Pigliucci on panpsychism and Churchland on “intractable problems”

I’ve had several public disagreements with Massimo Pigliucci (I believe he considers me a philosopher manqué), but I’m not so set in my ways that I can’t give him kudos when he writes a good paper or has some good ideas. And his new piece on Medium, which is largely a critique of panpsychism, is good. Pigliucci is almost uniquely qualified to critique panpsychism—at least in terms of his street cred—since he’s a working philosopher who used to be a working biologist. He also sees through bullshit easily but calls it out politely, though in the present article he can’t quite contain his distaste at the end!

I guess the new piece on panpsychism stems from his continuing published dialogue with Philip Goff, whom Pigliucci calls “one of the leading supporters of the idea.” (That’s true.) I haven’t yet read the dialogue, but I give a link below. In the meantime, below is an essay in which Massimo incisively critiques panpsychism. Some of his points we’ve dealt with before, but it’s good to see them in one place, and he makes some new points, as well as situating panpsychism within the history of philosophy.

Massimo’s critique makes two main points. The first is that the “hard problem of consciousness” (how it mechanistically arises from our brain) only looks hard because it’s early days and we aren’t yet close to a solution. His response, which is echoed by Patricia Churchland in the older article below, is that the “hard problem” is composed of several “easier problems” that we’re solving right now, and when those are done we will either understand the origin of consciousness or have a better idea of how to attain that understanding. He, like Churchland (and like me) sees nothing uniquely intractable about “the Hard Problem”. To wit:

First, Massimo quotes philosopher David Chalmers, and then rebuts him (Chalmers’s words in italics):

 “. . . . .It is widely agreed that experience arises from a physical basis, but we have no good explanation of why and how it so arises. Why should physical processing give rise to a rich inner life at all? It seems objectively unreasonable that it should, and yet it does.”

No, it doesn’t seem “objectively” unreasonable at all. It depends on one’s own metaphysical assumptions (more on this later). Now, if there is a hard problem of consciousness, surely there are “easy” problems. Sure enough, Chalmers gives us a list:

The ability to discriminate, categorize, and react to environmental stimuli;
The integration of information by a cognitive system;
The reportability of mental states;
The ability of a (brain) system to access its own internal states;
The focus of attention;
The deliberate control of behavior;
The difference between wakefulness and sleep.

I have suggested elsewhere that the problem Chalmers is so concerned with is based on a category mistake, and that it dissolves into a number of sub-problems, all of which he refers to as “easy.” Once (if, really, since there is no guarantee in science!) neuroscience and evolutionary biology will have answered the easy problems of consciousness, there won’t be a hard problem left, above and beyond the easy ones.

Pigliucci then deals with the “Mary’s room” argument for the irreducibility of consciousness (you can read that for yourself), and then dismantles Goff’s view that the very properties of inanimate matter like particles comprise their “consciousness”.  He argues further against the irreducibility of the Hard Problem and supports the view that consciousness is an emergent phenomenon, and considers panpsychism a form of “property dualism” in which matter arranged in a certain way aquires brand-new properties (“higher” consciousness):

All sorts of new physical properties “emerge” when matter is organized one way or another. For instance, the wetness of water does not exist at the level of individual molecules of H2O. It emerges only when there is a large number of such molecules, and when they interact with each other within certain ranges of pressure and temperature.

What makes property dualism a kind of dualism is the further stipulation that consciousness is ontologically irreducible to neurobiology and physics. But why? If we simply stipulate this, we are engaging in a massive instance of begging the question. If, instead, we are invoking irreducibility just on the ground that science hasn’t arrived at it yet, then we are making an argument from ignorance. Either way, things don’t look good for dualism.

