Panpsychism

In my last book, I wrote that Whitehead’s position, that all entities have a “mental” as well as a “physical” pole, needs to be distinguished “from the ‘panpsychism’ of which he is sometimes accused” (page 28). I now realize that this is entirely wrong; such a distinction cannot be made, because Whitehead’s position is, in a very classical sense, a panpsychist one. Moreover, panpsychism is a respectable philosophical position, and not something that anyone needs to worry about being “accused” of.

I come to this new understanding from reading David Skrbina’s work on panpsychism — the philosophical doctrine that “mentality” is in some sense a universal property of all entities in the universe, or of matter itself. Skrbina’s book, Panpsychism in the West, both argues for panpsychism as a philosophical doctrine, and gives an extended history of this doctrine. Skrbina shows that panpsychism has been a leading strand in Western thought for 2500 years, from the pre-Socratics through Spinoza and Leibniz, on to William James and Whitehead a century ago, and up to many thinkers today. The idea that everything in the world thinks, in some fashion, is far more prevalent than its “crackpot” reputation might lead us to assume.

Skrbina’s companion edited volume, Mind That Abides, contains essays on the possibilities of panpsychism by a variety of contemporary philosophers, ranging from analytic philosophers (among whom Galen Strawson is probably the best-known), through post-Whiteheadian process-oriented thinkers, to “speculative realists” along with other non-analytic metaphysicians (there are contributions from Graham Harman and Iain Hamilton Grant). Together, these volumes make a powerful case for the plausibility of panpsychism, as well as making it clear that Whitehead’s contention that all entities have some sort of incipient mentality is a central expression of the panpsychist doctrine.

Arguments for panpsychism come in many forms, and its adherents often contradict one another. But if there is a central strain to contemporary panpsychist argumentation, it is this. If we reject radical mind/body dualism, and accept materialism, physicalism, or any other form of monism, then we must face the question of \emph{how to explain} the indubitable existence of mind or mentality. I am using “monism” here in its widest possible sense; I define it to include, not just scientific physicalism (the doctrine that the world is composed entirely of mass-energy, or that it is reducible to the subatomic particles described by contemporary physics), but also any form of what might be called “immanentism” (the doctrine that the world is composed of something like Spinoza’s unique substance, or of Bergson’s multiple durations, or of “experience” as it is understood in William James’ “radical empiricism”, or indeed as pure multiplicity, or as an open collection of independent objects a la Graham Harman). In other words, any philosophy that rejects supernaturalism or mind/body dualism as a way to explain the existence of mentality, must find some naturalistic, or at least immanent, way to do so.

I am trying to give as broad as possibile a definition of “mind” or “mentality” as well. This may be defined as consisting in cognition, and cognitive operations, of some sort; and, I would argue, in affectivity as well. But above all mentality consists in phenomenal experience, or of what analytic philosophers call “qualia”: my sensation of the redness or hardness of some particular object, or of pain or delight, or simply of being present in the world. Phenomenal experience is often conflated with consciousness, or the state of intentionality, being-aware-of; I have reservations about this identification, which I will get to later, but the rough equation may be accepted for the moment.

Understood in any of these ways, mentality would seem to be an irreducible aspect of our own existence, at the very least — leaving open the question of what other beings might have it. The question nagging at philosophers is how to explain the seeming indubitability, or incorrigibility of phenomenal experience. (“Incorrigibility” is what Descartes bases his entire philosophy upon. Everything that I think may be false or mistaken; but the fact that I am thinking cannot be mistaken). Cartesian dualism is the great classical solution to this dilemma, of course. Descartes has been (rightly) criticized for hundreds of years for reifying the act or fact of thinking into the the form of the “I” as a thing-that-thinks, and for separating the thinking-mind from any notions of body, matter, or extension. But this doesn’t negate the urgency of his initial observation.

