Panpsychism – is it testable?

By Paul So

In recent years (late 90’s to the 21st century), Panpsychism has been enjoying some resurgence in philosophy. David Chalmers, Galen Strawson, Thomas Nagel, and others are seriously considering Panpsychism as a viable solution for the Mind-Body problem. But philosophers aren’t alone. In the natural sciences, some prominent scientists, even the well-known Christof Koch, are seriously considering Panpsychism too. This recent resurgence might give outsiders the impression that Panpsychism is becoming popular. However, the truth is it remains controversial because the majority of philosophers and scientists still find Panpsychism highly implausible.

What is it about Panpsychism that many people find implausible? In order to understand people’s incredulity, we need to know what Panpsychism is. I’m not going to provide a strict definition of Panpsychism. Instead, in the context of contemporary Philosophy of Mind, I will spell out what virtually all contemporary Panpsychists have in common. Panpsychists tend to believe that the microentities (e.g. elementary particles) that inhabit the fundamental level of the universe are conscious. Consequently, everything possesses some degree of consciousness. This is what many people are incredulous about: how could fundamental particles have consciousness?

To be clear, proponents of panpsychism aren’t arguing that matter has the same kind of mind/conscious states that we do. Rather, proponents or sympathizers argue that at the very least matter instantiates a very primitive conscious experience. When bits of matter combine together in an appropriate arrangement, they will produce a more complex and enriched form of consciousness like ours. There is a rationale or strategy behind this view that can only be understood in the context of the Explanatory Gap.

We have a story for how we get from the most fundamental matter to the most complex organism. When we go from an atom to a molecule to a neuron to a neural network, there is a smooth or continuous transition that connects them together. Once we arrive at a bunch of firing neurons, we want to find out a continuous transition from neurons to consciousness. But there seems to be a gap between firing neurons and consciousness; we simply don’t know how we got from a bunch of neurons to consciousness. We do know how we get from atoms to molecules to cells, but how did we get from neurons to consciousness?

Supposedly, this is a problem for Materialism, the view that consciousness is exclusively a physical phenomenon. This view can be spelled out in many different ways (e.g. type identity theory, token-identity theory, functionalism, etc), but they all agree that consciousness is not a non-physical substance or property floating above an underlying physiological process. One way to demonstrate that consciousness is a physical phenomenon is to reduce it to an underlying and familiar physical process. Some people who endorse the identity theory would like to show that consciousness is identical to some range of neural states. Others who endorse functionalism would like to show that consciousness is identical to, or realized by, some causal state that can be occupied by anything (at least in principle) from carbon-based neurons to its silicon analog.

Unfortunately, the aforementioned attempts are far from successful. One argument against these views tries to show that if consciousness is physical, it is logically impossible to have a world in which everything is physically identical to our own except its inhabitants lack consciousness. But such a possible world is conceivable. If it is conceivable, it is logically possible. Therefore, Materialism has to be false. This argument is known as the Philosophical Zombie argument and it is one of the popular arguments against Materialism.

Dualists are convinced that arguments like the Philosophical Zombie show that consciousness is irreducible. Some dualists think consciousness is an emergent property that is anchored to the physical world, but stubbornly retains its subjective quality. Others are convinced that consciousness is a substance distinct from the body. Panpsychists agree with Dualists that the Materialist strategy isn’t working, but they do think that consciousness is reducible. Unlike Materialists, Panpsychists think consciousness is reducible to more primitive or fundamental conscious entities. For Panpsychists, fundamental particles are conscious insofar as they possess primitive conscious experience. When they combine in the right manner to constitute a complex structure, eventually they’ll produce or constitute an enriching and complex conscious experience.

So far the Panpsychist strategy makes sense. It is understandable why there is at least some appeal to Panpsychism, but there are some deep problems for it. For one, just as there is an explanatory gap for Materialism, there is also an explanatory gap for Panpsychism. How did we get from very primitive conscious experience to some very enriching and complex conscious experience? Combining primitive conscious experience together means more primitive conscious experience, but how does that amount to a quality of conscious experience that you don’t find in particles? This is known as the Combination Problem.

