Philip Goff returns with panpsychism: now claims that a non-goddy “conscious Universe” explains the “fine-tuning” of physical constants permitting life

I’ve written two critical posts about the ideas of Philip Goff (a philosophy professor at Central European University in Budapest): here and here. In both places (Aeon and NPR, respectively), Goff argues for “panpsychism”—the idea that in some sense the entire Universe is conscious. He waffles on exactly how that consciousness is manifested, or where it comes from, but in a new piece in Aeon magazine, “Is the Universe a conscious mind?“, Goff not only continues his daft arguments, but now claims that a conscious Universe is the best explanation for the “fine-tuning” of the physical constants that make life on Earth possible.

Let us put aside the contentious claim that the laws of physics are fine-tuned for life, since we just don’t know anything beyond the fact that the constant permit life. Goff says that there are three explanations why we are lucky enough to live in a universe where the constants of physics enable us to contemplate our luck: a beneficent being who made the laws, panpsychism, or the multiverse.  He neglects two other explanations: we’re just lucky, or that there is some reason we don’t understand why physical constants have to take the form they do.

Goff says that panpsychism is the best explanation because theism is afflicted with the problem of evil, which has no clear solution (true!), and the multiverse hypothesis fails —or so he says—because consciousness in a multiverse is more likely to be instantiated in a Boltzmann brain—a conscious “thing” that formed physically in the universe without evolution—than in evolved creatures that developed consciousness. Conscious evolved creatures, he implies, are much rarer than Boltzmann brains, so he accepts Roger Penrose’s argument that:

 . . . by far the most common kind of observer [in the multiverse] would be a ‘Boltzmann’s brain’: a functioning brain that has by sheer fluke emerged from a disordered universe for a brief period of time. If Penrose is right, then the odds of an observer in the multiverse theory finding itself in a large, ordered universe are astronomically small. And hence the fact that we are ourselves such observers is powerful evidence against the multiverse theory.

I doubt that someone like Sean Carroll would agree with that.

I’m not that familiar with Penrose, though I know his ideas aren’t popular, and I know that some readers are familiar with them. But this doesn’t seem a knockdown argument to me. If consciousness evolved even once in a near-infinite number of universes, then the relative likelihood  Boltzmann brains versus evolved brains seems irrelevant. But perhaps I misunderstand the argument.

But I do contest Goff’s claim that the universe has a kind of consciousness, and don’t understand at all how even if there were that consciousness, it would explain “fine tuned” laws of physics. Goff proposes two types of panpsychism:

There are two ways of developing the basic panpsychist position. One is micropsychism, the view that the smallest parts of the physical world have consciousness. Micropsychism is not to be equated with the absurd view that quarks have emotions or that electrons feel existential angst. In human beings, consciousness is a sophisticated thing, involving subtle and complex emotions, thoughts and sensory experiences. But there seems nothing incoherent with the idea that consciousness might exist in some extremely basic forms. We have good reason to think that the conscious experience of a horse is much less complex than that of a human being, and the experiences of a chicken less complex than those of a horse. As organisms become simpler, perhaps at some point the light of consciousness suddenly switches off, with simpler organisms having no experience at all. But it is also possible that the light of consciousness never switches off entirely, but rather fades as organic complexity reduces, through flies, insects, plants, amoeba and bacteria. For the micropsychist, this fading-while-never-turning-off continuum further extends into inorganic matter, with fundamental physical entities – perhaps electrons and quarks – possessing extremely rudimentary forms of consciousness, to reflect their extremely simple nature.

Yes, but surely consciousness requires some kind of neurological substrate, and at some point on the journey from humans to quarks, that substrate disappears completely. What kind of consciousness, then, does a photon have, and how is it formed? He never says. Nor does he discuss that idea that consciousness could be an emergent property of life when it’s reached a certain stage of neurological complexity, and need not be manifested on the scale of particles—just as “wetness” need not be manifested on the scale of a single molecule of water. It takes quite a few of them. Wetness is not a property of an individual molecule, but appears when you get a bunch of them together, and is consonant with the laws of physics.

In the end, though, Goff accepts a different form of “holistic” panpsychism:

However, a number of scientists and philosophers of science have recently argued that this kind of ‘bottom-up’ picture of the Universe is outdated, and that contemporary physics suggests that in fact we live in a ‘top-down’ – or ‘holist’ – Universe, in which complex wholes are more fundamental than their parts. According to holism, the table in front of you does not derive its existence from the sub-atomic particles that compose it; rather, those sub-atomic particles derive their existence from the table. Ultimately, everything that exists derives its existence from the ultimate complex system: the Universe as a whole.

. . . If we combine holism with panpsychism, we get cosmopsychism: the view that the Universe is conscious, and that the consciousness of humans and animals is derived not from the consciousness of fundamental particles, but from the consciousness of the Universe itself. This is the view I ultimately defend in Consciousness and Fundamental Reality.

The cosmopsychist need not think of the conscious Universe as having human-like mental features, such as thought and rationality. Indeed, in my book I suggested that we think of the cosmic consciousness as a kind of ‘mess’ devoid of intellect or reason. However, it now seems to me that reflection on the fine-tuning might give us grounds for thinking that the mental life of the Universe is just a little closer than I had previously thought to the mental life of a human being.

But if this cosmopsychism has no mental-like features, why and how would it “fine tune” the universe for organic life? A “mess” couldn’t do that. And what, exactly, does he mean by cosmopsychism?   In the end, Goff has to accept something like a God, a powerful conscious entity that has a purpose and resolve to fine-tune the laws of physics. The only difference between the Abrahamic God and Goff’s “conscious universe” is that the latter isn’t as powerful. I quote:

But the cosmopsychist has a way of rendering axiarchism intelligible, by proposing that the mental capacities of the Universe mediate between value facts and cosmological facts. On this view, which we can call ‘agentive cosmopsychism’, the Universe itself fine-tuned the laws in response to considerations of value. When was this done? In the first 10-43 seconds, known as the Planck epoch, our current physical theories, in which the fine-tuned laws are embedded, break down. The cosmopsychist can propose that during this early stage of cosmological history, the Universe itself ‘chose’ the fine-tuned values in order to make possible a universe of value.

. . .How are we to think about the laws of physics on this view? I suggest that we think of them as constraints on the agency of the Universe. Unlike the God of theism, this is an agent of limited power, which explains the manifest imperfections of the Universe. The Universe acts to maximise value, but is able to do so only within the constraints of the laws of physics.

Well, I thought the laws of physics were what was to be explained by the Big Non-Goddy Brain, so it appears that Goff is begging the question. The laws, he says, are already there, and impose constraints on the Universe Brain, so how can they be tweaked for life? At this point the argument appears to vanish up its own fundament, but Goff continues the obscurantism:

Having said that, the second and final modification we must make to cosmopsychism in order to explain the fine-tuning does come at some cost. If the Universe, way back in the Planck epoch, fine-tuned the laws to bring about life billions of years in its future, then the Universe must in some sense be aware of the consequences of its actions. This is the second modification: I suggest that the agentive cosmopsychist postulate a basic disposition of the Universe to represent the complete potential consequences of each of its possible actions. In a sense, this is a simple postulation, but it cannot be denied that the complexity involved in these mental representations detracts from the parsimony of the view.

That’s putting it mildly! But Goff still thinks that an aware Universe wanted to see life evolve over billions of years, and thus twiddled with the laws of physics to do so (while itself constrained by those same laws), and that is more parsimonious than the multiverse or a theistic God. But what is the mechanism of this fine tuning? How does it work?

In the end, the best answer to “why is the universe fine tuned for life” seems to be “We don’t know if it is, and even if it is, there are non-panpsychic and non-supernatural explanations for which there is some evidence. But in the end, we don’t know how to answer this question yet.”

I’m surprised that anybody buys this kind of stuff, because it’s really a form of sophisticated-sounding woo. I guess it gives people solace that there’s Something Bigger Than Us Out There. But why on Earth would Aeon publish two articles about this?

