Sunday, July 3, 2022

Problems for Goff’s panpsychism


Panpsychism is the view that conscious awareness pervades the physical world, down to the level of basic particles.  In recent years, philosopher Philip Goff has become an influential proponent of the view, defending it in his books Consciousness and Fundamental Reality and Galileo’s Error: Foundations for a New Science of Consciousness.  He builds on ideas developed by contemporary philosophers like David Chalmers and Galen Strawson, who in turn were influenced by early twentieth-century thinkers like Bertrand Russell and Arthur Eddington (though Russell, it should be noted, was not himself a panpsychist). 

Goff’s views are bound to be of special interest to many of the regular readers of this blog, given that a critique of the conception of matter associated with Galileo and other early modern proponents of the mechanical world picture is central to his position.  The problematic nature of this conception of matter has, of course, been a longstanding theme of my own work.  Naturally, then, I think that Goff’s publicizing of what he calls “Galileo’s error” is an important contribution.  But unfortunately, what Goff wants to put in place of that error is, in my view, not much of an improvement.  Certainly his argument for panpsychism from the rejection of Galileo’s mistake is a gigantic non sequitur.

The limits of physics

Let’s begin with what Goff gets right.  Common sense takes ordinary physical objects to have both (a) size, shape, motion, etc. and (b) color, sound, heat, cold, etc.  Early modern philosophers and scientists characterized features of type (a) as “primary qualities” and features of type (b) as “secondary qualities,” and argued that the latter are not genuine features of matter as it is in itself, but reflect only the way conscious awareness presents matter to us.  What exists in mind-independent reality is nothing more than colorless, soundless, tasteless, odorless, etc. particles in motion.  Color, sound, taste, odor, etc. exist only in the mind’s experiences of that reality.

That’s the short version of the story, anyway.  There are various complications.  For example, on Locke’s version of the distinction, it is not quite right to say that secondary qualities don’t exist in mind-independent reality.  In fact, both primary and secondary qualities are really there in physical objects.  The difference is that the experiences that primary qualities generate in us really “resemble” the qualities themselves, whereas the experiences that secondary qualities generate in us do not resemble the qualities themselves.  On Locke’s view, there really is something in an apple that resembles the shape you see in it, but there is nothing really there in the apple that resembles the color you see in it. 

Influenced by this Lockean way of making the distinction, later philosophers would say that whether colors, sounds, heat, cold, and the like really exist in mind-independent reality depends on what we mean by those terms.  If by “color” you mean a surface’s tendency to absorb light of some wavelengths while reflecting others, then you can say that color really exists in physical objects.  But if by “color” you mean what common sense means by it – the perceived look of red, or blue, or whatever – then the claim is that there is nothing like that in physical objects themselves, but only in our experiences of them.  Color, sound, heat, cold, etc. as common sense understands them are claimed to exist only as the “qualia” of conscious awareness, to use what has become the standard jargon.

The basic idea is clear enough however these details are worked out.  Now, the reason Galileo and the other proponents of the mechanical world picture took this view, as Goff emphasizes, is that they wanted to develop an entirely mathematized conception of nature, and while primary qualities were thought to fit comfortably into this picture, secondary qualities do not.  They are irreducibly qualitative rather than quantitative, so that attempts to analyze them in purely quantitative terms always inevitably leave something out.  The solution was to hold that they just aren’t really part of the natural world in the first place, but (again) only part of the mind’s perception of that world.  Problem solved!

Well, not really.  In fact, this move is itself problematic in several respects.  One of them is that drawing a sharp distinction between primary and secondary qualities turns out to be much more difficult than it at first appears, as Berkeley famously showed.  The Aristotelian philosopher, who defends common sense, would say that this is a good reason to think that secondary qualities are, after all, as objective as primary qualities.  Berkeley, of course, drew the opposite conclusion that none of these qualities are really objectively out there.  And he made of this claim, in turn, the basis of an argument for idealism or the denial of matter’s very existence.

The more common approach, however, was to try to make some version of the primary/secondary quality distinction work, and this went hand in hand with a Cartesian sort of dualism rather than idealism.  As early modern thinkers like Cudworth and Malebranche pointed out, dualism was in fact an inevitable consequence of the primary/secondary quality distinction.  For if color, sound, heat, cold, etc. as common sense understands them don’t exist in matter, then they don’t exist in the brain or the rest of the body (since those are material).  And if they do nevertheless exist in the mind, then we have the dualist conclusion that the mind is not identical with the brain or with any other material thing.

The very conception of matter that modern materialism has committed itself to is therefore radically incompatible with materialism.  And that is why materialists have had such a difficult time answering objections like Chalmers’ “zombie argument,” Jackson’s “knowledge argument,” and Nagel’s “bat argument,” and solving the “hard problem of consciousness” that such arguments pose for them.  Attempting to develop a materialist account of consciousness while at the same time presupposing the conception of matter inherited from Galileo and Co. is like trying to square the circle.  It is a fool’s errand, born of conceptual confusion and neglect of intellectual history.

Now, another lesson, and one especially emphasized by Russell and Eddington, is that the methodology that modern physics has inherited from Galileo and Co. guarantees that physics tells us far less about the material world than meets the eye.  In particular, what physics reveals is only the abstract mathematical structure of physical reality, but not the intrinsic nature of the entities that flesh out that abstract structure. 

