2.0 Chalmers' diagnosis of the failure of consciousness to supervene logically
- and not just naturally - on an exhaustive specification of the world's microphysical
interactions leads to his most startling and controversial contention. He argues
for a scientifically respectable sort of dualism.
At this point, many commentators will mentally just switch off, or at least start
preening their hackles. So it's worth stressing that in Chalmers' hands the doctrine
is stripped of any Cartesian,
theological or interactionist implications. Indeed, on one of his canvassed options,
it's at least weakly epiphenomenalist. And at the risk of giving too great a nod
to mob-psychology, something remarkably similar to epiphenomenalism
is probably the working hypothesis of most practising scientists, even avowed
2.1 As will be seen, however, aside from materialsm there is one other candidate for
a unitary monist ontology open to the science-savvy philosopher with strong nerves
and a thick skin. For Chalmers' honest embrace of what materialists deride as
the ultimate philosophical doomsday scenario stems from the alleged failure of
every conceivable monism to accommodate the evidence. Its argument could
be sound only if we've got our supervenience base right. If our conception of
the ultimate "low-level" facts is wrong, then a reductive
explanation of the human mind is potentially feasible. The ontological unity
of science can still be salvaged. This
proposal isn't nearly as far-fetched as it sounds. For the historical track-record
of science-derived candidates for ontological primitives is poor. Indeed, on all
but purely and vacuously causal
notions of reference, the ontological record is dismal; and reference-failure is historically
the norm. True believers in scientific progress can of course point to ever-greater
predictive and explanatory power, a more mathematically unified description, aeroplanes
that fly and working video-recorders, etc. It seems obvious that we know more
than our ancestors - and indeed more than our younger selves. Paradigm-enthusiasts,
on the other hand, adopt a less triumphalist tone in reviewing the history of
science. They can't see how to dispense with descriptivist notions of reference
altogether; and having always been wrong before doesn't entail that one is now
right. The paradigm-fanciers tend to scorn the simple-minded Whiggism
and rational reconstructionist fables colouring the standard text-books. They
are far more impressed by the dis-continuities in our notions of the stuff
of the world. What's the point in getting the formulae right i.e. the "standard model" in physics, if you fundamentally
don't know what you're talking about?
2.2 At any rate, these days dualism
of any kind is not an option that a scientifically well-versed philosopher takes
on lightly. Chalmers is clearly extremely well-versed. He isn't a wanton mystery-monger
either. Understandably, he doesn't exactly relish the "dualist" label. It brings
too much extraneous philosophical baggage. Only his intellectual integrity, I
suspect, leads him to use it at all. On the PR front, he might have done better
politically to use a different tag - perhaps some sort of pan-informationalist
monism with two irreducible attributes - though in fact that position is only
one of his options and perhaps does too great a violence to language. Anyway,
Chalmers generally endorses, rightly I think, the experimentally well-attested
of the physical world. Causal closure is normally interpreted as imposing a brutally
effective constraint on the metaphysical excesses of qualia-freaks and their allies.
It also puts paid to apologists for divine intervention; though down here at the
research-labs, members of the living dead are disturbingly frequent callers to
the doorsteps of Lower Rock Gardens. So Chalmers first carefully examines all
the scientifically-informed options before nailing his own ontological colours
to the mast.
2.3 The positive theory of consciousness he outlines is courageously
unfashionable. Indeed one fears its public advocacy may set a professionally dangerous
example to untenured junior academics. The account is non-reductive. Yet it still
aspires to be explanatory. It takes the guise of a non-Cartesian dualism based
2.4 Inevitably these concepts will need to bear an awful
lot of weight. It is a tribute to Chalmers' good-natured assault on fraying materialist
that the range of conceivable options on the contemporary ideological agenda has
now been widened.
- first, principles of structural coherence and
organisational invariance: a sort of non-reductive functionalism. Systems with
the same functional organization as a conscious system will also be conscious
- second, a double-aspect view of information.
Information,"a difference that makes a difference", is fundamental to the
Chalmers cosmos. He extends Shannon's technical, non-semantic, bit-capacity definition
of information so it embraces both a physical and an experiential element. Daringly,
he suggests that perhaps wherever there is any form of causal interaction there
is also experience.
2.5 Chalmers also treats with admirable respect, however,
a very radically conservative family of options for naturalising consciousness
within an ontologically unitary scientific world-picture. One of the offshoots
of this family consists in a mathematico-physically formalised species of panpsychism.