Well, here’s one possibility: a disclaimer at the end of Goff’s piece:

This essay was made possible through the support of a grant from Templeton Religion Trust to Aeon and a separate grant from the Templeton fundedPantheism and Panentheism project to the author. The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of Templeton Religion Trust.

Yep, Templeton again! But what does it mean that they made this essay possible? Did they pay Goff to write it, or Aeon to publish it, or was it simply part of Goff’s Templeton-funded work? Who knows? But it’s useful to know that Aeon is well ensconced in Templeton’s deep pockets. Caveat emptor!

On the page listing its sponsors, Aeon notes only one “corporate” sponsor:

I suspect Goff’s pieces are two of the “articles and videos bringing to public view important research and deep, new thinking about soceity, religion, and individual development. Oh, those Big Questions!

All I know is that we have two essays on woo at Aeon, which itself is funded by Templeton, and one at NPR; and a competent physicist could take them all apart with ease. Eight words would suffice: “This is all pure speculation unsupported by evidence.”

Philip Goff

142 Comments

  1. John Thorne
    Posted February 11, 2018 at 11:42 am | Permalink

    What incredible cosmic debris. It reminds me of some of the chemically assisted bull sessions I was in at university in the 1960s.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted February 11, 2018 at 1:03 pm | Permalink

      Look here, brother, Zappa spelled it with a “k” (speaking of the Sixties). 🙂

      • BJ
        Posted February 12, 2018 at 8:44 pm | Permalink

        The first thought I had when I read that phrase was Zappa. My second thought was that Ken will have commented on it.

  2. Posted February 11, 2018 at 11:44 am | Permalink

    The obvious source of our luck that is almost always ignored is that if the physical constants that support live did not do that, then we wouldn’t be here to ask the question. The question can only exist in a universe that supports a being capable of thinking it!

    And the argument itself is loony. The universe … as we know it now … is 99.99% a hard vacuum saturated with lethal radiation that does not support life. Of the remainder, 99.99% of that is stars and black holes … that do not support life.

    If a “creator god/entity/alien/whatever created the universe to support life, why did it/he/she create all the rest of that, which is totally unnecessary? Our solar system would operate just fine were the rest of everything (the other 99.999999999999999%) were not there.

    These people just cannot give up trying to prove something that is unprovable and stupid besides.

  3. Posted February 11, 2018 at 11:46 am | Permalink

    I think Goff sat down and had one too many w/ Depak. That’s the only explanation I can ponder at the moment.

  4. glen1davidson
    Posted February 11, 2018 at 11:46 am | Permalink

    He confuses consciousness and cognition. Even if some sort of dull consciousness exists in the universe, you need information processing in order to know how to do something, such as fine-tuning the universe.

    There’s apparently information processing with consciousness (coherent consciousness) in brains, but there also seems to be information processing without consciousness (much, at least) in the brain, as well as in computers. The two don’t necessarily go together.

    He’d need to show how the universe has the ability to process information to get anywhere. Consciousness is not obviously the point at all.

    Glen Davidson

    • Posted February 11, 2018 at 6:28 pm | Permalink

      It’s real easy to make this stuff work, when you can make words mean anything you want.

  5. Christopher
    Posted February 11, 2018 at 11:52 am | Permalink

    This sounds like one of those annoying Marvel comics story lines inspired by the writer reading some pop-sci article while on mushrooms, leading to them writing some gibberish where the Fantastic Four have to team up with Silver Surfer or Doctor Strange to defeat some silly extra-dimensional “Mind” trying to take over our universe or something.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted February 11, 2018 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

      Yeah but at least that would cool to read or watch in a super hero movie instead of annoying.

    • phil
      Posted February 11, 2018 at 8:57 pm | Permalink

      I was gonna say, this is science fiction with poorly drawn characters and no plot.

  6. Ken Kukec
    Posted February 11, 2018 at 11:55 am | Permalink

    Claiming the laws of the universe are “fine-tuned for life” is like claiming that Yankee stadium is fine-tuned for the scrap of hot-dog wrapper that blew through the center-field bleachers during the seventh-inning stretch.

    • Posted February 11, 2018 at 2:57 pm | Permalink

      Or that a puddle is fine tuned for the water it contains.

      I mean, what’s the chances that a hole would be just the right shape to fit that shape of water?

  7. Jon Gallant
    Posted February 11, 2018 at 11:55 am | Permalink

    The Foundation supporting these inquiries owes its endowment to its founder, Sir John Templeton. Wikipedia describes the origin of his fortune as follows: “According to Templeton, he called his broker the day World War II began and instructed him to purchase every stock trading at less than a dollar. This stratagem helped make him a wealthy man.”

    I postulate a psychic force in the universe which brought about World War II, with the conscious purpose of ultimately endowing the Templeton Foundation.

  8. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted February 11, 2018 at 12:02 pm | Permalink

    PCC(E), earning it with this one.

    ^^^^that’s a good thing.

  9. Michael Fisher
    Posted February 11, 2018 at 12:12 pm | Permalink

    …separate grant from the Templeton funded‘Pantheism and Panentheism’ project to the author?

    The monies come partly from Aeon who get it from Templeton, but also Goff got a 2017 Summer Stipend from this Templeton funded boondoggle [6th item on the list: Pantheism & Panentheism Project

    Philip Goff, Central European University

    ‘From Panpsychism to Pantheism’

    Abstract:

    In the recent philosophy of mind literature, there has been a great deal of attention given to a way of accounting for consciousness that has become known as ‘Russellian monism’. I would like to explore the prospects for a theory that accounts for God in the same way that the Russellian monist accounts for consciousness. According to Russellian monism, consciousness (or proto-consciousness) constitutes the intrinsic nature of the physical world. According to what we might call ‘Russellian pantheism,’ God constitutes the intrinsic nature of the physical world. Many take Russellian monism to be an attractive middle way between physicalism and dualism; I will argue that Russellian pantheism is an attractive middle way between atheism and classical theism. In particular, Russellian pantheism offers an explanation of the fine-tuning of the universe that is significantly more parsimonious than either of the two standard explanations if it (i.e. the multiverse hypothesis and classical theism)

    • Laurance
      Posted February 11, 2018 at 10:13 pm | Permalink

      Russellian? Bertrand Russell? Are you saying that Russell was not an atheist, but a pantheist?

      • Michael Fisher
        Posted February 11, 2018 at 11:25 pm | Permalink

        @Laurance. Who is the “you” that you’re asking a question of? Me? You should be asking Goff – that’s the guy I’m quoting above. My post is to show the route [via a ‘summer stipend’ from Templeton] the monies took – the monies that financed Goff’s bullshit.

        In 1947 Russell wrote that he was an atheist or an agnostic, depending on the audience:

        I never know whether I should say “Agnostic” or whether I should say “Atheist”. It is a very difficult question and I daresay that some of you have been troubled by it. As a philosopher, if I were speaking to a purely philosophic audience I should say that I ought to describe myself as an Agnostic, because I do not think that there is a conclusive argument by which one prove that there is not a God.

        On the other hand, if I am to convey the right impression to the ordinary man in the street I think I ought to say that I am an Atheist, because when I say that I cannot prove that there is not a God, I ought to add equally that I cannot prove that there are not the Homeric gods.

        I don’t know Russell, but there’s been a lot of blather over two decades in philosophy about “Russellian Monism” – a phrase I think was coined or popularised by David Chalmers – he gives me bellyache to read! It is my partial, faulty maybe, understanding that Bertrand Russell believed that fundamental physics tells us only about the structure of the world – about the abstract relations between things but not about the things themselves. I don’t think it’s right for Goff to use the term “Russellian pantheism” – as if it’s a position that Russell held. As far as I know he didn’t hold that position, but I’m happy to be corrected by any philosopher who can post in plain English!

        I get the impression that Russell gets wheeled out often in support of crank ideas that he himself never held.

        Does that help?

        • Posted February 12, 2018 at 4:11 am | Permalink

          As Spinoza taught that everything is interconnected with all of existence, he was certainly no dualist. Neither was Russell.

        • Posted February 12, 2018 at 5:58 am | Permalink

          “Russell gets wheeled out often in support of crank ideas”

          A different kind of “Russell’s teapot”!