Since these are all themes I have been going on about myself for many years, I am, with this much, highly sympathetic.  A defense of the structural realist interpretation of modern physics and critique of the mechanical world picture are major themes of my most recent book Aristotle’s Revenge: The Metaphysical Foundations of Physical and Biological Science.  These are important parts of the broader case I make there for a neo-Aristotelian philosophy of nature.  Goff does not take them in that direction, but he does a real service by making better known the nature and implications of the conceptual revolution the mechanical philosophy set in motion.

Goff’s errors

After this point, however, Goff’s argument starts to fly off the rails.  His next move is to borrow a further idea from Eddington and Russell, who held that introspection of one’s own conscious experiences does reveal the intrinsic nature of at least one physical object, namely the brain.  That is to say, when you look within and encounter qualia – the way red looks, the way heat feels, the way a musical note sounds, and so on – what you are directly aware of are the entities that “flesh out” the abstract causal structure of the brain revealed by science. 

Now, if qualia are the intrinsic properties of at least this one physical object, and we know nothing from physics about the intrinsic properties of any other part of physical reality, then, Goff proposes, we can speculate that qualia are also the intrinsic properties of all other physical reality.  Physics, he says, leaves a “huge hole” in our picture of nature that we can “plug” with qualia (Goff, Galileo’s Error, p. 132).  But since qualia are the defining features of conscious experience, it follows that conscious experience exists throughout the material world. 

To be sure, Goff is keen to emphasize that the conscious awareness associated with, say, an electron is bound to be radically unlike, and more primitive than, ours.  He also notes that a panpsychist need not attribute conscious awareness to all everyday physical objects (such as a pair of socks) but only to the more elementary bits of matter of which they are composed.  Still, he is attributing something like sentience to physical reality well beyond the animal realm, indeed well beyond the realm of living things.

But this line of argument is fallacious, and the bizarre solution panpsychism proposes to the problem of how to fit consciousness into the natural world is completely unnecessary.  For one thing, it is hard to imagine a more stark example of the fallacy of hasty generalization than Goff’s inference from what (he claims) brains are like to a conclusion about what matter in general is like.  Suppose we allow for the sake of argument that introspection of qualia involves direct awareness of the intrinsic properties of the matter that makes up brains.  Brains are an extremely small part of the matter that makes up even just the Earth, let alone the rest of the universe (from which, as far as we know, they are entirely absent).  They are also the most complex things in the universe.  Why suppose that all matter, and especially the most elementary matter, is plausibly modeled on them?  Surely the prima facie far more plausible bet would be that most matter is radically unlike brains.

A second problem is that Goff’s argument takes for granted that what contemporary philosophers call “qualia” really are features of conscious experience rather than of the external objects that conscious experience is experience of.  And that assumption is open to challenge.  After all, common sense would take it to be obvious that when we learn what an apple tastes like or looks like, what we are learning is something about the apple itself, not about our experience of the apple.  And the Aristotelian conception of nature that the mechanical world picture displaced would have agreed.

The point is not that what seems obvious to common sense must be correct, but rather that it shouldn’t simply be taken for granted that contemporary philosophers’ habit of talking about the way an apple tastes, the way red looks, the way heat feels, etc. as if these were features of the mind (and thus as if they were “qualia”) – as opposed to features of mind-independent reality – reflects an accurate carving up of the conceptual territory.  Goff himself emphasizes that Galileo’s treatment of these qualities as mind-dependent was motivated by his project of developing a purely mathematical conception of nature; that this was a philosophical thesis rather than one that has been established by science; and that it created the very problem of consciousness that Goff thinks panpsychism solves.  Why not solve it instead by simply not following Galileo in making the conceptual move that created the problem?  Goff says that “Galileo took the sensory qualities out of the physical world” and that panpsychism is “a way of putting them back” (Goff, Galileo’s Error, p. 138).  Why not instead merely refrain from taking them out in the first place?

Or, if we’re going to speak of putting them back after Galileo took them out, why not put them back in the specific places he took them from?  Why instead put them into every other bit of matter, including unobservable particles, when that is not where they came from?  For example, Galileo (and the mechanical philosophy more generally) hold that the redness you see when you look at an apple is not in the apple itself, but only in your mind.  Goff tells us that, in order to solve the problems this sort of view raises, we should say that the redness you see is in your brain, and that something analogous to it is in electrons and other particles.  Why not just say instead that it really is in the apple after all, and leave it at that?  Goff’s “solution” is analogous to trying to rectify the injustice caused by a theft by giving the stolen money back to everyone except the person it was taken from!

It might be replied that to reject Galileo’s move in this way would conflict with the findings of modern physics.  But again, as Goff himself emphasizes, the move is at bottom philosophical rather than scientific in nature.  To be sure, scientific considerations (about the physics of light, the neuroscience of vision, etc.) are relevant.  But they do not by themselves establish the correctness of the mechanical philosophy’s distinction between primary and secondary qualities, because the scientific evidence is susceptible of different philosophical interpretations.  Nor could Goff object that reversion to something like the conception of color, sound, etc. that prevailed before the rise of the mechanical philosophy would be too radical a departure from philosophical orthodoxy.  For he acknowledges that panpsychism represents a radical departure from it, and argues that such a departure is necessary in order to solve the problem posed by Galileo’s conceptual revolution.