After dealing with these higher-level issues of whether or not a problem is tractable, Massimo gets back to panpsychism. And he makes his second point—that the idea is incoherent—using Goff’s own characterization of what “consciousness” means when it’s applied to particles. Here’s an excerpt, with Goff’s statements again italicized, while Massimo’s response is in plain text (emphases mine):

“I think Hossenfelder misunderstands the view she’s attacking. When one first hears about panpsychism, one thinks it’s the view that in addition to its physical properties — mass, charge, spin — a particle also has non-physical consciousness properties. That kind of panpsychism would lead to the kind of problems Hossenfelder points to, because we’d want to know what the consciousness properties of particles are doing over and above their physical properties. But Russellian panpsychism is very different: the view is that mass, charge and spin are forms of consciousness. If that makes sense (which we’re currently assuming), i.e. if micro-level forms of consciousness are identical with the properties invoked in the standard model, then clearly it’s mistaken to wonder what these forms of consciousness do over and above the properties of the standard model (because this implies that they’re distinct, when ex hypothesi they are identical).”

Goff is seriously mistaken here. First off, Hossenfelder is most definitely not assuming that consciousness is a non-physical property. If it were, she wouldn’t expect it to show up in physical experiments.

Second, I simply don’t know what it means to say that “mass, charge and spin are forms of consciousness.” Notice that Goff says that this is assumed ex hypothesi, that is, a priori. Problem is: this assumption is precisely what is under scrutiny, so one cannot take it as foundational. Are there any empirical reasons to think it holds? No, by definition. Are there any philosophical arguments to support it? Well, Philip continues:

“But how on earth could mass, charge and spin be identical with forms of consciousness? … You seem to suggest that the postulation of intrinsic natures is incoherent if particles are elementary. I’m happy to accept that quarks and electrons are fundamental, but we still need to ask about the nature of their properties. In my view, physics tells us what mass, charge and spin do (or more precisely the behavioral dispositions they endow to their bearers) but does not tell us what they are. Hence, it is coherent for the panpsychist to suppose that they are forms of consciousness.”

No, it isn’t. For a number of reasons. First, the panpsychist has to come up with a good argument for why there should be anything to say about electrons, quarks, etc. above and beyond their physical properties. The search for essences — which is what Goff is talking about — should have ended sometime during the Middle Ages, with the demise of the Scholastics. Second, even if we entertain the possibility that particles have essences, then we need to be told what such essences would look like, and how we could discover them. Last, but not least, the panpsychist would still have to come up with a positive reason for why the essence of particles is consciousness. Oh, and after all of that, we still wouldn’t know why human beings have first person experiences and rocks don’t. Or do they?

Like Massimo, I’m perplexed, because when you ask Goff to tell us in what sense electrons are “conscious”, he just redefines their properties—spin, mass, charge, and so on—as consciousness. But if you pull that trick, then explaining human consciousness just becomes a purely physical problem, given Goff’s addendum that when you bundle enough conscious atoms and molecules and neurons together, you get a human brain. In other words, why isn’t consciousness then an epiphenomenon of the collection of molecules that make up the brain?

Further, Goff seems to think there is some “intrinsic nature” of matter that isn’t given by its behavior and observable properties. But to a physicist, the described properties of an electron completely characterize an electron for any purpose that we want. And if you call those properties “consciousness” and say that when there are enough conscious particles in a lump you get “higher” humanlike consciousness, then you’re saying nothing beyond describing what neuroscientists are already trying to do. There are no essences beyond what we can observe. Or, if there are, Goff can’t tell us what they are, though he strains mightily to do so.

In the end, Massimo accuses Goff of practicing a form of metaphysics, or “first philosophy” of the brand emitted by Decartes. Finally, patience exhausted, Massimo sticks in the knife. But he’s right to perform that act of intellectual evisceration, because he’s already refuted panpsychism but the proponents persist:

The problem is that Goff not only is going back to first philosophy, he actually thinks that it can provide the underpinnings of a whole new science! His book is tellingly entitled Galileo’s Error. Foundations for a New Science of Consciousness. But Galileo did not make the error Philip is charging him with. And there is no such thing as a science based on statements that are entirely empirically untestable. The error isn’t Galileo’s, is that of some modern philosophers who insist in creating problems that don’t exist, and then spend a lot of time “solving” them in a way that rolls human understanding back four centuries.