          /@

        • Posted February 12, 2018 at 6:03 am | Permalink

          BERTRAND RUSSELL ON CONTACT WITH NATURE

          /@

          • Michael Fisher
            Posted February 12, 2018 at 7:34 am | Permalink

            Thanks Ant. In researching a reply to Laurence that was the very first thing that popped up in Google & it certainly paints Russell as having pantheistic leanings at a minimum. But then when I put in “Russell” & almost any other ‘ideas movement’ there’s ways of getting Russell to seem he leans that way too! Russell wrote a lot over a long career & changed his views as he matured/aged.

            In the end I settled on this lengthy opinion on Russell which I haven’t time to check for when? ,Where? & for veracity SOURCE HERE :- According to the brand of pantheistic evolution embraced by J.B.S. Haldane, there is not, strictly speaking, any such thing as dead matter, nor is there any living matter without something of the nature of consciousness; and, to go one step further, there is no consciousness which is not in some degree divine. One can, therefore project from a single personality to God. We, therefore, recognize that God is not only outside us, but within and around us.

            Russell responds to these pantheistic concepts of Haldane by stating that there is no sharp line between living and dead matter; the majority of biologists think that living matter is really a physicochemical mechanism. Russell continues, “if our bodily actions all have physiological causes, our minds become causally unimportant.”

            For this reason, Russell believes that physics and chemistry are supreme. The belief that personality is mysterious and irreducible has no scientific basis, and is accepted because it is flattering to our self-esteem. Russell concludes the argument with Haldane by stating, “the pantheistic doctrine of Cosmic Purpose, like the theistic doctrine, suffers from the difficulty of explaining the necessity of a temporal evolution. If time is not ultimately real, as all pantheists believe, why should the best things in the history of the world come late rather than early?”

      • Posted February 12, 2018 at 12:02 pm | Permalink

        Russell, for a while, thought the basic stuff of the universe was not mind-stuff or matter, but something else.

        • Posted February 12, 2018 at 12:03 pm | Permalink

          (The historical antecedent is Spinoza, who thought there were also an infinite number of other “aspects” as well, beyond thought and extension. God (=nature) is infinitely infinite, right? :))

        • Posted February 12, 2018 at 12:16 pm | Permalink

          We monists accept neither the existence of two or more separate realities nor the existence or reality of a supernatural executive.

          The interesting question is whether, within this one and only reality, time is real or not. For Spinoza and Einstein it wasn’t. For me it is.

          • Posted February 12, 2018 at 12:41 pm | Permalink

            It depends what you mean by “real”.

            Rovelli positions it as an emergent property of loop quantum gravity, much like “heat” and “wetness” — real to us at macroscopic scales, but not at fundamental microscopic scales.

            /@

          • Posted February 13, 2018 at 11:23 am | Permalink

            There are *various kinds of monisms*. I’m a *materialist* monist. Deepak Chopra, riffing on Berkeley, is a *idealist* monist (or at least plays one for money). Russell and Spinoza were “neutral” (i.e., some other kind, unspecified). Arguably this is Kant’s position, too.

            • Posted February 13, 2018 at 2:25 pm | Permalink

              I see you are quite fond of “isms”. But either there is only one reality or there are several.

              Demokritos (I won’t use the Latin spelling), Spinoza, Einstein and Vuorela believe there’s only one. Frankly speaking, I’m not able to give apodictic reasons explaining why time should be real in this one and only reality. But I believe it is.

              Actually I can’t give reasons for believing you exist, but I’m sure you do exist.

              Chopra isn’t any kind of monist. He is an idealistic moron.

  10. Ken Kukec
    Posted February 11, 2018 at 12:16 pm | Permalink

    Between that picture and the gig teaching philosophy at Central European University, Goff could be the younger son — “Chip,” I think his name was — in Jonathan Franzen’s novel The Corrections. Same kinda ditzy ideas, too.

  11. Charles Sawicki
    Posted February 11, 2018 at 12:17 pm | Permalink

    Three explanations! Ha! Philosophy of the gaps! Our understanding of physics has lots of gaps. For example: general relativity and quantum mechanics are incompatible.
    It may be that the constants are required to take the observed values in a more complete “theory of everything”. Seems a lot more reasonable and probable idea than any of the three he lists.

    • Mark Sturtevant
      Posted February 11, 2018 at 3:05 pm | Permalink

      Or whatabout the view that the universe is a simulation. Mr. Goff should have a debate with Nick Bostrom who peddles that idea.

    • Posted February 11, 2018 at 5:26 pm | Permalink

      On that incompatibility, loop quantum gravity seems promising: See Carlo Rovelli’s Reality Is Not What It Seems.

      /@

  12. glen1davidson
    Posted February 11, 2018 at 12:21 pm | Permalink

    The cosmopsychist can propose that during this early stage of cosmological history, the Universe itself ‘chose’ the fine-tuned values in order to make possible a universe of value.

    Just awaiting the causal sequences of how the Universe made that choice. Kind of like waiting for the ID explanations for design, or waiting for Godot.

    Or are we just to infer that the answer is “poof”?

    Glen Davidson

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted February 11, 2018 at 1:13 pm | Permalink

      ‘cept Vladimir & Estragon gotta much better shot than the other two.

    • phil
      Posted February 11, 2018 at 9:02 pm | Permalink

      Is Godot present or future tense of Goddidit?

  13. garthdaisy
    Posted February 11, 2018 at 12:27 pm | Permalink

    What about my idea that dark matter is made of chocolate fudge sauce? I’m pretty sure it’s equally as sound as GOff’s idea. Can I be famous now too?

    Templeton is a scourge. God help us.

  14. Jiten
    Posted February 11, 2018 at 12:29 pm | Permalink

    Hey Templeton that’s still not your Christian God.

  15. Dale Pickard
    Posted February 11, 2018 at 12:38 pm | Permalink

    Isn’t this, cosmic consciousness the same kind of woo that Sam Harris and the meditators believe in? Same old nonsense camouflaged by mountains of BS verbiage.

    • Michael Fisher
      Posted February 11, 2018 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

      The short answer is “No”

      [1] Because you shouldn’t put all the “meditators” into one box. e.g. this is the Sam Harris position: Divorcing mindful meditation from religion

      [2] Because I don’t know any “meditators” [Buddhists I suppose you mean] who hijack cosmology & quantum physics, but I suppose there must be a sub-group who do. Then there’s Chopra, but I doubt that diamond encrusted jackanapes is capable of inward reflection [or of emptying his mind of dollar signs]

      • Posted February 11, 2018 at 2:03 pm | Permalink

        But there are so so many mediators outside, those are hijacking cosmology & quantum physics – you never heard about them? Here is one: Matthieu Ricard, a former molecular biologist, who is now a tibetian monk and the official translator for French for the Dalai Lama.
        (“From Big Bang to Enlightment.” )

        • Michael Fisher
          Posted February 11, 2018 at 2:20 pm | Permalink

          Yeah I acknowledged they existed, but I don’t know any of their names because I’ve kept away from reading about ‘crossover’ theories for 40 years. What turned me off was wading through Capra’s The Tao of Physics: An Exploration of the Parallels Between Modern Physics & Eastern Mysticism – the gems/garbage ratio was too low. Sort of Zen & the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance but worse. I’m gonna look up your Ricard ref though – thank you.

          • Posted February 11, 2018 at 2:41 pm | Permalink

            Ricard’s brain was scanned in the MRI scanner by neuroscientists and since then he has been passed around in public and sold himself as having outstanding empathy … Of course he sells books proclaiming that empathy and love are trainable.
            Of course, I also do not read his books (as a whole), but I try to keep up to date with the arguments of this esoteric, “Buddhist vocabulary” philosophy. He should not be far from Capra, just enriched and enhanced with the latest technology (fMRI) and terminology (empathy!)