Moreover, some mainstream contemporary philosophers would, for reasons independent of debates about either panpsychism or Aristotelianism, defend the “naïve realist” view about qualities that was overthrown by Galileo and the mechanical philosophy.  I have defended it as well.  (See pp. 340-51 of Aristotle’s Revenge, which includes a discussion of the relevant contemporary literature.)  Goff not only reasons fallaciously to the conclusion that conscious experience pervades inorganic reality, but reasons from assumptions about the nature of color, sound, heat, cold, etc. that his own critique of the mechanical philosophy should have led him to question.

A further problem is that the suggestion that there is something analogous to consciousness in fundamental physical particles and other inorganic entities is simply prima facie implausible, and not just because it sounds bizarre.  As Aristotelians argue (see Aristotle’s Revenge, pp. 393-95), sensation is closely tied to appetite and locomotion, so that the absence of the latter from plants tells strongly in favor of the absence of sensation from them as well.  What is true of plants is a fortiori true of electrons and other particles too, to which it is even more implausible to attribute appetite or locomotion.  There are simply no good empirical grounds for attributing anything like sentience to the inorganic realm, any more that there are for attributing it to plants. 

The attribution also turns out to be completely pointless, given other things Goff says.  Consider that the panpsychist’s attribution to basic physical particles of something analogous to consciousness is alleged to make it more intelligible how the brain could be conscious.  For if matter is already conscious “all the way down,” as it were, then there should be no surprise that the complex organ that is the brain is conscious too.  We need simply to work out how the more elementary forms of consciousness that exist at lower levels of physical reality add up to the more sophisticated form with which we are familiar from our own everyday experience.  This is known as the “combination problem,” and while Goff thinks there are promising approaches to solving it, he acknowledges that panpsychists have not yet done so.

You might suppose, then, that Goff is committed to a kind of reductionism according to which higher-level features of the natural world are intelligible only if reducible to lower-level features, where Goff differs from materialist reductionists only in positing the existence of consciousness at lower levels as well as at higher levels.  But in fact, Goff explicitly rejects this reductionist assumption, citing in support the work of contemporary critics of reductionism like Nancy Cartwright.  Goff allows that physical objects can have properties that are irreducible to the sum of the properties of their parts.  But then, what is the point of positing consciousness at the level of basic particles as part of an explanation of how animals and human beings are conscious?  Why not instead merely take the consciousness that exists at the level of an organism as a whole to be one of those properties irreducible to the sum of the organism’s parts?  That is exactly what the traditional Aristotelian position does.

Goff says that there must be something that fleshes out the abstract structure described by physics, and alleges that “there doesn’t seem to be a candidate for being the intrinsic nature of matter other than consciousness” (Galileo’s Error, p. 133).  But in fact there is no great mystery here in need of some exotic solution.  We need only to see what is in front of our nose, which, as Orwell famously said, requires a constant struggle.  The concrete reality that fleshes out the abstract structure described by physics is nothing other than the world of ordinary objects revealed to us in everyday experience.  Physics is an abstraction from that, just as the representation of a person’s face in a pen and ink sketch is an abstraction from all the rich concrete detail to be found in the actual, flesh-and-blood face.  No one thinks that the existence of pen and ink drawings raises some deep metaphysical puzzle about what fleshes out the two-dimensional black-and-white representation, and neither is there any deep metaphysical mystery about what fleshes out the abstract structure described by physics.  The bizarre panpsychist solution is no more called for in the latter case than in the former. 

Does that mean there is nothing more to be said about the intrinsic nature of matter beyond what common sense would say about it?  Not at all, and Aristotelianism provides a detailed account what more there is to be said about it.  It is to be found in the hylemorphist analysis of material substances as compounds of substantial form and prime matter, possessing causal powers and teleology, and so on.  Again, for the details see Aristotle’s Revenge (as well as its predecessor Scholastic Metaphysics, and the work of other contemporary Aristotelians like David Oderberg).  Goff is right that a radical solution is needed to the problems opened up by Galileo’s error.  But it is to be found, not in panpsychism (which ultimately amounts to yet a further riff on Galileo’s error), but in a return to the classical philosophical wisdom that the early moderns abandoned.

Related posts:

The hollow universe of modern physics

Make-believe matter

Metaphysical taxidermy

Materialism subverts itself

Aristotle’s Revenge and naïve color realism

Zombies: A Shopper’s Guide

When Frank jilted Mary

Nagel and his critics

Sentient plants?

Sentient plants? Part II

43 comments:

  1. Yes I broadly agree with this. Goff is essentially just appending consciousness onto the materialist conception of physics. As such it gives no more explanatory power than materialism, and arguably raises even more questions. Panpsychism is a favourite approach for people who are essentially materialists, but can at least see the problem of matter having experience. In fact some previous materialists involved in theories of consciousness (eg. IIT) have adopted panpsychism, and now have serious problems explaining why various objects are not conscious!

    I do agree that Aristotle has a lot to offer us in terms of recovering an understanding, but we shouldn’t forget the Platonic grounding of so much of the best early Christian understanding of things. In fact you could argue that it was the rediscovery of Aristotle in the west that lead to nominalism, as the essences were seen as unnecessary, such that even the substantial form decayed into only matter.

    In the Augustinian platonic sense, gods divine ideas, the ideal things, fold out into time (and over time) as the multiplicity. So God is at the start of this cone shape, the end of which is the process of the representations (of the ideas) evolving. There is then a returning process where our free will plays a role. Aquinas retained this as far as I can see, but many Thomists seem to want to want to reduce this bigger picture to ‘stand alone’ substantial forms, in which case evolution, telos and other critical elements of the “classical philosophical wisdom” easy fall apart when applied to what we do know now with the benefits of the one part of the cartesian divide…

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    1. I have a question,

      P1. Every fact has an explanation.
      P2. It is a fact that God is necessary.