Few of us are willing today to take Descartes’ dualist route, however. So the question becomes: how do we explain qualia, or phenomenal experience, or consciousness, or “inner” experience, on a materialist or monist basis? Modern thinkers have tended to favor either eliminativism or emergentism. Eliminativism is a reductionist thesis; it argues that qualia, consciousness, intentionality, and phenomenal experience are merely illusions, or linguistic misunderstandings, which disappear once we understand how neurological mechanisms operate on the physical level (one can find different versions of this position in Daniel Dennett, in Thomas Metzinger, and in the Churchlands).

Emergentism argues that mentality is the epiphenomenal result of interacting physical processes that have attained a certain level of complexity, as is the case with the massive aggregations of neurons in our brains. Phenomenal experience emerges at some point in the course of evolution; it may be associated either with the existence of neurons and nervous systems in animals, or with some more complex development of the nervous system in organisms of sufficient complexity, or in vertebrates, or in mammals, or just in human beings.

Both eliminativism and emergentism can be criticized, however, for just “explaining away” mentality, rather than actually explaining it. As Whitehead says, “philosophy destroys its usefulness when it indulges in brilliant feats of explaining away.” Eliminativism doesn’t account for mentality so much as it suggests that it is too trivial or illusory to even merit being accounted for; it ignores Whitehead’s insistence that “the red glow of the sunset should be as much part of nature as are the molecules and electrical waves by which men of science would explain the phenomenon.”

Emergentism, for its part, can be accused of begging the question. It is one thing to say that certain physical properties emerge out of other physical properties (in Strawson’s example, a single molecule of H2O isn’t in itself wet). But it is another thing altogether, Strawson argues, to maintain that mentality, or experience, or phenomenality, can emerge from something that is entirely non-mental, non-experiential, and non-phenomenal.

More generally, I think that it is worthwhile to challenge our almost reflexive belief, today, in the power of emergence or self-organization. (See my previous post, “Against Self-Organization”, for more discussion of this). It’s all too easy for “spontaneous emergence” or “self-organization” to be put into play as a catch-all explanation for things that cannot be explained any other way. The emergentist thesis threatens to violate Whitehead’s ontological principle, which is that “there is nothing which floats into the world from nowhere.” Theories of emergent self-organization may well be ways of illicitly reintroducing an idea of preprogrammed finality, or of a benevolent “invisible hand,” into our understanding of events, as Jean-Jacques Kupiec has recently suggested.

Panpsychist thinkers propose, against the eliminativists, that mentality is real. Against the emergentists, they propose that mentality doesn’t just come into being out of nothing; it is always already there, no matter where you look. Mind, in some form or other, exists all the way down. Panpsychists argue that mentality, or experience, is itself a basic attribute of matter (of subatomic particles, of quanta of mass-energy, of actual occasions, of minimal differences, etc.). In other words, mentality is not separate from physicality, but coextensive with it. One might think of this, classicaly, in Spinozian terms (matter and mind are two attributes of the same unique substance) or in Leibnizian ones (every monad is at once material and mental, since it is both a particle of the world and a perspective upon the world). But Galen Strawson, David Skrbina, and others have reconceptualized these arguments in terms that are grounded in contemporary physics. As Strawson puts it, the “ultimates” out of which the universe is composed “are intrinsically experience-involving… All physical stuff is energy, in one form or another; and all energy, I trow, is an experience-involving phenomenon.”

This line of argument intersects in interesting ways with the arguments of the Speculative Realists. For it implies that mentality must be seen as intrinsic to the universe itself — rather than just being a feature of the way that “we” (human beings, rational minds, subjects) approach it. To restrict mentality just to human beings (and perhaps also to some other species of “higher” animals) is an unjustified prejudice, an instance of the “correlationism” denounced by Meillassoux, or the human-centeredness questioned by Harman. (This also accords with Whitehead’s frequent point that the duality of subject and object is a situational and always changing one. Every entity is a “subject” in some conditions or some relations, and an “object” in others).

