Thursday, September 08, 2005

Strawson on Physicalism and Panpsychism

Philosopher Galen Strawson has recently presented a paper entitled “Why Physicalism entails Panpsychism”. Part of Strawson’s argument focuses on the incoherence of the concept of the emergence of consciousness from insentient physical processes. This argument of course is a common one against emergentism, but it is good to see a comprehensive critique of it presented by a prestigious analytical philosopher.

Strawson argues that for emergence to be meaningful there must be some form of dependence of the emergent phenomenon on the properties of that from which it emerges, and that such a relation does not apply to consciousness and physicalist conceptions of matter. He appears to be developing the ideas he put forth in the last few pages of this paper. The recent paper is not yet up on his website but here is an abstract of it (from this site):

"Why Physicalism Entails Panpsychism

[1] A physicalist holds that every concrete phenomenon is
wholly physical.
[2]Arealistic physicalist is a full-fledged realist about consciousness. So
[3] a realistic physicalist must hold that consciousness is a wholly physical
phenomenon, and that at least some arrangements of matter are conscious
or constitute consciousness. I assume for argument the truth of
[4] realistic physicalism [RP] and also that
[5] all physical stuff is wholly constituted of the same fundamental entities
or ultimates (leptons and quarks, strings,...) I then argue against the
popular view that
[6] physical stuff is, in itself, in its fundamental nature, something wholly
and utterly non-experiential. [NE]. I defend the plausible principle that
[7] for certain things A, you cannot get A from non-A and argue that
[8] consciousness is one of those things.
Added to [4] and [5], [7] and [8] entail that [6] is false: that matter cannot
be wholly non-conscious in its intrinsic or ultimate nature. It follows that
[9] any realistic any truly serious physicalist must be a micropsychist,
and accept that at least some ultimates are intrinsically experience-
involving. From this it is a short step to [10] any realistic physicalist
must at least be a panpsychist.

[7] is crucial: the claim for certain things A,
you cannot get A from non-A. Liquidity phenomena can certainly be
said to emerge from non-liquid phenomena. But concrete phenomena
cannot be supposed to emerge from wholly non-concrete (abstract) phenomena.
Could consciousness emerge from wholly non-conscious phenomena,
like liquidity from wholly non-liquid phenomena? Or is the
conscious/non-conscious case more similar to the concrete/ non-concrete

The concrete/abstract case is in a sense too powerful, and I restrict
attention to concrete-concrete cases: Could the extended emerge from
the intrinsically wholly non-extended? Could the spatial emerge from
the intrinsically wholly non-spatial? Could existence emerge from
non-existence something from nothing? Surely not. But whatever you
think about these cases, I argue that consciousness could not emerge
from wholly non-conscious phenomena. For if it really is true that Y is
emergent from X then it must be the case that Y is in some sense wholly
dependent on X. For any feature Y of anything that is correctly considered
to be emergent from anything X, there must be something about X
in virtue of which Y emerges. Emergence cannot be brute. It cannot be
brute in the sense of there being absolutely no reason in the nature of
thingswhythe emerging thing is as it is (so that it is unintelligible even to
God, as it were). One can allow for argument that a fundamental particle’s
possession of its fundamental properties could be brute in the sense
of there being no reason for it in the nature of things, so long as it is
agreed that emergence cannot be brute. One problem is that brute emergence
is by definition a miracle every time it occurs, for it is true by
hypothesis that in brute emergence there is nothing about X, the
emerged-from, in virtue of which Y, the emerger, emerges from it. It is
also a contradiction in terms, given the standard assumption that the
emergence of Y from X entails the supervenience of Y on X, because this
means that it is a strictly lawlike miracle and a miracle is by definition a
violation of a law of nature. Howdid the notion of brute emergence gain
currency? By one of the most lethal processes of theory formation, or
term formation that there is. The notion of brute emergence marks a position
that seemingly has to exist if one accepts both RP and NE. Many are
irredeemably committed to both RP and NE, and so the position that
relies on the notion of brute emergence comes to feel substantial to them
by a kind of reflected energy. It has to be there, given these unquestioned
premisses, so it is felt to be real. The whole process is underwritten by the
wild radical-empiricism-inspired metaphysical irresponsibilities of the
twentieth century that still linger on (to put it mildly) today."

free web page counters


Steve said...

Thanks for this, Justin. I'm also glad to see Strawson make this argument explicitly.

Justin said...

Strawson has now put the full paper referred to in this post on his site (link is at the front page of this blog).

Anonymous said...

Some dependence on the properties
of that which produce it?
Hydrogen and Oxygen are gases
and in the scientific frame, make
water---which is not a gas. One could argue that liquid water bears
no resemblance, shares no properties with that which gave rise to it. The same argument can be made about photons which are greatly different, in the scientific concecption, from the atoms which release them.
The point is that the scientific scheme is made up of things which transform into or produce completely different things.
The same can be said of mental and physical; the physical transforms into or produces the mental, just as atoms relase photons and Hydrogen and Oxygen
make water.
This is the attitude of science and Strawson will not make a dent in that conceptual armor with his argument.
The real problem is subscribing to the mind/body split in the first place. Mind and body or mental/ physical should not be
considered the two poles of the actual world. They should be seen as points of view within the context of a larger world,
from a subjective stance and seen as two aspects of one world, one stuff, from an objective stance. It is the mutual exclusivity of mental and physical that creates the irreconcilabilty and paradox and brings people to make creation either mental or physical when they can easily be seen as part of a continuum of the same basic stuff.

H.C said...

When elements combine to form a structure with an emergent property, the emergent property could come from two possible sources:

1. from the properties of the constituting elements (such as temperature is just a statistical way of talking about the cinetic energy of particles)

2. from the properties of the combinations; the space of all possible combinations could create novel properties for the ensemble; example: take 100 brick lego pieces and assemble them in the shape of the letter "O". This construct has the geometrical property of having a hole in the middle (and this is significant from a topological point of view) - this property does not exist for the brick legos in themselves; the bricks have no concept of "hole in the middle", but the structure of bricks can have this property. So, this property is emergent and I trace its source in the properties of combinations.

In essence my idea is that emergence is "fundamental properties of constituents" + "properties derived from interactions and combinations of elements". This second part is interesting. Possibly, consciousness comes from this second category. Then, even if it is not present in particles, it could be present in brains.