But I think there is another pressing issue for Panpsychism. Even if the Combination Problem is solved, this other question remains: Is Panpsychism testable in principle? I think that it is not. Allow me to illustrate with a thought experiment. Consider the following two scenarios. One scenario where our universe’s fundamental matter is non-conscious, but in another scenario fundamental matter is conscious. However, in both scenarios, everything else is the same. Universes from both scenarios have the same laws of nature, spatiotemporal structure, forces. causal history, entities, and other physical facts. Consequently, scientists in both scenarios have the same scientific models making the same predictions. Moreover, scientists from both scenarios believe their universe is physical. If Panpsychism is true, but everything else we know about the physical world remains intact, how can we know if it is true?

It is not enough that panpsychists postulate a primitive conscious experience in order to find a way to reduce consciousness. Such a postulation needs to imply some observable fact or prediction that would make the universe look different from a view of the universe where its fundamental matter is non-conscious. If fundamental particles are conscious, but they still behave as we already expect them to behave (e.g. particles still spin up or spin down) based on previously established experiments, we have no way of knowing whether it is conscious. Consider another thought experiment: suppose that in a possible world almost every elementary particle is non-conscious except a handful of them. In such a possible world, all elementary particles exhibit the same kind of behaviors such as spins. How can physicists differentiate them from each other if (1) they exhibit the same behaviors according to laws of nature (2) their conscious experience is private?

In order for Panpsychism to be testable, it needs to imply some observable consequence that would be noticeable for scientists. Moreover, it would have to be something that any materialist model of the universe wouldn’t anticipate.  But it isn’t obvious what that observable consequence should look like. Furthermore, in principle, the total set of observable data wouldn’t suggest any reason to postulate a conscious experience at the fundamental level of the universe. While there might be good metaphysical reasons to consider Panpsychism, there isn’t a good scientific reason to postulate it to begin with.

A panpsychist could point out that Materialism is also not testable. So far, I argued that Panpsychism is untestable for three reasons: (1) it doesn’t imply any observable consequence unanticipated by a materialist. (2) a panpsychic universe would look indistinguishable from a physical universe in terms of their laws of nature, spatiotemporal structure, number of elementary particles, causal history, and other scientific facts. (3) scientists in both possible worlds wouldn’t be able to tell the difference. But (1), (2) and (3) also apply to Materialism. After all, (1) materialism needs to imply some observable consequence unanticipated by panpsychist, (2) a materialist universe would look indistinguishable from a panpsychic universe, and (3) scientists in a materialist universe aren’t in any better position than scientists in a panpsychic universe to determine whether or not their universe is either physical or conscious. Therefore, my argument for the untestability of Panpsychism also applies to Materialism.

There is at least one problem with the panpsychist response. Whereas Materialism is relatively conservative insofar as it sticks to known properties already described by physics (among other natural sciences), Panpsychism postulates an extra unknown property: a primitive conscious experience. If one is a materialist, one believes in every property already described or attributed by physics from spins to electric charges. But a panpsychist wants to postulate an extra property unknown to physics. There seems to be a special burden of proof placed on someone who wants to postulate an extra novel property not accepted by science.

Let me elaborate on the special burden of proof. Normally, we think that when we make any claim, we ought to support it. So if we postulate an extra property or entity that isn’t part of our scientific view of the world (at least not yet), we want evidence for it. Think of it like an exclusive membership club. Suppose a potential member wants to join your exclusive club and you tell that person that one has to meet certain conditions to be an exclusive member. In other words, a potential member has a burden to meet certain conditions before he or she can be a part of that club. It would be awkward and absurd if such a potential member insists that you have the burden to show why one shouldn’t be part of the club. Likewise, anyone who postulates an entity or property and desires that it be incorporated into the scientific view would have to satisfy certain conditions for incorporation.

Somebody might point out that this would rule out many metaphysical positions from mathematical platonism to realists about properties. However, this depends on what the conditions are for being incorporated into a scientific worldview. Empirical evidence is one of the conditions, but another condition could arguably be indispensability for doing science (check out indispensability arguments in Philosophy of Mathematics). Either way, there is no empirical evidence for panpsychism and it isn’t obvious that panpsychism is indispensable for doing science.

I think one way to state the problem with Panpsychism is that a (possible) panpsychic universe is observably indistinguishable from a materialist universe because conscious experience is private. Since they are observably indistinguishable due to the privacy of conscious experience, there’s no further empirical fact of the matter that would decisively determine which view is correct. If positing an extra property doesn’t make a new picture of the universe empirically distinguishable from the current picture, it is untestable in principle.