In Skrbina’s anthology, both Iain Hamilton Grant and Graham Harman write about the relation between realism and panpsychism in ways that are too complicated for me to do them justice here. Grant argues for “panpsychism all the way down, that is, without exception”; but in doing so, he complicates the whole question of emergence. For his part, Harman is reserved with regards to panpsychism. He sees mentality as an inevitable component of any relationality, or interaction between objects; “objects collide only indirectly, by means of the images they present as information.” But objects are not reducible to the “information” that they transmit to other objects. Harman therefore denies the property of information, or mentality, to objects insofar as they are in themselves, and therefore to objects that do not enter into “vicarious” relations with other objects. And of course, for Harman, relationality is only incidental to, and not constitutive of, the nature of objects. Hence, for Harman, “even if all entities contain experience, not all entities have experience.” Grant’s and Harman’s articles both raise important issues that I do not have the space to pursue right now — I will have to leave them both for another occasion.

In any case, Whitehead gives his own crucial twist to the overall panpsychist argument. In Whitehead’s formulation, all “actual entites” or “actual occasions” have both a “physical” pole, and a “mental” or “conceptual” pole. He also expresses this by saying that they have both a “public” aspect and a “private” aspect. “There are no concrete facts which are merely public, or merely private. The distinction between publicity and privacy is a distinction of reason, and is not a distinction between mutually exclusive concrete facts.” Everything exists, to different degrees, both physically or publically, on the one hand, and mentally or privately, on the other. Every occasion is inwardly mental or private, in its own process of “concrescence,” as it prehends other (previous) occasions. But every occasion is also physical or public, insofar as it enters into relations with the universe by serving as a “datum” to be prehended in turn by other occasions.

(There is thus a temporal as well as existential asymmetry between the mental and the physical, or between private and public dimensions of existence. This asymmetry has important consequences for how we understand relationality in general. In the privacy of its self-constitution, the occasion prehends, and thereby relates to, the entire universe. Publically, as a datum, the occasion is prehended by other occasions, and functions as a relational factor. I need to work out this asymmetry in more detail — I think that it is crucial for how Whitehead is able to maintain both relationality all the way down, and the sense that an occasion is something more than just the sum of its relations).

The most crucial way in which Whitehead revises the panpsychist argument is that, for him, mentality — or what William James calls “experience” — is not equated (as it is in the work of most panpsychists) with consciousness. Photons and quarks, and stones and thermostats, all have “experiences,” which means that they do possess some sort of incipient mentality; but for Whitehead, they are probably not conscious. Even in human beings, Whitehead says, most mental processes occur unconsciously, or below the threshold of consciousness. What makes them “mental,” then? Whitehead’s notion of unconscius thought is related to, but also quite different from, both the psychoanalytic sense of the unconscious, and from cognitive science’s recognition that most cognitive processes are unacompanied by, and often irreducible to, consciousness. Like psychoanalysis, Whitehead sees unconscious experience as having to do with “feelings” and “appetitions”, processes of action and reaction that are not merely automatic responses to stimuli; but in contrast to psychoanalysis, for Whitehead these feelings and appetitions do not necessarily involve any sort of representational activity.

For Whitehead, mentality is characterised by what he calls “conceptual feelings,” or “valuations.” These are processes in which potentialities are in some sense contrasted or weighed against one another. There is not just the perception (and perhaps the recognition) of what is. For Whitehead, such a perception and recognition is exactly identical to physical causality; to say that B physically perceives or prehends A is exactly the same thing as to say that A physically affects B, or that A is the cause of which B is the effect, e.g. in the way that one billiard ball transmits energy and motion to another billiard ball by hitting it, and causing it to move in turn. In addition to all this, Whitehead says, B also has a mental or conceptual experience of A: the experience, let’s say, of being-caused-to-move. I doubt that the billard ball is in any sense conscious; but the event of energy-transfer is a mental experience for Whitehead, because it involves the activation of a potential (precisely of a potential for movement). Mentality consists in the comparison of moving and not-moving; this comparison is the “mental pole” of the “occasion” in which billiard ball B is hit by billiard ball A and propelled into motion.

