Saturday, February 06, 2021

How to Respond to the Incredible Bizarreness of Panpsychism: Thoughts on Luke Roelofs' Combining Minds

Like a politician with bad news, Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews released my review of Luke Roelofs' Combining Minds Friday in the late afternoon.

It was a delight to review such an interesting book! I'll share the intro and conclusion here. For the middle, go to NDPR.


Panpsychism is trending. If you're not a panpsychist, you might find this puzzling. According to panpsychism, consciousness is ubiquitous. Even solitary elementary particles have or participate in it. This view might seem patently absurd -- as obviously false a philosophical view as you're likely to encounter. So why are so many excellent philosophers suddenly embracing it? If you read Luke Roelofs' book, you will probably not become a panpsychist, but at least you will understand.

Panpsychism, especially in Roelofs' hands, has the advantage of directly confronting two huge puzzles about consciousness that are relatively neglected by non-panpsychists. And panpsychism's biggest apparent downside, its incredible bizarreness (by the standards of ordinary common sense in our current culture), might not be quite as bad a flaw as it seems. I will introduce the puzzles and sketch Roelofs' answers, then discuss the overall argumentative structure of the book. I will conclude by discussing the daunting bizarreness.


4. The Incredible Bizarreness of Panpsychism

The book explores the architecture of panpsychism in impressive detail, especially the difficulties around combination. Roelofs' arguments are clear and rigorously laid out. Roelofs fairly acknowledges difficulties and objections, often presenting more than one response, resulting in a suite of possible related views rather than a single definitively supported view. The book is a trove of intricate, careful, intellectually honest metaphysics.

Nevertheless, the reader might simply find panpsychism too bizarre to accept. It would not be unreasonable to feel more confident that electrons aren't conscious than that any clever philosophical argument to the contrary is sound. No philosophical argument in the vicinity will have the nearly irresistible power of a mathematical proof or compelling series of scientific experiments. Big picture, broad scope, general theories of consciousness always depend upon weighing plausibilities against each other. So if a philosophical argument implies that electrons are conscious, you might reasonably reject the argument rather than accept the conclusion. You might find panpsychism just too profoundly implausible.

That is my own position, I suppose. I can't decisively refute panpsychism by pointing to some particle and saying "obviously, that's not conscious!" any more than Samuel Johnson could refute Berkeleyan metaphysical idealism by kicking a stone. Still, panpsychism (and Berkeleyan idealism) conflicts too sharply with my default philosophical starting points for me to be convinceable by anything short of an airtight proof of the sort it's unrealistic to expect in this domain. Yes, of course, as the history of science amply shows, our ordinary default commonsense understanding isn't always correct! But we must start somewhere, and it is reasonable to demand compelling grounds before abandoning those starting points that feel, to you, to be among the firmest.

Still, I don't think we should feel entirely confident or comfortable taking this stand. If there's one thing we know about the metaphysics of consciousness, it is that something bizarre must be true. Among the reasons to think so: Every well-developed theory of consciousness in the entire history of written philosophy on Earth has either been radically bizarre on its face or had radically bizarre consequences. (I defend this claim in detail here.) This includes dualist theories like those of Descartes (who notoriously denied animal consciousness) and "common sense" philosopher Thomas Reid (who argued that material objects can't cause anything or even cohere into stable shapes without the constant intervention of immaterial souls) as well as materialist or physicalist theories of the sort that have dominated Anglophone philosophy since the 1960s (which typically involve either commitment to attributing consciousness to strange assemblages, or denial of local supervenience, or both, and which seem to leave common sense farther behind the more specific they become). If no non-bizarre general theory of consciousness is available, or even (I suspect) constructible in principle, then we should be wary of treating bizarreness alone as sufficient grounds to reject a theory.