      C1. The fact that God is necessary has an explanation


      Doesn't God's necessity itself need an explanation?

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    2. “ Doesn't God's necessity itself need an explanation?”

      I can’t even imagine what the answer to that would be, so it’s not really important to me. What I have good reason to believe is that God is absolute and eternal, which makes him ‘other’ than all things, including us.

      Does every fact have an explanation? There are certainly many physicists who don’t agree with that, and would argue that, say, the cosmological constant, just is what it is. I would probably disagree with them on that, but there are areas where we just don’t have the ability to explain things in words. To describe consciousness is like asking a paintbrush to paint itself. To describe god (or his necessity) is like asking the paintbrush to create a star.

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    3. @Manuel

      "P1. Every fact has an explanation.
      P2. It is a fact that God is necessary.

      C1. The fact that God is necessary has an explanation"

      Remember that on state 1 of most cosmological arguments we find out that the universe we live in is one that has a certain characteristic than means it can't explain itself(contingency, change, composition) so needs a explanation beyond it to explain its existence.

      On stage 2 we find out somethings about this being than explains the universe existence
      and the first one is exactly that it does not has the characteristics that granted that the universe needs a external explanation, for if it have them it would also need a cause. For instance, if the universe needs a external explanation because it is composite of parts them the only way than the universe explanation could not need a external explanation as well is because this being is not composite in any way.

      So yea, God necessity has a explanation: it is because He has certain characteristics that make His non-existence impossible, as is the theme in ontological arguments. His explanation is internal. If God had the characteristics that entail needing a external cause them He would not be God.

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  2. Very serendipitous that you posted this when I just finished "Galileo's Revenge".
    Goff claims that consciousness is the "intrinsic nature" of matter. If this intrinsic nature is physical (as it surely must be), isn't his panpsychism simply a variant of materialism, rather than a third way, as he presents it? And isn't it susceptible thus to the criticisms of materialism that he presents- like that, for example, philosophical zombies that are physically identical to conscious humans but have no consciousness themselves are conceivable and thus in Goff's eyes logically possible, meaning that consciousness is not entailed purely by the physical?
    If these intrinsic natures are not physical, then a) they're not really the intrinsic natures of matter, but also b) Goff's view faces the problems that he proposes for dualism.
    I'm sure Goff didn't make such a glaring error, but can someone please tell me where I'm misunderstanding him.

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    1. Hello.

      I would say that panpsychists are ex-materialists that want to somewhat cling to the much dear to them idea that matter is everything there is. I don't think, though, that panpsychism can be considered a materialist doctrine at all. Of course this will depend on the definition of matter. It would seem that any sensible, historically rooted definition of matter requires that its theoretical smallest undivided constituents are not of a subjective nature . As an undivided conceiver is what humans call a soul, calling panpsychism materialism would require to affirm that materialists can believe in souls, which of course is absurd as long as words are held to have any meaning at all.

      I don't think that panpsychism suffers from the problem of philosophical zombies. For a panpsychist, a human body is composed of miriads or whatever the conscious, undivided particle is. So a panpsychist is bound to hold that one and just one of these mini-particles is in control of the informational flux of the body (and constitutes the human spirit) and the rest of particles would be both:

      -Transmitting information in chain till it reaches the human spirit (the particle in control).

      -Conscious (but God knows what they are perceiving).

      So basically the human being would be a compound of a miriad of extended souls with one of them in control. I have not thought much about that idea so I ignore whether it has some problematic aspect.

      One problem I would see for panpsychism (but this is a half chewed idea to which I have not payed "obsessive" attention) is that it would require that the same undivided, fundamental entity has two different natures. To avoid two natures in a single fundamental entity there seems to be two pathways:

      -To forget about panpsychism, posit a second type of 'substance' called matter and embrace dualism.

      -To say that one of the two natures is real and the other is a delusion or a "way of looking at it". The mental nature can't be a delusion for delusions are mental, so the material nature would be the only candidate. Only mind would therefore exist and we would have arrived at idealism.

      I think that a panpsychist would try to avoid this problem by saying "the mental and the physical are not different natures but different properties" or something the like of that. How far that can go would require more thinking and writing.

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    2. Exaclty, in panpsychist world we can imagine zombies composed by atoms of proto-mind without macro experiences. Panpsychism have the problem that materialism

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    3. Hi Comentarista,
      I can't speak about panpsychism generally, but Goff himself does not say that there are a myriad of souls- he says that there is one distinct mind formed by the combination of many, many more primitive consciousnesses.
      With regard to materialism- you are absolutely right that it depends on your definition of matter. But in my eyes, matter is not necessarily non-subjective, so I would say that panpsychism is materialist still.
      I'm not entirely sure I follow your objection, but it looks like it's on the right lines if it's suggesting that panpsychism might collapse into other positions, like idealism or dualism. As I see it, either mind can be fully reduced to matter, or it cannot. If it can, you have materialism. If it can't, you have idealism or dualism. Panpsychism seems to be an attempt to draw a path distinct from these options that doesn't really exist- either it is physical or it isn't.
      The only way I think you could try to argue for a separate position would be if you rejected the entire concept of the physical, or rejected the physical-mental distinction. I don't think that position can be made sense of, but it is at least another possible route. Panpsychism is always going to be simply an eccentric variant of one of the traditional positions.