Now, the role of mentality, or experience, in the case of the billiard ball is vanishingly small, or (as Whitehead tends to put it) negligeable. Nonetheless, it exists — it is at least present structurally, you might say. Experience is present potentially, but almost not at all actually. But if this is so, it is because experience is in itself the impress of potentiality. The energetic shock of being hit by another billiard ball is precisely a prehension, or an apprehension, of possiblity. Possibilities, or conceptual prehensions according to Whitehead, are always perceptions of what he calls “eternal objects,” or “pure potentials” — and these, in turn, are equivalent to what other philosophers call “qualia.” The apprehension of qualia — of the red glow of the sunset, for instance — is intrinsic and irreducible, because it is felt, pleasantly or unpleasantly as the case may be, and because, insofar as it is thus felt, it implies potential and contrast. Redness-as-a-potentiality is in excess of merely being a quality or an aspect of this particular moment, this particular sunset. My sense of redness implies that this scene could perhaps change, so as not to be red after all; and also that something else could be imbued by redness as well. And my affective response to the sunset has to do with my liking or disliking of this redness, a reaction that extends into the prospect of other things being red, or of this redness itself disappearing (as it does, once the sun has entirely set).

Experience, or conceptual feeling, thus always involves a certain process of “valuation,” or evaluation. Whitehead agrees with the cognitivists in seeing that these evaluative processes are most of the time non-conscious. But he does not see evaluation as itself a “cognitive” process — it has much more to do with “appetition,” which “includ[es] in itself a principle of unrest, involving realization of what is not, and may be… All physical experience is accompanied by an appetite for, or against, its continuance.” In this way, mentality (or experience) is not just the calculation and representation of what is, but also involves a striving towards some potential novelty. As a result of this, experience always issues in some sort of decision; and for Whitehead, such decision “constitutes the very meaning of actuality.”

Experience is, as Whitehead says, irreducibly private; which means that I cannot observe anyone else’s experience aside from my own. (There may very well even be a limit as to the extent of my ability to observe my own experience — as Harman also suggests from another angle). The privacy of experience has fueled the skepticism found throughout modern Western philosophy, from Descartes to Hume, and beyond into the twentieth century. (I include, under this head, the answers to skepticism, or dissolution of its paradoxes, given by thinkers such as Wittgenstein and Cavell). But for Whitehead, the decision in which private experience culminates is also what makes it public and potentially conscious. Decision is not grounded in consciousness or cognition; rather, decision is what makes consciousness, cognition, and public relationality possible in the first place. “Feelings,” or movements of “appetition,” are the basic elements of mentality (or “inwardness,” or “qualitative experience”). Cognition, consciousness, and responsibility are consequences of this basic mentality, rather than preconditions for it. An aesthetic of decision precedes and grounds cognition and consciousness — rather than either of these being the grounds or preconditions for any process of decision. I say an “aesthetics” of decision, because it is a non-cognitive, and non-generalizable process; the problem of how decision leads from privacy to publicity, in Whitehead’s account, is a transformation of Kant’s problematic of how a singular, non-cognitive, non-conceptual aesthetic judgment can nonetheless lay claim to universality, through the process (precisely) of being made public.

I will stop here; instead of explicating this in more detail (which certainly needs to be done) I will conclude by simply juxtaposing Whitehead’s notion of experience-as-decision with some recent speculation in the physical and biological sciences. This is a continuation and expansion of some of the speculation that is already in my book.