How sparse or abundant is consciousness in the universe? This is among the most central cosmological questions we can ask. A universe rich with conscious entities is very different from one in which conscious experience requires a rare confluence of unlikely events. Currently, theories run the full spectrum from the radical abundance of panpsychism to highly restrictive theories that raise doubts about whether even other mammals are conscious (e.g., Dennett 1996; Carruthers 2019). Various strange cases, like hypothetical robots and aliens, introduce further theoretical variation. Across an amazingly wide range of options, we can find theories that are coherent, defensible against the most obvious objections, and reconcilable with current empirical science. All theories -- unavoidably, it seems -- have some commitments that most of us will find bizarre and difficult to believe. The most appropriate response to all of this is, I think, doubt and wonder. In doubtful and wondrous mood, we might reasonably set aside a sliver of credence space for panpsychism.


Full review here.


Ryan Clark said...

Hey Eric, great writeup over on NDPR!

I'm like you: I simply can't accept that my self, my "I", is just an emergent property of zillions of tiny minds (and all of the intuition-torturing problems that accompany this view).

This makes me really curious about your favored view (of views) of consciousness. In which hypothesis do you have the greatest credence? Physicalist, dualist, or some other ontology?

Personally, I'm stuck somewhere between dualism (who's problems I think are vastly overblown) and either idealism or some kind of cosmopsychism. And I used to be a hardcore physicalist--and an arrogant one at that!

Howie said...

I'm trying to grasp this idea- the idea sounds akin to Freud's idea of a death and life force imminent in life- can the belief in thanatos and bios be reconciled with panpscyhism?

SelfAwarePatterns said...

I think we have to assess panpsychism like any other proposition. We shouldn't dismiss it because we find it absurd. Too many scientific theories that initially seemed absurd eventually turned out to be reality. (Or at least we predictive of observations as if they are reality.)

The biggest question for me is, what is panpsychism actually explaining? Whatever it is, it doesn't appear to include exteroception, interoception, memory, volition, imagination, emotions, or self reflection. Panpsychists generally acknowledge that electrons, rocks, or storms don't have these things.

We seem to be down to fundamental forces. I'm fine acknowledging that what we commonly refer to as consciousness is built on top of that. But if that's all we've explained, I still want to understand the rest.

George Gantz said...

Eric - I'm a bit disappointed in your bias towards apparent certainty and your willingness to reject something because it seems profoundly implausible. You need to spend more time studying quantum physics, the logical quandaries posed by Godel's and Turing's work or the field of complexity theory: ALL of which contain seemingly irrefutable findings that are quite bizarrely implausible. Why do you think otherwise rational physicists are wandering around in the infinitely implausible multiverse?

You might want to explore the latest FQXi Essay contest ( on "Uncertainty, Undecidability and Unpredictability" for some background. I contend that ALL of these strange and compelling paradoxes arise from the issue of self-reference, which is, of course, fundamental to consciousness (at least, autonomic consciousness). See: "The Door That Has No Key" (short summary here: and full essay here:

Panphsicism is NOT so weird after all.....

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

Thanks for the comments, folks!

Ryan: FWIW, I personally have about a .5 credence in materialism/physicalism and about a .3 credence in what I call compromise/rejection views in my 2014 AJP article.

Howie: I haven't studied that part of Freud, but panpsychism should in principle be compatible with virtually any account of psychological function.

SelfAware: I'm not a panpsychist myself, but at least to me its attraction is primarily in that it *avoids* certain difficulties rather than that it explains some psychological process that couldn't otherwise be explained. It helps avoid, for example, the continuity problem I describe in Section 1 of the NDPR review.

Philosopher Eric said...

From the causal premise that a certain variety of physics must exist which creates subjective experience, I don’t consider there to be a continuity problem of consciousness. Here there necessarily should be discrete “on” and “off” states based upon whether or not such physics happens to be present in a given instance. Of course very few popular modern theories even allude to the existence of such physics, and therefore people like yourself, Searle, and even me are able to write thought experiments which belittle such proposals in various ways. Conceptually however a worthy proposal should not fail in this regard. I favor Johnjoe McFadden’s cemi, which proposes that subjective experience exists by means of the fields of electromagnetic radiation associated with certain varieties of synchronous neuron firing.