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  3. Hey Professor,
    With regards to the need for scientific theories to accord more with our experience of reality, have you seen the arguments Quantam Physicist Nicholas Gisin has put forth in favour of a common sense understanding of time using "intuitionist mathematics".
    It might make for a good blog post since it involves both the nature of mathematics and nature of time :)

    https://www.quantamagazine.org/does-time-really-flow-new-clues-come-from-a-century-old-approach-to-math-20200407/

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    1. From what my limited capacities can understand, it seems similar to Aristotle example of the sea battle that will happen in the future, the one about free will.

      I dunno, the idea that the future is not settled yet does not make much sense to me, don't know of i misunderstood the argument.

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    2. Aye Talmid!
      Thanks for the reply!
      Yes, it can be a bit difficult to grasp.
      I just posted it here because it's one of the few instances where a renowned physicist approaches time from a common sense or presentist perspective.
      Cheers :)

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    3. True, presentism and things like that are not popular with physicists.

      A shame. Hope Nicholas at least helps these views get more respect.

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    4. @Norm Thank you for that, interesting. It’s funny that Descartes has lead to us having “real” numbers that arguably don’t exist in nature, and “imaginary” numbers that do seem to correspond to something in nature.

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    5. @Simon Adams, Yes that is quite funny. :)

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  4. Never thought much of Panpsychism or its' adherents. Don't even know if DesCartes did in his time. Sorry, folks---conscious sub-atomic particles is too much of a stretch for me.

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  5. Hi Ed,

    Thanks for your interesting and thought-provoking article. I think your criticisms of Goff's panpsychist views are mostly justified, but in all fairness, I think you should acknowledge that there are problems with the Aristotelian view of qualia as well.

    On Aristotle's view, redness is a basic, intrinsic property of apples. This means that it's a fundamental fact about apples (as well as strawberries, tomatoes and rubies) that they have the tendency to make human beings to have the experience of seeing red. In other words, you're imputing a psychic property to physical objects, which kind of blurs the distinction between the two. But let that pass.

    There's more. Since animals (and presumably aliens, if they exist) see colors differently from the way we do, then you have to impute a host of different psychic properties to one and the same object, to account for its tendency to be perceived differently by different creatures. Very odd.

    On top of that, the question, "What is it about apples, strawberries, tomatoes and rubies that makes them all red?" is an illegitimate one, on an Aristotelian view. It's just a brute fact that an apple, a strawberry, a tomato and a ruby each possesses the tendency to generate the experience of redness in us, and there's no underlying physical reason why. That strikes me as a "science-stopping" way of thinking.

    Finally, the question, "What is it about the body of a sentient animal that enables it to have conscious experiences?" becomes profoundly mysterious, on the Aristotelian view. Attempts to distinguish between the sophisticated sensors of plants and those of animals aren't as straightforward as Aristotle believed, and in any case, we now know that the possession of senses doesn't make an animal conscious. Worms have senses but are not conscious.

    I'll stop there. The point I want to make is that every view of the mind-body relationship has its problems. Cheers.

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    1. On Aristotle's view, redness is a basic, intrinsic property of apples. This means that it's a fundamental fact about apples (as well as strawberries, tomatoes and rubies) that they have the tendency to make human beings to have the experience of seeing red. In other words, you're imputing a psychic property to physical objects, which kind of blurs the distinction between the two.

      Saying that it is TRUE of apples that "they are red" is not the same as saying that it is a "basic, intrinsic property" at all, and especially it is not the same as saying that there is no possible room for a further cause of the redness than the mere "appleness". That would be an idiotic view of Aristotlianism, which famously accounts for the fact that an apple can change from green to red, and do so slowly, and do so according to outside influences (light, temperature, moisture, etc).

      Since animals (and presumably aliens, if they exist) see colors differently from the way we do, then you have to impute a host of different psychic properties to one and the same object, to account for its tendency to be perceived differently by different creatures. Very odd.

      Only if you require the properties to inhere is an utterly simplistic way. For example, if one very simple animal with only rudimentary eyes sees the apple as "red", and another animal with more sophisticated eyes sees it as a "very specific shade of red, distinct from other shades", that does not imply that the quality inheres in the apple with "different psychic properties". Now, if one animal observes it's skin as "red", and another observes the same skin as "the sound of middle C on a trumpet", that would be odd. But of course, that's not what we have.

      "What is it about apples, strawberries, tomatoes and rubies that makes them all red?" is an illegitimate one, on an Aristotelian view. It's just a brute fact that an apple, a strawberry, a tomato and a ruby each possesses the tendency to generate the experience of redness in us, and there's no underlying physical reason why.

      Since that's NOT what Aristotelianism says, happily, they don't have to live with such a "difficulty."

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    2. Why would anyone ever describe the red colour of an apple as a "psychic property"? It's a perceptible quality of apples. It's not a quality of anyone's experience or anyone's mind (minds and experiences are not coloured).

      The Aristotelian conception is not that it is an "illegitimate question" to ask what makes apples red, or that it is a "fundamental fact" that they are so. It's a perfectly valid question, and can be answered by reference to the colour-pigmentation (in particular, the anthocyanin) in the apple. There's nothing inexplicable about this, any more than there's anything inexplicable about its round shape. Red is not a tendency to make us have any experiences. It is just a colour of things that we can see (just as round is a shape of things that we can feel).