Perhaps another piece of advice from Wittgenstein comes handy here: “Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.” (Tractatus, 7)

***************

Patricia Churchland is a prominant “neurophilosopher” who wrote a paper in 1996 about whether the Hard Problem was in principle permanently intractable to normal scientific investigation. Back then she didn’t deal with panpsychism, though she does now—and finds it pretty ludicrous. And she’s been slugging it out with Goff on Twitter (go see for yourself). To wit:

Anyway, Churchland’s 1996 paper on hornswaggling is largely about her view that the Hard Problem, while hard, isn’t in principle intractable, and doesn’t call for new methods of inquiry. Like Massimo, she writes about Mary’s room problem,  and the breaking down of the higher problem into more tractable sub-problems which, when solved, might give us the key to the mechanism of consciousness. You can get the paper for free by clicking on the title below:

I’ll give just one quote from Churchland:

The point is this: if you want to contrast being able to imagine brain mechanisms for attention, short term memory, planning etc., with being unable to imagine mechanisms for consciousness, you have to do more that say you can imagine neurons doing one but cannot imagine neurons doing the other. Otherwise one simply begs the question.

To fill out the point, consider several telling examples from the history of science. . .

. . . Consider now a biological example. Before 1953, many people believed, on rather good grounds actually, that in order to address the copying problem (transmission of traits from parents to offspring), you would first have to solve the problem of how proteins fold. The former was deemed a much harder problem than the latter, and many scientists believed it was foolhardy to attack the copying problem directly. As we all know now, the basic answer to the copying problem lay in the base-pairing of DNA, and it was solved first. Humbling it is to realize that the problem of protein folding (secondary and tertiary) is still not solved. That, given the lot we now know, does seem to be a hard problem.

What is the point of these stories? They reinforce the message of the argument from ignorance: from the vantage point of ignorance, it is often very difficult to tell which problem is harder, which will fall first, what problem will turn out to be more tractable than some other. Consequently our judgments about relative difficulty or ultimate tractability should be appropriately qualified and tentative. Guesswork has a useful place, of course, but let’s distinguish between blind guesswork and educated guesswork, and between guesswork and confirmed fact. The philosophical lesson I learned from my biology teacher is this: when not much is known about a topic, doní’t take terribly seriously someone else’s heartfelt conviction about what problems are scientifically tractable. Learn the science, do the science, and see what happens.

Finally, I’ve put a link below (click on screenshot) to the exchange between Goff and Pigliucci. I’ll read it ASAP, but give it here for your delectation.

I realize I’m posting more about panpsychism than I intended, but it’s because I keep looking for a more tangible explanation of how the properties of inanimate matter are supposed to comprise “consciousness” in a way different from how physicists have described those properties via materialism. And I keep looking for a mechanism whereby molecules that have only rudimentary components of consciousness, like spin and charge, are supposed to get together and produce human consciousness in a way that differs from my own view that consciousness is an epiphenomenon of neuronal organization that has reached a certain level of complexity.

I have found no answers, and am concluding that, with panpsychism, there is no “there” there. It seems to be a hornswoggle—an intellectual equivalent of the shell-and-pea game. (“Nope. Consciousness is over there—under that shell!”) And yet serious people take the view seriously. It’s baffling. Are they falling for a “panpsychism of the gaps” argument?

57 Comments

  1. Ken Pidcock
    Posted January 9, 2020 at 12:18 pm | Permalink

    I’m fond of this sentence from the abstract of Churchland’s 1996 paper:

    When not much is known about a domain of phenomena, our inability to imagine a mechanism is a rather uninteresting psychological fact about us, not an interesting metaphysical fact about the world.

    • darrelle
      Posted January 9, 2020 at 12:42 pm | Permalink

      Yeah, that’s good.