The biologist Martin Heisenberg, in a recent article called “Is Free Will An Illusion?” makes a similar point about the “decisions” made by biological organisms. Arguing from experiments on bacteria, fruit flies, and other organisms, Heisenberg states that such organisms exhibit “behavioral output” that is independent of “sensory input”; that is to say, these organisms “actively initiate behavior” that is “self-determined,” rather than being “determined by something or someone else.” Studies of plants and slime molds, as well as bacteria and fruit flies, have isolated instances of “decision” that are not causally determined by the circumstances in which they occur, or the conditions to which they are a response.

Recognizing decision in all living organisms might seem to point to a kind of vitalism. But it would be considerably different from traditional vitalism, because it would not claim that some sort of intrinsic vital force would make living beings radically distinct from non-living things. Rather, as Whitehead says, the line between life and non-life of fuzzy, and the mentality or decisionality of life is something that is essential to life, but not exclusive to life: it extends all the way down.

Along these lines, the physicists John H. Conway and Simon Kochen propose what they call the Strong Free Will Theorem. According to Conway and Kochen, under certain conditions that arise as a result of quantum entanglement, subatomic particles respond “freely,” that is to say, non-deterministically, unconstrained by any prior physical events. If experimenters may be said to be acting “freely” when they collapse a quantum-indeterminate state by choosing which of several possible parameters they will measure, then to the same extent the particle thus measured is acting “freely” when it “chooses” which value to give this parameter. If this is correct, then even photons may be said to have a certain sort of inner “experience,” and to make a kind of “decision.”

15 Responses to “Panpsychism”

  1. kvond says:

    most interesting about panpsychism is the problem it poses for any easy attack on the philosophical catch phrase “Correlationism”. If everything “thinks” in in varying degrees or determinations being and thought do coincide.

  2. I’d say that panpsychism disqualifies correlationism, in that it sees thought or mentality as active in any relation among entities, not just in human relations to a non-human object-world.

  3. Olivier Surel says:

    Very interesting post Steven.

    But I think I kind of agree with Kvond here. While re-reading Meillassoux, I thought that if for pre-contemporary materialisms (for correlationists on the verge of the meillassouxian bottomless pit) what is non-subjective can’t be conceived, the strict correlationist will always try to escape his own destitution by espousing a naturalist gesture of extension of the subjective, its externalisation (e.g. an attribution of the intentional stance to all physical objects). The thing is that the minimal creed here lies on the necessary refutation of the (mainly) cartesian redoubling of causal class in the form mind/body. Indeed, the only problem for the materialist-correlationist has been that of an internalization of a causal class, or to put it more clearly of an internalist figuration of causality (the setting up of an auto-sufficient exception in the global causal class that is the physical realm). Roughly put, the pre-contemporary materialist’s maxim could be: if what is not subjective can’t be, I must keep from making subjectivity an internalized exception, and demonstrate the maximal extension of the subjective in the species of intentionality (in a refined way: panpsychism).

  4. Just very briefly — since I am in a hurry this morning. I find Meillassoux convincing in his attack on correlationism, but less convincing when it comes time to think how to develop a”realism” that replaces it. Among the so-called “speculative realists,” panpsychism is consistent with Grant’s position, and Harman, though rejecting it ultimately, takes it quite seriously. I can’t imagine Brassier finding it congenial, any more than I could imagine Meillassoux so taking it.

    From my own perspective, this connects up with my recent book, in which I argue that Whitehead’s and Deleuze’s revision of the Kantian transcendental argument insists that transcendental structures are not restricted to the faultline between human subjects and a lifeless (or mindless) object-world, but are at work in any interaction among entities. Whitehead rejects subject/object dualism on the grounds that every entity is both a subject and an object over the course of its relations with other entities. So we’d have a Kantianism for trees and stones and photons as well as for human beings. (I wrote about this in relation to Harman’s object-oriented philosophy here). I’d add, first, that this provides an alternative to Harman’s “vicarious causation” when it comes to asking how entities can relate or interact; and second, that the really crucial move in Whitehead comes when this “transcendental” interaction is understood in terms of “subjective aim” or “decision.”