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    3. Hi Tony,

      You deny that Aristotelians regard the tendency of an apple, a strawberry, a tomato or a ruby to generate the experience of redness in us as a "basic, intrinsic property," and you cite Aristotle's remarks on apples changing color to support your view. But it was Ed who wrote that on the common-sense Aristotelian view, colors are "in physical objects themselves," which means that they're intrinsic. Moreover, he rejects the Lockean distinction between primary and secondary qualities, which means that on his view, colors are basic. Modern-day scientists might regard the fact that "light, temperature, moisture, etc." can change an apple's color as evidence that it's not a basic property; Aristotle didn't draw that inference. All it establishes is that redness is not an essential property of apples, but I never said it was. On the "common-sense" view, ripe apples (of certain breeds), strawberries and tomatoes have a built-in tendency to make humans see red. That means they have mind-relative properties.

      Re your suggestion that simple animals might see apples as red, without perceiving the specific shade of red that we do, I'm afraid that won't do. Consider the greenness of a lettuce, or an emerald. Horses don't have green cones in their eyes, and they are unable to distinguish green from red. What's more, birds, reptiles and teleost fish have tetrachromatic vision, while most mammals have dichromatic vision, and among primates, Old World monkeys and apes have trichromatic vision (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evolution_of_color_vision ). We aren't just talking shades here; these creatures perceive the world in very different ways, which means that objects such as emeralds and lettuces must have a host of mind-relative properties, relative to the kind of animal that views them. Interestingly, a few humans are tetrachromats, too. See here for more: https://www.extremetech.com/extreme/331169-human-tetrachromacy-is-real-heres-what-we-know

      Finally, you appear to want to ground an object's color in something more basic. I can understand why you think that why, but if you do, then you're already heading down the Lockean path. Cheers.

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    4. But it was Ed who wrote that on the common-sense Aristotelian view, colors are "in physical objects themselves," which means that they're intrinsic.

      Two different senses of "intrinsic". Your initial usage added the terms "basic" and "fundamental", which I took to mean something close to "essential", i.e. "of the essence". Your new reference implies "intrinsic" only as "in" the object - and that's all Ed meant: the attribute is in the apple, not in the recipient sensing animal only.

      We aren't just talking shades here; these creatures perceive the world in very different ways, which means that objects such as emeralds and lettuces must have a host of mind-relative properties, relative to the kind of animal that views them.

      Nothing about your comment establishes that the animals with more sophisticated sensing apparatus aren't merely getting more OF the information already present in the object, to which less sophisticated sensing apparatus responds less fully - but still validly. After all, this is also what Aristotle posited about the intellect.

      Finally, you appear to want to ground an object's color in something more basic.

      I am saying that colors can have causes, which you were denying by claiming that Ed's position amounts to their being "brute facts". That an instance of red has a cause does not imply that it isn't redness in the apple.

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    5. It seems to me that there are three distinctions worth making:

      1). Properties of the whole v properties of the aggregates

      Science only deals with properties of the aggregates. A chair has no real meaning in physics, because that would involve telos and all kinds of things effectively rejected by nominalism 700 years ago. Of course the chair is created by humans, but from the perspective of science the reason for the existence of the chair is irrelevant to it’s substance. The fact it’s a single connected body has some significance in terms of kinetics, thermodynamics, and in quantum mechanics, but essentially it’s purely seen in terms of aggregates that happen to be connected.

      Equally the type of thing it is (species, category etc) is seen by science as purely at the level of aggregates. There is no essence of chairness, the fact that the creators of chairs have a common aim is seen as trivial, the fact that all cats are similar is purely due to common genetic aggregate parts (that happen to be inherited via process), there is no meaning behind the common characteristics of cats beyond this. The substantial form has no real existence in science, all intelligibility etc must be assumed as blind luck, something we just happen to be be able to create as a magical result of evolution.

      So from this sense, you could say that colour is an aggregate property, although you would have exceptions, such as a can of red paint. However if you go beyond the nominalist assumptions inherent in science, then colour could also have some significance to the whole.

      2). Relational properties v intrinsic properties

      All quantum properties are relational. Other abstract quantities studied by science are also relational - length, mass etc. Colour is also relational, from a physics perspective you could use the example of redshift, and of course in biological terms related to sensory capability.

      One thing quantum physicists argue about is in terms of what is actually real. When there is a relation, such as between a detector and a photon, there appears to be something real. But without the relation, there is just a probability function. Some argue that there is nothing real behind this probability function, that everything is in reality just a web of entanglement. However it’s then difficult (in my opinion at least) to explain the consistency of the world at the macro scale. The moon really is there when no one is looking at it, there is something objective to it, more than just it’s entangled relations.

      3). Represented properties versus ontologically primitive properties.

      Science mainly studies what is represented, or to put it another way, how nature behaves. The question of what nature seems obvious at classic scales (“it’s matter, doh”), this breaks down at the quantum level as I described in point 2. above. So I can be described in terms of physics, chemistry and biology, but none of these can describe what it is to be me as a whole entity. I can have a cut on my thumb, which I experience as a whole being (rather than as a thumb). Science has an explanation for this in terms of nerves, but cannot explain the irreducible nature of the experience.



      The question of something like colour intersects across these distinctions in that:
      1). It’s related to aggregate properties that reflect light in a certain way
      2). The experience of colour is relational. It’s a combination of properties of the subject and the object.
      3). There is something to colour that seems to be grounded beyond merely how it’s represented (as material properties affecting wavelength absorption), that only makes sense at the level of wholes, rather than as aggregate parts. This requires an assumption in the reality of meaning, beyond just the simple labelling of “red=danger” etc, which is just nonsensical under the default nominalist assumption of science.