    • Posted January 9, 2020 at 3:30 pm | Permalink

      Churchland seems to be arguing for hard-problem-ists to simply wait and see. Perhaps once we do know everything about consciousness mechanisms, the hard problem will simply evaporate. Acknowledging the inherent risk of predicting the future, I doubt this.

      Understanding a mechanism fully from a scientific point of view still won’t tell us what it is like to be the mechanism, or what it is like for the mechanism to experience red. There is additional knowledge gained by experiencing something.

      However, that knowledge is not scientific knowledge as it involves the observer observing itself. This is a circularity that the scientific method is not prepared to deal with. It may still be a problem that philosophers can study though.

      Someday I might be able to create a fully conscious AI. I will know everything about how it works internally as I programmed it. It may be able to describe its experiences of seeing red but I still won’t know what it feels like for it to do so.

      • Torbjörn Larsson
        Posted January 9, 2020 at 5:28 pm | Permalink

        I don’t see why experiencing and reflecting on it is considered something odd. We do a lot of experiencing without reflection and a lot of armchair reflection without experiencing; it’s just the intersection that is considered remarkable for some.

        Experiencing with our bodies are rather seamlessly. We can drop in or remove opsins in rats, for the colors that fascinate philosophers so. I have recently had some of my axions damaged and healed so my toes were dropping out and coming back in my “body map”. For a while I tended to tip over since my feet map was much shorter than my feet are. Neuroscience are now able to see rat brains geographical position map, rats are doing simulations of where they were during the day, learning what they could have done and not done. I suspect that is how we train and retrain our body map and in a wider sense by such plasticity learn to handle our experiences. In self aware animals that could be where we can reflect on our experiences.

        • Torbjörn Larsson
          Posted January 9, 2020 at 5:35 pm | Permalink

          Axons (not the particle).

  2. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted January 9, 2020 at 12:21 pm | Permalink

    Oh dear, there goes my productivity today. It is a relief to read Pigliucci and Churchland on this matter.

    There’s something I enjoy about this – an exercise, an almost a guilty pleasure, folded in with amusement. Is it a hoax? Is Goff willing to reject the null hypothesis – or has it been formulated in the first place? Perhaps it is in the subconscious.

  3. EdwardM
    Posted January 9, 2020 at 12:26 pm | Permalink

    Please don’t apologize for writing on this. I agree the subject is somewhat ridiculous, but I find reading what you and other thinkers have to say on it illuminating beyond rebutting a silly idea.

  4. Posted January 9, 2020 at 12:29 pm | Permalink

    Yes, it’s a good piece by Massimo, spot on.

    • Posted January 9, 2020 at 8:35 pm | Permalink

      Indeed, but unlike Jerry (if I understood the bit about their squabbles) I usually find Massimo to be either right or at least quite sensible.

      • Posted January 10, 2020 at 4:46 am | Permalink

        Sensible? Yes, always. Right? About half the time. 🙂

  5. TJR
    Posted January 9, 2020 at 12:33 pm | Permalink

    Panpsychism: if we redefine the word “conscious” then all matter is conscious.

    Mary’s room thought experiment: if we assume that sensory perception has a non-physical component, then physicalism is false.

    Philosophical zombies thought experiment: if we assume that consciousness has a non-physical component, then physicalism is false.

  6. GBJames
    Posted January 9, 2020 at 12:46 pm | Permalink

    sub

  7. phar84
    Posted January 9, 2020 at 1:01 pm | Permalink

    The Hard Problem has been solved! ..in subatomic particles. /

  8. KD
    Posted January 9, 2020 at 1:17 pm | Permalink

    Pigliucci does the classic dismissal of DesCartes as being a loopy philosopher worrying about God and the Soul.

    Descartes (along with maybe Hobbes) were the first philosophers since Antiquity to postulate the world was basically atoms and the void, and then he stuck all the stuff he could not pack into atoms in the void into the mind and God (so you could have still have Catholicism alongside science).