A naturalistic panpsychism embraces, or can be construed as embracing, the technical
apparatus of theoretical gr/qc
physics in its entirety. There's no need to start adding unknown fields and forces
to explain consciousness. There's no need, and in fact it's grossly unprincipled,
to start messing up the symmetry of the [relativised] Universal Schrodinger Equation
by invoking collapsing wave functions. Such manoeuvres are unphysical and hopelessly
ad hoc. They are no way to work awkward anomaly of consciousness back into the
2.6 Within a panpsychist framework, and in current analytic
idiom, everything that exists "supervenes" on the properties of the world's elemental
qualia-stuff. This elemental what-it's-likeness is the primordial "fire" whose
behaviour the QM field-theoretic etc apparatus mathematically describes. Panpsychism is an idea which may take an intellectually traumatised ex-materialist some getting
use to; but then time heals, or so one is told.
2.7 Unsurprisingly, the traditional
keepers of the scientific
canon are unlikely to roll over and surrender its official interpretation
without a fight. Philosophical trespassing on the physicists' tribal domain has
a habit of provoking disciplinary turf-wars. The philosophers usually lose; or
at least blink first. No one, in any case, is going to be seen as a fount of oracular
wisdom if they find mending the toaster a major technological challenge. Yet the
historical precedents for decoupling a scientific formalism from its received
ontology are strong. This is so even (or arguably especially) within the discipline
of physics itself (cf the classical paradigm versus quantum
mechanics etc). It's not as though the property of insentience were somehow
written into, or formally entailed by anything explicitly represented within,
the canonical formalism. Nor does insentience serve any unique functional
role in biology. What's it good for? What fresh predictions does the hypothesis
lead to? Why commit oneself to an unverifiable piece of metaphysical speculation
which runs counter to the only piece of direct knowledge of the world one has?
In fact, just so long as its constituents are functionally well-disposed, there
doesn't seem anything that bits of field-theoretic microphenomenology couldn't
do just as well instead.
2.8 Incendiary nonsense? Well, what our descendants
conceive of as "science" may involve a very alien metaphysic
to our own. Certainly, some ideas are too useful not to be rescued from their
ancestors. In particular, the experimental method and the use of mathematics in
understanding and manipulating the stuff of the world are too important as techniques
of inquiry to be left to the ideological materialists
who currently dominate the traditional intellectual power-structures. Happily,
is allowing untutored barbarians into the gates of the scholarly citadel; and
the vagaries of keyword info-hunting via manipulable search-engines
offer an unrivalled opportunity to corrupt
2.9 At its most Idealistic extreme, a panpsychist approach
assumes that the values of a minimal, and ontologically primitive what-it's-likeness
are exhaustively encoded by the solutions to field(?)-theoretic equation(s) of
the Theory of Everything. The maths says it all. There's no need to import anything
else and graft it on, or for that matter to spin anything else irreducible off.
We live in a Multiverse where mathematical literalism works. The downside is we're
presently not much better than medieval numerologists at deciphering the significance of
the formulae. Yet like aspirant sorcerers, we know that getting the quasi-magical symbols
even slightly wrong can sometimes have catastrophic practical consequences.
2.10 On a panpsychist worldview, composite mental states are shifting coalitions
of elemental psychons - though not in Eccles' original sense of the term. These
minimal bits of what-it's-likeness are scarcely Leibnizian
monads either. And they're certainly not little classically well-behaved psychic
billiard-balls. For rather than forming, as one might pre-reflectively suppose
any such properties ought to, pointillist aggregates of consciousness - mere psychotic
patterns of discrete subjectivity - organic minds exemplify instead a fleeting
and classically inexplicable unity.
How come? This is currently an area of
active research and spirited debate. So here's a breathlessly biased, one-paragraph
2.11 Chalmers, wearing his pan-informationist hat, suggests
the unity of consciousness can be explained by the way types of information is
processed (p309 is tantalisingly brief). On the other hand, the "grainlessness"
of DNA-driven experiential manifolds
may just conceivably be explicable by the non-additive nature of quantum mechanical
wave-functions. As Seager
stresses, invoking QM can't generate consciousness de novo. What
it can do is show how the stuff of the world can be non-additively re-arranged
into phenomenologically unitary minds. If this is what the equations are telling us, then
primitive psychons form superpositions in the quantum mechanical sense. A superposition
of states itself forms a genuinely new state with properties different from the
properties of the mixture. Hence quantum wholes are not just the sum of their
parts and we're more than just a handful of mind-dust. So William James, who coined
the term, was wrong. Next, co-opting and adapting a no-collapse interpretation
of Hameroff's work
for our purposes, interesting human mental states may be unwittingly manifesting
a macro- or meso-scopic quantum coherence which orthodoxy assumes they are too
hot to handle. Unitary experience, on this conception, derives from formally identical
panpsychist analogues of tubulin states of microtubules.