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  6. Does anyone know if there are there any sources that describe how Aristotelians think of things like the soul or qualia in a concrete manner?

    Here is an example of what I mean. This post (https://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2010/04/id-theory-aquinas-and-origin-of-life.html) talks about prime matter in an abstract manner:

    "In short, prime matter is not a kind of 'raw material' but the metaphysical precondition of there being raw materials in the first place; and substantial form is not some particular configuration of matter but the precondition of there being configuration, or any other attribute, in the first place."

    But on the other hand, this post (https://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2011/07/first-without-second.html) says:

    "Only someone with the relevant expert knowledge could take oxygen and hydrogen and synthesize water out of them. It would take greater power still to cause the prime matter underlying oxygen, hydrogen, or water to take on the substantial form of a tree."

    Where prime matter is described as something more like a physical substance (using this word in the colloquial not Aristotelian sense).

    And then there's a paper by Hugh King called "Aristotle without Prima Materia." King argues against the idea of the prima materia being found in the works of Aristotle himself, but from the way he writes, it seems like many within Aristotelian tradition did think of prime matter as a real form of physical matter.

    So, the question is, in what way do Aristotelians think of the abstract concepts they refer to?

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    1. From my perspective, the equivalent in modern physics of prime matter are the quantum fields. Plato had already referred to it prime space:

      Timaeus: “a receptacle of all coming to be” (49a5–6):

      “it must always be called by the same term. For it does not depart from its own character at all. It both continually receives all things, and has never taken on a form similar to any of the things that enter it in any way. For it is laid down by nature as a recipient of impressions for everything, being changed and formed variously by the things that enter it, and because of them it appears different at different times. (50b6–c4)”

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    2. Thanks for the mention of quantum fields and the Plato quote.

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  7. As Aristotelians argue (see Aristotle’s Revenge, pp. 393-95), sensation is closely tied to appetite and locomotion, so that the absence of the latter from plants tells strongly in favor of the absence of sensation from them as well. What is true of plants is a fortiori true of electrons and other particles too, to which it is even more implausible to attribute appetite or locomotion.

    While the post overall is excellent (as usual), this passage might need some heavy qualifiers. It was a somewhat famous problem of (pre-quantum) Newtonian physicists that they were unable to speak of the underlying forces other than in terms such as "urges" or desires, wants, etc. The reason the Earth and the Moon "attract" each other by gravity is that gravity is a force by which two bodies "incline toward" each other. This is all the language of appetite. It rolls forward just fine into common-place experience of plants, in that plants "tend toward" the sun: various flowers will move to follow the sun. It isn't locomotion, but it's clearly a response toward some "desired" good. At least, in some sense or other.

    I have no doubt that Aristotelianism is capable of coming up with useful clarifications of these, to explain them and explain away the metaphorical nature of the appetitive language used to describe them. But at least on the surface, there IS something to explain away.

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    1. Hi Tony. I, too, identified the passage that you cited above as somewhat "problematic," so to speak. Indeed, it can be said that plants have locomotion towards what they desire (both through growing/moving branches and roots). Also, one can also claim, at least philosophically, that the same applies to subatomic particles. Even Einstein once labelled the movement of the moon as "free willed" (though poetically addressing an Indian poet then). We must make sure we have the most updated versions of the scientific facts and ideas so that we can keep our Philosophy on the best possible grounds.

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  8. English CatholicJuly 4, 2022 at 2:24 PM

    Great post, as always. The psychological hold that the primary/secondary distinction has over modern thinkers and philosophers is immense. Even those who reject it are still playing its game, as this article on Goff shows. It would be fascinating to see an academic study of why this is so. The Metaphysical Foundations of Modern Science is a very good start -- but IIRC it limits itself to describing the process of the agenda's progress; it doesn't explain it.

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    1. The common aproach to studying the greeks and romans thinkers is as historical curiosities but not as philosophers whose work can teach us much, except maybe in ethics with the stoics. The medievals, well, the best they usually get is being seem like the older guys. Seeing how Ed said before than he had few serious treatments of the older thinkers on his formation, it seems this is common on academia when you don't especializes on these thinkers.

      Since them the average philosopher is taught that Descartes break with older philosophy was the beggining of the start of philosophy them it makes sense that something important on his and sucessors like the primary-secundary qualities distinction would be so hard to take off.

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  9. Miguel CervantesJuly 5, 2022 at 12:17 AM

    Panpsychism is certainly an addiction of romanticism and its political expression, conservatism. The idea of society as a self-referring "person" seems to constantly push it in the direction of common "consciousness", "group think", "group soul" and other nonsense. In the Christian view, societies have a legal personality. If its history is long and glorious, then all the more prestige for it.

    People are born into a family and into a civil society, giving these societies an emotional and intangible quality that we all need. But both these things can perfectly be established by contract, and both can end. Unlike these societies, a person, with consciousness and will, is utterly distinct from every other, and can never die. The Church, on the other hand, does have a soul and a mind, but that has nothing to do with panpsychism.

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    1. Miguel, I know you don't like conservatism, but please stop bandying about silly - and false - references to conservatism. Properly speaking, conservatism long pre-dated romanticism, and it has as its foundational principles certain truths as enunciated by Aristotle and Aquinas.

      I agree, however, with your points about legal "persons" and the distinction as compared to real persons.