    If you look at philosophical naturalism, they are still arguing about dualism (which has declined in popularity since God’s decline), qualia, teleology, intentionality, other minds, free will, etc. How to pack it all into atoms in the void or eliminate it,, and its not clear they have gotten further than in DesCartes time, despite centuries of scientific advances.

    Let’s be honest: people were still burning witches at the time of Descartes and Hobbes, and they came along with their philosophies, and their atoms and the void and put a stop to that, and set the stage for modern science.

    • Posted January 10, 2020 at 12:19 pm | Permalink

      Descartes was *not* an atomist, though he was almost a cryptomaterialist and denied teleology. (Also a heliocentrist, which is the supposed reason why supressed his almost-materialist cosmology.)

      Hobbes too seems to have been a plenist – witness his critique of Boyle’s airpump experiments, where he claims (wrongly) that Boyle claims to have discovered vacua.

  9. Corriel
    Posted January 9, 2020 at 1:41 pm | Permalink

    With all due respect to Churchland, the idea that Twitter is somehow an appropriate venue for this sort of discussion is laughable.

    • Posted January 9, 2020 at 1:50 pm | Permalink

      She’s also written papers about this stuff, in fact I’m reading one now. And don’t you have have the same disapprobation for Goff?

      • Corriel
        Posted January 9, 2020 at 2:03 pm | Permalink

        I do, it’s precisely because of the former that I thought it prudent to state my respect for Churchland specifically. I’d never heard of Goff before the current brouhaha.

  10. Corriel
    Posted January 9, 2020 at 1:47 pm | Permalink

    A big problem I see for Goff is that at the level of single particles physics seems to have no obvious arrow of time, so if the properties of those particles themselves constitute consciousness is there then some sort of consciousness that can be meaningfully said to exist without reference to time?

    • Posted January 9, 2020 at 9:32 pm | Permalink

      Well, Goff could then just claim that elementary particles wink in and out of their rudimentary consciousness. A hypothesis that bends and twists to circumvent any challenge is not a proper hypothesis.

  11. Posted January 9, 2020 at 2:13 pm | Permalink

    Jerry, I of course agree with you, Pigliucci, and Churchland about panpsychism, but I found it interesting that you say “…consciousness is an epiphenomenon of neuronal organization that has reached a certain level of complexity.”

    Most realists about consciousness (which I assume you are, as am I) balk at epiphenomenalism – they think it must serve some sort of causal role in behavior control. For consciousness to be epiphenomenal, it first has to be produced by (e.g., emerge from) neural processes but then fail to play a causal role. But as far as I know there is no story of how conscious experience, e.g., the sensation of pain, is produced by or emerges from complex neural processes. There is, as Dan Dennett says, no “second transduction” from neural goings-on to another experiential medium in the brain. So until it’s established that consciousness does indeed emerge or is otherwise produced as some sort of effect by neural processes, I don’t think epiphenomenalism can get off the ground. Nor can we say for sure that consciousness *does* play a causal role.

    We see, of course, a close correlation between sensory experience and its correlates, but correlation doesn’t necessarily entail a causal relation of neural states producing consciousness (or an identity relation either). So I think we have to be at least agnostic about the causal status of consciousness until more data and theory come in. More about this in “Respecting privacy: why consciousness isn’t even epiphenomenal,” https://naturalism.org/philosophy/consciousness/respecting-privacy

    • Posted January 9, 2020 at 2:21 pm | Permalink

      I should have been more careful in my prose. What I meant is that consciousness results when the brain is sufficiently complex, and that that complexity could be produced by natural selection. On the other hand, perhaps natural selection cannot act to produce consciousness until the brain attains a certain level of complexity, so I maybe I am partly right.

      But really, do you ever post on this site without pointing us to one of your own pieces?