The biophysical details are still somewhat speculative.
2.12 In a less conservative
vein, one may predict that in distant
millennia larger and more sustained coherent states will self-organise into
phenomenologically richer, subtler, vaster, more intense, more self-aware and
unimaginably more interesting virtual worlds than the cartoonish patterns
our minds exemplify at present. No longer will most of our consciousness get sculpted
into functional analogues of brute insentience - medium-sized dry objects in the
service of selfish DNA. Nor, more
generally, will the different modalities of experience be essentially geared to
modelling the immediate environment of a genetic host organism in a way which
tends to promote its reproductive success. The next few billion years of consciousness,
however, is a topic which might take us further afield.
2.13 Of course, the
physicists' canonical equations aren't standardly construed as encoding the interrelationships
of fields of micro-qualia. Transposing the idiom of physics into talk of e.g.
symmetry-transformations of subjectivity etc, sounds more like a recipe for schizophrenic
word-salad than a plea for scientifically-informed philosophy. At least until
figures of Chalmers' calibre started giving panpsychist conjectures a respectful
if cautiously dissentient hearing, a willingness to grant the existence of consciousness
anywhere phylogenetically "lower" than worms
[if perhaps not as high as Daniel
Dennett] belonged to the scientific lunatic-fringe. Many practising scientists
would still be suitably scandalised; and they'd cheerfully consign the very idea
to the madhouse once
more. It is so obviously wrong. If, however, the canonical mathematics
describes a world whose animating fire is unknown, then there's nothing on current
evidence to rule out the parsimonious hypothesis that the intrinsic nature of
everything is sentience. This property alludes not to some ethereal
wisp of consciousness tacked on to inert atoms, strings, p-branes, strings, fields
etc. Or rather that's emphatically not the version of panpsychism canvassed here.
The property consists instead in minimal, self-intimating what-it's-likeness itself.
2.14 This switch in perspective may seem pretty radical. Yet in other ways it's
exceedingly conservative. Today's book of scientific success-stories just gets
recast in different idiom. Non-equilibrium thermodynamics and statistical mechanics work just
as well with a different sort of stuff. Simple, self-replicating patterns ['organisms'] within
the primordial field-theoretic what-it's likeness eventually come to function
as structurally invariant analogues of the Darwinian materialist's genotype/phenotype
model of multicellular life. Self-reproducing, information-bearing patterns of
quasi-discrete, base-paired micro-sentience have stumbled across one highly effective
way of leaving more copies of themselves. Lest this sound New Age-like, it should
be stressed that these structures of microsentience don't promote their own inclusive fitness by throwing up
vehicles hosting hippified minds which go on to commune with Nature in
celebration of cosmic consciousness. On the African savannah, this is a good way
to end up as lunch. Instead, information-bearing patterns of micro-qualia have
enhanced their fitness by coding for vehicles hosting skull-encased macro-minds. These minds
simulate something different - squalid, harsh and cruelly adaptive, i.e. the everyday
world of apparently medium-sized physical objects. Our genes include the instructions
for, in effect, self-assembling, self-differentiating patterns of subjectivity.
These patterns functionally coalesce into egocentric - because genes are selfish - 'material object'-ridden virtual worlds. Such worlds, whether dreamed up in REM while the
host organism sleeps or environmentally-selected after one wakes, feature simulacra
of insentient classical objects. Intrinsically subjective stuff can simulate something
else altogether. In fact many of the several tens of thousands of genes expressed
solely in the mind/brain are coding for the substrates of virtual macroscopic
worlds. Virtual macroscopic worlds are 'what it's like' to be a superposition
of the mind/brain's topographic maps.
