Home > consciousness, philosophy, physics > Pan vs Pan: The War for What Matters

Pan vs Pan: The War for What Matters

December 21, 2012 Leave a comment Go to comments

The debate over the origin and nature of consciousness in the universe, in my analysis, boils down to this:

Panexperientialism vs Panmechanism

We must consider whether it is likely that

  1. Experience is possible without a mechanism.
    At first consideration, many people will immediately disagree.

    • We are the only thing in the universe which has experience,
    • we know that experience relies on a brain,
    • and we know that a brain is a biological mechanism.

    Case closed.
    Or is it?

    That position seems to inevitably also adhere to the view that there can only be one competing hypothesis; naive idealism. This is typically summed up as “So, if you die, then the universe disappears?” or “So, the Moon disappears if you aren’t looking at it.”*

    The implicit assumptions behind this rebuke of idealism are:
    a: Human consciousness is the only form of consciousness possible, and
    b. Matter itself functions with no possibility of awareness.

  2. Mechanism is possible without some form of experience.
    Whether it is planets orbiting the Sun or atoms colliding in a void, there is a logical pattern that can be observed. Rather than every object falling through each other, or turning into an unexpected form, there is a strict coherence of interactions. We speak of ‘Laws of Physics’.

    If we were to summon a statement of naive counter-idealism, it would take ‘Law’ literally and demand to see the Parliament and legislature, the law enforcement apparatus, and most of all, the law-abiding agents who have received, understood, and retain a capacity to follow ‘laws’ to the letter. In the absence of any proposal for the mechanism of physical law itself, It would seem that the presumption of law is little more than a pacifier for the mind. There are simply things, and they simply do what they do.

    This puts the proposition of experience-without-mechanism (EWM) on exactly the same level of religious faith as mechanism without experience (MWE), however the difference is (and it is an important difference), that we personally can verify our own experience and cannot verify the lack of experience in another. We can have a hunch, by the rigor mortis for example, that Zed’s dead, but we still have a cadaver, full of microscopic tributes to the wonder that was Zed’s body. If we want to get really hippie, we can say too that the Earth still has another crumb of lovely fragrant organic matter with which to fertilize the air and soil. Zed is no more, but the body formerly known as Zed is still part of the many stories of biochemistry, history, anthropology, etc that remain.

    It seems to me that the assumption of Laws which govern a universe of existence without experience is actually more likely a function of our own naive assumption that our experience relies on automatic laws. In fact, when we turn that assumption on its head, we find that once we let go of the idea of being the only active participant in the universe, any law of physics can easily be understood as a sensory-motor experience, and the dream of pristine non-witnessed mechanism may in fact be the more comforting psychological blanket compared to the brave new universe of en-ploding meaning and significance..

  3. Anything can be proved or if it matters.
    All that the foregoing suggests is that we may be wrong to assume that the capacity to experience appears out of matter, and that it is wrong because such an appearance makes no sense at any point in the history of the universe. We assume that experience is complex or emerges from ‘complexity’ itself, but that may be because our human awareness is complex. In reality, without awareness, there is no quality of ‘complexity’ in the universe. Something has to be able to interpret a given pattern as complex for it to be distinct from just ‘lots and lots of simplicity’. We assume that simple forms of life or matter have no experience, but how would we be able to tell the difference?

    The answer to whether it matters if we are an accidentally conscious body in a meaningless machine or a human experience in a universe made of meaningful experiences is to me, an obvious yes. The implications of the former vs the latter radiate out in every direction of our personal and social lives. Are we automatons who inexplicably dream of freedom, or are we free agents who are sensibly bound to a multitude of other experiences interdependently?

    Since it is potentially such an important issue (really what more important issue for the world as a whole could there be in the long run?) and that the answer could reconcile science, philosophy, and religion if properly understood, the issue of proof is important. Just as modern rationality has become accustomed to the unquestioned assumption of panmechanism, so too have we become accustomed to the corresponding assumption of pan-objectivity.