Is this really a problem for Panpsychism? Someone might point out that Panpsychism is a metaphysical claim rather than a scientific claim. Any attempt to show that Panpsychism is untestable in principle doesn’t undermine the original motive behind Panpsychism as a metaphysical claim. After all, Idealism and Platonism are metaphysical worldviews that aren’t subject to scientific scrutiny. Likewise, perhaps Panpsychism is a metaphysical worldview that cannot be tested by science.

There are several problems with this view. First, it isn’t obvious that a claim must either be a scientific claim or a metaphysical claim. For example, the claim that there are natural kinds is a metaphysical claim, but it bears so much relevance to the natural sciences such that it isn’t exclusively a metaphysical claim. Moreover, the claim that species are essences with strict membership conditions is a metaphysical claim, but it is falsifiable by discoveries in Evolutionary Biology. Presentism, which states that only the present exists (whereas the past no longer exists and the future does not yet exist), is also a metaphysical claim. However, one of the main reasons why many philosophers of time do not accept it is that Presentism seems contrary to Special Relativity.

Panpsychism isn’t immune to any scientific or empirical criticism by virtue of being an abstract metaphysical claim. Moreover, some sympathizers of Panpsychism such as David Chalmers present it with the explicit intention or hope to change the scientific view of the universe. If Panpsychists (or their sympathizers like Chalmers) want Panpsychism to be a new paradigm for physics, they might want to take the objection seriously.

Overall, Panpsychism is an interesting metaphysical view, but I don’t think it could ever become a viable scientific worldview because it is untestable. A panpsychist can’t merely postulate conscious experience at the fundamental level. Its postulation needs to imply some observable consequence that would never be anticipated by a physicist who is a materialist. While a panpsychist could argue that materialism is untestable, this would be unusual because materialism is relatively conservative insofar as it sticks to properties already described and discovered by the scientific investigation. Panpsychists are postulating an extra property, so they have the burden of proof to show that it exists.

Paul So  is a graduate student in Texas Tech University’s Master’s Program. His main areas of interests are Philosophy of Mind, Cognitive Science, Metaphysics, and Philosophy of Action (or Free Will).

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24 Comments »

  1. Does anyone propose that the elementary panpsychic ‘particle’ is simply Relation? Objects only exist in relations; we cannot assert the existence of an object without relations, yet relations are not physical. Physical things are limited to what, when and where they are, while relations are wholly generalizables. Then sophisticated human consciousness is the product of physical complexity only because complexity is made of relations.

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  2. This article appears to contain a common confusion:

    If (A) carbon-based neurons can’t be replaced by silicon analogues then (B) materialism is false.

    But (A) can be true and (B) false: Consciousness is material, but its presence in an assembly of matter is dependent on the particular materials* that make up that assembly:
    http://codicalist.wordpress.com/2015/09/13/is-biocomputing-computing/

    * Unless a sort of silicon-to-carbon alchemy can take place.
    cf. http://phys.org/news/2015-09-golden-silver-nanoparticle-gold.html

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  3. It’s nIce to see this view discussed, Labnut. This seems a pretty fair summary of the panpsychist’s case but there are some possible quibbles.

    First and foremost, if an idea is not testable in physics this would not mean it is not testable at all. We usually accept that ‘cogito’ is testable but it is not so in physics. Testability in physics is not an issue for a metaphysical theory and it is not clear to me that a theory that is testable in physics can ever be a metaphysical theory. All that would be necessary for a metaphysical theory is that it be consistent with physics, and even then one has to be careful about the evolution of physics. My own view would now be consistent with physics but it would not have been so in the 19th century. It is testable in logic and experience, but not in physics (other than the prediction that no physical data could never falsify it).

    Secondly, one could argue that panpsychism does make a testable prediction, namely higher level consciousness. It is a bit of a weak one for sure and would require some jiggery-pokery regarding binding-problems ans so forth, but at least consciousness would play a part in the prediction, which is definite improvement on the almost complete absence of predictions of any kind made by materialism. (All of these ideas are testable in experience according to the sages, but perhaps that’s not relevant here).

    I note that the idealist Bernardo Kastrup is a strong opponent of panpsychism, being of the view that it is merely a way for materialists to acknowledge consciousness while retaining the primacy of matter. I feel that panpsychism can be formulated so as to avoid this criticism, as has been disussed at length by Skyrbina, but I see his point. No explanation is given for consiousness. The problem is just pushed back into the early universe and in this respect this may as wll be ‘mysterianism’. Indeed, mysterianism and panpsychism could happily co-exist. (For Kastrup matter would be in consciousness, which leaves open the question of whether it always has an associated localised consciousness).