2.15 One tempting cop-out would describe
the field-theoretic ur-stuff as mere proto-consciousness. Like proto-pregnancy,
this notion will need a lot to make it work. Moreover, it still leaves the momentous
shift from an alleged proto-consciousness to the real thing dangling as an unexplained
bolt-from-the-blue. Granted, consciousness manifestly varies in intensity as well
as mode. Searing pain is sharper than a barely-noticeable ache. Yet even on the
otherwise fruitful dimmer-switch model, there's all the difference in the world
between complete insentience - an interesting if shamelessly ungrounded hypothesis
which yields no testable predictions - and the world's putative first micro-tickle.
The 'proto-' escape-route can't magic away a radical discontinuity between
sentience of any texture at all and its hypothesised absence.
2.16 The point
can be expressed a little more forcefully. On the evidence disclosed by one notable
if organisationally atypical part of the world - the part whose noumenal essence
one exemplifies rather than conjectures on at one remove - then "matter"
is indescribably weirder than any simple-minded physicalist checklist of its attributes
would allow. Michael Lockwood, I think, has done most
to put across this point to contemporary philosophers; though he disavows panpsychism.
Most radically, mass-energy self-intimatingly is - rather than adventitiously
has - irreducibly first-personal, subjective and indexical properties.
Taken as an empirically-grounded generalisation to the properties of the rest
of the entire world, such a leap is admittedly dizzyingly implausible to products
of a conventional scientific training. If one discounts all psychological
queasiness as irrelevant, however, then there's no substantive ground for thinking
pure panpsychism/idealistic monism is improbable. The question is open.
needs arguing for; not thoughtlessly presupposing. In frustration at its re-emergence
as a live option to close the explanatory gap, panpsychism's materialistic debunkers
usually rely on knee-jerk ridicule rather than rationality to carry their case.
"You can't be serious!" one may be told, as though bien pensant
earnestness were a sure-fire recipe for truth. Strictly speaking, though, it is
the posit of insentience elsewhere in the world which constitutes the speculative,
counter-inductive, and perhaps semantically unnaturalisable metaphysics.
This isn't to say one can't, on the face of it, conceive of places elsewhere -
and moments elsewhen - which lack ontologically idealistic status completely.
For naturalistic panpsychism entails the existence of pervasive fields etc of
a sort of what-it's-likeness which is presumably so minimal in its phenomenal
texture - at least in high-entropy
and low-energy regimes - that one can almost imagine subtracting it altogether.
This mental process of subtraction apparently leaves fields of insentient who-knows-whatness
in its place. However, our ability to perform such exercises of the imagination
don't entail that Absolute Insentience is really feasible; nor even that it is
- who knows - strictly intelligible. The intuition that follows these spurious
reality-checks, namely that panpsychism is too implausible to take seriously,
is nonetheless unlikely to be searchingly challenged. This is because only some
sort of materialism still smells right to the twentieth/twenty-first-century scientific-mind.
2.18 Naturally, for certain human purposes, the structure and ascribed function
of our constituent cosmic mind-dust is more important than its particular minimal
phenomenal character. It is functionally irrelevant in our classificatory scheme
if the more-or-less discrete constituents comprising, for instance, a digital
computer consist in any sort of rudimentary consciousness. If they do, such silicon
etc., consciousness presumably amounts in any case to a mere aggregate
of quasi-punctate and mutually unaware wisps of what-it's-likeness. This stands
in contrast to the massive parallelism
supporting organic wetware's (warm and quantum-coherent?)
2.19 Yet this functional irrelevance doesn't entail
that an intrinsic phenomenal character is absent in digital computers. If it were
demonstrably absent, then the case for dualism would actually be strengthened.
Instead, the boringly minimal phenomenal character which a silicon etc computer's
micro-constituents may instantiate simply doesn't bear on their functional role
in a particular computer program. 'Deep Thought' doesn't know it's playing chess. A given program - as we would interest-relatively
construe it - will be implemented on stuff which is interesting to us precisely
insofar as it's systematically interpretable as doing something radically different
from inertly subsisting as minimal psychic dross - or indeed subsisting as the
patterns of insentient mass-energy that we might unreflectively assume.
2.20 Or at least
that's one particular panpsychist perspective. Chalmers, by contrast, suspects
sentience itself, and all its values, arises in the information-bearing
and substrate-independent role of innumerable micro-functional states. The
Conscious Mind adapts and extends the notion of information in Shannon's technical,
extrinsic and relational sense so that it correlates with intrinsic phenomenal
consciousness - perhaps as a brute psychophysical principle or natural law. In
this double-aspect scheme, information is a sort of tertium quid realised
throughout the physical and phenomenal world. The internal aspects of information
states are phenomenal. The external aspects are physical. "...Or as a slogan:
Experience is information from the inside; physics is information from the outside."
