Can Panpsychism be Tested and Does It Matter?

  • 4 Replies
  • 125 Views

0 Members and 1 Guest are viewing this topic.

sciborg2

  • *
  • Old Name
  • *****
  • Contrarian Wanker
  • Posts: 891
  • "Trickster Makes This World"
    • View Profile
« on: July 26, 2019, 05:47:20 pm »
Can Panpsychism be Tested and Does It Matter?

Quote
Last week I had a twitter argument with Barry Smith about panpsychism and this week I had a twitter argument with Massimo Pigliucci about panpsychism. A similar issue came up in both, so I thought I’d write a post about it. Actually, it concerns an objection that is often raised against panpsychism, which goes as follows:

(A) We don’t have any evidence that consciousness exists outside of brains.

We need to be careful about how exactly we’re understanding this statement, and what exactly it’s being taken to show. Let us initially interpret it to mean:

(B) We have never observed consciousness outside of living brains.

This is certainly true, and you might think at first that this gives us strong reason to doubt panpsychism. But appreciating the following might make you think again:

(C) We have never observed consciousness inside a living brain.

The simple reason for both (B) and (C) is that consciousness is unobservable. You can’t look inside an electron to see if it has experiences, but neither can you look inside a brain and see a person’s feelings and experiences. We know about consciousness not because of any observation or experiment, but because each of us is immediately aware of her or his own experiences.

The following slogan is often thrown around

(D) Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.

Is (D) anything more than a slogan? The truth is that sometimes (D) is true and sometimes it’s false. It counts as evidence against a theory if the theory implies that we should expect to find a certain entity in certain circumstances, and it turns out we don’t (this fits with a Bayesian way of thinking about evidence). If a theory tells us that we would expect to find a certain particle in certain experimental circumstances, and we run the experiment and don’t find the particle, this gives us grounds for doubting the theory.

Returning to the case of panpsychism, (B) would be evidence against panpsychism only if panpsychism implies that we should expect to observe consciousness outside of brains. But this is clearly not the case. Consciousness is unobservable, and hence, whether or not panpsychism is true, we’re not going to be able to see consciousness in rocks or particles or anything else. It follows that (B) does not constitute evidence against panpsychism.

One might concede that (B) doesn’t give us reason to doubt panpsychism, but nonetheless take it to show that we don’t have any reason to accept panpsychism. The following principle might be offered in support of this:

(E) We should believe in the existence of something only if we can observe it, or if its existence is supported by what we can observe.

I accept that if (E) is true, then we shouldn’t believe panpsychism. But if (E) is true, we shouldn’t believe in consciousness either. As we noted above, consciousness cannot be observed either in or out of brains. If we rigidly follow (E), we will have no cause to postulate consciousness at all. Much simpler to believe that humans are just complicated mechanisms. Daniel Dennett is one of the few who is admirably consistent on this point.

The problem with Dennett’s position is that (E) is false. Despite being unobservable, consciousness is something we know to be exist. Our principle should really be not (E) but:

(F) We should only believe in the existence of something only if its existence is supported by observation, or if its existence is better known than what is known on the basis of observation.

As Descartes appreciated over 300 years ago, the existence of our consciousness is known with greater certainty than anything else. The reality of consciousness is a datum in its own right, over and above the data of observation and experiment.

Observational evidence is crucial, but it’s not the full story. If we’re working with observational evidence alone we would have no reason to believe panpsychism, but only because we’d have no reason to believe in consciousness. The case for panpsychism is built not on the basis that it provides a good explanation of observational data, but on the basis that it provides the best explanation of how observational data and consciousness data fit together in a single, unified worldview. A large part of that case involves arguing that rival accounts of materialism and dualism face serious problems (some empirical, some conceptual) that panpsychism avoids. I have not made that case in this blog post. But I hope to have shown that merely pointing out that panpsychism is not supported by observational evidence alone is not to the point. Nobody would claim otherwise.
Health Resources:

https://docs.google.com/document/d/12NfnxYU5ZSur-RahRNI-bNMnTjxE12vyGWmY46Xq2h0/edit

Register family with 911 services. Also mental health info & hotlines, articles, treatment assistance options, prescription assistance, legal aid, etc.

Wilshire

  • *
  • Administrator
  • Old Name
  • *****
  • Enshoiya
  • Posts: 5723
  • Do you remember the words?!
    • View Profile
« Reply #1 on: July 30, 2019, 05:52:17 pm »
I dont understand how (F) can be true, unless you're accepting of something that is simply divine and magical that we 'know' without needing to have evidence... Which seems like shaky ground to base anything off of.

Also, I'm not sure I see the issue with consciousness not existing. Since, as detailed, we can't observe/measure it, and so (at least as laid out above) there's no reason to believe it exists.

Maybe I've missed something.
« Last Edit: July 31, 2019, 04:22:10 pm by Wilshire »
One of the other conditions of possibility.

