        Indeed, show me any living organism that can detect when it loses or gains an electron and I will point you to something that can win a Nobel Prize.

      2. Indeed a great site; many thanks for drawing it to our attention. She has taken the trouble to post some powerful responses to many of the comments. I particularly liked this one to Goff himself:

        ‘Look, go and write down the standard model of particle physics and then try to figure out what you want to change about it in order to give consciousness to particles. I am telling you there is nothing you can change about it without ruining the model’s power to explain data. I understand that this is inconvenient for you, but I think you should face this problem’.

        Bullseye!

    2. “Keep your mind open, but not so open that your brains [where consciousness is formed -(nicky)] fall out.” (ascribed to Walter Kotschnig).

  2. If there’s consciousness in everything, why is it only noticeable in the brain, and not the leg or a rock?

    Even with panpsychism, the brain stands out as a place where something special is going on, and needs to be explained.

  3. Mere assertion based on misleading use of words (like “experience”) to lazily suggest parallels without evidence of there being any. Pure sophistry based on meaningless wordplay, reminiscent of the worst circular reasoning of medieval theology. Yuck.

    1. Can philosophers propose objective tests to reveal the consciousness of a rock?

      If not then their musings are just armchair jibber jabber. I could just as easily propose that matter is just teeny tiny faeries all the way down.

  4. I still haven’t heard anything about the chemical potential across cell membranes. I brought this up yesterday and it seems to me if we ask what do rocks have that brains don’t, electrochemical potential would be one item on the list. Ex brains do not have an electrochemical potential, but (can?) have most (all?) of the other “stuff” (a la Carroll). It’s what the brain does with the stuff that is important, not that it’s the same stuff that is on Mars.

    I don’t know how that refutes frying-pan-psychic-ism, but in my view, something that isn’t even wrong can’t be refuted. If honest work is to be done on consciousness, I’d expect to hear a lot about potentials, and in fact, good neuroscientists talk about potentials all the time. I would not expect the projection of human subjective experience – as might be usefully explored in meditation – on “stuff”.

    1. You are SO CORRECT! Ask any neuroscientist about membrane potential and you will probably “get and earful.” Biochemical potential is what our bodies ARE. Pardon the poor English grammar.

        1. You are correct that life is driven by generating electrochemical potentials across membranes (and it is lost when that potential is permanently dissipated), but it isn’t true that electrochemical potentials don’t occur in rock. Some methods in petrogeology depend on naturally occurring electrochemical potentials; it’s called, I think, “self-potential”. I know this because an ex-brother-in-law was an engineer working in the drilling biz.

          1. I expected to hear some interesting examples like this. Actually was thinking about piezoelectric phenomena.

            And computers run because of an electrical potential.

            I don’t know if I want to follow that line of reasoning to living systems. Hooking up electrodes and that sort of thing.

            1. “Spontaneous potentials (SP) are usually caused by charge separation in clay or other minerals, due to presence of semi-permeable interface impeding the diffusion of ions through the pore space of rocks, or by natural flow of a conducting fluid through the rocks.” [Ibid]

              Yes, we share some traits. Cellular life forms are elaborated geology, really.

              That means membranes and membrane potentials are not enough (all cells have them). But panspychism is not understanding that the whole can be greater than its parts. For a morbid example, cut away a head and put it back – no consciousness. For a simpler example, take the difference between a handful of grain and a bread.

    2. And yet a common idea in folk physics is that our eyes cast out rays to ‘see’ objects rather than collecting light which we then interpret. I wonder if ‘seeing consciousness everywhere’ is based on the same incorrect folk physics.

      1. Similarly, a default reaction to movement in the world around us is to assume agency of whatever is moving. It strikes me that panpsychism is just a version of animism.

        1. Well put.

          Yesterday I used the model of a bucket of water with a tube coming out of the bottom of the bucket. If the opening of the tubing is resting above the water level, everything is inert. It is perceived as a “dead” thing. If the tubing is dropped below the water level, water flows out. It could be perceived as a moving living thing.

          I think that’s the confusion that this bizarre fad is struggling with – it’s all the same “stuff”, yet there’s an important difference in how that “stuff” is configured.

        2. Indeed. My eye has been caught several times by an animal running around only to be resolved as an irregular scrap of black plastic being blown about by the wind.

      2. Indeed

        However, I find it amusing to consider :

        The light rays bouncing off the objects hit the retina in the eye. The ion channels there change the potential across the cell membranes. The electrochemical difference propagates down the optic nerve. Still no image yet… gets to the brain (I think directly to the pineal gland, but I’d have to review). There’s a hemispheric distribution I don’t know exactly but the potential is propagated from one eye to one side of the brain, for each eye and side, I’m pretty sure. Some more processes result in the images we see. This is in the brain, in the skull.

        Where is the line drawn between the objects outside, and the images we see? The images are in our heads. We see them clearly, and seem outside – but they are all being produced inside the head. As a matter of experience, what exactly are the objects, what exactly are the pictures we see of the objects?

    3. I’d argue it’s even more fundamental than that. If you look at it from the perspective of information theory and the second law of thermodynamics. It’s pretty hard to argue that consciousness does not, at some level, involve the processing of information. We know that requires work, and in living, conscious brains that is achieved through electrical potential gradient. PET scans reliably show us that the more we think, the more energy our brains expend, they even show us whereabouts in the brain it is happening. Examine an inert rock or a lump of metal and you will notice it expends no energy other than occasional radioactive discharge. The panpsychist argument appears to be that the consciousness of a brain is qualitatively identical to that of a grain of sand, but is different only in quantity. If so, we would still be able to detect the work being done, even if it were tiny, but grains of sand do not appear to perform any work on a macroscopic level. If consciousness is everywhere, in everything, why do our brains (and those of other animals) have to expend energy while rocks get to be conscious for free?

      If you were one of these clever panpsychist philosophers you could possibly wriggle out of this by breaking the second law of thermodynamics. Trouble is, that would destroy much of physics. Bit of a sledgehammer to crack a nut, isn’t it?

      Also, in response to Goff’s idea about it making us feel better to be part of a conscious universe, I would ask another question: What happens at the heat death of the universe? As we approach a dark and bleak thermodynamic equilibrium do the nebulae, black holes, interstellar gas clouds etc. become less and less ‘conscious’, but remain aware of the grim and hopeless nothingness of maximum entropy, after which nothing will ever happen again? Sounds pretty crappy to me!

    4. The best accessible account of the importance of this process is Nick Lane’s ‘The Vital Question’. Everybody with even a passing interest in the subject should read it.

  5. No “there” there? Christ, compared to panpsychism, Oakland might as well be Ms. Stein’s beloved nineteen-twenties’ Gay Paree.