I do have a simple a posteriori challenge for panpsychists however. While I believe that there must be a certain kind of physics which creates subjective experience, apparently they believe that all physics creates subjective experience, whether in the form of an atom, a rock, a human, or whatever. From that account however I’ve not yet heard a good explanation regarding anesthesia.

From my model it makes sense that certain substances might alter or eliminate human subjective experience for a while, since presumably these substances effectively tamper with or eliminate the physics of subjective experience. But how might panpsychists explain anesthesia from the premise that subjective experience exists as a default element of existence?

Jim Cross said...

Once the debate is framed in terms of two categories, there are pitfalls no matter how you go.

If matter is primary, then you need to explain mind.

If mind is primary, then you need to explain matter.

If both are primary, then how do they mix and manifest.

Like Eric, I lean towards EM field theories which McFadden describes as a dualism of energy and matter. So it is a physicalist theory that explains the seeming insubstantiality of mind as an information-containing EM field. I would go slightly beyond McFadden's view to suggest that the apparent "feeling" of consciousness are actually neurons sensing the feedback from the EM fields generated by other neurons. This suggests that mind is biological and localized to small areas over which the EM fields are able to be sensed, that is brains. The feedback itself provides an explanation for apparent causal ability of mind without which an evolutionary explanation for its origin is difficult.

Howie said...

To my understanding Freud put thanatos and eros at the heart of the physical universe- in that sense he was an animist like Anaxagoras I think. Is animism implied or compatible with panpsychism?

Luke Roelofs said...

Thanks for the careful review and kind words Eric, and thanks to everyone in the comments for their thoughts - let me try to address some of the questions specifically about panpsychism.

To SelfAwarePatterns and Howie, I would give somewhat related answers. Panpsychists think that natural science is the authority on the causal structure of the world, on what causes what. So to the extent that asking about interoception, imagination, self-reflection, etc. is asking about functional stuff, panpsychists aren’t trying to explain that. I think they can sometimes have interestingly different, and perhaps more fruitful, perspectives on particular cases (e.g. on the distinction between conscious and unconscious perception) but the primary work of explaining those cognitive functions is going to be done by cognitive science. Most of the time, the choice between physicalism or panpsychism or something else will have only a relatively subtle effect on how those explanations go.

As a result, although I don’t have a great grip on how Freud understands his postulates of Eros and Thanatos, I think there’s a clash with the scientific outlook of panpsychism. It seems like Freud sees these two drives as having specific causal roles - Eros builds things up to greater complexity, Thanatos returns them to previous states of lesser complexity, or whatever. By assigning them causal roles drawn from introspective considerations, it seems to me that Freud is, so to speak, infringing on the domain of physics. It’s up to physicists to figure out what the fundamental forces *do*, and they don’t seem to find anything that systematically ‘builds things up’ or ‘reverts things back’. Panpsychists think that the fundamental forces are, considered in themselves, some form of phenomenality, but that doesn’t tell us what they’re going to do - physics does that.

(Something similar goes for animism, I think: it seems like when people say ‘animism’, typically that connotes thinking of objects or places as having a mind like ours, or like that of other animals, and that includes having certain causal properties, like being able to perceive and remember things, having goals that are pursued, etc. Whether things *behave like that* is a scientific question that panpsychists would want to leave to science: it looks like they mostly don’t. But I might be wrong about how ‘animism’ is used, and what it signifies?)

So to circle back to SelfAwarePatterns’ question, “what is panpsychism actually explaining?”, it’s largely not trying to explain particular phenomena the way that scientific theories do. I guess I’d say what it’s explaining is ‘how us being conscious fits into the unified world revealed by science’, and the answer is ‘our consciousness is just a complicated version of what everything else in the world is, considered in itself.’

Luke Roelofs said...

Philosopher Eric:
Thanks for posing such a direct challenge (“how might panpsychists explain anesthesia from the premise that subjective experience exists as a default element of existence?”). I think the ideas in Combining Minds (especially chapters 5 and 6) provide a good way to answer.