          • Ken Kukec
            Posted February 11, 2018 at 4:50 pm | Permalink

            I read Tao of Physics back in the Seventies, about the same time I read Zen & the A of MM and the Castaneda books. I was something of a seeker in those days and thought they might be on to something. I wised up pretty quickly, though, with no lasting side-effects or flashbacks. 🙂

    • Posted February 11, 2018 at 3:09 pm | Permalink

      Isn’t this, cosmic consciousness the same kind of woo that Sam Harris and the meditators believe in? Same old nonsense camouflaged by mountains of BS verbiage.

      Can you back that up with any quotes?

    • Posted February 11, 2018 at 8:40 pm | Permalink

      Nope. He discusses this kind of nonsense in his book Waking Up, and dismisses it. You’ve posted at least one other content-free gripe here like this about Sam H, and you don’t seem to have read his work.

  16. Posted February 11, 2018 at 1:02 pm | Permalink

    I haven’t read Goff, but I’ve noticed that many panpsychists have difficulty with the idea “that consciousness could be an emergent property of life when it’s reached a certain stage of neurological complexity, and need not be manifested on the scale of particles…”

    We may approach the limits of language here. I’d be willing to define “consciousness” as this sort of emergent property, but I’m not so sure the neurological complexity has to be “alive”.

    I feel sure – if you pardon this expression – that something existed billions of years before this version of organic chemistry we call life. Some of those molecules were able to react and respond and this has something to do with the emergence of consciousness.

    We don’t really know what. I do appreciate Antonio Damasio’s efforts to describe this “something”.

    Nowadays we can… well, some of us are able to build “artificial” condition, but I don’t think many would call it “consciousness” or “life”. Yet.

    The Cinderella theory of constants is silly of course. We are here to notice the laws and constants fit, so they do. Naturally.

    • Posted February 11, 2018 at 1:05 pm | Permalink

      Damn these spell-checkers… I wish they had better artificial c o g n i t i o n and not condition…

  17. DiscoveredJoys
    Posted February 11, 2018 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

    I ask myself if the various forms of Panpsychism or Pantheism converge on a hypothesis or diverge into wilder and wilder arm waving.

    I read the original Aeon article and considered that it was arm waving – and all arm waving needs is a dismissive shrug. There’s nothing to engage with.

  18. Diana MacPherson
    Posted February 11, 2018 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

    We aren’t even sure how to test for consciousness in an empirical way and we don’t know how consciousness arises, we just know it does somehow, so how can you take this thing we don’t understand so well, oversimplify it as “chickens are less conscious than horses”, which is itself unsubstantiated because of what I just explained, and then apply all that to how the universe works? The answer is you can’t, at least not credibly.

  19. Saul Sorrell-Till
    Posted February 11, 2018 at 1:27 pm | Permalink

    Re. the Boltzmann brain argument, which, unless I’m missing something here, is complete bullshit:

    a Boltzmann brain is indeed vastly more likely than a multiverse, but only if we assume that they both randomly fluctuated due to chance lowerings of entropy.
    But the alternative to a Boltzmann brain is not an entire multiverse that has randomly fluctuated into existence – instead, the alternative to a Boltzmann brain is a multiverse that ‘began’ in a state of incredible simplicity and evolved to the state it is now. Which is to say the multiverse we live in right now.

    The original state of the multiverse at t=0 is almost certainly vastly simpler, vastly less complex than an entire human brain, and it’s a very weird false dichotomy to pretend that the multiverse is ruled out on that basis. Besides, no-one’s trying to explain the whole multiverse as it is right now – we all assume it evolved from something vastly simpler and something less complex than a human brain.

    Unless I’ve missed something here I don’t see how his argument makes any sense at all, and I’d be very surprised if Roger Penrose subscribed to it, at least in the form Goff presents it. Goff seems to be using an argument from the late C19, before we had any idea that the universe had expanded from a big band, before we knew the universe evolved at all.

    • phoffman56
      Posted February 11, 2018 at 2:50 pm | Permalink

      In Penrose’s 2016 book: “Fashion, Faith and Fantasy”, pages 327-8 discuss the Boltzmann brain; and Sec. 3.10, starting page 310 (oddly enough), the Anthropic Principle.

      Let’s mostly let him speak for himself. Not intended as a criticism of anybody, but we don’t want to get too much like that internet “Quora”, where typically it is: ‘I cannot be bothered learning or even reading anything, just answer my childishly formulated question’.

      But I do regard the word ‘entropy’ to be at present far closer to being reasonably well defined and understood in science, than is the word ‘consciousness’. So maybe I’d sooner try to learn about what thinkers like Penrose have to say about the difficult problem of the origin of the 2nd law of thermodynamics, than what others say about the origin of consciousness.

      In Jerry’s quote, of Goff claiming to give an argument of Penrose, one can stop reading at the word “odds”. That is the same as ‘probability’, and is still fundamentally not well understood, especially when applied to ‘all-there-is’–I won’t use the word ‘universe’ any more, now that ‘visible universe’ and ‘multiverse’ and ‘space versus space-time’ are completely confused in most pop-science writing.

      • Saul Sorrell-Till
        Posted February 11, 2018 at 3:29 pm | Permalink

        I didn’t understand much of that, apologies.
        All I am saying is that people today don’t use the Boltzmann brain argument in the context Goff uses it. That’s because it’s an argument from the late 19th century, when the only materialist explanation for the existence of the universe was chance fluctuations of particles moving randomly. At that time, with the limited amount of knowledge about the universe* that they had back then, it made a certain amount of sense to use the Boltzmann brain argument**.
        But we now know that the universe expanded from a very simple big bang, and there are a variety of theoretical underpinnings that might end up explaining that big bang, all of which are vastly less complex and less unlikely than a randomly fluctuating Boltzmann brain.
        Again, unless I’ve missed something here, it doesn’t make any sense for Goff to even mention Boltzmann brains as a modern alternative explanation for our universe. And I’d be surprised if he’s representing Penrose entirely accurately.

        *I say ‘universe’, but for the sake of the argument you could substitute it with the word ‘multiverse’ and it would make little difference to my point.

        **although according to the argument, we should not continue experiencing the universe for more than the fraction of a second it takes for that brain-state to begin deteriorating entropically. My continuing to experience a universe for any extended period is a clear falsification of the contention that I am a Boltzmann brain. Ditto you/anyone else.

    • Saul Sorrell-Till
      Posted February 11, 2018 at 2:54 pm | Permalink

      ‘Big bang’, not ‘big band’. Unless there’s a two billion light year tall lead guitarist floating out in deep space that no-one’s spotted yet I think it’s safe to say the universe didn’t expand from a ‘big band’.

      • rickflick
        Posted February 11, 2018 at 3:55 pm | Permalink

        Oh. You must be talking about the Boltzmann Brothers. 😎

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted February 11, 2018 at 4:23 pm | Permalink

        I’m now imaging the sudden, explosive event of space and time coming into existence, followed immediately by the sound of a boisterous orchestra of trumpets, tubas, and trombones.

        • Saul Sorrell-Till
          Posted February 11, 2018 at 4:51 pm | Permalink

          That’d be cool. Imagine if the astronomers who discovered the leftover radiation from the big bang heard the faint sound of ‘Dance of the Sugarplum Fairy’ at the same time.

          • Posted February 12, 2018 at 12:09 pm | Permalink

            Unfortunately, the number of Boltzmann Big Bands that make it to the second set are pretty small indeed!

      • Posted February 11, 2018 at 5:33 pm | Permalink

        Did the universe expand from a big band? Only if it was in the mood … 

        /@

        • Posted February 11, 2018 at 5:38 pm | Permalink

          The Universe was created by Joe Garland, then? A creative fellow definitely. Played tenor sax in the Edgar Hayes band when he wrote In The Mood. Based on an old Don Redman blues riff, admittedly. Damn this eternal regression of gods…

      • phoffman56
        Posted February 11, 2018 at 5:50 pm | Permalink

        I’d say the big band theory is that,in the beginning, god created Glen Miller, Benny Goodman, etc. all fully formed adult musicians, and also created all sorts of fake evidence that the visible universe (oops!) seems to be 13.5 billion years old. But it’s only about 80 years old, from when the Big Band Era was at its prime.

        • Saul Sorrell-Till
          Posted February 12, 2018 at 6:15 am | Permalink

          I hate big band music. If I lived in a big band music I’d be driven slowly insane.