  6. I think the fundamental issue with panpsychism is that there is no compelling reason, that I have heard, to nominate consciousness as the likely building block of the universe over any other potential contender. Things like ‘math’, ‘energy’, ‘potential’, etc., could not only be substituted, but have more of a logical basis, to my mind. These all seem like the more likely end product if one was able to examine reality under a microscope that went even further than subatomic particles.

    Given that there is not (again, so far as I can tell) a logic-based case to be made for consciousness as fundamental building block, my guess is that panpsychism is so popular because it jives with spiritual insights that people have through various mediums (meditation, psychedelics, moments in nature, etc.) And as I mused earlier, I think this makes total sense. Our worlds, as individual people, are entirely comprised of consciousness, as this is our only means of experiencing the world. So experience from the perspective of a human brain is, in that sense, panpsychic. I can’t claim to have had any experiences of ‘the fundamental nature of consciousness’ or ‘total selflessness’ that seem to open the door to people seeing things in this way, but based on other people’s reports, I accept that it is certainly possible to really experience everything as nothing but consciousness, the way a person could look at a movie screen and realize everything they see on the screen is made up of light. But this speaks to our mode of perception, not the underlying nature of how things come to be.

  7. Panpsychism strikes me as just the latest high-falutin’ way of gussying up the ancient tendency of our species to see agency in natural events — the stubborn insistence that things can only happen if there’s a *someone* doing them, to whom an *intention* can be imputed. The idea of plasma just coalescing into protons, electrons, and neutrons *on its own*, without someone intending it to happen, seems to be simply too scary for some people to accept.

  8. Panpsychism has no physical foundation. Information theory is at the heart of both thermodynamics and to some degree, quantum mechanics. An electron has only so much information it can store, if at all in an unbound state.

    It turns RMS fluctuations of charge easily account for on the order of thousands of electrons coming and going form my body every second. My consciousness is unaffected. Falsifying (Popper) this statement is probably impossible. I could get a hair cut (>10^20 atoms) and I still retain the same consciousness.

    There are too many places for pansychists to prove where consciousness is. Why not focus on the places where we definitely know it is. I will refer them to Descartes if they need a starting point.

  9. I suppose you have to go down a lot of dead ended rabbit holes before you find a rabbit. But this seems pretty clear to be dead ended leading nowhere. leading nowhere.
    Waste of time of intelligent people, but I have always been skeptical of philosophers and armchair psychologists.
    Sometimes their theories, questions and ideas lead to research that bears fruit snd adds to knowledge but it is hard to see when this may go.

  10. “De Jonge comes in as a “deep ecologist” (a new term to me)”

    Perhaps a “deep ecologist” is someone who adhere to Lovelock’s Gaia hypothesis to the point of thinking that the Earth is sentient?

    If I understand well, panpsychists think that not only we are conscious because our brain is conscious. The brain itself is conscious because each of its cells (both neurons and supporting cells) is conscious. Each cell is conscious because all of its molecules are conscious. And molecules are conscious because atoms are… so it explains nothing (partly because the same term “consciousness” describe different phenomena) but all the way down to unknown, and nobody seems able to propose a way to test it. The two last points are features also shared by “theories” like Intelligent Design.

    Besides, if I remember well, Teilhard de Chardin was proposing something similar to panpsychism but with God as a fundamental property of everything in the universe. And Teilhard’s ideas have been nicely blasted by Peter Medawar.

  11. “And Goff bangs on, as he did in Sean Carroll’s podcast, that physics cannot tell us what matter really is—all it does is tell us how matter behaves.”

    I think this is a real problem, as evidenced by all the books that have been written about “Why Is There Something Rather Than Nothing”, but panpsychism doesn’t answer that question at all. As far as I can tell, panpsychism is a philosophic attempt to create something from nothing but they still get nothing.

    1. I had read somewhere, perhaps from S. Carroll but I don’t remember, that matter at the elementary particle level can be described as very closely curved bits of space.
      That seemed pretty good to me.

  12. If I were a panpsychist I would be desperately be seeking an alternative to flushing the toilet. I would hate to be responsible for flushing so many fellow consciousnesses down the long dark tube to an ultimately disappointing destination.

  13. Maybe these Deep Thinkers explain it at some point — I can’t be arsed to watch the whole video — but if all matter is conscious, and a human brain is for some reason just more conscious than an equivalent mass of rocks, then how do they account for the obviously different levels of consciousness between my brain now and my brain ten minutes after my heart stops beating? Same atoms in the same configuration, right? Consciousness isn’t an intrinsic property of a brain, it’s what the brain does, and when the brain stops doing it, poof! — no more consciousness. Seems to me.

      1. True, but the level of consciousness of the freshly-dead brain is a lot closer to that of a box of rocks than to that of a living brain, whereas under panpsychism (as I understand it) you would think it would be almost exactly the same.

    1. That is a good argument (or it should be. Goff would resist it of course). Or how about a brain that is in a deep coma? It is as alive as my brain is now, but there would not be much going on in there.

  14. Along the track that I mentioned before, why try to extrapolate ‘consciousness’ into everything, just b/c some things (big brains) are conscious? Why not assert that everything flies to some degree, b/c some things fly real fast and high? Or one could claim that everything smells like bacon b/c some things smell like bacon?
    Why pick on consciousness?

  15. “Deep Ecology” was all the rage when I was a lad in the early 1990s in Tasmania. I’d never heard of it again after that at all, until now. I never understood what any of it was about. I seemed to involve sitting in a room and talking at great length, riding a bicycle, and getting a Ph.D thesis published as an 800 page book.

  16. The discussion on Bee’s blog is interesting. The main tenet of panpsychism is that a collection of particles cannot have a property that is not present in the individual particle. As far as fundamental physical properties like charge, spin and mass are concerned, this is true. That is why panpsychists try to equate consciousness with one of those known properties, or to a yet to be discovered property.

    But the main tenet is wrong, because we can and do attribute emergent properties like “living” and “consciousness” to collections of particles even though the property is lacking in any individual particle. It is this attribution which panpsychists cannot accept. In some sense, panpsychism is unbridled reductionism.

    Unfortunately, the physics of how a complex emergent property can arise from the mere interaction of physical particles remains a bit of a gap, and every gap is an opportunity for pseudoscience.

    1. Lots of people have trouble reconciling reductionism with emergence. The key is to recognize that emergent properties are human mental constructions. That doesn’t make them any less real. Perhaps all properties are emergent though that takes us quickly into solipsism and we don’t want to go there.

      1. Or one can deny the emergent property is real, such as Bee denies that free will is real. (FWIW, I am agnostic as to whether free will is real, but I am reasonably certain that being alive and being conscious are real.)