  5. Justin Remeselnik says:

    A fascinating and erudite post.

    My knowledge of panpsychism is very limited, but I wonder if its proponents generally bestow mentality only upon physical objects. What about concepts, or Dawkinsian memes? Nigel Thrift suggests that a system can potentially be viewed as intelligent “if its behavior furthers its uninterrupted existence,” and by such a definition, memes could certainly be seen as intelligent. I don’t want to suggest an equivalency between “intelligence” and “mentality,” but I have often wondered if speaking of memes as possessing mentality and agency is merely a useful metaphor or something more.

  6. kvond says:

    Steve: “I’d say that panpsychism disqualifies correlationism, in that it sees thought or mentality as active in any relation among entities, not just in human relations to a non-human object-world.”

    Kvond: Perhaps I am confused, but I assumed that correlationalism was the strict equivalance of Thought and Being, with some sort of connection towards their equation back at Parmenides. This is after all just what is Correlated is it not?

    Perhaps correct me, correlationism begins with this equivalence, and then CAN go onto qualify thought as distinctly human.

  7. Kirby Olson says:

    I found it especially interesting right at the end that some believe that even sub-atomic particles have free will. But are they thinking only of how to survive longer in what they choose to do, or are they acting ethically — using the golden rule, or some variant of it, in choosing how to act (existentialist quarks, say), or by what criteria are they acting? What are their values? That’s what I was trying to figure out. There are qualities of different decisions, I suppose. Abraham’s decision to void Isaac, or Kierkegaard’s decision to not marry Regina, or Caesar’s decision to cross the Rubicon, or Mother Theresa’s decision to aid the poor of Calcutta, or your decision to take up Whitehead. That’s what I still wanted to know about the decisions of subatomic particles — whether they are motivated by ethical or merely aesthetic criteria, whether they can sacrifice themselves for others, etc.

  8. Kirby Olson says:

    I’m especially interested to know if subatomic particles pass judgement on the decision-events of other subatomic particles.

    I was thinking of you the other day in the New York metro — I was on the 1 going down to Washington Square Park and a very ancient man sitting next to me was having an internal trial of some kind in the chair next to mine. He was talking to himself in different voices.

    One heavy voice said, “Do you solemnly swear you are not a nerd?”

    The other voice said, “I solemnly swear I am not a nerd.”

    He was having some enormous trial in his mind. I don’t know why. He was really a mess, and smelled bad.

    But I wonder if sub-atomic particles can make bad ethical decisions, or whether they can second-guess themselves, and end up swimming inside of other atoms, worrying about the choices they’ve made, and the identities they’ve chosen, and the books they should have written.

  9. Thanks, Steven, for this wonderfully rich post – it’s probably the most lucid and helpful brief account of panpsychism (in article or blog-post form) that I’ve ever seen. It’s also great encouragement for me to reading your book on Whitehead (whom I think you do great justice to) and Deleuze. The parts on speculative realism give me a lot to think about, especially as I’m just starting to read Harman (and haven’t touched the others yet).

    I’m wondering, though, if it isn’t possible to speak of a “panpsychist emergentism” that sees the world as mind/experience “all the way down” but also as historical, so that relational networks (relations connecting different entities) take on emergent properties that stay with them over time, building on previous ones, etc. So even if “mentality” per se is there “from the beginning” (whatever this might mean), the actual forms of the world emerge through a temporal sequence of concrescencing/becoming which results in novelty of expression and of experience.

    I’m glad to see that I’m not the only one using the term “immanentism” – I appreciate your definition of it

  10. John says:

    Whitehead and James deserve respect for the way they reintroduced the idea of spatial and temporal extension into philosophy of mind. The “form” of experience suggested by Whitehead and by James is not unique to animals that have awareness but awareness requires that this form is connected to an information processor. See New Empiricism

  11. [...] Shaviro’s recent discussion of emergence in relation to panpsychism seems to address the first half of the question whereas [...]