    In the end though, panpsychism is not a general theory and seems to offer us no more help with any practical problems than does materialism. It does nothing to explain why matter ‘has’ consciousness or why consciousness ‘has’ matter. So a metaphysical theory would be required in order to ground panpsychism, which for me makes it a rather idle speculation. If it is the case (as I suspect) then – so what? More is required of a theory than one simple assertion.

    Thirdly, panpsychism may sometimes represent the reification of matter, and this would not be allowable for many idealists. This si where precise definitions would become important since panpsychism comes in various flavours.

    It does raise a vast question, however, which is that of whether matter can exist (or seem to exist, which may be the same thing) in the absence of consciousness. This is untestable in physics but it is not, I think, undecidable in philosophy.

    For what it’s worth I have no opinion on panpsychism but see no problem with it other than the many different ways of defining it. Great to see it disussed though, since it would at least open the door a chink for some new ideas in consiousness studies.

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  4. Hi Paul, in general I agree with your argument. I would go on to say I don’t even buy the “logical possibility” of panpsychism.

    Just because we can imagine something as possible, because we don’t know the necessary criteria for something to exist, does not make its existence logically possible. We just haven’t definitively excluded the possibility, which is a very different thing.

    The real position is that we don’t even know if it is possible, logically or other.

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  5. I don’t know which is more wrong, the notion that things without brains are conscious or the idea that consciousness is a “thing” that we are going to “find” “somewhere,” which is what gets the whole category-error-laden ball rolling.

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  6. @dbholmers

    “Just because we can imagine something as possible, because we don’t know the necessary criteria for something to exist, does not make its existence logically possible. We just haven’t definitively excluded the possibility, which is a very different thing.”

    I think there’s a difference between “imagining” and “conceiving”. With regards to the former, you can imagine a water that isn’t made out of H2O or a square circle. But with the latter, you cannot conceive a square circle or a water that isn’t made out of H2O. This is because whereas in imagination is unconstrained, conceiving X requires that X isn’t ruled out a priori. Furthermore, you don’t need to know the necessary criteria for what exists in order to conceive something. You only need to know what *can* exist as long as it cannot be ruled out a priori.

    @Phillip Thrift

    I never said that if one can replace carbon-based neurons with silicon analogue, materialism is false. I said that if the antecedent holds, then identity theory is false.

    @ Peter J

    “if an idea is not testable in physics this would not mean it is not testable at all.”

    I never said or assumed that testability in physics is the criterion for testability in general. If that were the case, then the law of supply/demand and Darwinian evolution aren’t testable at all, but that would be absurd. I mentioned physics throughout my essay because panpsychists as described by David Chalmers believe that microentities at the fundamental level of the universe are conscious; panpsychism is making a claim about some set of entities or phenomena described by fundamental physics. So arguing that it isn’t testable by physics is quite pertinent.

    ” Testability in physics is not an issue for a metaphysical theory and it is not clear to me that a theory that is testable in physics can ever be a metaphysical theory.”

    It is (and should be) an issue for people like David Chalmers because David Chalmers wants Panpsychism to be a new paradigm for Physics. You can watch his Ted Talks lecture where he introduces Panpsychism as a viable solution to the Mind-Body problem. In his talk, he tries to advertise Panpsychism as a new paradigm for physics.

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  7. Max Tegmark holds (Consciousness as a State of Matter: arxiv.org/abs/1401.1219) that “consciousness can be understood as a state of matter, ‘perceptronium’, with distinctive information processing abilities.” I agree that consciousness is material (biomaterial, in fact), but I think there is – in addition to informational processing – phenomenological processing.

    This should, it seems, be the scientific approach, not “panpsychism”.

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  8. The idea of panpsychism would be empirically neutral until such time as we need to explain how things really are; then it might be useful. A problem we have is that we do not have an objective language to discuss consciousness or mind. Our words are all anthropomorphic and anthropocentric. This problem dogs us whenever we delve into primitive ontologies, e.g. reality as it is in itself.

    In order to intuit primitive consciousness it might be useful to ponder the question of whether bacteria or plants are conscious. As I have argued elsewhere all living creatures exhibit biological consciousness. Those living little nothings, the bacteria, clearly respond ‘purposefully’ to their environment, i.e. are objectively conscious. They interact with their ecosystem and exchange information with each other, etc.