        1. Yes. BTW, being alive is a great example of an emergent property. This is why it is so hard to give an airtight definition of life. Of course, it’s not necessary that the definition be airtight in order to be useful.

      2. Curious what you mean by “emergent properties are human mental constructions”?

        I am inclined to understand entropy and heat as an emergent property, and probably time as well, but I don’t think entropy or time are human mental constructions. [I suspect space is probably an emergent property as well.]

        Are you being some kind of Kantian transcendental idealist with unmediated noumena mediated through the conceputalizations of the “mind” into phenomenon, or do you mean something else?

        P.S. I’m not sure that “life” is an emergent property as biology has a number of functions associated with “life” and stuff like viruses and prions taking on some but not all features.

        1. In a one particle universe, it is impossible to understand how you would define entropy of the system, what time would consist in, how movement could be meaningfully defined, etc.

          Obviously, only God would be able to “measure” such things, but I’m not sure how what God “measured” would relate to what it means when we measure mass or velocity or time.

      3. The *concept* is a mental (brain process) construction, but they do correspond to real properties (to the extent that our theories and folk knowledge is true, of course). Take, for example, shape. Small things (electrons, say) are shapeless (or have the shape of their boundary conditions). Get to large enough molecules, and the shape actually can even be x-ray (?) photographed! And guess what – the benzene ring really is a ring!

  17. “nescient”

    I did not know that interesting word. “Omniscient” is not exactly the opposite, but clearly related. I wonder what other words it is found in.

  18. So what of antimatter? anti conscious!!!?
    Did they self annihilate so that matter and therefore conscious life could emerge?
    Terribly decent of them I say.

  19. Pro tip: The quickest way to make panpsychist go quiet is to grant them that panpsychism might be true and then ask “now what?”

    There is literally nothing actionable about panpsychism being true even if it were. I already love trees.

    That being said if I owned the rights to “pet rocks” I’d be pumping those out again to take advantage of this fleeting panpsychism craze.

  20. … the very complex experience of the human or animal brain is somehow derived from the very simple experience of their most basic parts.

    Electrons are indistinguishable, one from another. Somehow, then, each individual electron experience must be the same.

    Overheard in Heisenberg’s Karaoke bar where some electrons were blowing quantum foam from their brew –

    “And now, the end is near
    And so I face the final curtain
    My friend, I’ll say it clear
    I’ll state my case, of which I’m uncertain.”

  21. After listening to the show and reading various articles, this whole thing reminds me of some combination of Postmodernist ‘anything can be anything’, and a derivation of the nonsense from the King of Quantum Quackery.

  22. I think it is obvious that Phillip Goff does’t really understand what he is talking about. Has he interviewed any physicists or chemists who have happened to work with electrons and atoms? To a person, I would expect them to reject the idea that electrons or atoms have any sort of consciousness. Certainly this old physicist does. If you actually work with them, they are mindless (but wondrous) little “machines”. Goff is living in a fantasy world, and doesn’t realize it.

  23. What is the smallest organism thought to be conscious.
    When I was in school in the fifties we were taught that only humans were conscious. And someone (a college graduate) in a class I was teaching only thirty years ago argued that dogs were not conscious. We still have a long way to ho with education.

    1. I am conscious, therefore I am. I then infer consciousness to other humans, partly because it is hard to imagine I am a unique example of the species, but mainly because I can observe their behavior and, most importantly, converse with them about subjective mental states. With other species we lose the ability to communicate by language and must infer from behavior and neuronal capacity. The more other species exhibit behavior indicating intelligence, the more we are inclined to assume they are conscious. So chimpanzees and orcas get the nod, clams don’t. Although when I am digging clams, I am amazed by their avoidance behavior. How do they “know” I am after their innards from sounds traveling through the sand. After learning about the intelligence of octopuses, I have become less dismissive of consciousness in invertebrates.

      1. 1.) I know from my private experience that I am conscious.

        2.) I cannot know from my private experience that others are conscious.

        3.) I see others who resemble me, and behave like me.

        3.) Therefore, I infer others are conscious?

        This is an inductive argument from only one case.

        1.) Stock X went down $2, then I bought it and it went up $10.

        2.) Other stocks go up and down in value.

        3.) Therefore, I can assume that if Stock Y goes down $2, if I buy it it will go up $10.

        Furthermore, how can you generalize when there is only one person you have private access to, when you don’t have private access to the experience of all the others. Wouldn’t you be conscious of them as well if they were really conscious?

        [The point is that premise 1 is not sound, even if popular since DesCartes.]

        1. Premise 1 is the very definition of consciousness, at least of the one having to do with qualia and the “hard problem”.

          Our experience with other people lead us to believe we’re very similar in many, many ways even if we leave out biological knowledge. We also have a pretty good idea of the differences between people. Some are smaller, some larger. Some like music, some don’t. Our inference that others are also conscious has a broad basis.

          Most of us also know that one of the biggest differences of Stock X and Stock Y, assuming X not equal Y, is that their prices are independent. In general, inferring the price of one from the other would be a mistake. Inferring that both can be bought and sold on an exchange would be a more reasonable inference.

          1. I will state my view clearly:

            Consciousness has nothing to do with private experiences.

            “Consciousness” is a concept in our language which is subject to intersubjective, public norms with respect to its proper usage.

            There are debates on the boundaries of consciousness (does a fetus feel pain, does a fish feel pain, what is going on when someone is in a persistent vegetative state, etc.) that are important to ethics, law, and public policy.

            In ordinary usage, rocks are not conscious, people are unless they are drugged, comatose, or sleeping, and some animals are considered conscious (cats but not bacteria), but that is contended. I learned that not through introspection but from socialization in English.

            1. I agree with this except for:

              “Consciousness has nothing to do with private experiences.”

              It certainly does for the philosophers who are discussing the so-called hard problem. It does also in everyday conversation: “It took conscious effort to stop from blinking.”

              1. That’s my point, there is no “hard problem” of consciousness. There is a hard problem of conceptual confusion around “consciousness”.

                I am “conscious” of the “problem” surrounding “consciousness”. Is that a private experience?

                I am thinking about the “problem of consciousness”. Is that something invisible and private, or can it be depicted in a Rodin sculpture? Is it invisible and private, or is it evidence by my public expressions of language.

                [Rodin is the one man who could convert me to panpsychism by the way.]

              2. A concession:

                Language about mental states cannot be reduced entirely to behavioral descriptions or behavioral dispositions. There will remain a black box, and verbal ascriptions to the purported contents of the black box, but it is doubtful that the purported contents will ever be found (because they are expressions, not descriptions).