    Like the laws of physics, our law of proof is a disembodied soldier with no home. We have become subjects of proof rather than provers of fact. Having turned the most miraculous epistemological tool in our arsenal on ourselves, we have found a way to lose sight that it is we ourselves who are doing the proving. We have lost our orientation and now face ourselves through our own human idea of a stranger’s eyes. The eyes of a neuron, of collections of cells and ion channels, of spike trains and action potentials. These, we state confidently, are what we really are. These strange microworlds are reality, while the only reality which humanity has ever known before this, has been mere advertisements for the hidden processes that really matter.

    A closer look, however, at that history which we used to think was real and we find the roots of objectivity itself – not handed down by fiat by the unmovable object of matter but by thousands of years of thinking and reasoning, philosophy and mysticism. From the alchemist’s flasks to the monk’s viniculture, and from the astrologer’s star maps to Galileo’s telescope, it has all been a process of human discovery – of trial and error but also of intuition and insight. We have come to this place in history as a function of agreement and disagreement, not of a single inevitable monolith of unquestioned fact or faith.

*this Strawman seems to be based on a misinterpretation of Idealism, perhaps handed down from the successively more superficial readings of George Berkeley’s A Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge (1710)

23. But, say you, surely there is nothing easier than for me to imagine trees, for instance, in a park, or books existing in a closet, and nobody by to perceive them. I answer, you may so, there is no difficulty in it; but what is all this, I beseech you, more than framing in your mind certain ideas which you call BOOKS and TREES, and the same time omitting to frame the idea of any one that may perceive them? BUT DO NOT YOU YOURSELF PERCEIVE OR THINK OF THEM ALL THE WHILE? This therefore is nothing to the purpose; it only shows you have the power of imagining or forming ideas in your mind: but it does not show that you can conceive it possible the objects of your thought may exist without the mind.

As Berkeley’s ideas rippled and meandered through the minds of writers and thinkers over the decades, they crossed over from philosophy to science. By 1884, Scientific American echoed Berkeley’s idealism, stating

“Sound is vibration, transmitted to our senses through the mechanism of the ear, and recognized as sound only at our nerve centers. The falling of the tree or any other disturbance will produce vibration of the air. If there be no ears to hear, there will be no sound.”

(reblogging from my If A Philosophical Cliche Falls In A Forest)

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  1. Joseph McCard (really)
    December 29, 2012 at 11:59 pm

    “But, say you, surely there is nothing easier than for me to imagine trees…” (Berkeley)

    Imagining trees (and trees that imagine) are made easier still if we postulate the existence of an omnipotent, creative source, an inner mind. So, for example Sense may be such a source, if it is creative and omnipotent. Enjoined to that postulate is the definition that there would be an inner world of ideas created by an inner mind, out of which ALL forms, not just the human mind, emerge. I acknowledge we cannot prove scientifically or logically that ours, or Berkeley’s world, was or was not created by an inner mind. But, that idea resonates intuitively within me. Are you familiar with intuitive resonance? How do you decide what is true?

    In this inner world there are dreamlijke pseudoforms of Berkeley, you, me, and trees. There were dream trees and dream me’s, with dream foliage, dream arms and legs, that gradually became aware within the dream, turning physical, focusing more and more in physical reality, until their dream seeds finally brought forth physical trees and physical me’s.

    “… BUT DO NOT YOU YOURSELF PERCEIVE OR THINK OF THEM ALL THE WHILE?”

    It is not entirely clear that it is only me that thinks in, by, and of myself. But that that thinking and perceiving are the result of some higher power, and not just my own independently existing mind.

    “This therefore is nothing to the purpose; it only shows you have the power of imagining or forming ideas in your mind: but it does not show that you can conceive it possible the objects of your thought may exist without the mind.”

    Yes, I have been granted that power, and do not just HAVE IT ex nihilo. not in , by, and of myself, which claim resonates intuitively, but cannot be logically proven. I have so postulated and conceived such a possibility that objects of my thought do exist within a larger inner mind, which my mind is a portion of. Therefore, it is not just me that perceives and thinks in, by, and of myself.

    EWM: It seems that the definition of experience entails a physicality, a mechanism. Otherwise you have nothing but a concept, nothing but an idea about yourself. It is through consciousness that the soul turns concept into experience. Until then there was only speculation.

    “We have come to this place in history as a function of agreement and disagreement, not of a single inevitable monolith of unquestioned fact or faith.”