      • Posted January 9, 2020 at 4:25 pm | Permalink

        I agree that natural selection produced the complex neural circuitry supporting the cognitive capacities with which consciousness is associated, but, as you suggest, consciousness likely arose only as a by-product of said capacities; it wasn’t directly selected for.

        Two books on the natural selection of consciousness are

        Ginsburg, S. & Jablonka, E. (2019) The Evolution of the Sensitive Soul, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, and

        Feinberg, T.E. & Mallatt, J. M. (2018) Consciousness Demystified, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

        Neither comes fully to grips with the problem of finding a functional role for consciousness (as opposed to the associated capacities), but they are certainly worth reading, especially Feinberg (shorter, punchier). It would be interesting to get your take on them. Annaka Harris’s book Conscious raises the question of epiphenomenalism but unfortunately she gets sidetracked by panpsychism.

      • Posted January 10, 2020 at 11:33 am | Permalink

        I will second Tom on epiphenomena: Epiphenomenalism proposes a nonphysical consciousness that has no causal effect whatsoever. It can’t cause anything, which to me seems sufficient to dismiss it.

        -Ryan

  12. Posted January 9, 2020 at 2:35 pm | Permalink

    Here’s my thought experiment: I drill a small hole in Philip Goff’s skull and use it to insert an egg whisk like tool. I whisk vigorously for a few minutes ensuring that I homogenise most of what is inside his cranium.

    I predict that, at some point during the above process, Philip Goff will lose consciousness, even though all the electrons he claims give him the said consciousness are still inside his skull.

    • Posted January 9, 2020 at 3:36 pm | Permalink

      Not very original. This is a process with a couple of hundred years of history. 😉

      • Posted January 9, 2020 at 3:53 pm | Permalink

        But I think it adequately shows that consciousness is a property of the organisation of matter, not the matter itself.

      • Filippo
        Posted January 9, 2020 at 4:58 pm | Permalink

        I gather that he didn’t claim any originality. 🙂

        • Posted January 9, 2020 at 5:14 pm | Permalink

          It was implied by his failure to refer to the process by its historical name: lobotomy.

          • Posted January 9, 2020 at 6:28 pm | Permalink

            As I understand it, lobotomy merely involves severing connections between certain parts of the brain. That leaves it substantially intact.

            My procedure involves puréeing the whole thing to make sure that nothing remains of its original organisation.

            • Posted January 9, 2020 at 6:32 pm | Permalink

              Perhaps they’ve refined the procedure since I got mine. It used to be much cruder.

  13. Courriel
    Posted January 9, 2020 at 2:59 pm | Permalink

    I think fairness demands pointing that the more orthodox resolutions of the problem of consciousness have there own issues, hence the casting around for some radically different approach.

    Conventional property dualism provides no obvious direction in devising an empirical test for consciousness per consciousness and so seems somewhat vacuous.

    The other popular school of thought is that consciousness results from the execution of an algorithm of some particular sort, e.g. Hofstadter’s strange loops. This in turn introduces a raft of paradoxes like the teleporter problem.

    • Posted January 9, 2020 at 4:03 pm | Permalink

      What’s the paradox?

      • Corriel
        Posted January 9, 2020 at 4:34 pm | Permalink

        Presuming that teleportation maintains continuity of identity (the scientist’s position) or that it doesn’t (the narrator’s) both lead to bizarre conclusions.

        • Posted January 9, 2020 at 6:35 pm | Permalink

          Bizarre is not the same as paradox. The fact that you could have results that are unpalatable doesn’t make the hypothesis wrong.

          Also, who says you need continuity of identity to maintain consciousness. What if, when you go to sleep every night, your brain literally switches off (or at least switches off the bits involved in consciousness – obviously, the low level functions keep going)? What if the person who wakes up the next day is a new person that just has the same memories as the person who fell asleep the night before?

        • KD
          Posted January 10, 2020 at 8:32 am | Permalink

          What if “identity” were a concept that evolved in a human social context lacking teleportation devises, and had no actual existing norms of usage regarding whether to consider the end product of teleportation “the same” or “different”?