        2. Your second inductive argument is not the same as the first. I have no reason to assume stocks behave the same since their values can depend on wholly different factors. Why should I expect an oil stock to behave the same as a tech stock? But I have valid reasons for believing humans behave much like me because we share the same genome. In some sense, we are the same stuff. We cannot say that about stocks.

          1. How valid is an inductive argument based on only one case ever?

            Okay, I know I like strawberry ice cream. I share the same genome with all of humanity, therefore, all humans like strawberry ice cream. Convinced?

            Further, you only “know” you are conscious by reference to your private access to your experience. If someone else was really conscious, why wouldn’t you have too have access to their experience too? Where would their private experience even be located if you didn’t experience it?

            1. I think it would be perverse if you assume you are the only one who likes strawberry ice cream. Instead I assume because I like sweet things, other humans are likely to like sweet things too. Things taste sweet for an evolutionary reason and it is entirely reasonable for me to assume other members of my species will share a liking for things that taste sweet to me. Induction is not needed.

              BTW, if I remember my Popper correctly, no number of examples is sufficient to establish a presumption by induction. We use other criteria.

              1. Remember, there is only one being in the world that you have a private experience of “consciousness” of, that is you.

                If you assume others are conscious, even though you lack a private experience of their “consciousness”, you are making an induction from one case, and from one unique being (the one you have private experiences of) to a totally different set of things (automata who resemble you and behave like you, but which you have no private experience of “consciousness”). Pretty thin gruel.

                On top of it all, its not even empirically falsifable, as the evidence “introspective awareness of consciousness” can never be had of the other. So not in the spirit of Popper.

              2. My point is I am not doing inductive reasoning. I am drawing an inference on the basis of my relatedness. Moreover, I share my subjective experience with others through language and they with me. The taste of sweetness is private to me, but it would be perverse for me to think I am unique in liking it. I have valid reasons for thinking I am not, and it has nothing to do with induction.

              3. I agree you are not doing inductive reasoning, because what you are saying is not empirical falsifiable. You are providing a rule about how we speak.

                If I say I am experiencing the pain in your arm right now, you would think I am crazy, because the rule is that I can only talk about the pain I am experiencing in my arm (unless we are Siamese Twins or something).

                I’m not trying to take away your right talk about your private experiences, but rather it has nothing to do with establishing whether you are conscious or not.

              4. In the words of Paul Topping, I give up. I do not think you are even reading what I write. Your replies seem random.

                BTW, induction does not imply falsifiability. The sun has risen for billions of years but that does not falsify the hypothesis that it will not rise tomorrow. Rather, our confidence that the sun will rise tomorrow is based on abductive reasoning, using logic and knowledge about why the sun rises, to reach the simplest and most likely conclusion that it will indeed rise tomorrow. My comments on consciousness and making inferences about inferring consciousness to other beings is based on abductive reasoning.

              5. That was rude. Sorry. I should have said we appear to be speaking past each other, and thus wasting our time. Clearly, I have not made my argument clear to you.

                Good night.

  24. “How do the semiconscious bits of brain stuff combine to make a brain conscious, but the semiconscious bits of tables and rocks don’t?”

    First of all, a bit of a disclaimer: I’m a panpsychist, but I have paid zero attention to Goff or Morch or anybody else espousing panpsychism; it’s actually a position I arrived at on my own decades ago, and I only discovered a couple years ago that there was even a name for it. So I’m not defending their version of panpsychism, nor have I watched the video, nor do I have any interest in doing so.

    But I will take a stab at answering your question. Equivalent questions: How do bricks combine to make a building in one case, but combine to make nothing but a pile of rubble in another case? How do atoms of carbon and hydrogen and so forth combine to make DNA in one case, but combine to make nothing but brown sludge in the bottom of a test tube in another case? (When I used to do organic chemistry research, back in the day, it was very easy to make brown sludge rather than one’s target molecule! :->) The answer is that the special properties of the whole – the building, the DNA molecule – depend upon how the fundamental components are put together: it is not the components themselves, but the way they are structured, that determines whether they build something interesting or something uninteresting.

    But in this idea that “the whole is the sum of its parts, plus how those parts are assembled”, panpsychists have an advantage over non-panpsychists, in that it seems to make some sense that one could somehow build a human consciousness out of smaller semi-conscious bits, just as one builds a building out of bricks. Bricks have physicality, spatial extent, and mass; and those properties come, in turn, from the physicality, spatial extent, and mass of the atoms that the bricks are composed of; and that lets you build a building that has physicality, spatial extent, and mass. You can’t build a building out of photons, because photons don’t have those properties, and so there’s no way that a thing constructed out of them could have those properties either. In other words, there are limits to “emergence”, and you have to use building blocks that are appropriate to what you’re trying to build. It seems quite nonsensical to me to imagine that a conscious entity, capable of experiencing qualia, could ever possibly be built out of component parts that are incapable of experiencing qualia; I don’t see how that sort of “emergence” could ever work. That is a philosophical position that I think simply makes no sense at all. There are a lot of questions left to answer about panpsychism, obviously, but at least it doesn’t suffer from that fundamental and (I think) insurmountable problem.

    So yes, panpsychists don’t know the answer to the “how” question you pose, but that doesn’t mean that that “how” question demolishes the philosophical position; it just means there’s an empirical question there that bears scientific investigation. The “how” question for non-panpsychist materialists – “how does consciousness emerge from non-conscious matter?” – seems to me to be much more devastating, because to me it seems quite obvious that the answer is “it doesn’t”. For those who claim that it does, the burden of proof is on them, and thus far it seems to me there has been precisely zero progress toward answering, or even toward suggesting what a possible answer might look like. Zero.

    “It fails to define what that “experience” consists of beyond the physical properties and behavior of matter…”

    Well, sure; for panpsychists, as for everybody else, “experience” is subjective and can’t be defined except by saying “you know it when you experience it”. That’s not a weakness – or at least it’s a weakness that is shared by every other approach to the hard problem of consciousness, and I doubt that it will ever be possible to define “experience” any more precisely than that. That’s just the nature of reality. Consciousness is subjective and unmeasurable, except by the entity having the conscious experience. Oh well.

    All that said, the positions taken by Goff and Morch sound a bit weird and silly, yes. I don’t know what it means to say that “spin” is a kind of consciousness; I agree that that seems like nonsense. (But I haven’t watched the video, and perhaps the position is more coherent than it sounds; I shouldn’t judge it without engaging with it more, which I’m not motivated to do.) I think perhaps, Jerry, if you’re reading this, you need to find better panpsychists to debate/discuss than these guys. :->

    1. If you are a naturalist, then you have to concede that matter can give rise to conscious organisms composed of matter. If you don’t then you have to deny organisms are conscious (some kind of eliminationist position, consciousness is an illusion), or you have to posit some supernatural substance, like a Platonic soul or a Cartesian mind, getting caught in matter.