I think that the consciousness of a composite thing becomes structured in virtue of informational relations among the simpler consciousnesses that make it up. The living, awake, brain establishes a certain sort of inordinately complex informational structure among its parts, and I think that’s why we have the kind of richly and stably structured consciousness that we have (and why most physical systems don’t). That suggests that disrupting that informational structure in some way - temporarily using anaesthetics, or more permanently at death - would cause the consciousness associated with the brain to lose that structure. The web of distinctions we’re used to experiencing, and the complex cognitive capacities that go with it, ‘dissolves’ into something more like an undifferentiated blur. I like the metaphor of ‘experiential white noise’ that Peter Godfrey-Smith uses for the very first minimal stage in the evolution of consciousness - but unlike him, I think this is probably our best model for the consciousness of most things, more or less everything except brains. 

Strictly speaking I don’t think these processes eliminate consciousness: they just dissolve its structure so that it’s closer to what the experience of an inanimate object is like. (This commits me to agreeing with Descartes that we’re not truly unconscious during dreamless sleep - we just enter a cognitively undifferentiated state where we don’t form memories or actively think anything.)

Does that answer your question?

Jim Cross said...

"I think that the consciousness of a composite thing becomes structured in virtue of informational relations among the simpler consciousnesses that make it up".

How it that fundamentally different from this statement?

I think that the consciousness of a composite thing becomes structured in virtue of informational relations among the physical processes that make it up.

Since information is physical and "informational relations" are the key elements, then no explanatory power is gained by "simpler consciousnesses".

Philosopher Eric said...

Thanks for that answer Luke. My friend Lee recently gave me a similar one. He considers panpsychism to imply that all things have “functional mentality” and so instead calls himself a “causal sentientist”. Your response suggests that you agree with him as an actual panpsychist however, which has been my general understanding of the term. (Btw his reply to me is at the following address, which should at least be clickable from the email notification:

My criticism of this sort of explanation is that it seems to render panpsychism extraneous to the only subjective experience that we understand exists, or the advertised “hard problem of consciousness” that Chalmers originally proposed. Thus here the panpsychist must look to other proposals to explain how this specific dynamic might arise (not to mention ultimately address the questions that SelfAwarePatterns raised above). So if a theory such as McFadden’s does ultimately gain experimental verification, then a panpsychist could say “Apparently that’s how we get ‘inordinately complex informational structure among [brain] parts’”. Thus an air of unfalsifiablity seems to exist here. In the end you may be right however that “there is something it is like” for all that exists, which is beyond me.

What I’m most curious about however is the perspective of professor S. He’s an expert on how popular modern consciousness theories tend to fail, though I wonder what he’d say about theory which seems immune to such vulnerabilities, and yet also harbors a valuable trait that in the past he’s referred to as a “wonderfullness” component?

SelfAwarePatterns said...

Hi Luke,
I very much appreciate your thoughtful reply. I particularly like your final clarification.

I'm a functionalist. I think once all the phenomena and complexity are explained, once we understand how the capabilities work (the "easy" problems), there's nothing left to explain. We do need to explain why people *think* there's something more (the meta-problem), but I think the unreliability of introspection gives us what we need.

All that said, I'll admit that if I thought there was something left over to explain, and science continued to show nothing special about the physics of the brain, panpsychism would seem inevitable. Which has often made me wonder if panpsychism isn't just a harmless metaphysical add on.

But you mentioned that the differences between panpsychism and physicalism only has a subtle effect on how scientific explanations go. My experience is that it changes how we evaluate perspective scientific consciousness theories. Panpsychists tend to favor theories somewhat disconnected from the capabilities, such as IIT, while physicalists tend to favor ones like GWT, HOTT, or other information based models. So our philosophy does seem to make a difference.

Thanks again for engaging!

Luke Roelofs said...

Thanks for the continuing comments folks!