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  10. It seems to me Mr. Edward Feser has good points, but is blurred in his mind somewhat by his religious (catholic) persuasion. I guess all of us are, in our own fashion, to a certain degree. I, for one, came to panpsychism not via materialism, but through, first, being a catholic (ex catholic now), and, second, being a spiritualist (ex spiritualist now...) of the spiritism persuation (from Allan Kardec). Presently, I am still a survivalist (believe in the afterlife survival of our consciousness), but of with a panpsychist flavour (core, actually). Yes. Everthing is conscious. This idea is most likely wrong. But, as Carl Sagan once said regarding another issue, "it is the best we have for now."

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  11. I think people sometimes underestimate the reasons why panpsychism has become so "popular" in the recent decades. As what happens with so many human enterprises, it is not easy to really identify the reasons behind our choices, actions, and ideological (philosophical and etc) adhesions. Goff's own alleged motivations for his conversion may have some grounds. My own are pretty different from his. For me, the reasons why panpsychism is a must are explained in a text I wrote some years ago. Still valid. Again: most likely wrong. Yet, the best we have for now...

    http://www.criticandokardec.com.br/essay_on_conscious_water.htm

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    1. You might want to read a guy called Bernardo Kastrup. He does take a more "Brahman-stuff" aproach and in a quite interesting way. He even did tackle Schopenhauer who is another interesting idealist.

      But about consciousness being a mystery to us, a central assumption of the text: it seems to me than it is only so weird to thinkers from the modern era, thanks to reasons that Goff and Feser explain that involve guys like Hobbes, Galileo and Descartes. Guys like Aristotle, Proclus, etc, i don't see these having much dificult with conscience. This i would argue thanks to their metaphysics.

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  12. All of this is very interesting. I would point out that Panpsychism has been around far longer than Goff. Or any of the other thinkers, now championing that cause.
    Seems to me it was lurking, around the time of Rene DesCartes. How Goff, or any of another half-dozen, now nuance, embellish or otherwise massage Panpsychist ideas/notions does not concern me. Speculative philosophy is akin to metaphysics, in that anything that helps us think is useful---my view, as a pragmatist. So, go ahead. It is all philosophy. Even religion is, at bottom, philosophy. Look at where it resides in university administrative structure. The hard sciences fill in gaps, where hard facts are needed.

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    1. If i'am remembering right, Diderot did argue that matter is conscious on a certain level, so perhaps this could be the idea roots.

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  13. In order to make the case for mathematical physics, mental causation had to be put in a box in order to get modern physics started. Descartes did not believe the box was empty like many today. Philip Goff writes about Galileo and his thoughts on the mind, but Descartes famously took it to the logical conclusions.

    If you take Descartes seriously like I do, the Cartesian Theater would need to be updated to a Cartesian Holodeck. The only reason I could imagine a high mass particle would have this capability is if the particle inherited its capabilities from the conscious universe making universes and particles not only conscious but living organisms capable of reproduction and subject to the theory of evolution!

    If there is a high mass particle in the brain that is a Cartesian Holodeck, I deduced it would probably communicate with the brain by electromagnetic code probably using something like the microtubules of neurons as antennas.

    Cartesian Holodeck Theory is a scientific theory that can be tested experimentally by looking for electromagnetic codes sending sensory information and receiving voluntary free will commands. The code could be verified simply by pointing a electromagnetic emitter with an encoding of an image using the homuncular code at a homuncular particle and asking the person what image they see! If high mass Cartesian Holodeck Particles are found it would be the greatest discovery in science ever leading to the artificial body industry and mostly the end of death and pain!

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  14. I find the idealist - approach more and more interesting. What I would suggest is listening in youtube to Donald Hoffman the conversation with Lex Fridman.

    Think of this: If there is no space-time -> Where is the brain?

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    1. I think Barnado Kastrup makes a stronger case. What do you think?

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    2. Just listened to him, also interesting. From an evidence standpoint. I guess we could be fooled by the appearance of the universe. But it feels kind of true.
      The next question I would ask is why is this giant conciousness existing? And why are there brains? Puzzled by this.

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  15. Inasmuch as my view does not comport with the premises supporting Panpsychism, it does not matter what I think of Kastrup, or Seth or anyone else seriously investigating the matter. I think the entire enterprise is pointless because it is faulty reasoning.
    One of a few resurgent notions that get trotted out as the Next Big Thing, only to later subside into renewed obscurity. This post has been all over the charts with pros and cons. One position melts, homogenously, into the next. Fishing is fun---to a point. I now cut bait.

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    1. Kastrup has some very interesting arguments for monist idealism that don’t stand or fall with Geoff’s case for panpsychism. In the end I think classical theism is better still.

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    2. Goff* my phone “corrected” it

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  16. Explaining consciousness as a phenomenon without panpsychism:
    Abstract: Can we explain consciousness as a phenomenon today? The problem is already rooted in matter: why do unexpected properties arise from certain physical organizations? Important subsidiary remark: these properties only appear at something at least as complex. It is therefore impossible to reduce the points of view of the constitution and the emergence to each other. It is in this opposition that a fragment of consciousness is born, whose planes are surimposed as reality becomes more complex, first in the material levels of information, then virtual in the depth of neural networks. Each level of reality constructs its own bidirectional interaction, the one that constitutes and the one that experiences its constitution. The higher the complexity, the richer and deeper the experienced phenomenon.

    https://surimposium.rhumatopratique.com/en/explain-consciousness-as-phenomene/

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