          • Saul Sorrell-Till
            Posted February 12, 2018 at 1:31 pm | Permalink

            “If I lived in a big band music universe” that should be. Ugh.

      • phil
        Posted February 11, 2018 at 9:16 pm | Permalink

        What if it was a big rubber band?

        • Posted February 12, 2018 at 12:09 pm | Permalink

          Depends on how big the band is, but it seems that those are more likely (being less massive).

  20. rickflick
    Posted February 11, 2018 at 2:03 pm | Permalink

    Goff is whistling Dixie.

  21. Posted February 11, 2018 at 2:20 pm | Permalink

    Goff commits the Sample of One Fallacy here:

    “If Penrose is right, then the odds of an observer in the multiverse theory finding itself in a large, ordered universe are astronomically small. And hence the fact that we are ourselves such observers is powerful evidence against the multiverse theory.”

    Goff’s argument here is: the probability of a fine-tuned universe is small (with respect to all possible universes in the multiverse); therefore, the probability we are in such a universe *and* that we are here to observe it is really small.

    But this is the wrong argument. In fact, it’s an instantiation of the Prosecutor’s Fallacy. The probability of interest is *conditional* because we have an observation already: life exists in this universe. That’s evidence, not a hypothetical. Thus, the relevant quantity is the probability we are in a fine-tuned universe *given* that we are here to observe it. But this conditional probability is enormous, not tiny like Goff’s irrelevant unconditional probability.

    Equivalently, Goff’s mistake is like saying the chance that we flip 100 coins in a row and see all heads is astronomically small given that we’ve already flipped the coin 99 times and observed all heads. Clearly, this is nonsense. The conditional probability is quite high while the unconditional probability is very low.

    • Michael Fisher
      Posted February 11, 2018 at 2:37 pm | Permalink

      I think Goff ripped off that argument [fallacy & all] from William Lane Craig who has in turn quote mined it from Penrose’s “The Road to Reality” (2004). WLC of course has never read Penrose, he gets his half dozen theology PhD minions to do that & supply him with the juicy quote mines.

      Both Goff & WLC habitually continue to use exploded arguments for years without any embarrassment.

      • Posted February 12, 2018 at 12:11 pm | Permalink

        I’d have to check the history again, but I am pretty sure that WLC was using it before 2004 – Vic Stenger wrote *against* WLC’s cluelessness before that a few times, IIRC.

        • Michael Fisher
          Posted February 12, 2018 at 12:56 pm | Permalink

          I don’t know when WLC first used the fine tuning argument, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it was pre-2004 given that the The Designed ‘Just So’ Universe by sometimes stealth creationist Walter L. Bradley is from 1999. Bradley IMO was the IDer who most effectively harnessed modern science to rebut modern science e.g. his 1984 book that played on the improbabilities of DNA coding [using fallacious reasoning about probabilities]. It was Bradley who paved the way for Dembski’s pseudoscientific maths on ‘information’ for example.

          All I’m claiming is WLC quote mined [changed contexts etc] the respected Penrose, used Penrose’s exact figures & did no work to understand the scientific stance – understanding only enough to wield fine tuning as a cudgel.

  22. Posted February 11, 2018 at 2:24 pm | Permalink

    Some people just can’t abide with their being mysteries in the universe. Of course, scientists react to this situation by working on reasonable explanations guided by experiments. Others like Goff make shit up.

    Penrose is a strange case. He has done some real science but his ideas on consciousness are not very scientific. It’s as if he is saying, “We don’t fully understand consciousness or quantum mechanics so let’s use one to explain the other!”

    Jerry, why do you spend your time reporting on Goff’s ideas? Is it only the Templeton connection? BTW, I am less and less impressed with Aeon’s articles. Actually, maybe I was never impressed but just like the subjects they cover.

  23. Torbjörn Larsson
    Posted February 11, 2018 at 2:30 pm | Permalink

    The essays are theology, trying to have its cake without the magic, effectively putting it back with theology’s age old preference for mysticism. In the end I came to think of Goff’s essays as a kind of ‘mess’ devoid of intellect or reason.

    The universe is not “conscious”. It is easy to observe since whatever “consciousness” is – our experience of ourselves perhaps – it is constrained by awareness. And awareness is so far only observed in animals. [Though it looks like we can expect to see it in computers some day: “Worm [model] uploaded to a computer and trained to balance a pole”, https://eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2018-02/vuot-wut020618.php ]

    As for our universe being amenable for life, the current inflationary cosmology favors a multiverse at a huge likelihood, though of course it may not be the case for one reason or other. This is as far as I know not true:

    we just don’t know anything beyond the fact that the constant permit life

    Weinberg showed decades ago that our universe sits comfortably within the habitable distribution of the [cosmological] constant. We are not in the tails, which makes the hypothesis of luck less likely – and plays well with the inflationary multiverse – though of course again it may be the case.

    • Torbjörn Larsson
      Posted February 11, 2018 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

      Oh, I forgot re multiverses:

      We are observably not Boltzmann’s Brains. So – which I think Jerry says too – they do not count re likelihood distributions amenable for life.

      • Saul Sorrell-Till
        Posted February 11, 2018 at 3:32 pm | Permalink

        You said in three lines what I tried to say in twenty times that.

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted February 11, 2018 at 4:25 pm | Permalink

          Yeah but your explanation included musical accompaniment so it was not without interest.

          • Saul Sorrell-Till
            Posted February 11, 2018 at 4:54 pm | Permalink

            You know I’m playing the bongos whenever I post anything right? Right hand types, left-hand pounds away.

  24. Mark Sturtevant
    Posted February 11, 2018 at 2:52 pm | Permalink

    A conscious entity has even greater challenges than a ‘living’ but unconscious entity like an amoeba. Any such entity would have to be able to sustain homeostasis. But the universe is expanding and cooling, and is doing anything but existing in a state of thermal and structural homeostasis.
    Even if it passes into a living and even self-aware condition, it will soon lose that awareness and die. “I think, therefore I—-“

  25. Scott
    Posted February 11, 2018 at 3:02 pm | Permalink

    >>> Goff says that there are three explanations why we are lucky enough to live in a universe where the constants of physics enable us to contemplate our luck: a beneficent being who made the laws, panpsychism, or the multiverse. He neglects two other explanations: we’re just lucky, or that there is some reason we don’t understand why physical constants have to take the form they do. <<<

    The constants that work in the favor of life emerging are the constants that make gravity by far the weakest of the forces, and require a super narrow range for the strong and weak nuclear forces. Combined, these forces allow atoms to exist, stars to exist, and for the universe to not fly apart OR crush itself soon after it "bangs".

    It's kind of a cop-out to suggest "we're just lucky" (without invoking a multi-universe scenario). The odds are simply to high, googal-ish high!

    And your second suggestion is effectively no different than "we're just lucky". All you're saying is that we don't understand why we're so lucky.

    I don't necessarily like the idea of a multiverse, but it does seem to be the best explanation. Whether that multiverse exists in parallel, or sequentially (our universe eventually re-boots and will do so forever, and each re-boot might have different laws), or a combination of both.

    These reboots might happen really quickly when a universe is born with constants that lead to a quick re-crushing of all matter/energy, and this would likely be the case with the vast majority of big bangs.

    • Posted February 11, 2018 at 3:04 pm | Permalink

      Yes, I agree that the multiverse is the best explanation, especially because there’s weak evidence now that multiverses may exist, but we don’t even know if the constants really are that “finely tuned”.

    • Posted February 11, 2018 at 6:07 pm | Permalink

      The constants that work in the favor of life emerging are the constants that make gravity by far the weakest of the forces, and require a super narrow range for the strong and weak nuclear forces.

      Yes, but we don’t know that these can be varied independently. It may be that some higher-order physics keeps the ratios in step.

      /@

  26. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted February 11, 2018 at 3:15 pm | Permalink

    Well, I have a temper-mental attraction to stuff like this, but the “holes in holism” are all too obvious.