          Obviously, if teleportation devices appeared, legal codes would have to decide if the end product were the same (and had access to bank accounts) or different (and had credit problems). In other words, faced with an actual problem, jurists would have to make an actual decision, which would become binding precedent which would mostly settle the matter (unless or until a bunch of practical, unintended consequences emerged, creating a need to revisit the question).

          By why assume that a concept that evolves within a particular context presumes a set of inherent norms of usage for novel contexts?

          Doesn’t the fact that analytical philosophers can make up thought experiments and have heated debates that don’t persuade one another over what the norms of usage for the concept should be in these strange contexts suggest that the assumption is wrong in the first instance?

          • KD
            Posted January 10, 2020 at 8:38 am | Permalink

            Imagine the philosopher musing about the hammer. What if boards were made out of metal, and you had to drive nails into metal boards, you would probably have to modify the tool. Would it still be a hammer? Then you have long journal articles back and forth over this paradoxical question.

            Words are tools, and like tools, they work in certain places, they don’t work in other places, and sometimes they can be modified to work in new places. There is nothing paradoxical about a tool.

      • Corriel
        Posted January 9, 2020 at 4:34 pm | Permalink

        Presuming that teleportation maintains continuity of identity (the scientist’s position) or that it doesn’t (the narrator’s) both lead to bizarre conclusions.

        • KD
          Posted January 10, 2020 at 10:47 am | Permalink

          What if mathematicians developed an operation, let’s call it division, but discovered that it did not yield a coherent result if you divided by zero.

          Would mathematics stop? Would mathematicians reject division as a formal operation? Or would they just develop a rule that you could not divide by zero, and carry on, as ad hoc and arbitrary as that might seem.

    • Posted January 9, 2020 at 4:10 pm | Permalink

      Also, have you seen the film The Prestige?

      • Courriel
        Posted January 9, 2020 at 4:37 pm | Permalink

        It was hard enough finding an embeddable video for “To Be”…

        • Posted January 9, 2020 at 6:37 pm | Permalink

          It’s hard to say any more without it being a spoiler, but it’s definitely worth a watch.

      • Posted January 9, 2020 at 8:40 pm | Permalink

        Seconded: that The Prestige is both a well taken philosophical thought experiment and a helluva movie.

  14. Filippo
    Posted January 9, 2020 at 5:01 pm | Permalink

    “It seems to be a hornswoggle . . . .”

    I wonder if that also makes it “codswallop.” 🙂

  15. Michael Waterhouse
    Posted January 9, 2020 at 5:23 pm | Permalink

    I got my degree at the same University and through he same philosophy department that Frank Jackson got his PhD so by the transitive property of me being near where he was I must be just as smart. Especially because consciousness is just floating around all over the place.

    Jackson was arguing for consciousness being an epiphenomena of a material brain.

    I was actually studying just this stuff when he wrote it, way back then.
    I thought about it a lot and decided that epiphenomenalism is the way to go.

  16. Posted January 9, 2020 at 5:59 pm | Permalink

    In addressing Frank Jackson’s thought experiment concerning an hypothetical neuroscientist named Mary who knows all about color and then experiences it for the first time, Pigliucci answers Jackson’s “Will she learn anything or not?” thus: “Mary will, obviously, have a new experience, one she had not had before. So, if experiences count as learning, the answer is a (trivial) yes.” Pigliucci pretty clearly doesn’t think that experiences “count as learning,” which is precisely why he considers the “yes” answer to be “trivial.”

    Then, under the guise of “making the point even more clear” (there’s nothing unclear about it), Pigliucci gives us his own example, that of a man who knows “everything there is to know about the physics of bicycles” and then has the experience of riding one. Will he “learn anything?” Pigliucci asks again, and answers, again, with a (trivial) “Yes.”