    Polarity. A positive end and a negative end, a north pole and a south pole. Otherwise it would just be one boring stagnant neutral same old thing : )

    • December 30, 2012 at 2:56 am

      In thinking about sense, I am mainly concerned with the minimum plausible elements for existence. Some capacity for detection and detectable participation it would seem is necessary for any universe. I hesitate to speculate on universal minds as 1) the experience of mind may supervene upon the fact of objectivity; i.e. subjectivity only becomes subjective in the presence of some kind of breach. Our experience of mind arises out of the separation between private and public experience, so that it isn’t clear what the nature of experience would be without such a boundary. 2) my intuition is that on the level of the absolute, the nature of the totality would have to reflect almost as much indifference and unconsciousness as it does teleology, with only a small margin favoring teleology, and only intermittently and ambiguously in most cases.

      There could be a universal mind which is creative and omnipotent, but I’m not sure that believing that helps us. It’s hard enough to imagine non-human consciousness, let alone an ultimate experiential frame which persists without the discontinuous appearances of space and time. It could be that like our own awareness, such an absolute frame of experience is simultaneously unconscious as well as sentient, such that the layers which we might recognize as mind may not themselves have access to the more primitive automatic layers, Sense seems to entail irreversibility, so that all possibilities seem to be limited to those outcomes which do not contradict what has been been established previously. That may only apply to us while we are inside public realism bubble, if there were a universal mind beyond spacetime, it would not necessarily be bound by that rule of continuity (sense always provides a fill-in to cover any gaps or contradictions, but it also seems to provide a trail of breadcrumbs to recover or at least suggest an intuition of what might be fudged).

      “It is through consciousness that the soul turns concept into experience.”

      I would say that soul, consciousness, and experience are all actually the same thing, and that concept is an intellectual experience.

  2. Joseph McCard (really)
    December 31, 2012 at 4:37 pm

    You give the impression that you believe your conception of sense is unequivocally true? If so, what are the rule you have followed that warrants such confidence, intuition, logic, revelation, experience, a beloved teacher, parent….?

    For example, I have adopted the beliefs about the ideas I write about because they are intuitively resonant (whatever that means). I acknowledge that they could be wrong. So, I have been testing them as a rule or algorithm that one would follow, seeing where it leads me, seeing what experiences I encounter by following the algorithm. In the beginning, I set my goal to health, love, and wisdom. It is an adventure.

    Yesterday, after my wife and I shoveled the 11 inches of snow of her driveway, really, a landing strip, I asked my next door neighbor, a very spry, loving (mostly), 93 year old women, who is devoted to Jesus Christ, how she came to her decision to accept Christ unequivocally into her life. She said years ago she was approached by a fellow worker while working in a department store who asked her if she was saved. As a Lutheran, she said she went to church on Sunday’s, but was unfamiliar with the concept “saved”, but that it sparked her interest. Shortly after, she encountered others with similar beliefs. Finally, deciding to listen to the tele-evangilist Jim Baker, she made a commitment to Christ when she was 52 years old. I do mention that, of her three children, one son is a high ranking leader and minister in the Episcopal church (Genetics?), the other son she terms a back-slider. In her actions, her demeanor, and her words, she is really an excellent version of what can be termed “Christian”.

    “If the rule you followed brought you to this, of what use was the rule?” (Anton Chigurh, “No Country for Old Men”)

    • December 31, 2012 at 5:29 pm

      “You give the impression that you believe your conception of sense is unequivocally true?”

      I try not to believe anything. I only suspect that my conception of sense is a more viable model than the others that I am aware of (materialism, idealism, computationalism, functionalism, etc)

      “If so, what are the rule you have followed that warrants such confidence, intuition, logic, revelation, experience, a beloved teacher, parent….?”

      I try not to follow rules either. I use the same methods as any scientist, philosopher, or mystic. A refinement of common sense. Patience, skepticism, consensus, understanding, experience, knowledge, imagination, etc.

      “I write about because they are intuitively resonant (whatever that means). I acknowledge that they could be wrong. ”

      I take that as a given. Of course I could be wrong, but for reasons that I have not considered, not for the common reasons which I have been encountering so far.