    Now there’s a narrower sense of holism which makes sense in which the whole is greater than the sum its parts due to the process by which the parts hang together, in the sense that a well-constructed story has good scenes supporting and transitioning into each other well.

    But to say that “the table in front of you does not derive its existence from the sub-atomic particles that compose it; rather, those sub-atomic particles derive their existence from the table.” is going much further and runs counter to good sense.

    Given the Mr. Goff has gone to the trouble to distinguish between micropsychism and cosmopsychism, I post these images of a micro psychic and a cosmo psychic.

    Micro Psychic:

    Cosmo Psychic:

    • Posted February 12, 2018 at 12:13 pm | Permalink

      The way to think about it is that the table is not just the heap of atoms, but how they are put together, too.

      (This is in my view the greatest discovery of 19th century chemistry. It seems banal, but I dare say without understanding isotopy, it can be quite mysterious.)

  27. Posted February 11, 2018 at 3:18 pm | Permalink

    I can’t discuss this at your level, but I am under the impression that Earth is the only planet (so far) on which we have detected so-called “fine-tuned” conditions for life out of the whole universe (or what we’ve seen of it.) However, there was life on this planet before we oxygen-breathers evolved, most of which were not seemingly conscious or intelligent from a human perspective. In addition, as conditions on the planet changed, life forms evolved, and certain of those planetary changes caused extinction events that killed off most of the life-forms on the planet. Does this seem like the workings of a conscious universe (or god) to you?

    Consciousness and intelligence, human-like or not, is not equivalent to life. There are many kinds of life-forms which we humans are still trying to learn how to detect, qualify and quantify their intelligence. I don’t think we know enough to rank intelligence accurately yet. As I’ve said before, the intelligence tests we currently have are not dependable as there are many kinds of intelligence and there are not yet tests designed to test them all. (For example: is the non-human microbiota which apparently makes up about 90% of each human being intelligent? What about what we’re learning about communication between the intestinal tract and the brain?)

    Having just started to read “Ishi’s Brain: In Search of America’s Last “Wild” Indian” by Orin Starn – 2004 -, and having read Theodora Kroeber’s “Ishi in Two Worlds” – 1961- decades ago, I am reminded that native Americans were viewed as savages, less than human, and murdered during the gold rush and immigration of settlers in California. Ishi’s tribe was massacred. Native Americans not only died from diseases for which they had no immunity, and from slavery, but in the conflict over land and resources, “bounties were set … on the natives by the settlers. Prices included 50 cents per scalp and 5 dollars per head.” Lots of Indian Hunters.

    We must be careful when considering some life-forms better than others, and some intelligences more superior.

    • Posted February 11, 2018 at 6:34 pm | Permalink

      The ‘fine-tuning’ applies to the constants of physics throughout the universe, not just the local conditions on Earth.

      • Posted February 12, 2018 at 9:44 am | Permalink

        Thanks for correcting me. I obviously had not read enough about the “constants of physics throughout the universe”. From my limited reading, I was under the impression that we had not found other planets (yet)with these precise conditions for life. Back to the books! Best suggestion for a non-physicist?

        • glen1davidson
          Posted February 12, 2018 at 9:56 am | Permalink

          Just so you know, what you were discussing is often called “the privileged planet,” which is an ID “argument” as well.

          Glen Davidson

        • Posted February 12, 2018 at 11:10 am | Permalink

          We have recently identified earth-like planets that could support life. The premise is that constants like the mass of particles, speed of light, strength of forces, etc. are uncannily fine-tuned to support just exactly the conditions that permit our form of life.

          I can’t think of any books on the subject. Whenever anyone brings up fine-tuning, I just observe that the conditions in my work boots are amazingly fine-tuned for athlete’s foot fungus to thrive, but they weren’t designed for that.

  28. Mike Cracraft
    Posted February 11, 2018 at 3:43 pm | Permalink

    Peter Woit’s blog “Not Even Wrong” is a good
    place to get a down to earth perspective on the “multiverse mania” that seems to be infecting much of modern physics.

    • Posted February 11, 2018 at 6:37 pm | Permalink

      Yeah, no, Woit’s just dug in his heels and refuses to consider any new ideas.

  29. Posted February 11, 2018 at 4:02 pm | Permalink

    I’m not even convinced that life, and consciousness should be treated separate from molecules. It sounds much less astonishing to argue why molecules exist, and how the universe is fine tuned to have them floating about. When there are molecules, and enough time-space, life and the rest can emerge.

    Goff says there are three explanations, Jerry adds two more “why we are lucky enough to live in a universe where the constants of physics enable us to contemplate our luck”, I add a sixth.

    (1) “a beneficent being who made the laws.” that’s not explanation at all. How come the being exists? If you grant it can exists, then laws can just exist.

    (2) panpsychism: No explanation either. It’s simple the New Age sci-fi version of the first.

    (3) multiverse. It’s a at least a plausible avenue to look into. I take this to mean a vast possibility space.

    (4) “we’re just lucky”, shows that the question of beginnings has two very different frames: one concerned with the existence of life, and one concerned with existence itself. I think, we need to watch out for thimble-rigging between those two.

    (5) “that there is some reason we don’t understand why physical constants have to take the form they do”, that’s certainly true.

    (6) unlimited tries: let’s take a metaphor: Water is heated up, bubbles periodically in the hole. Occasionally the conditions are just right, bubbles, pressure, etc, that a geyser shoots up into the sky. It could be like that for universes, too, given multiple trials, however arranged in any dimensions.

  30. Heather Hastie
    Posted February 11, 2018 at 4:18 pm | Permalink

    I admit I don’t really get this stuff, but it still sounds like a load of rubbish to me. I do not see how any of his arguments make a conscious universe even possible let alone likely. He seems to be saying it “decided” to be conscious during the Planck thing, so it was. That doesn’t make sense. How can you decide something before you’re conscious?

    And perhaps it’s my science ignorance, but I’ve never got this fine-tuning argument either. Different conditions might make a different kind of life possible, and it’s likely we can’t even imagine what those would be. They might even make more or better life possible, given that most of the universe we’ve got makes life impossible.

    • rickflick
      Posted February 11, 2018 at 8:00 pm | Permalink

      Heather, you have to squint real hard to “get it”. Are you really squinting enough?

      😎

    • phil
      Posted February 11, 2018 at 10:53 pm | Permalink

      I think the technical terminology is “Planck thingy”.

      “Different conditions might make a different kind of life possible, and it’s likely we can’t even imagine what those would be.”

      And you don’t need to be a philosopher to work that out. Hidden in your words is the plain, simple truth: we just don’t know. Yet.

      • Heather Hastie
        Posted February 12, 2018 at 2:50 pm | Permalink

        I’ll try to remember to say Planck thingy instead of Planck thing! 🙂

  31. Posted February 11, 2018 at 4:23 pm | Permalink

    Both panpsychists and emergentists like Jerry assume that consciousness is “in” things, whether animate or not. The putative evidence for this assumption concerns how consciousness is experienced differently when brains are damaged, but TV programs are also experienced differently when TVs are damaged, and no sensible person claims that there are little people inside TVs. Consciousness is not in anything; on the contrary, everything is in consciousness. In truth, there is nothing else except consciousness, and this can be observed directly through the kind of attention technologies which Sam Harris discusses.

    Those who are only acquainted with pseudoscience, like astrology, imagine that they are engaged in a similar endeavour to real science, like astronomy. Likewise, those who are only acquainted with pseudoreligion, like christianity or buddhism, cannot imagine what real religion is.

    • Posted February 11, 2018 at 4:51 pm | Permalink

      Pray tell us, then, what “real” religion is and why Christianity and Buddhism are faux religions. A lot of people seem to have been duped!

      • Posted February 11, 2018 at 5:08 pm | Permalink

        People are very easily duped, as you well know. But perhaps you have heard of the Zen story in which the master keeps pouring tea into the disciple’s cup until it won’t take another drop: alas your cup is also totally full. You have spent decades understanding science, but you can’t spare a few minutes each day to investigate the true nature of your being.

        • Posted February 11, 2018 at 6:41 pm | Permalink

          There are also stories of zen masters whacking their obtuse disciples with a stick for spouting nonsense.