      This means matter has the potential to become, if not conscious, part of something that is conscious. But just because a match has the potential to become fire, it doesn’t mean that the match is fire.

      Besides which, “consciousness” has everything to do with the form of the organism, in terms of its capacity for self-organization and replication. We all know that if you dissect a conscious organism into its respective parts, it is no longer conscious. This is why when you paint death, you paint the translucent body of the person flying out of the corpse–which would be a strange picture if the soul were truly incorporeal as it is said in certain quarters.

      So while matter has to have to potential to become part of something conscious, I do not see why it has to be conscious. If a conscious organism can’t arise out of nonconscious materials, I don’t know how it can arise out of proto-conscious materials either. You really have a categorical jump between inanimate stuff and living organisms no matter how you slice it, and while we can speculate all day, it remains a scientific mystery. We certainly have not manufactured a cell from amino acids yet.

      1. “If you are a naturalist, then you have to concede that matter can give rise to conscious organisms composed of matter.” Of course. I certainly concede that. But I concede it because I am a panpsychist, and believe that the matter that conscious organisms are composed of it itself conscious; otherwise I don’t think it would be possible.

        “But just because a match has the potential to become fire, it doesn’t mean that the match is fire.” Of course not; and nobody is claiming that. But the match has to be made of components that have properties that allow the match to be a match: they must be physical, for example (not photons), and more specifically, they must be combustible – capable of combining with oxygen exothermically. You can try as hard as you like to make a match out of, say, iron, and you will fail. There are limits to emergence, and the parts must possess properties that enable the properties of the whole.

        “Besides which, “consciousness” has everything to do with the form of the organism, in terms of its capacity for self-organization and replication.” Well, I don’t know whether “self-organization” and “replication” are essential for consciousness to exist – why would they be? – but yes, obviously form is essential. The same collection of atoms might form a conscious entity, or might form nothing but a gooey puddle. See my discussion above regarding bricks, buildings, and piles of rubble.

        “If a conscious organism can’t arise out of nonconscious materials, I don’t know how it can arise out of proto-conscious materials either. You really have a categorical jump between inanimate stuff and living organisms no matter how you slice it.” Nope. With panpsychism, you start out on the opposite side of that categorical jump to begin with. There is no jump remaining to be made; you’re already conscious, in the sense of experiencing qualia, at the most fundamental level. Problem solved.

        (And yes, it is “solved” by pushing the mystery of consciousness down to the deeper level, not by really “solving” it; but I think it is fundamentally unsolvable in that sense, since consciousness is fundamentally subjective. But what it does “solve” is how a conscious macroscopic entity like a human can be built from constituent parts; if the constituent parts are not themselves conscious in some way then I posit that that would be impossible so that is what panpsychism really does “solve”.)

        1. No, you don’t solve the problem of an inanimate world giving rise to a world of inanimate things and animate things (when life emerges) by saying everything is already animate. You do have to say its has that potential from the beginning (combustibility).

          Why is it people since the beginning of time have been able to distinguish between trees, and animals and people and rocks?

          What happened to Han Solo when he was frozen in carbonite? Was he still conscious? Did he see/hear things going on around him?

          Are there all these sentient beings imprisoned in stone? Sounds like hell actually.

          1. “You do have to say its has that potential from the beginning (combustibility).” Indeed. So either you explain how unconscious matter can give rise to conscious entities (which nobody have ever offered even a remotely plausible hypothesis for), or you concede that that “potential” is some sort of proto-consciousness.

            “Why is it people since the beginning of time have been able to distinguish between trees, and animals and people and rocks?” Because it’s adaptive to do so. But what does that have to do with the topic at hand?

            “What happened to Han Solo when he was frozen in carbonite? Was he still conscious? Did he see/hear things going on around him?” I’m not a Star Wars fan, so I have no idea what you’re talking about. :->

            “Are there all these sentient beings imprisoned in stone? Sounds like hell actually.” Again, no idea what you’re talking about.

            1. Okay, Medusa turns you to stone. Are you still conscious and trapped in stone?

              If stones are conscious, are there sentient beings trapped inside the stone. Do they fall in love, but can never reach out and embrace their lover? Do they freeze in the winter, do they get soaking wet and miserable in the rains? If panpsychism were true, it sounds like hell to me, like something out of an Edgar Allen Poe story.

              1. “Okay, Medusa turns you to stone. Are you still conscious and trapped in stone?” I don’t know. Medusa doesn’t exist. What are you actually trying to ask?

                “If stones are conscious…” Nobody is claiming that stones are conscious, any more than architects claim that bricks are buildings. The panpsychist claim is that fundamental particles possess some sort of proto-consciousness involving the experience of qualia. That does not mean that everything built from those particles is conscious, any more than everything built from bricks is a building.

              2. Ok but then what DOES it mean? So far, I can’t tell the difference between something that has the proto-consciousness and something that does not. Not only does consciousness not need this property to be explained, we can’t even seem to detect the property. It’s like a psychological ether.

              3. “The panpsychist claim is that fundamental particles possess some sort of proto-consciousness involving the experience of qualia.That does not mean that everything built from those particles is conscious,…”

                This is special pleading. Living things are the only things that are expected to exhibit consciousness. Somehow the imagined proto consciousness only appears in living things?

              4. The panpsychist claim is that fundamental particles possess some sort of proto-consciousness involving the experience of qualia.

                What the hell does it even mean to say an electron has an experience of qualia?

                Sensations require sense organs, cognition requires a brain, touch requires nerves and skin, what could an electron possibly have a qualia of?

                And what would they do with it if they did? Elope to Vegas?

              5. “What the hell does it even mean to say an electron has an experience of qualia?”

                What does it mean to say a human has an experience of qualia? If you can truly answer that, concretely and without hand-waving, you will have made the single greatest advance in philosophy in the history of humanity – and you will have answered your question about electrons, too. I don’t know why you expect me to have an answer, though. All I can say is “you, I presume, know what it is to experience qualia; why shouldn’t an electron be able to do that too?”

                “Sensations require sense organs, cognition requires a brain, touch requires nerves and skin, what could an electron possibly have a qualia of?”

                Who says those things are required? You are assuming what you need to prove. And if you’re a materialist who believes that everything is fundamentally explained by the interactions of particles, then there is nothing magical about a “sense organ” or a “brain” or “nerves” or “skin”; if they can somehow produce the experience of qualia, then surely they do so, ultimately, through the interactions of the individual particles that compose them, and so surely the interactions of individual particles result in the experience of qualia? Indeed, how could it be otherwise, if you think about it?

                “And what would they do with it if they did? Elope to Vegas?”