    In point of fact, Pigliucci’s example is not at all “more clear” than Jackson’s, it’s merely more convenient for Pigliucci’s purpose, part of which is to trivialize experiential knowledge. For while the difference between knowing all about riding a bicycle and riding one might be considered trivial, the difference between knowing all about color and seeing the world in color for the first time is anything but.

    Classic bait and switch.

    • Posted January 9, 2020 at 6:13 pm | Permalink

      Yes, we know you’re a panpsychism fan. But, as I said before, your comments are often obtuse. This time you don’t seem to understand the difference between “private experience” (learning to ride a bike and seeing red) and public knowledge, like figuring out exactly what kind of neuronal processes lead one to smell mint. Understanding consciousness involves solving the latter problem. And of course there are empirical naturalistic ways to determine if someone consciously smells mint.

      Until you provide any kind of reasonable evidence that an electron or a rock is conscious (and not using the Goff-ian claim that “spin” and “charge” are conscious), I don’t want you to keep pushing panpsychism here. Just like I ask religious people for evidence of God, and why their faith is the right one, I’ve asked you for evidence for your faith, and you haven’t complied. So you’re done commenting on panpsychism.

      • Posted January 10, 2020 at 12:28 pm | Permalink

        One of *Paul* Churchland’s responses to Jackson (who repudiated the “Mary” thought experiment by 1998, BTW) is to point out that we know there is in fact a difference between knowing how and knowing that, and even someting about how their neural realization is different!

    • TJR
      Posted January 10, 2020 at 2:37 am | Permalink

      Isn’t it the original version that trivialises experiential learning, not Pigliucci?

      If you say that someone “knew everything about colour” but then learned something new by experiencing it, then you’ve just contradicted your initial assumption. By definition they didn’t know everything about colour, unless you are using a very strange definition of “knew everything”.

      They seem to be conflating “knew everything about” with “had a very good scientific model for”.

  17. A C Harper
    Posted January 10, 2020 at 6:00 am | Permalink

    I enjoy this type of article immensely, including the various comments underneath.

    My question for Goff and other panpsychists is another argumentum de sella: “Imagine that the universe had no universal consciousness apart from that of complex organised matter of many elements – how would it appear to differ from a universe with universal consciousness?”

    • ThyroidPlanet
      Posted January 10, 2020 at 7:41 am | Permalink

      What does “argumentum de sella” mean? I don’t see an obvious Google result.

      • A C Harper
        Posted January 10, 2020 at 1:16 pm | Permalink

        It’s a term I bodged myself. Google translate “Argument on a chair” or thought experiment.

        • ThyroidPlanet
          Posted January 10, 2020 at 1:17 pm | Permalink

          I like it!

  18. peepuk
    Posted January 10, 2020 at 7:01 am | Permalink

    Emergent properties are those properties not explained (or explained away) yet by science. Not a big deal.

    “How it feels like” – questions are clever, but are not scientific questions. These type of questions only work because humans conflate their feelings and thoughts with reality, forgetting that without science, humans would only have a very superficial idea of reality.

    Science can explain us how things work by identifying cause and effect; demanding to answer these questions without referring to its causes and effects is asking to let science do its work without doing science.

  19. Posted January 10, 2020 at 8:36 am | Permalink

    I have just a minor, personal request: When you insert a link, would you mind checking the “open link in new tab” box? I know I could right-click and do it myself, but I keep forgetting, and then I lose my place in your articles when I have to come back to them.

    In any case, thanks for always posting such interesting material! I wouldn’t care about losing my place if I didn’t want to keep reading, after all.

  20. KD
    Posted January 10, 2020 at 8:45 am | Permalink

    Don’t we still have a “hard problem” of consciousness with respect to conscious electrons? After all, can’t there be zombie electrons that look and behave exactly like conscious electrons, yet don’t have qualia?

    Just because panpsychism proposes a definition, how do you establish an electron is not a zombie? If I say “change exists”, I am making a metaphysical declaration, but I can point lots of incidents of change to support my declaration.


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