2.21 Chalmers stresses repeatedly that his positive proposals are tentative.
It's not that the McGinn and the new mysterians are necessarily wrong. They insist,
as does Chalmers, that mind is a wholly natural phenomenon, yet they argue that
The World-Knot may never be unravelled or dissolved by any strands of its own
parts because they are constitutionally
incapable of it. It's just that mysterianism doesn't - any more than global scepticism
- represent a very fruitful strategy for finding out anything. At the very least,
Chalmers' proposals are an example of the sort of conceptual revolution which
a failure to vindicate the ontological unity of the world in either of its two
traditional categories might precipitate.
2.22 I still think Chalmers is too
quick to dismiss the chances of straight scientific monism. Perhaps pill-popping
panpsychist Everettistas aren't best qualified to sound a note of caution; however,
I wouldn't seek to dissuade them. In clinging to a conservatively-conceived ontological
unity of the world, the modern panpsychist will still want to exploit the substrate-neutral
language of functionalist accounts of mind and the information-theoretic paradigm
as valuable heuristic tools. The framework offers a very useful conceptual
handle on what's going on. What he doesn't do is reify information. God is
not a computer programmer - though the different values of His primitives can
sometimes take on an information-like role. A research project which aims to explore
how primal "concrete" micro-properties, -objects or -events can in varying degree
simulate the existence and quasi-autonomous behaviour of successive functional
virtual levels of what would otherwise be radically alien abstract objects is
more promising, I think, than a strategy coming from the opposite direction. The
rival "Olympian" strategy presupposes the existence of (in one sense) "high-level"
abstract objects. It then has to deal how they can be realised or instantiated
in, or supervene on, or at least relate to, concreta. I don't see how it can be
2.23 Likewise, and in a similar spirit of wholesome opportunism, the
panpsychist helps himself to the formal apparatus of the natural sciences. He simply
discards, in the manner we discarded the luminiferous ether or early quasi-classical
models of a miniature atomic solar system, the morass of sordid mental images
with which we paradoxically associate materialistic ontology. Often unavowed,
these little pictures of what the stuff of the world must supposedly consist of are in fact
- if purest mathematico-physically encoded panpsychism is the case - an excrescence
which we mentally glue onto the field-theoretic formalism. The pictures themselves
derive both from our genetically predisposed model of macroscopic "perception"
- fundamentally the Sellars' 'Manifest Image' of the world bequeathed from our
childhood - and an ill-conceived faith that contemporary physics yields us knowledge
of essences as well as relations.
2.24 Needless to say, the twin bugbears of
a scientised panpsychism or an ontologically hybrid property-dualism are not the
only reality-models competing for our allegiance. Yet they're the only two candidates
for authentic bedrock to the world that I'll consider here. Why does The Conscious
Mind decline neat panpsychism as a monist option?
2.25 Chalmers affirms
that the role played by simplicity in scientific explanation "cannot be overstated".
(p216). He is also a materialist, or at least a physicalist,
by temperament. He disavows any mystical or religious leanings; not enough soul-stirring
Nevertheless, he finds that sheer intellectual honesty compels him to argue for
a scientifically domesticated brand of dualism. This is because, after painstakingly
evaluating the explanatory options canvassed by all of today's acknowledged philosophico-scientific
heavyweights, he finds that "almost everything in the world can be reductively
explained; but consciousness may be an exception"(xv).
Chalmers argues, is a fundamental property of the Cosmos. There isn't any more
primitive property in terms of which it can be explained. It nonetheless (and
there is some tension here, IMO) "arises" from, or occurs "in virtue
of" (p243) physical matter. Just as a matter of brute empirical fact, the
physical and explanatory basis of our phenomenal judgements is, apparently, also
the physical basis of qualia themselves. A first-personal aspect, Chalmers contends,
is unaccountably emergent from the [notionally] third-person-understandable substrate
- every minute and in a womb near you.
2.27 At this point, one can't stop
oneself asking how, why, when, and in what form, did this momentous spark of subjectivity
first occur if everything had been ticking along quite fine without it? [but see
next] Why does universal insentience break down and spin off [or a-causally begin
to correlate or co-vary with] a junior, intimately linked, but nonetheless irreducible
partner? For what reason do physical systems with the same abstract organisation
"...give rise to the same kind of conscious experience, no matter what they
are made of"? If psychophysical laws exist, we will surely want to know why
they exist. This urge to understand the connection is likely to nag us whether
or not the question is (post-)humanly answerable.