H

  • *
  • The Zero-Mod
  • Old Name
  • *****
  • The Honourable H
  • Posts: 2598
  • The Original No-God Apologist
    • View Profile
    • The Original No-God Apologist
« Reply #2 on: July 30, 2019, 06:48:11 pm »
I dont understand how (F) can be true, unless you're accepting of something that is simply divine and magical that we 'know' without needing to have evidence... Which seems like shaky ground to base anything off of.

Also, I'm not sure I see the issue with consciousness not existing. Since, as detailed, we can't observe/measure it, and have (at least as laid out above) there's no reason to believe it exists.

Maybe I've missed something.

Well, the reference there to Descartes, I think, is a call to a sort of "foundational epistemology."  For Descartes, his "radical doubt" leads to the "bottom" being something like: dubito, ergo cogito, ergo sum ("I doubt, therefore I think, therefore I am").  So, what does it mean then, to "know?"

On one hand, I agree, if we can't "observe/measure" it, we could rightly question, does it exist?  So, if we can't directly observe thinking, and then if I doubt that thinking exists, there seems to still be a problem.  That problem, of course, is that in order to doubt, well, doubt seems to be a thought, and then if there is a thought, seemingly something is thinking.  In any case, there seems to be no "way out" from a skeptical point of view, that thinking seems to be occurring.  Of course though, this does not actually answer what thinking is, rather only speaks to it as being something (seemingly) experientially "real."

Even if consciousness is a delusion, that is, not what it "seems" experientially, it does still seem to be.  Unless we suppose that consciousness, thinking, is actually nothing, then we are really no better off in "knowing" what it is we are then experiencing as consciousness.  Is thinking then an experience of nothing?  Even so, thinking is still then an experience and so not nothing.

Of course though, I think the author here is likely making something of a "mistake" to be casting in lots with Descartes here (in the grand scheme of things).  Because, despite the above, all he gets is a sort of phenomenology.  All Descartes can really speak then of, is that experience is all that can be known.  Be that, experience of thinking.  In the end, everything is a sort of "something" born of the Substance called Experience.

So, in the end, what this is saying, I think, is that we can't doubt away consciousness, we can't (yet) prove or disprove consciousness, therefor, we can't prove or disprove panpsychism.  Since we "have" experience, we don't doubt consciousness (generally), but since we can't quantize "experience" or "consciousness" we can't say what rightly has it or does not, since we can't observe it in the the first (experianiental) case.


TL;DR: Descartes says we can't doubt away consciousness, therefor we can't doubt away panpsychism.

(I think, I'm not sure I didn't just vomit out a word salad though.)
“I am a warrior of ages, Anasűrimbor . . . ages. I have dipped my nimil in a thousand hearts. I have ridden both against and for the No-God in the great wars that authored this wilderness. I have scaled the ramparts of great Golgotterath, watched the hearts of High Kings break for fury.” -Cet’ingira

sciborg2

  • *
  • Old Name
  • *****
  • Contrarian Wanker
  • Posts: 891
  • "Trickster Makes This World"
    • View Profile
« Reply #3 on: July 31, 2019, 12:51:14 pm »
As per the Tallis article, how can measure have meaning without a conscious mind?

And if you tell someone you are getting angrier or even sleepier, you are making a qualitative measurement right? Perhaps it can be seen as a partial ordering?
Health Resources:

https://docs.google.com/document/d/12NfnxYU5ZSur-RahRNI-bNMnTjxE12vyGWmY46Xq2h0/edit

Register family with 911 services. Also mental health info & hotlines, articles, treatment assistance options, prescription assistance, legal aid, etc.

H

  • *
  • The Zero-Mod
  • Old Name
  • *****
  • The Honourable H
  • Posts: 2598
  • The Original No-God Apologist
    • View Profile
    • The Original No-God Apologist
« Reply #4 on: July 31, 2019, 01:13:49 pm »
As per the Tallis article, how can measure have meaning without a conscious mind?

And if you tell someone you are getting angrier or even sleepier, you are making a qualitative measurement right? Perhaps it can be seen as a partial ordering?

But the Numena would seem to exist, Meaning or not, right?  Or so we'd be likely to surmise.  Would be strange indeed if, say, a cesium atom only vibrates when we "look."  Of course, Tallis is "right" in the sense that the vibration of that cesium atom has no "Meaning" in-itself, we just arbitrarily decree the number of them that denotes a "second."

But, thinking about it, I'm not so sure that is not just a biased, or privilated frame of reference.  I mean, it would seem like cesium atoms vibrate at a particular rate for some reason, or reasons.  Therefor, well, cesium vibration does, in a way, have content, that is, it is about something, that is, about the conditions that give rise to cesium's vibration.  It would seem, to an idiot like me, absurd to assume that cesium vibrates absent of any intrinsic and/or extrinsic properties/conditions.

I might be totally off the rails here though...
“I am a warrior of ages, Anasűrimbor . . . ages. I have dipped my nimil in a thousand hearts. I have ridden both against and for the No-God in the great wars that authored this wilderness. I have scaled the ramparts of great Golgotterath, watched the hearts of High Kings break for fury.” -Cet’ingira