        • phil
          Posted February 11, 2018 at 11:07 pm | Permalink

          Wait, I think you’ve left out the Purity of Essence part.

        • Posted February 12, 2018 at 4:01 am | Permalink

          For heaven’s sake, Vijen — you don’t seem to be able to spare a few minutes each day to renew your vocabulary and draw metaphors from somewhere other than 70’s meditation discourses.

          It’s called the argument from authority, what you’re trying to pull here. As someone who claims to know something about their “own true nature of their being” you shouldn’t be making a fool of yourself like this.

          (Sam Harris wrote about this in Waking Up, and I’ve also had to put up with it first hand — the sudden wave of people in the 90s who thought they’d got enlightened from Papaji and went around for the next decade saying they “know their own true nature”, like clones or zombies. You’re still doing it, mate and you should stop it. At least on public forms. It’s just too boring.)

        • Saul Sorrell-Till
          Posted February 12, 2018 at 6:17 am | Permalink

          I investigated the true nature of my being a lot when I was a teenager, until one day when my mum walked in on me.

    • Posted February 11, 2018 at 6:39 pm | Permalink

      The brain being a “receiver” for consciousness means there must be some external source affecting the brain. Which means there must be some unexplained, as-yet undetectable origin for nerve impulses. We don’t see that even with high resolution brain scans, which means the effect is miniscule.

      • phil
        Posted February 11, 2018 at 10:59 pm | Permalink

        Your hypothesis seems to have run aground on the notion that the brain is a “receiver” for consciousness. Please demonstrate that, or perhaps explain what you mean. AFAIK there is no evidence for such a risible claim.

        • phil
          Posted February 11, 2018 at 11:05 pm | Permalink

          On further reflection I think I have misunderstood what you were writing, but you did originate the “receiver” concept I think.

          Apologies.

          • Posted February 12, 2018 at 5:54 am | Permalink

            The “receiver” idea was already implicit in Vijen’s TV analogy. It’s come up very often before. As glen notes, Vijen’s argument doesn’t hold water because we know how a TV works as a receiver and (thanks to the LHC) we know that there is no kind of signal (boson) that can be received by the (fermionic) human brain that we couldn’t already detect. And we don’t.

            /@

            • Posted February 12, 2018 at 5:54 pm | Permalink

              Doesn’t have to be bosons and fermions in that order, but the point still stands. There are no low-energy particle interactions that could possibly give rise to a soul or external consciousness.

              • Posted February 12, 2018 at 6:28 pm | Permalink

                Um … yes it does: All matter is made our of fermions (quarks, electrons); all forces between them (e.g., electromagnetism) are carried by bosons (e.g., photons).

                /@

              • Posted February 12, 2018 at 6:46 pm | Permalink

                Covalent bonds are formed because electrons tunnel between atoms. The attractive force between two neutral atons comes from electron tunnelling. Electrons are fermions. It’s true that this is a manifestation of the electromagnetic force, but my point is that complex structures don’t rely on only bosons to carry forces. The particle for such an external consciousness would only have to be a low mass (or perhaps massless) particle, depending on how far the consciousness is, which makes it all the more confusing when we don’t see any low mass particle that could conceivably achieve this.

              • phoffman56
                Posted February 12, 2018 at 6:35 pm | Permalink

                “There are no low-energy particle interactions that could possibly give rise to a soul..”

                It seems strongly accepted by physicists that particles beyond the Standard Model exist. I’m far from having any belief in ‘souls’ of any sort. But besides the lack of any need for arguments against them based on present-day physics, such arguments surely leave you open to clever fellows who might claim that souls could be made out of, say, dark matter. Only a small minority of physicists dispute its existence by modifying GR, and only a few of the rest dispute it likely being constituted of one or more particle yet to be identified. I don’t know whether the fermion/boson dichotomy is expected to continue, but there are other mathematical possibilities.

              • Posted February 12, 2018 at 6:52 pm | Permalink

                Souls are too complex to only interact through gravity. Supersymmetric particles probably exist, but their masses would be too high to carry any forces between the brain and the soul. Standard Model particles won’t be able to carry any interactions with such a high frequency without us knowing, so I think my point still stands.

              • Posted February 13, 2018 at 7:14 am | Permalink

                @ vampyricon OK, I think we’re on the same page, just disputing details. Yes, there could be “intermediate” fermions carrying a signal, but those would still have to interact with our brains via bosons, as you acknowledge.

                And the point is, @ phoffman56, we know which bosons can interact with the fermions in our brains and we know which other fermions can interact with those bosons. And there’s nothing outside the Standard Model at human size and energy scales.

                Key info here, courtesy of “Official WEIT Physicist” Sean Carroll: Seriously, The Laws Underlying The Physics of Everyday Life Really Are Completely Understood; Higgs Boson and the Fundamental Nature of Reality.

                Gravity is surprisingly weak – just think of the size of LIGO and Virgo necessary to detect gravity waves (i.e., ripples in spacetime) from colliding black holes! Any gravity-mediated signal would be imperceptible in the small human brain; it would be overwhelmed by thermal “noise”.

                /@

              • phoffman56
                Posted February 13, 2018 at 2:50 pm | Permalink

                “And the point is, @ phoffman56, we know which bosons can interact with the fermions in our brains…”

                Let me reiterate that I have no doubt about the non-existence of souls. And I accept completely the view, of physicists such as Carroll and Wilczek, that all material which has had or likely will have any effect on humans is already described in a fundamental way by the Standard Model of Particle Physics.

                The point is that to base the non-existence of the soul on an argument from this physics and not on the simple fact that there is no evidence whatsoever of a so-called ‘immortal soul’ is probably a mistake. With very rare exception, neither argument is needed among readers here. But a committed god-botherer can quite easily simply say that
                (1) the soul is so far, and maybe always will be, independent of ordinary matter,
                (2) we know there are going to be more ‘thing particles’ and probably ‘force particles’ and so
                (3) this physics, your only argument (surely not) against the existence of the soul is simply a non-starter.

                And so you have to go back to the simple fact of the non-existence of any real evidence whatsoever for souls as described by any of the theologians. Period.

              • Posted February 13, 2018 at 5:56 pm | Permalink

                But there’s an even simpler argument against “the non-existence of any evidence”.

                And your posited god-botherer’s argument falls at the first hurdle: if the soul is “independent of ordinary matter”, how can it influence our brains and our bodies?

                /@

              • Posted February 13, 2018 at 5:57 pm | Permalink

                The thing is, if we say there is no evidence for souls, the soul-believer can say we just haven’t founs it yet. It’s not enough to say we can’t find evidence for it, we have to say there’s evidence against it. Responding to (1), I’d just thank them for saying there is no soul. If it’s independent of ordinary matter, then it means souls don’t interact with ordinary matter. If souls don’t interact with ordinary matter, they’re functionally nonexistent. For (2), most supersymmetric particles probably have too high a mass to carry any force a significant distance, but I admit I’m not familiar with supersymmetric theories. I don’t quite understand how (3) is an argument though.
                The thing is, physics at everyday energy scales is completely understood, and no possible interaction can possibly give rise to a soul. I believe Sean Carroll has a post on the impossibility of souls based on physics.

              • Posted February 13, 2018 at 6:09 pm | Permalink

                “I believe Sean Carroll has a post on the impossibility of souls based on physics.”

                See the “Higgs” link I posted earlier.

                /@

              • Posted February 13, 2018 at 5:58 pm | Permalink

                On a second read, you seem to understand what we’re saying. I don’t understand what your opposition to the physics arguments are.

              • Posted February 13, 2018 at 6:01 pm | Permalink

                To use a familiar analogy: it’s not enough to show there is no evidence for creationism, we have to show how it is wrong.
                (Sorry for posting so many comments)

              • phoffman56
                Posted February 13, 2018 at 6:47 pm | Permalink

                Firstly, for Ant, the reference to Sean Carroll is double:
                A written one where “soul” is mentioned only once and has nothing to do with our discussion.
                A 50 minute video where I’ll need a specific time within the video to be willing to invest the time to educate myself. I did long ago watch it, but do not now recall anything exactly on that topic.