    If bacteria are conscious, then the Explanatory Gap is not so huge – it is still quite large. But DNA and RNA then could certainly be candidates for intelligent molecules.

    The concept of Structuralist Realism has been invoked to explain weird quantum phenomena and action at a distance. Any specified primitive system is defined by the relationships of its members and not so much by what each object is ‘really’ like. In other words, particles of various flavors are interacting with each other and may seem ‘superimposed’ or ‘entangled’. Such interaction is made possible because the particles are in the same ‘time zone’ and are ‘aware’ of each other – they are in fact exchanging information. This could be the kind of stuff that pan-psychists are thinking of.

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  9. “Any specified primitive system is defined by the relationships of its members and not so much by what each object is ?really? like. ”

    Thank you, Liam. It’s what I was getting at above “. . . the elementary panpsychic ‘particle’ is simply Relation? Objects only exist in relations; we cannot assert the existence of an object without relations, yet relations are not physical.”

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  10. Koch’s embrace of panpsychism several years back was, for me, a sure sign that he had jumped at least one shark. And, before that, he’d been doing some interesting, even good, work on issues related to consciousness. (sigh)

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  11. Hi Philonous13/Paul

    –” I never said or assumed that testability in physics is the criterion for testability in general… . I mentioned physics throughout my essay because panpsychists as described by David Chalmers believe that microentities at the fundamental level of the universe are conscious; panpsychism is making a claim about some set of entities or phenomena described by fundamental physics. So arguing that it isn’t testable by physics is quite pertinent.”

    Oh yes. Quite right. Still, it does seem a little confusing. After all, being pedantic, the idea that human beings are conscious is not testable in physics, never mind micro-entities. Maybe sometimes we worry too much about physics.

    ”–Testability in physics is not an issue for a metaphysical theory and it is not clear to me that a theory that is testable in physics can ever be a metaphysical theory.”

    – “It is (and should be) an issue for people like David Chalmers because David Chalmers wants Panpsychism to be a new paradigm for Physics. You can watch his Ted Talks lecture where he introduces Panpsychism as a viable solution to the Mind-Body problem. In his talk, he tries to advertise Panpsychism as a new paradigm for physics.”

    Yes, I get the point. Still, again, materialism is a paradigm in physics and is not testable in physics. This confusion of physics with metaphysics leads to a lot of muddle. Chalmers is dreadful when it comes to metaphysics and usually ignores it. Indeed, his ‘naturalistic dualism’ is designed specifically to avoid it.

    If he is suggesting that panpsychism is as good as or better than materialism as a conjecture then fair enough. If he’s saying that it would qualify as a theory in physics than I’d agree with your objections. Consciousness is not testable in physics.

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  12. Certainly Tegmark’s perceptronium, or whatever he calls it, is more sciencey, but I doubt it is any more scientific than panpsychism. I guess we should be grateful to him for giving p-zombies a new home in science, now that they have been kicked out of philosophy.

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  13. Well done Paul So, though that you’re “preaching to the choir” with me is probably an understatement. Even the physics community itself seems less “physicalist” than I myself happen to be, given the ontic presumption of “natural uncertainty” which most of them seem to take. I see another reasonable way to harass the panpsychist however, and wonder if anyone has any thoughts on this approach:

    One strange thing about naturally conscious matter which comes together to produce the extreme consciousness which I personally experience, is that my entire body does not seem to be conscious. Notice that my arms and legs can be removed without altering my consciousness, for example. Here the panpsychist might say, “But those are just attached tools, not the important stuff that is your consciousness.” This explanation would be fine, but then what IS the important stuff? Surely not my entire brain, since some of this seems quite removable as well. Isn’t it strange that “everything is conscious,” though my own consciousness simply concerns certain bits of my brain?

    Secondly, observe how simple it is to physically remove all consciousness from this bit of matter. If the physical presence of anesthesia can entirely remove my consciousness, this suggests that consciousness should be physically produced by this matter — a process which may indeed be quite simple to interrupt. What it doesn’t suggest is that the coming together of this matter itself naturally produces consciousness, given that the mere presence of these other substances effectively eliminate it.

    I find it quite heartening that so many are against panpsychism, but the fact they even exist, and quite prominently in the case of David Chalmers, suggests that we do have some great things ahead to figure out.

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  14. Good article; not much I can argue with.