2.28 Perhaps, as Chalmers
suggests, we may eventually learn that these questions are idle or ill-posed.
The linkage may constitute a fundamental law, or perhaps a meta-law, of nature:
systematic psychophysical correlations are something we must just learn to accept.
On this sort of account, psycho-physical laws have always existed. But until physical
systems evolved that satisfied the relevant antecedent conditions, there could
be no consciousness (p171). Yet if Chalmers is right, then Nature's core principles
might actually be messier and less simple, or at least their theoretical
elegance more heavily disguised, than the regulative unifying ideology of theoretical
physics would have us suppose.
2.29 Hidden simplicity and symmetry,
however, have been two of the most fertile clues which physics has given us -
or so we imagine - as to the underlying principles on which the world works. Arguably,
they shouldn't be surrendered without putting up a more tenacious fight. Moreover
the concepts that Chalmers cites as the sorts of physical primitive which we must
just take as read - for explanation must allegedly come to a stop somewhere -
are in fact the topics of hard if inconclusive investigation even now: mass, via
some variant of the proposed Higgs-mechanism; electric charge as a manifestation
of extra compactified "Kaluza-Klein" dimensions; and space-time itself, as a derived
property in a post-classical successor to general
2.30 This isn't remotely to deny there are still too many
ostensibly arbitrary and ill-understood values of (what are currently treated
as) basic physical parameters. These we have just to "put in by hand". Their arbitrariness
must still count as provisional. We've no need, or not yet at any rate, to elevate
our ignorance itself into a meta-scientific principle. Perhaps we'll theorise
that broken symmetries are manifested differently elsewhere in other inflated
domains of the Multiverse as an expression of some still dimly-imagined universal
symmetry. Perhaps the answer will be something else again. Yet one needs to know
a great deal about anything to be confident that it is inexplicable; and if one
doesn't, then one can't.
2.31 It is worth contrasting the modern-day dualist
and panpsychist options here a bit further. Chalmers advocates a research program
that seeks to discover what will ideally be a simple set of psychophysical principles.
His conceptual framework amounts to a sort of non-reductive functionalism.
Within it, we would seek to correlate the multitudinous flavours of consciousness
with a presumably equally multitudinous cast of functions. The explanatory gulf
between the physical and the phenomenal is to be remedied by a series of functionalist
2.32 One of the troubles with functions, however, is that they
tend to be discernible only as comparatively "high-level", interest-relative constructs.
They're not arbitrary, admittedly. Yet they are convention-bound and hard
to individuate. Presumably some do, and some don't, 'give rise to' sentience.
Yet there's nothing conventional about sentience, as distinct from our ascriptive
practices in recognising and classifying it. On a dualist analysis, even if a
complete set of psychophysical bridging principles were to be established, there
would seem an almost irresistible compulsion to ask how, and indeed why, consciousness
can "arise" from matter and energy [Is there any principled reason why
it can't, say, "fall out", "levitate", "capsize"? The implausibility
argument against panpsychism cuts both ways; though aggressive materialism surely
deserves to be the primary target] "Arising" and its spatial kith and kin
is a recurrent metaphor
in almost all discussions of consciousness. Materialists, epiphenomenalists and
scientific property-dualists alike rely on it heavily. Yet it is a creaky, unilluminating
and deeply suspect turn of speech. Both it and its motley retinue of metaphorical
relatives need to be painstakingly pulled apart - and perhaps discarded. For their
use encourages something easy to repudiate, but hard to prevent, namely the habit
of imagining some sort of diaphanous ectoplasm wafting up or hovering around gooey
wetware - even though one knows, and freely avows, that such a picture is hopelessly
ill-conceived. Naturally, no one in polite society is arguing that this
crude picture is actually correct. Yet a little introspection suggests that one's
thinking 'about' consciousness is steeped in a submerged imagery of all sorts
of dubious philosophical goings-on. Some of them one would rather not talk about
- and for quite understandable reasons.
