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Panpsychism Refutation Refuted

From Panpsychism thread on Quora

All arguments in favour of panpsychism emanate from the “comprehending mind”. They are the equivalent of a corrupt programme analysing itself for corruption. The corruption resides in the analytic tools so all results are suspect. There are many arguments in favour of panpsychism, as Paul King and Craig Weinberg have noted, but these arguments absolutely depend on a comprehending mind comprehending itself and becoming entangled with not-self. No external arguments support panpsychism. We can see that complexity throws up unexpected results. Consciousness is an unexpected and counterintuitive result of complexity. We simply don’t understand its genesis. But. The alternative is to suppose that nothing exists until you discover it (there was no gravity until Newton was hit by an apple). That is an absurd position. Panpsychism is a semantic byproduct of thought.

The fantastic thing about sense is that everything in the universe, including the universe itself, makes sense in more than one way. Your argument is completely sensible, and I know first hand because I made sense of things that way for most of my life. At some point, however, I discovered that there was a different way to look at it that makes more sense. Consider the following:

If arguments for panpsychism depend on a comprehending mind comprehending itself like a corrupt program analyzing itself, then arguments against panpsychism depend on the same thing: A bug-ridden debugger debugging itself.

“No external arguments support panpsychism. We can see that complexity throws up unexpected results.”

First of all, I’m not sure what an external argument is. All human arguments begin and end in the ‘comprehending mind’ of the human having them. Evidence from outside of our bodies for things that relate to objects outside of our minds, sure, absolutely. But there is no external evidence of consciousness to begin with. You can’t prove to me that you exist and feel like a person.

Panpsychism (or panprotopsychism) explains this surprisingly well. It’s because evidence is an experience within consciousness and not the other way around (please see my ‘pencil-in-water’ rebuttal: http://www.quora.com/Craig-Weinberg/Consciousness-Insights/160835). You can generate complexity given awareness, but without awareness as an a priori possibility, complexity cannot even generate complexity. Something needs to feel or experience something in order for there to be a difference between simple and complex in the first place. Complexity may throw up results that defy our expectations, but they don’t defy the universe’s expectations if you deny awareness as a primordial ground of being to have expectations within.

“Consciousness is an unexpected and counterintuitive result of complexity.”

Complexity itself is utterly sterile. Without awareness, no amount of stacking of uniform bricks will result in anything other than bricks. Without some form of pattern recognition, we cannot say even how many bricks there might be, what size they are, how long they have been sitting there, etc. There is really no difference between anything and nothing without pattern and experience.

“We simply don’t understand its genesis”

For the same reason that we don’t understand a square circle. Consciousness has no cause, causality is dependent upon experience, memory, and analytical associations among remembered experiences. Without any of those, the universe could only be a single instant of inchoate fragments. To say that we haven’t figured out its genesis yet is to my mind now, a naive assertion of religious faith – wishful thinking in the supremacy of Enlightenment Era approaches to science.

“The alternative is to suppose that nothing exists until you discover it (there was no gravity until Newton was hit by an apple). That is an absurd position.”

No, that is not the only alternative, and yes that position is absurd. It makes the hasty supposition of conflating human consciousness with awareness in general. When applied to criticism of panpsychism, this is a fallacy of begging the question since the panpsychic proposition is itself that awareness is a property that is irreducibly present in the universe, and for me, more importantly *as* the universe. You have to take the next step and realize that even though it wasn’t Newton, there was some first something (an atom? star? spacetime? the singularity?) that experienced gravity, and yes before that experience, gravity as we know it did not exist.

“Panpsychism is a semantic byproduct of thought.”

So are functionalism and materialism. Panpsychism addresses the universe directly, from the inside out. It begins with the Cartesian certainty, that if anything exists for sure around here, it is me. We cannot question that because it will only be ourselves doing the doubting. Only after having faith in our own sense, can we trust ourselves to make sense of empirical evidence from the world of our body. We see people get shot in the head and die. This gives us good reason to believe that a human mind supervenes on a human brain. In the last 500 years we have taken that kind of faith in matter to the extreme. It definitely works on a gross material level…at least until you start choking on the industrial and social backlash.

Now we stand poised on the edge of a next age of Enlightenment. This time the transition may be much more precarious than the last, as unlike in the 17th century, the discoveries are not in-your-face experimental demonstrations of principles that have a chance at shaking bright people out of their religious ignorance. This time, the 21st century discoveries may have to be reinterpretations of what we already thought we understood. We have to face the reality of a world, not that we bring into existence, but which has been brought into existence through billions of years of sense experience on different scales, and which anticipates a temporal unity in which all of those years and all that are to come are but a single moment of totality. This tension, between the retrocausality of the eternal now and the feed forward sense of linear causality, are, I think, where consciousness ‘comes from’. It is not panpsychism that is semantic, it is the entire universe. A sense of significance which divides itself into insignificant fragments which return back to their source on their own. A respiration meta-cycle of meaning and entropy oscillation. Thought is the product of panpsychism. Sense does not emerge from nonsense.

  1. June 3, 2012 at 12:26 pm

    The words above do _not_ constitute a refutation of the refutation of panpsychism; they are, effectively, simply a repeat of the assertion that panpsychism is a valid description of why we are aware of our existence. I don’t buy it. Panpsychism as asserted above cannot be disproved, but then neither can ESP or the existence of G/god/ or G/goddess/es. From my point of view panpsychism does not really answer any questions, and I think the main reason for that is that is does not address the issue of things, events, and processes which are _about_ something other than those things [events…] themselves.
    We can look at the experience of rememberable awareness as being an aspect of certain processes occurring within the brain. I would say that a sophisticated brain controlling the actions of a creature which navigates within a complex environment and learns about that environment as it moves, must have a model of self in the world. One major feature of such a model must be a set of markers which constitute the current knowledge [ie best guess] of “I/you are here”. This is real, albeit always in flux, always being updated.

    I submit that consciousness is what it is like to be this process of updating the model of self in the world. “UMSITW” for short, pronounced “um-see-two”


    • June 3, 2012 at 2:14 pm

      Why would the existence of a ‘model’ be any less unfalsifiable than panpsychism? What are models made of? What makes sense of the model?

      Sooner or later something has to detect something, and when that happens, it is a direct experience and not a third person relation of functions. That’s all that I intend with my support of panprotopsychism. There is no point to modeling anything if there isn’t something that needs a model.

      Sense models, but that isn’t all that it does. Sense or qualia is the presentation – the meal, models are the re-presentations, the take-home containers for the leftovers. You can have the meal without leftovers, but you can’t have leftovers without a meal.

      Thanks for your great comments! I posted the other one on my blog at s33light.org. Hope that’s ok.

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