    One problem with Panpsychism is that it has to be defined in any given discussion. In doing background here, I sought out Wikipedia for a snapshot definition; that article is a complete mess, to honest. So I went to SEP, only to discover that the SEP article had clearly been used as the source of the Wiki article (including direct sentence lifting!). The SEP article went deeper, but also broader; at the end, one could still not have a clear definition of Panpsychism.

    The moment this became apparent was in the claim that ‘Idealism is, by default, a Pansychism.’ That’s simply not true. There’s a profound difference between the claim that ‘all we can know is of mental construction,’ and the claim that ‘all that exists has some conscious property, however primitive.’ Ie., eg., the former claim is completely incompatible with realism, while the latter is almost dependent on Realism, asserting that what is ‘really’ there is knowable in itself independent of any existent knower.

    There are a great many (often conflicting) epistemological and ontological positions sucked into the SEP article; while it attempts discussion of separate positions, it can’t make clear distinctions between them, given how broadly and loosely it uses the ‘Panpsychism’ label. Ultimately these discussions don’t come together to form a picture of some single idea – a single flavor varying in degree and supporting spices, so to speak – but rather a kind of stew made from left-overs from different dinners. After separating out all the ingredients that conflict, one discovers the pot to be empty.

    The present article works because it takes the reasonable path of not asserting Panpsychism of a given position, but allowing those who openly avow Panpsychism to provide the definition for discussion.

    Current Panpsychists hold that there is an intrinsic property of the elements of material existence that make consciousness inevitable, and this property should be considered itself some primal form of consciousness. I think this demands too much from the universe.

    http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/panpsychism/ – gets better in the second half.

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  15. The only true science of consciousness is the science that treats consciousness as consciousness not a “science” that treats consciousness as some kind of matter. The same applies for every other science, i.e., the only true science of matter is the science that treats matter as matter (physics), the only one of living beings…, etcetera. This pseudo philosophical reductionisms all miss the point and rely on their own prejudices regarding the object they are trying to explain. They surely have a notion of consciousness, but they blind themselves with their naturalism. Conscioussness is a type of being with its own way of being. It is, in general terms, the act of a subject through wich he has objects: from matter to numbers, every possible object. Until these suppossed scientists of consciousness do not examine the very consciouss experience, just as the physician examines the very material experience, we will be lingering in these dilettanti metabasis, by no means new, novel or worth the squander universities pay to these philosophers.

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  16. What Christoph Koch is referring to, when he talks of a modern version of panpsychism, is Giulio Tononi’s Integrated Information Theory, which they maintain will be testable.

    I am a little bemused that the article mentions Koch as a proponent of panpsychism, but does not make this clear. David Chalmer’s association with panpsychism is also directed at Tononi’s theory (which is also the basis of Tegmark’s views on consciousness).

    I don’t personally think that IIT will come to anything, in fact I think that mathematician Scott Aaronson rather neatly skewered it in his blog.(http://www.scottaaronson.com/blog/?p=1823)

    But I find it odd for an article specifically about the testability of panpsychism and referring to the views of Koch and Chalmers, would not make it clear that they are referring to IIT and not address the specific reasons that Tononi gives for why he believes IIT is, or will be, testable.

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  17. Robin – Thanks, that helps make sense of the article.

    I fear EJWinner is right when he says that no general argument is possible unless we have a definition and there are many. One idealist I know is violently against panpsychism, while some idealists are for it. I’m not sure panpsychism is even important since it explains nothing much or even nothing at all.

    Eric – The anasthesia argument is a good one but it would require showing that no consciousness is present under anasthesia, which would be difficult, and it is denied by some people. So not quite case closed.

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  18. Hi Philonous13, to consider panpsychism is to think about something for which we have no idea what is involved, and so whether panpsychism is ruled out a priori. Using your terms, labeling such considerations “conceiving” rather than “imagining”, and thus allowing us to treat it as logically possible, is to create a sort of circular argument.

    That’s because to call it conceiving requires that it be logically possible in the first place (using your description). We simply do not know enough one way or the other about consciousness to make that call. We don’t even have a sufficient definition of consciousness.

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  19. The IEP article seemed a nice summary, listing the Non-Emergence, Not Testable, and Combination objections. The various QM based theories might be testable. I believe the “Dancing with Pixies” argument against computationalism is seen as pro-panpsychism, but it seems to me must have a formal physics based refutation along the lines of those against Maxwell’s Demon ie such panpsychic onsciousnesses will be too expensive thermodynamically to select out to interact with other minds or the environment. The other line of argument there is stability/repeatability.