2.33 More function-troubles now rear
their head. In living organisms, neo-Darwinism has taught us how to cash out the
appearance of purpose-built
design as mere causally-contrived simulation honed by the processes of natural
selection. So when, precisely, do the simulations progressively wrought by low-level
causal interactions need to be supplemented by an irreducible ontology of qualia-generating
functions - rather than simply lending themselves (more easily) to quasi-functional
description? Do the functions do any causal work independently of the substrates
in which they are (in tainted top-downspeak) realised? And if so, how? Why do
functions generate their own, wholly non-conventional phenomenology? Why don't
some functions, evidently, generate their own distinctive phenomenology (group
minds etc)? Can't the playing out of crass causal processes allow simulations
which just get better and better?
2.34 Worse still, innumerable states of consciousness
haven't been harnessed into playing any particular functional, behavioural, information-playing
role at all. They are no less real. The astonishing modes of sentience inducible
by DMT, for instance,
are intellectually fascinating beyond belief. Yet their interest doesn't lie in
their non-existent - and indeed not even counterfeit - functional role in our
informational economy - though conceivably, millennia hence, they might play a
quasi-informational role somewhere else. Their interest certainly doesn't lie
in their (in)fidelity in tracking or causally co-varying (etc) with the mind-independent
environment in Darwinian fitness-enhancing ways. If any sort of functionalist
story is to be told here, it is at present totally obscure.
2.35 Further still,
there are problems with what might seem even archetypal candidates for non-reductive
functional correlates. This is because a mode of experience can sometimes get
decoupled from any quasi-functional role which it does normally more-or-less
play. The pain of some
malignant cancers, for instance, is as nasty and intensely conscious as you can
get. Yet it isn't functional to anything; and, tragically, it doesn't cease hurting.
2.36 Selection pressure, it should freely be acknowledged, has predisposed, moulded
and selected our composite manifolds of sentience in such a way that they assume
their present guise. In that sense, Darwinism
psychology "explain" the way our minds work. Yet selection pressure hasn't,
and couldn't, create the primitive elements of the psycho-chemical architecture
on which natural selection gets to work. So by contrast with a naturalised dualist
strategy, a panpsychist research-program is ontologically simpler, cleaner and
more theoretically elegant. It's not tied to ill-individuated and interest-relative
functions for its elemental ontology. Thus panpsychism is also in principle -
and here an air of paradox derives merely from an unfortunate equivocation - more
2.37 In what sense? Well, for example, I can't put into words many
elements of the experiential manifold (mind/virtual world) which I now instantiate.
Yet - on the perspective under discussion - its constituent textures are precisely
encoded by, and homomorphic with, the formalism which would more normally be taken
to describe the states of my brain. These equations are, fundamentally, those
of quantum mechanics. And just as we can determine what would normally be physically
interpreted as the magnetic
moment of the electron, for instance, to an accuracy of one part in hundreds
of millions, likewise the texture of experience (I'm betting) is precisely encoded
with such astonishing accuracy too. Alas the sort of intellectual travelogue found
here belies the austere exactitude of the coding I'm talking about.
more convenient approximation of the correct formalism might take the guise of
the connection and activation evolution equations of the panpsychist analogue
of the neural nets I exemplify. Either way, a formalism which embodies an amazingly
efficient algorithmic compression of all the values of sentience is ready to hand.
This is, potentially, our cognitive good fortune. The scenario couldn't have happened
the other way around: a touchy-feely ontology wouldn't have helped in discovering,
say, the laws of electromagnetism. Au contraire. We owe the hieroglyphics
of sentience to the formal successes of traditional materialism. Finding the psychophysical
Rosetta stone so we can
read off all its solutions is another matter.
2.39 Of course, unless and until
we do work out how to decode it, then laying claim to prior ownership of
an accurate formalism rings hollow. It's all very well being told that naturalistic
panpsychism is potentially more precise and objective than any functionalist dualism
because the exact values of its qualia could be, in principle - if only we knew
how to do it - exactly "read off" from the QM formalism that exhaustively describes
their changes. For all the practical good it does, one might as well be told the
key to the cosmos lies in a structural generalisation of "abracadabra".
Yet whereas a scientised panpsychism ties the values of qualia to the presumptive
mathematically-expressible nature of the world - itself a form of structural invariance
between current rival physical and phenomenal conceptual schemes - the interest-relativity
of functionalist idiom means the connection between the maths and the textures
of consciousness on such a scheme would be far more subtle and elusive. Tying
maths, physics and consciousness together by positing that contemporary science
is really about the mathematical structures of sentience is far more elegant and
intellectually satisfying; on my current chemical regimen,
at any rate.