Jim Cross:
“Since information is physical and ‘informational relations’ are the key elements, then no explanatory power is gained by ‘simpler consciousnesses’.“

I can see this perspective, but I think having the parts themselves be conscious does make a difference. Informational relations provide a good explanation of structure (indeed, they are a sort of structure), but structure doesn’t exist by itself: there has to be something that is structured. I think it makes sense for structure imposed on simple consciousness to yield complex consciousness; I don’t think it makes sense for structure imposed on something non-conscious to yield complex consciousness. I think that’s what the Hard Problem shows - but of course lots of people disagree with this diagnosis. For example, SelfAwarePatterns thinks that “once we understand how the capabilities work (the "easy" problems), there's nothing left to explain”. I think if that were true, panpsychism would be unmotivated, so it’s important that it’s not true.

Philosopher Eric:
Looking at your friend Lee’s answer, I might want to avoid the separation he seems to draw between the brain and the “Cartesian me”, where they each “a separate and distinct system”. I’d prefer to think in terms of changes in the dynamics of a single system. But I do understand your concern that a lot of the explanatory work isn’t going to be done by panpsychism itself. But as I said, I think that’s equally true of its rivals. Accepting that functionalism is true doesn’t by itself explain how perception, or imagination, or reasoning works, and if some empirical theory turns out to be true, functionalists will say “Apparently that’s how we get the functional structure constitutive of consciousness”. In a sense that’s unfalsifiability, but I think it’s better seen as being answers to a different, somewhat broader and more abstract, sort of question.

“if I thought there was something left over to explain, and science continued to show nothing special about the physics of the brain, panpsychism would seem inevitable.”
That’s really all I’m going for - exploring that conditional. Plenty of people have manned the trenches on whether the physicalists or the antiphysicalists have the better of the arguments, so I figured I’d try grappling with the problems that arise if you decide to move on, and ask ‘so what if there really is something left over to explain?’

Regarding how to evaluate scientific theories of consciousness, I think part of what complicates matters is that panpsychism suggests certain sorts of re-interpretation of what they’re theories of. You might like GWT, for instance, as a theory of what it takes to have a certain sort of conscousness, e.g. reportable consciousness, or consciousness that can guide intelligent action. Most people would say that’s the only kind of consciousness there is; the panpsychist disagrees, but might still like existing ‘theories of consciousness’ as attempts to capture this more specific phenomenon. So yes, there are effects - but they’re mediated through various interpretive decisions like this.

Jim Cross said...

Thanks, Luke.

It just seems to me that invoking some additional but hypothetical theory about structure, even if it is structure of simpler consciousnesses, just ends up as a variation of the Hard Problem itself. Without details about the structure and how it works, we are still left with no explanation for how yours and my consciousness comes about. It is difficult to judge whether a structure of simpler consciousnesses is required without the actual details of the theory.

I have the same problem with information processing theories too. Unless the proposed theory can identify the actual details of the processing and how it generates consciousness, the theory seems to be hand waving.

Jim Cross said...

One other thought.

It seems too much of a leap to jump from electrons to human consciousness without intermediary stages. That is why I find Reber's Cellular Basis of Consciousness interesting. I write about it here.

Although Reber's ties consciousness to single cell organisms and, hence, specifically to life itself, in principle it might be possible to show that the elements generating consciousness in single cell organisms (if you buy Reber's hypothesis) arise from combining simpler units like reactive membranes composed of proteins, and ions. Ions are rather directly related to electrons. If Reber's project for identifying the components and structures that evolved from single cell organisms to produce complex consciousness is successful, there might be a direct, but complicated, path from atoms and electrons through reactive membranes to brain and nervous systems.

Philosopher Eric said...

I agree with you that if some empirical theory of phenomenal experience were to be experimentally verified, that functionalists should tend to claim that “the hard problem of consciousness” is just a bunch of easy ones. I’m not a functionalist however. Just as “the four fundamental forces of nature” should always remain mysterious to us, whatever creates this thing that I call “me” should never be resolved entirely, and even if we end up building highly functional conscious robots some day.