              • phoffman56
                Posted February 13, 2018 at 6:56 pm | Permalink

                To briefly answer vampyricon, I think I understand, as you put it “…physics at everyday energy scales is completely understood..” somewhat differently than you.
                To me all present evidence of phenomena at everyday energy scales can be explained by known particle physics, at least potentially. I think a scientist would be foolish to assert very confidently that the same statement would remain true in the year 3018. And yet I have complete confidence that any strange-to-us phenomena will be nothing at all like the souls which theologians of all religions have tried to foist upon us.

              • Posted February 14, 2018 at 2:19 am | Permalink

                Physics at everyday energy scales IS completely understood. It’s called classical mechanics. It’s only when energy is large or small that relativity or quantum mechanics is needed. We’ve even combined quantum mechanics and special relativity into quantum field theory, which deals with things beyond everyday energy scales, and is a very accurate theory. I am quite sure, and so is Sean Carroll, that physics at everyday energy scales is completely understood, and our understanding is that they prevent anything resembling a soul from existing.

              • rickflick
                Posted February 13, 2018 at 7:37 pm | Permalink

                “the soul-believer can say we just haven’t founs it yet.”

                The premise in this statement is wrong. As rational skeptical thinkers, you don’t need to disprove the possibility of souls. “Souls” is a proposition of the soulful believers. The burden of proof is on them to prove souls exist. It is no one’s obligation to show they don’t exist.

              • Posted February 14, 2018 at 2:23 am | Permalink

                I feel like I wouldn’t be giving my best if I didn’t bring up opposing evidence when such evidence exists. It’s not enough to show that there’s no reason to believe souls exist. I’m compelled to show that they CAN’T exist.

              • Posted February 14, 2018 at 4:55 am | Permalink

                We’ve reached – perhaps already gone beyond – that point where it’s unclear who’s responding to what.

                @ phoffman56

                Carroll’s article is absolutely very relevant. It’s reinforcing the point that vampyricon is making. That a “soul” requires new physics at everyday human scales, but we know there is no room for that. The particularly relevant part of the video begins c. 38:05, but the force of Caroll’s argument is far stronger if you understand how robust QFT and the results from the LHC are. In short: There are no xilbots.

                Re your reply to vampyricon, I don’t think it’s more foolish than asserting that, say, water molecules comprise one atom of oxygen and two of hydrogen. Yes, there might be higher order physics, just as there is substructure to atoms, but that doesn’t invalidate what we already know. Similarly, Newtonian gravity is still “true” at “low” masses (effective for calculating the trajectories of spacecraft in the outer solar system) and in agreement with general relativity within such use cases.

                @ rickflick

                I agree with phoffman56.

                Moreover, we are making it very clear that the soulful believer has not only to provide evidence that supports that claim and demonstrate that “soul” is the best explanation for that evidence, but also to explain why our current understanding of physics is wrong.

                The fact that physics shows that souls can’t exist makes the claim an exceptional one, requiring exceptional evidence.

                /@

            • phoffman56
              Posted February 14, 2018 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

              To again (even more briefly??) answer vampyricon, I am likely as familiar as necessary with all his mentioned basic classical and quantum mechanics and field theory, despite being a mathematician and not a physicist. So that pseudo-ad-hominem goes nowhere here.

              And his “Physics at everyday energy scales IS completely understood” is something I myself have repeatedly agreed to, here and earlier, with “completely understood” being properly understood quantitatively.

              But the ease with which the god-botherer can brush off these claims that present day physics can actually give a slam-dunk proof of any kind of non-existence is still very clear to me. This is despite being convinced for more straightforward empirical reasons that no such thing as any theologian’s version of a soul could exist. But there is no end to the possibilities for such a person to give all sorts of ‘maybes’, about e.g. undetected, extraordinarily weak, new interactions which would need accuracy to within 1 part in 10 to the power a million. Not needed to explain what is “understood” above of course, but you need the person with the existence claim to specify precisely the properties of what is claimed to exist before you can use those to derive a definite contradiction to well accepted present day theory.

              I’ll be perfectly happy to follow Ant’s more-or-less suggestion to just leave it at that when he says
              “We’ve .. already gone beyond .. that point where it’s unclear who’s responding to what.”.
              Note however that my quotes from you guys make it pretty clear what is being attempted to be answered!

      • Posted February 12, 2018 at 12:15 pm | Permalink

        And violates conservation laws (assuming the “signal” is non material, which is what these people always seem to mean).

    • glen1davidson
      Posted February 11, 2018 at 7:02 pm | Permalink

      The putative evidence for this assumption concerns how consciousness is experienced differently when brains are damaged, but TV programs are also experienced differently when TVs are damaged, and no sensible person claims that there are little people inside TVs.

      Computers, too.

      Difference is that TVs (and computers as well, of course, depending on connections) can have reception problems or processing problems. They also have antennas or connections other connections that feed in rather obvious signals.

      Where are connection or reception problems with the “soul” or whatever in the brain? There are clear connections and sometimes connection problems with the rest of the CNS, and/or with the PNS, but that’s all we can see going on with reception or connection.

      This whole “if the TVs screwed up it changes things” is so transparently fake. Of course receivers can have connection and reception problems, and there’s nothing hidden or mysterious about them. Only when it’s the brain and consciousness and what-not is some undetectable reception or connection proposed, for no obvious reason than that people want to cling to their beliefs in magic.

      Glen Davidson

    • Posted February 11, 2018 at 8:53 pm | Permalink

      “Consciousness is not in anything; on the contrary, everything is in consciousness.”

      A good term for this kind of assertion is ‘borrowed knowledge’. (“Knowledge” being meant ironically.)

    • darrelle
      Posted February 12, 2018 at 2:22 pm | Permalink

      “Both panpsychists and emergentists like Jerry assume that consciousness is “in” things, whether animate or not.

      I think this is where you first go wrong. Right at the beginning, as it were. “Emergentists,” as you call them (never heard that word before), don’t think consciousness is in things. They think that it is a phenomenon that arises from neural systems and that it is consistent with known physics, chemistry, etc..

      I am not sure how you have rationalized your way to thinking that your view is very different from panpsychism. Seems pretty similar to me.

      • Posted February 13, 2018 at 11:26 am | Permalink

        Jerry (from what I understand) is a *scientific emergentist*, like my teacher, Mario Bunge (who adopted the position precisely because it was biology-friendly, as far as I can tell). The British Emergentists, like Broad, were as you describe – the position is psychoneural dualism with a pseudoscientific sounding base. They also claimed (as I recall) one cannot figure out in even in principle which systems “exude” minds. Bunge, by contrast, thinks one can figure it out – as do I (but we disagree on what systems might be candidates and why).

  32. Posted February 11, 2018 at 6:26 pm | Permalink

    I haven’t encountered cosmology this idiotic since INTERSTELLAR.

    • darrelle
      Posted February 12, 2018 at 2:23 pm | Permalink

      I must disagree! Interstellar was light years more reasonable than this guy.

  33. Posted February 11, 2018 at 6:47 pm | Permalink

    To reiterate Sean Carroll’s point about Boltzmann brains, they are problems for multiverse models with a Boltzmann brain problem. That means those models are wrong. We could very well be Boltzmann brains though, in a sort of solipsistic fashion, but then making multiverse models wouldn’t matter as we’d disappear the next moment.

  34. Posted February 11, 2018 at 8:54 pm | Permalink

    That’s a lot of verbiage and a lot of cash just to get to “maybe, maybe not”.

  35. Diane G.
    Posted February 12, 2018 at 3:23 am | Permalink

    sub

  36. Posted February 12, 2018 at 5:30 am | Permalink

    You’re right about Sean Carroll on Boltzmann brains. Whether Boltzmann brains occur or not depends on unsettled physics questions.

    You also write:

    but surely consciousness requires some kind of neurological substrate

    I tend to agree (about phenomenal consciousness anyway) – because words fix their reference upon the objects/events that prompt their use. But we are in the minority; most philosophers think substrate is irrelevant.


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