      I’m not sure what you intend by the story of Christian faith. Some people are happy with it, others are happy without it. What is the impact on others though? It might make me happy to have people work as servants for me 80 hours a week. Does that mean it’s a good policy?

  3. Joseph McCard (really)
    January 2, 2013 at 2:26 pm

    “I use the same methods as any scientist, philosopher, or mystic. A refinement of common sense.”

    And yet your model seems uncommon, unique to you. You follow the same method (process or algorithm?), but arrive at a different destination. Was there a turning point, a moment of recognition?

    “I’m not sure what you intend by the story of Christian faith.”

    It is difficult to understand the origin of faith, and yet there seems to be an abiding widespread acceptance of Jesus Christ. Something about him appeals to many. When having read some Twiiter replies to you, I would say there are some that your ideas appeal to, but that appeal does not seem to have extended to jcs-online. There was no flurry of active responses to your posts from scientists or philosophers. Has your appearance at at the consciousness conference last year resonated with many others? This is not a attempt to criticize, but an attempt to understand you.

    “Sense seems to entail irreversibility, so that all possibilities seem to be limited to those outcomes which do not contradict what has been been established previously.”

    Does that leave room for free will, or are all possibilities limited? Limiting possibilities would seem to impede creativity, causing stagnation.

    Schopenhauer’s formula for all that exists is:

    the world = will + representation

    For him, Will is manifested in action. Will and action are inseparable. We understand will as the quality that allows one to choose between the (possible) options and act.

    Where Goethe wrote, “Am Anfang war die Tat (In the beginning there was the deed)” you seem to be saying that in the beginning was sense. Does sense act? Is sense a, process, deed, or object?

    In the spirit of this exchange, you might find the following article interesting:

    http://www.cracked.com/article_19468_5-logical-fallacies-that-make-you-wrong-more-than-you-think.html

    • January 2, 2013 at 4:38 pm

      “And yet your model seems uncommon, unique to you.”

      Aren’t all scientific or philosophical models unique to their authors?

      “Was there a turning point, a moment of recognition? ”

      There have been a few: 1) The realization that the spectrum of positions in philosophy of mind can be seen as a metaphor for the relation between mind and matter itself. 2) The possibility that energy could be an experience of matter rather than a pseudo-substance independent of matter. 3) That the capacity to discern and project differences might be more fundamental than either matter or mind.

      “There was no flurry of active responses…This is not a attempt to criticize, but an attempt to understand you.”

      I don’t know why you would be interested in understanding me personally, but I think anyone who has a clear understanding of something which is well outside of the scope of conventional wisdom is prepared for a cold reception. It would be surprising if it wasn’t. Just ask Copernicus or Martin Luther.

      “Does that leave room for free will, or are all possibilities limited?”

      Free will creates possibilities and limitations at the same time. My intentionally initiated sequences seem like unintentionally following consequences when viewed from sub-personal or super-personal vantage points. From the absolute view, of course, they are two sides of the same coin.

      “We understand will as the quality that allows one to choose between the (possible) options and act”

      I understand will as the experience of projecting private experience toward public realism. Our projection may make it no further than a thought about a thought, but it is still a projection of effect (motive) from affect (sense). The idea of choosing between possible options is more of an analytical assumption about psychological agendas. It is neither necessary nor sufficient for will to intersect choice or the ‘possible’. It is not even necessary to act with your body on the public world, will can just be the experience of adopting a particular attitude and to reaffirm that experience subsequently.

      “Does sense act? Is sense a, process, deed, or object? ”

      Sense is the capacity to discern and participate in processes, deeds, and objects. Each mode of sense, active, receptive, or integrative, is an irreducible non-part of the whole. (There couldn’t be any activity without the capacity to receive and integrate as well – otherwise there would be no difference in a universe that included that action and one which did not include it.)

      I’m familiar with logical fallacies, and I agree that it is important to be aware that we are limited in our ability to make sense of our own sense-making, but this is also yet another layer of reaching for certainty over certainty itself as well. As long as we have the capacity to understand logical fallacies, then we have to acknowledge that in doing so, we are still appealing to our own sense of how to best make sense. Too often, thinkers forget that they are thinking human beings and begin to believe that they have circumvented their own logical fallacies by telling others about them. (related snark: http://s33light.org/post/39408819555)

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