                You mean that sarcastically, I guess, but it’s an interesting question. Most people who claim that consciousness is “emergent” also claim that it has no effect on behavior whatsoever; that it’s just an “epiphenomenon”, a byproduct of the functioning of the brain that in no way feeds back into the behavior of the organism. If I understand correctly, Jerry would say this, for example. If you hold otherwise, then consciousness isn’t just an epiphenomenon, but has some actual physical status that affects physics through some means, which opens the door to dualism and all sorts of ugliness that we don’t believe in, right? So it has to be merely an “epiphenomenon” that has no causal effect; if we were consciousness-less zombies, we would act exactly the same as we do now, and be entirely indistinguishable from what we are now, apart from our (missing) internal subjective experience of reality. That’s more or less the standard materialist position, right? So if that’s what you believe, then obviously the answer to your rhetorical question would be “nothing”. The particles would experience qualia as epiphenomena with no causal effect upon them at all, because any such causal effect would violate the laws of physics.

                That is not, in fact, what I believe, but that’s a whole ‘nother can of worms, and not worth getting into here; it doesn’t really bear on the question at hand, of whether panpsychism is a philosophical position worthy of respect or, as Jerry seems to feel, merely an incoherent target of ridicule.

              6. “This is special pleading. Living things are the only things that are expected to exhibit consciousness. Somehow the imagined proto consciousness only appears in living things?”

                The nesting level seems to have maxed out; not sure if there’s a good way to organize responses now. But anyway: this, I think, is precisely where evolution comes in. Building a complex machine in which the proto-consciousness of individual particles is assembled in such a way as to construct a conscious macroscopic entity – as one would build a building from bricks – requires either an intelligent designer (which none of us here believe in) or natural selection. So only living things exhibit consciousness because only living things have been refined by selection and adaptation. You would not expect to see bricks spontaneously forming buildings; and similarly, you would not expect to see proto-conscious particles spontaneously forming conscious entities (absent selection for that).

              7. “So only living things exhibit consciousness because only living things have been refined by selection and adaptation. “

                No – things are conscious if they contain an electrochemical potential across cell membranes, if they have access to energy, if they communicate, if they … ad infinitum. Natural selection and adaptation has also produced a vast number of things that used to be living and are now dead. They have been subject to natural selection but are no longer conscious.

                “… you would not expect to see proto-conscious particles spontaneously forming conscious entities”

                How do you know that? If something has 10% consciousness, I’d be curious to see what it’d do among other things with 10% consciousness.

                In fact, people become unconscious all the time, from accidents or medical troubles. What insight does panpsychism have for a patient who is unconscious?

            2. So either you explain how unconscious matter can give rise to conscious entities (which nobody have ever offered even a remotely plausible hypothesis for), or you concede that that “potential” is some sort of proto-consciousness.

              Or you say we just bloody don’t know, and there is no reason to speculate.

              1. Of course there’s reason to speculate! What else are we supposed to do all day? :-> But in my opinion we do know, inasmuch as panpsychism is the only philosophical position that seems to me to be capable of explaining the world we observe. Of course others disagree. :->

    2. “It seems quite nonsensical to me to imagine that a conscious entity, capable of experiencing qualia, could ever possibly be built out of component parts that are incapable of experiencing qualia”

      My car can go from A to B but most of its constituent parts cannot. It seem nonsensical to me that people expect the properties of the whole to be shared by its parts.

      1. “My car can go from A to B but most of its constituent parts cannot.” Of course they can; they do so every time you drive your car from A to B. :-> That might seem like a flip response, but it isn’t. The component parts do have to have properties that allow the whole to do what it does, and they have to be combined in such a way as to enable that function. As I wrote above, you can’t make a building out of photons; neither could you make a car out of photons. Obviously an atom is not an internal combustion engine, and nobody is saying otherwise. But atoms do possess the properties that allow an internal combustion engine to be constructed; photons do not. There are limits to emergence, and the building blocks have to be such that the properties of the whole can be built from the parts. And I have never yet seen anybody give a coherent explanation of how that could possibly be the case for conscious entities built from non-conscious atoms. Your example serves to prove my point, I would say!

        1. No one is denying that matter has the potential to become part of something conscious. What is being denied is that matter is actually conscious.

          while a match has the potential to ignite, it doesn’t have to be actually already ignited before it can ignite. In the panpsychist world, matches would either not work or burn a hole in your pocket.

          1. Yes, I understand what you’re denying; I’m quite familiar with the standard materialist position. I think you are misunderstanding the panpsychist position, however, when you write “in the panpsychist world, matches would either not work or burn a hole in your pocket”. All I can really say to that is “???”.

            1. If matter has to be already actually conscious prior to the emergence of life, and not merely potentially conscious, then it is akin to say a match has to be already lit before you can lite it. And if the match isn’t lit, then it will never ignite.

              So, if you putting a burning match in your pocket, you get burned, and if it isn’t burning, it won’t lite.

              1. “If matter has to be already actually conscious prior to the emergence of life…” I’m not sure where “life” came into it. We were talking about consciousness. Are you assuming that only living things can be conscious? If so, what’s your basis for that assumption?

                “then it is akin to say a match has to be already lit before you can lite it.” I don’t think I understand where you’re trying to go with this metaphor. Personally, I find the brick/building/rubble metaphor to be more useful. If you are finding that the match metaphor is leading you into confusion, then perhaps it ought to be discarded.

        2. By your argument here, a particular hydrogen atom is water and/or wet by virtue of being part of some water. We can say that, of course, but it falls apart when that hydrogen atom finds itself part of something other than water.

          You are having a hard time imagining how consciousness can be built from constituent parts. This leads you to the conclusion that consciousness must be a primitive property of all matter, somewhat analogous to mass. I feel this must be at the heart of your theory and that of other panpsychists. Am I right?

          I think the difficulty is that we can’t find a place to stand to observe our own consciousness with any kind of objectivity. We will someday figure out how it all works but even then it won’t tell us what it is like to be conscious except, of course, from our own subjective experience which is unscientific. It’s the same problem if we try to imagine what it is like to be a bat. We just can’t get there from here.

          1. “By your argument here, a particular hydrogen atom is water and/or wet by virtue of being part of some water. We can say that, of course, but it falls apart when that hydrogen atom finds itself part of something other than water.” No, I am of course not saying that at all. I’m saying that the hydrogen atom has the necessary properties to both enable the properties of water, and to enable the properties of, say, gasoline. Just as a brick has the properties necessary to both enable one to build a building, or to build a pile of rubble. Just as proto-conscious fundamental particles have the properties necessary to build a conscious entity like a human, or a non-conscious object like a rock.

            “You are having a hard time imagining how consciousness can be built from constituent parts… Am I right?” Yes, although I would not describe it as a failure of “imagination” as much as a logical deduction of the impossibility of that.