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  20. Thanks Peter J, I was impressed with that little anti panpychism nugget myself. You know, I have considered the thought that perhaps full consciousness DOES exist under anesthesia, but from my theory the net effect would be the same. That poor bastard suffering during my surgery wouldn’t technically be me, and apparently I’d never even know that anyone had suffered. Furthermore as I’ve mentioned, there is great reason to believe that consciousness is quite an involved physical process which may thus be relatively simple to “chemically” interrupt.

    Consider, as I like to as my week ends, the effects of alcohol. Here you do not remove your consciousness, but rather progressively degrade it to not function quite the same. I term such sliding degradation to be a “sub-conscious” effect, spoken with a slight pause in order to distinguish the term from the standard “subconscious” idea. There are many ways to impair the conscious mind, with some being quite enjoyable. Thus it does seem reasonable that a “complete sub-consciousness” could occur which eliminates consciousness. A good whack to the head does seems to work as well! No this is not “case closed,” but there are indeed good reasons to believe various things. If anyone believes that my “whole body” and “anesthesia” arguments aren’t sound ways of objecting to panpsychism, please do mention your position.

    By the way Peter, I did miss the cut off regarding our previous “moral” discussion, but the site under my name does explain my ideas, with my email address prominently displayed.

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  21. Eric – Thanks. I’ll check the site.

    Here’s the thing. A Buddhist friend (a skilled one, unlike this tyro) tells me that a while back he decided to get drunk. He said it was very amusing watching himself being drunk. This is a telling comment. He would not associate himself with his mind but with what lies beyond, the observer of the mind. For him sleep would be a state of consciousness, as would be an anaesthetised state. Such people have, so they say, seen beyond the mind to its origin. It seems relevant also that research into cannabis would suggest that it is when the brain is disrupted and subdued that what lies beyond begins to be revealed. That is, the mind may be an obstruction to truth rather than the possessor of it.

    For such people consciousness (or, better, awareness, at the level of ‘I am’) would be indestructible. It would only be individual consciousness that can cease. Panpsychism can seem a rather simple-minded idea against the subtlety of the mystic view of consciousness and awareness although I think it would have some truth in it. All of existence would be a conceptual imputation, but this would not be quite the claim that everything is conscious. To get back OT, panpsychism must be untestable in the natural sciences given the invisibility of consciousness, but it would be testable by way of a ‘hands-on’ study of our own consciousness if skilled researchers like Lao Tsu are to be believed. Of course, it’s a big ‘if’.

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  22. This essay is in effect saying that the strange concept of panpsychism happens to be untestable, and thus we simply don’t need to bother with the notion in science. While I agree that scientists don’t/won’t much bother with it, I also think I’ve stumbled upon a way to practically test the notion. I don’t mean this “ontologically” of course, since no science is based upon that which is “ultimately real.” Instead we can check to see if our evidence seems more in line with the notion that consciousness is a physical circumstance produced by properly configured matter, or instead seems to exist in all matter to some degree, though when joined together can produce the extreme consciousness that I personally know of.

    (Furthermore I can’t stress enough how much I agree with dbholmes above, essentially stating that it’s silly to conceive the origins of something for which academia doesn’t yet have a functional definition. Fortunately I personally DO have such a definition of consciousness at my disposal, (https://physicalethics.wordpress.com/home-page-with-a-cocktail-party/chapter-9-the-conscious-mind/) and when my theory is being considered, it’s my definitions that apply.)

    So above I’ve proposed that we can be reasonably assured that consciousness is something which is derived from various physical dynamics (rather than an inherent aspect of matter), for two reasons. The first of them is that it’s not my entire body that seems to be conscious, or even contributes, but rather just certain aspects of my brain. Of course the rest of my body might have a seperate consciousness somewhat, or a tree, or a star, but in practice we don’t presume such things. Regardless, if matter contains elemental consciousness, though my own consciousness is merely produced by certain bits of my brain, this doesn’t support panpsychism.

    More damning however, is that apparently consciousness is quite physically alterable, or exactly what we’d expect if it’s produced by properly set up, rather than inherently conscious, matter. There is great evidence supporting the notion that when someone is under anesthesia, he/she either has no consciousness whatsoever, or at least that it’s been highly diminished, further arguing against the notion of panpsychism.

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