  12. Ronald says:

    Kirby Olson should reconsider, in that not all subatomic particles are active and Mind (Spirit) is not inherently physical. Particles in time and space, of course, are passive, like all indeterminate matter, as Plotinus taught in his ‘Enneads.’ There is a middle ground of executing functionality (the electron), which partakes of both determinacy and indeterminacy but is not, strictly speaking, in space, as it has no size and its mass is known to be bound to its potential and kinetic energies. Their residence in Time is doubtful.

    Particles at the heart of things are in fact discovered to be not in space, either, and therefore not in Time. They have no size and their mass comes entirely from their high kinetic and potential energy, similar to the electrons, their logical counterparts (as positive is to negative), which exist to complete the Idea and carry it through to a forceful conclusion and strictly speaking, according to theory, hide their Infinity behind a perpetually finite cloud of virtual electrons and positrons.

    We know for certain now that within the nucleon itself (we specify the proton) is a Triune Reality absolutely self-determined, again, not in time or space, occupying from its point of view an infinite space within which to work, responsible in its triadic relations for all higher-level forces through the nuances of field and subtleties of virtual photons, and thus through no actual contact (the virtual particle field is well-established in quantum theory).

    The foregoing ensures, amazingly, that Leibniz in 1714 was correct: THE MONADS HAVE NO WINDOWS, but contain all answers, answer all questions in their own way, and lead an impregnable, eternal life in serene contemplation of their Creation. The Triune Mind has BUILT THE WORLD AROUND HIMSELF with ease and assurance. It is only his creature Man who still wonders where he is and what he is for. But not forever.

    By the end of this century the evidence of Triune Reality, available to all upon free inquiry, will be well-diffused and triumphant. The World will be transformed without a shot, and strict monotheisms, atheisms, etc., will fade in their partial comprehensions like once-forceful dreams, along with their political power. Absolute Geopolitics, existing even now, will come fully into force and the earnest theological reckoning that began 500 ago will reach its tremendous conclusion.

    Ronald Schleyer
    Mankato, Minnesota
    schleyer@earthlink.net

  13. Robert Harvey says:

    As an engineer I am interested in philosophy of science and philosophy of mind. I have read much of what has been written recently and the older legacy Locke,Hume,Berkeley, etc. I just wanted to get that out of the way since I will now move on to express a kind of disdain for where all this philosophizing goes, and had I not mentioned that I have read some of the background material I would easily be dismissed as unread. And before I go on, let me also mention that I understand that some find this kind of dialogue interesting and fun, and so when I poo-poo it of course I will be unflattering and so of course I will be unliked and demonized. Only flatterers are liked (by the vain, which is almost everyone)

    The reason that, since about 1900, philosophy has gone mad and lost instelf in tangled webs of words is a problem based in words themselves. Philosophy grew gradually – it was never a discipline figured out in advance, prior to the invention of language, that was engineered to be some sort of perfect tool or knife, ready to take on all issues and render them sensible. Rather it grew gradually over time, usually using words that had been invented for other purposes from outside the field of philosophy, and with every word appropriation error was introduced, so that by 1900 the mass of error was reaching critical mass and that’s why there has been almost no advancement in philosophy in 100 years! A lot of tangled webs of words have been written but little advancement. And most of what I would consider advancement has been in the field of pointing out the problems with words, which has had more or less only one negative consequence,namely that today Westerners are far more clever at lying that at anytime in the past. Dissimulation is now second hand for school children.

    The philosophy of mind problem , which gives rise to things like panpsychism, is a result not of really good thinking, but of depressed thinking, as in clinicly depressed. The depressed mind always turns against itself, the ultimate case being suicide. But long before suicide there is self-doubt, self-deprecation, meaninglessness, loss of hope, and denial, especially about addictions. I do belive one can be addicted to a way of thinking in addition to a substance or intoxicating behavior. And one would be addicted to a way of thinking if that in some way created a high, even if it was the negative high that is the favorite of the depressed, such as anger and bitterness.