            “We will someday figure out how it all works …” That sounds to me like an article of faith. If nobody on the planet can even offer a plausible *hypothesis* for how it could work – and I would say that nobody (except panpsychists) can – then maybe we will not, in fact, ever figure out how it works. Those who are not panpsychists essentially use “emergence” as a magic wand, it seems to me. They have no explanation for how consciousness could arise from non-conscious matter, no hypothesis for how that could even possibly be the case, but they wave their “emergence” magic wand around and say it will someday be figured out. But there are, as I have been emphasizing, limits to emergence; and I think the non-panpsychists run into those limits.

            1. Aren’t neuroscientists figuring out how our brains and, therefore, consciousness work? We all wish it would go faster but there’s absolutely no reason to throw in the towel. Do you think their work is invalid in some way?

              Why do you think consciousness is a property like mass rather than something you only get when you arrange atoms in a particular way? My car only goes from A to B if I arrange atoms a certain way. That way is not unique but an extremely small percentage of possible atom configurations will give me a car. Also, if I look at all possible atomic subsets of my car, they are almost all not identifiable as a car. Same with the brain and its conscious processes.

              1. “Aren’t neuroscientists figuring out how our brains and, therefore, consciousness work?” Nope. They’re figuring out how our brains work, yes – how they process and store information. But they’re not figuring out how consciousness works. All of the progress in neuroscience thus far has shed not even the tiniest glimmer of light on how the experience of qualia arises in the brain – and I would claim that it never will. The “hard problem of consciousness” is called that for a good reason: it’s hard. :->

                “Why do you think consciousness is a property like mass rather than something you only get when you arrange atoms in a particular way?” Why do you think otherwise? Can you provide any possible explanation at all – any hypothesis whatsoever – describing exactly how conscious experience of qualia arises from non-conscious particles assembled in the shape of a brain? If your answer to that is “no” – and I feel sure it is “no”, if you are honest – then why do you nevertheless hang on to the belief that it must be possible?

    3. “The answer is that the special properties of the whole – the building, the DNA molecule – depend upon how the fundamental components are put together: it is not the components themselves, but the way they are structured, …. / the special properties of the whole “

      Is that all? The structure? No. There’s plenty more to the instructions of how to synthesize DNA. For sure, there are special properties of the whole. It is a pleasant truism- “the whole is greater than the sum of the parts”. How are these two broad generalizations supporting the truth claim – a claim which itself is unclear?

      “But in this idea that “the whole is the sum of its parts, plus how those parts are assembled”, panpsychists have an advantage over non-panpsychists, “

      An advantage? In what way? Do they publish more papers in Nature?

      “… in that it seems to make some sense that one could somehow build a human consciousness out of smaller semi-conscious bits, just as one builds a building out of bricks.”

      “Seems” to make sense?

      Your first argument also never departs from a structural / LEGO view of things assembling into a large entity. What about electrochemical potential? This drives living things. Temperature. Gradients. The same “stuff” can be in different conditions, subject to different rates of reaction, and exhibit vastly different properties. But you can’t point at an electrochemical potential. It is intangible. It is not “stuff” but how the “stuff” is configured.

    4. Suppose I grant you that panpsychism is true. Now what?

      Should anything about my life change? If so, why? Should science be done differently? Should philosophy be done differently? Are there any political implications?

      Of what practical use is panpsychism?

      1. Suppose I grant you that panpsychism is false. Now what? Should anything about my life change? If so, why? Should science be done differently? Should philosophy be done differently? Are there any political implications?

        Of what practical use is non-panpsychism?

        1. Non-panpsychism is naturalism and, for the brain, neuroscience It can lead us to understand how the brain works, and maybe how consciousness arises as an epiphenomenon.
          That is the practical use of “non-panpsychism,” which is simply naturalism. And its practical use is science.

          1. Panpsychism can be naturalism too. There is nothing “unnatural” about positing that fundamental particles experience qualia, any more than there is something “unnatural” about positing that they possess charge or spin. What is “natural” is whatever actually exists in nature. If particles experience qualia, that that is “natural”. And if that is the case, then embracing that truth would be more likely to lead to scientific progress than denying that truth. So it seems to me that here you are assuming what you need to prove. If you start from a position of having no opinion on the question, what actual evidence would you adduce in favor of non-panpsychism over panpsychism? What support do you have for the claim that panpsychism is not “natural”?

            1. Imre Lakatos would say we should not waste time on panpsychism because it is degenerating. It doesn’t go anywhere. As several people have commented, suppose it were true, so what? It implies no falsifiable hypotheses or questions. In contrast, the theory that consciousness arises from the information processing of brains introduces a host of questions and hypotheses which neuroscience may someday address.

        2. Non-panpsychism is of no use that I know of. I had never heard of it until you mentioned it. I hope you don’t think I am promoting anything called non-panpsychism.

          I assume from your answer that there is nothing actionable about panpsychism being true.

      2. “Suppose I grant you that panpsychism is false. Now what? Should anything about my life change?”

        Yes you should stop calling yourself a panpsychist and promoting the idea of Panpsychism if you grant that it is not true.

        “why?”

        Because it’s not true.

        “Should science be done differently?”

        No, because science is not currently investigating panpsychism.

        “Should philosophy be done differently?”

        Yes philosophers should stop wasting time with something that isn’t true.

        “Are there any political implications?”

        No because panpsychism currently has zero effect on politics and it’s hard to imagine how it ever will.

    5. Even if one accepts this premise, I still don’t see how it leads to panpsychism. One could just as easily say that consciousness is contained in some particular element of the universe and that this element must be present in all conscious brains. I don’t see how it follows that it must be the basis of the universe itself.

  25. Children play with dolls and pretend that they are real conscious beings.

    Panpsychists interact with dolls and say that they are real conscious beings.

    Who is the wise and who is the foolish?

      1. Um… inasmuch as no panpsychist would make that claim ever, it is not a “good one”. If you think that joke has even the tiniest shred of applicability, you don’t understand the panpsychist position at all. But go ahead and crow “good one” if you wish. Sigh.

        1. You are right. I don’t understand the panpsychist position at all.

          You say that it explains so much but even if everything had this property you talk about, how would that explain consciousness in humans? Even if we accepted that our brains have this property, then how does it explain anything? When science explains something, things all seem to fall into place. Tests can be made with result predicted by the explanation. As I see it, there are no such things with the panpsychism “explanation”. As some other have said, what’s next? You have nothing, sir.

          1. “You are right. I don’t understand the panpsychist position at all.” That sounds like progress to me. So instead of making fun of it, make an effort to understand it first.