Furthermore information processing based theories, though highly popular, must also stomach various strange implications. Beyond Searle’s Chinese room and Schwitzgebel’s nesting observations, there’s my own largely unknown “thumb pain” thought experiment. It essentially boils down to information processing theories in general hold that if certain information on paper were converted by a sufficiently fast scanning and printing computer into another set of information on paper, that something here would thus experience what you do when your thumb gets whacked! WTF!

These thought experiments imply that we shouldn’t consider any computer, brain or otherwise, to produce anything by means of information processing alone — physics based output mechanisms should always be needed in a causal world. For example it’s not computer information processing alone that gave you my reply, but instantiated through the mechanism of a screen readout. And it’s not information processing alone which causes your blood to be pumped through your body, but instantiated through the output mechanism of your heart. Thus the brain should need some sort of output mechanism in order to produce the fleeting qualia that we experience when we happen to be alive and aware.

It sounds like you haven’t resolved this brain mechanism either, but look to science for an eventual answer. Neuroscience however does seem to suggest that this must be related to the intricate ways that our neurons fire. Beyond the highly complex electromagnetic fields that this firing is known to create, I don’t know of a second potential mechanism that seems to fit the bill.

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HarveyB said...

Hi Eric,
You write: “If no non-bizarre general theory of consciousness is available, or even (I suspect) constructible in principle, then we should be wary of treating bizarreness alone as sufficient grounds to reject a theory.”
Is your ‘suspicion’ here like your suspicion that there may be beer in the fridge, given that Judy is cracking open a cold one as she’s leaving the kitchen?
If you are suggesting ‘No non-bizarre general theory of consciousness is constructible in principle’ as a hypothesis, where should we begin in our testing of it?

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

Thanks for the comment, Harvey! I think we can start by looking at the history of failed attempts. We can then consider the best explanation of that history. That's my strategy in "The Crazyist Metaphysics of Mind".

HarveyB said...

Hi Eric,
I’ll take a look at that “Crazyist” paper, thanks.
In the meantime: It’s the ‘in principle’ bit that I’m struggling with. When I see that expression, I think: When Eric suggests we cannot construct such-and-such theory, he is not implying something like ‘a penguin carpenter cannot use a hammer because it has no thumbs’, or like ‘you cannot take the train to Buncrana because there is no railway to that town’. That is, I *can’t* take the train to Buncrana because — ‘as a matter of fact’ — there is no railway.
So maybe your ‘in principle we cannot’ comes to something like: ‘I will not count anything non-bizarre as a general theory of consciousness’? (But then your ‘I suspect’ would be puzzling.)

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

"In principle" because if I'm right, common sense is incoherent. So no coherent and well-specified theory could fail to violate some part of it.

HarveyB said...

Hi Eric,
What would it be like to discover a metaphysical theory of mind that does not defy common sense? Could you give an example of a consensus metaphysical theory of X, that makes ‘specific commitments on tricky issues’ that does not ‘defy common sense’? If Theory of X were declared ‘consistent with common sense’, would we still speak of a *metaphysical* Theory of X?

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

HarveyB: My thought is that a close look at the history of philosophy reveals that no metaphysician has been able to come up with such an example. If could do so, I'd achieve something pretty amazing! I don't think metaphysics has to contradict common sense by definition, though. My theory is that common sense happens (empirically) to be self-contradictory, which implies that every well developed theory that pertains to the topic of the contradictions will conflict with it somewhere.

Philosopher Eric said...

Hello HarveyB and Professor S,

I’ve been interested in your discussion given my general alignment with the professor on these matters, though I have greater optimism. I’ve decided to give Harvey’s latest question a try to see if the professor or anyone else is able to intelligently rebut it. If not then maybe my optimistic plan could grow some legs? Who knows!

Harvey you ask, “What would it be like to discover a metaphysical theory of mind that does not defy common sense?” Here I must agree with the professor that even an experimentally successful model on this topic should be expected to have exotic components which challenge our common sense. I do have a plan that might help however.