    And so we have the eliminativists being the biggest cranky old men of them all – “it’s all nothing, what’s the fuss all about, life is short and mean, and then you die”. And then the emergentists, who are sort of in a manic phase (as in manic depression) where they want to try one last time to be happy, to write a happy ending. But then they sink back into depression since no one really can get too excited about an “emergence” that no one can see emerging. I mean, it’s hardly a show stopper, unlike the emergence or breeching of a gray whale a mere 30 feet from one’s boat!

    I think those that favor the emergence version likely also have been heard to say that humanity is evolving. The bulk of the facts suggest that homo-sapiens is a stable species that will not now undergo significant changes. And whether or not another species will emerge from us, who knows? It does seem like many animals in the zoological kingdom are the end of their line – perfections, as far as mother nature is concerned.

    Who really cares about Truth or how the mind works anyway? Has anyone ever cared about anything other than their advantage, and that of their group in a certain few cases? And though humans may commit what looks like acts of kindness, what do they have to do with Truth or how the mind works? Isn’t a bit more honest to ask the question, with a good deal of suspicion, “why do you want to know how the mind works?” “What is your real motive, as opposed to the dissimulation you know you should speak since you might be on video?” But who has ever revealed their true motive? Even young children learn not to do that.

    So what we really have here is a big mess, in which individuals and groups with agendas pursue their often perverse interests, cloaking them in pious dissimulations, and sounding increasingly nutty as they try to use language to study something that may not submit to study by language. Is everything study-able with language? Can we be sure something is not being overlooked? Does studying with language presuppose an outcome? What could we use, other than language, to study whether lanuage should be used to study this or that? I mean, wouldn’t it be somewhat comforting to have something else besides language to ground language? As a ground, I am not referring to propositional calculus or any kind of math, since math, except the axioms, is demonstrated with language, the original invention of which does not seem to have been for the discussion of math or mind.

    Language when directed at humanity can be very critical. In the critical vein the goal seems to be the ultimate and complete deconstrucion of the human mind – I ask why that? Again, I go back to the depression analogy and suggest that there may be something emotionally wrong with the ardent deconstructors – certainly they will never tell us what their real motive is. Should we not be interviewing their family and friends to see what kind of people they are? And let’s not stop there, but also hire detectives to bring us their court records and interview long lost childhood friends and schoolmates. Let’s deconsctruct the deconstructors. I really doubt that, after thorough investigation, we will find many if any “good people” involved in these investigations, but rather they will turn out to be complete bores, wimps and in some (not few) cases, skeevy rat bastards.

    Maybe we should try to improve what we can instead of dreaming about utopian worlds that will only come into being when elitist intellectuals finally figure it all out and gain the authority to order others around. BTW, Pol Pot was just such an elitist.

    If there was some noble goal on the table, such as the creation of water out of air, and if the claim was being made that all this study of the mind was being undertaken to learn it’s amazing secrets so that a supercomputer could be built that would figure out how to make water from air, then the investigations would make some sense. But that is not the case. Rather, the investigations go on with no real goal in mind – pure science – and yet, no one really believes in pure science when they are alone with themselves. What are the real motives and agendas? To this day we do not know.

  14. John says:

    Excuse me Robert but I am no Pol Pot! All that I would like to know is how this evident geometrical form that we call “experience” is connected to measurements. See New Empiricism. I also solve crosswords.

  15. [...] in the E/P debates, positioning themselves in near diametrical opposition, with Shaviro stating: “panpsychism is a respectable philosophical position, and not something someone needs to worry…; contra Brassier, who writes : “The ‘speculative realist movement’ exists only in the [...]

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