            “You say that it explains so much but even if everything had this property you talk about, how would that explain consciousness in humans?” In the same way that accepting the reality of bricks explains something about how buildings can exist. If you insist that buildings can be constructed from photons, through some sort of “emergence”, you have failed to understand what buildings are and how they are constructed from their component parts, yes? And so if you then come to understand that they are built from bricks, not photons, you have made progress toward understanding buildings, yes?

            “When science explains something, things all seem to fall into place. Tests can be made with result predicted by the explanation. As I see it, there are no such things with the panpsychism “explanation”. As some other have said, what’s next? You have nothing, sir.” This objection applies equally to non-panpsychism, so it is irrelevant. The inconvenient fact is that consciousness is, as far as we can tell, subjective and unmeasurable. So there we are. If you mean this as an argument that science cannot investigate consciousness beyond the level of “correlates”, I would agree; at least at the present time, that appears to be true. But if you mean it as an argument against panpsychism specifically, then – sorry, but it’s just as much an argument against non-panpsychism.

        2. Are you saying dolls are not conscious then?

          How do we tell if a form of matter is conscious or not?

          Further, when we expand the circle of care to the inanimate world, what moral duties do we owe to dolls and rocks and wine glasses?

          1. I have no idea whether dolls are conscious or not, really, but I see no evidence that they are (whereas I do see evidence that other humans are, at least reasoning from my knowledge that I myself am). If you would like to make a case that they are, feel free. All I’m saying is that panpsychist don’t claim that they are – that that is a misreading of the panpsychist position.

            How do we tell if a form of matter is conscious or not? So far, we don’t. We have found no way to measure that. That has nothing to do with panpsychism; that’s just a fact that all of those on any side of this debate have to live with.

            “Further, when we expand the circle of care to the inanimate world” – who says we’re doing that?

  26. I’m going to bed, then getting on an airplane, then returning to “real life”, where I won’t have time to continue this discussion. But I hope I have at least made some of you think. The hard problem of consciousness is hard. If you’re sure you have the right answer, and that panpsychism is definitely wrong, I would say you are overconfident. Maybe Goff and Morch are idiots (or maybe not), but that doesn’t mean the whole idea is wrong. If you think “emergence” explains consciousness, ask yourself “well, *how* does it explain it?” If you think that the interactions of the particles that make up nerves and neurons somehow produce conscious experience of qualia, ask yourself “well, it *what* are those conscious experiences produced, exactly, if not those constituent particles?”
    Challenge your assumptions.

  27. In general I don’t like Sabine Hossenfelder’s work, she is fringe, and obsessed with philosophy to boot. But she said what I would say on the standard particle model, it edges out panpsychism so there is nothing left.

    the 17th-century philosopher and possible precursor of panpsychism, Spinoza.

    I suspected that panpsychism was invented by a theologian.

    On panpsychism and their “demarcation problem” as a philosopher would say, it seems to me like the personal incredulity of an adolescent before education in biology. And further it seems to me they would have it not only versus rocks but versus babies: why and when is consciousness kicking in during development?

    But simpler than that is perhaps asking them if a grass field is a forest? No, but if I grow one tree there, is it a forest? If not, when would the set of trees constitute a forest able to, say, shadow me?

    The same then goes for the brain, is an empty skull a brain? No, but if I place one brain cell there, is it a brain? if not, when would the set of nerve cells constitute a brain able to, say, express consciousness?

  28. If you rename “spin” into “consciousness” you still have the standard model of particle physics and no panpsychism.
    Or, as my late grandfather used to say: Never mind ‘if’. If your auntie had a cock she’d be your uncle.

  29. If you are some kind of computationalist or functionalist about human mental life, then you encounter a similar (“dancing pixies”) objection about the computations that rocks and cups of tea are doing in bulk: “Putnam (1988) and Searle (1992) famously argue that almost every physical system implements every finite computation”. That is, random thoughts without a thinker. Nevertheless, the computation the tumbling bacterium or the human working out the quickest way home are practically effective ie meaningful and valuable and about the world. The bacterium has a self that it tries to hold together as long as possible, and so do we. In our case, we have recursive insight about how and why we do things. We go ahead and do them as well as we can – as Ruyer points out, a kitchen is functionally the same as a stomach. I think Dennett’s views work out fairly similarly (“real patterns”).

    My gloss is that the panpsychist model has the same flavour, but about experience. There are proto-experiences all over the place but no-one to experience them.

    1. These arguments have refutations in the literature, including my off-the cuff semi-joke at IACAP one year – Searle’s wall does not implement Wordstar – it does not have the correct user interface. (I cannot press control-K-D on his wall.)

      (Ironically, one of the refutations is David Chamlers’, who is one of the philosophical panpsychists!)

  30. I didn’t hear anything about how consciousness is not necessarily a fixed state – an individual can, through accident, anesthesia, or other ways, become unconscious. This is to be distinguished from sleep, in which the individual is subject to arousal. If the material that composes an unconscious, anesthetized patient is the origin of their consciousness, where did the consciousness go, and is that even the right question? When the anesthesia is removed, consciousness returns. Did the consciousness leak out in the anesthetic? Do the anesthesia drugs have a special anti-consciousness property? That seems to me to be a prediction of this bizarre fad.

    1. I agree. Those questions are never answered. Consciousness is in the brain and we know how to “disable” it. No woo needed.

  31. Thanks for sharing your criticisms! I understand the view might not sound plausible to everyone from the short presentation we gave. I wrote about the case for panpsychism in more detail here, which addresses some of your points:
    http://nautil.us/issue/47/consciousness/is-matter-conscious

    We also didn’t get the chance to talk about the combination problem (the hard problem of panpsychism as you call it). I agree this is a very serious problem for the view, probably the most serious one. However there are arguments to support that it’s not as hard as the original hard problem for physicalism (Philip, I and many others have given such arguments and suggested possible solutions) so I don’t think it’s a knock-down of the view.

    1. As I said, none of the promoters of panpsychism are really listening to the criticisms, but just repeat the same old assertions over and over. And that is what your Nautilus article does. I’ve read it, and there is nothing in it that answers the criticism I made in my post yesterday or the post about Goff’s views before that.

      Like theologians, the response to criticism is “oh, but you haven’t read my other publications X, Y, and Z.” But those publications, like the one you suggest, doesn’t solve the problem. Nor do you solve the “combination problem” in your Nautilus paper.

      Nothing that you’ve said here or in your article convinces me that panpsychism adds anything to our understanding of consciousness, and the view has no consequences because it is untestable. You guys have your venues to write, and I will write here, but I don’t want to engage in an argument with those who, like creationists, are sworn to uphold their view, even in the face of counterevidence, and don’t take criticisms on board. So please, just write your defenses elsewhere and I have my own space here to criticize them.

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