I believe that we must develop a community of respected professionals who’s only purpose is to achieve various accepted principles of metaphysics, epistemology, and axiology from which to better guide the institution of science. The metaphysical principle that I think would help here reads, “To the extent that causality fails, nothing exists to discover.” This should effectively divide science into both a perfectly causal variety (given a desire to find causal chain explanations), as well as a variety that remains open to non worldly proposals for consciousness and other such mysteries.

Note that while the “causal plus” variety of science would remain concerned about substance dualism and idealism in addition to standard causal proposals, the causal variety of science would be free to only explore proposals “of this world”. From here not only would the notions of Chalmers’ be removed from contention, but many supposedly natural proposals would need modification to be considered in this variety of science.

Why does global workspace theory fail Searle’s Chinese room, professor S’s nesting observations, and my own thumb pain thought experiment? Because in a causal world qualia will need a physics based medium from which to exist. To leave this as open as “information that’s processed into other information”, mandates that if the right information on paper were properly converted to other information on paper, then something would experience what we do when our thumbs get whacked! Now that just ain’t worldly.

To remain in contention here theories such as GWT should need to allude to a physics based consciousness medium at least, if not directly propose one. It’s this medium that I think will end up blowing our minds once experimentally validated, somewhat like gravity as the curvature of spacetime by mass. In either case there should be a “wonderfullness” component.

Consider the medium of subjective experience as certain electromagnetic fields that are produced by means of the proper synchronous firing of neurons. This is the theory of UK professor Johnjoe McFadden, and I suspect it will be experimentally validated at some point. What other medium could the right neuron firing effectively animate to thus yield a worldly solution? Well… it could be that there are some other reasonable candidates, though I bet we’ll be amazed by any experimentally validated consciousness medium.

Yohan said...

Regarding the concept of sudden metaphysical saltation... do philosophers consider the physics concept of symmetry-breaking a metaphysical saltation? There is no intermediate stage between solid and liquid states of water, but the control variable (temperature) is continuous. With supercooled water you can get a very dramatic sudden freezing just by tapping the container.

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

Yohan: Nice example. Saltations might be more likely in one domain than another. Saltation to consciousness and/or personhood is at least tricky, though it might be defensible.

HarveyB said...

Hi Eric,
Suppose we looked closely at the history of chemistry, or the history of Dutch painting, or the history of economic recessions — do you imagine finding some theories (within these various histories) that don’t conflict with common sense? Or, might you find in the history of philosophy ‘ethics theories’ or ‘epistemological theories’ or ‘aesthetics theories’ that don’t conflict with common sense?
What I’m trying to understand is the scope of ‘common sense’ in your hypothesis “Common sense is self-contradictory” (— and so what you might mean by that expression (“Common sense is self-contradictory”) in comparison to something like a case of Colonel Mustard saying to Inspector A that he was in the library at 2300 hours Sunday evening, but then later saying to Inspector B that he was in the kitchen at 2300 hours Sunday evening).
In the “Craziest” paper you suggest that there are multiple ‘common senses’ (— and that it won’t matter to us which of these we plump for when we test your hypothesis), but this smells to me like a refusal to rein in your expression “Common sense is self-contradictory” such that it might be used as a hypothesis. “All metaphysical systems defy common sense”, too, it seems to me, hardly looks like an observed phenomenon of the sort one might meet with in the pages of the “Journal of Plant Biology” or “Immunology Reviews”.

Anonymous said...

I don't see how explaining consciousness in terms of the combination of conscious particles explains conciousness any better than explaining vision in terms of homunculi doing the seeing in our brains. How is it that the particles are conscious?
Isn't this simply explaining how something has a property by positing the combination of parts having the property to be explained?

It may be that, like chemistry, the properties of composites (higher order consciousnesses ) are legitimately explained in terms of the properties/interactions of their component parts. However, the above difficulty with panpsychism seems to remain a big obstacle.