Consciousness: not explained by panpsychism (General)

by David Turell @, Sunday, November 19, 2017, 05:28 (309 days ago) @ David Turell

At least according to this essay:

http://bigthink.com/aeon-ideas/why-panpsychism-fails-to-solve-the-mystery-of-consciousn...

"Is consciousness everywhere? Is it a basic feature of the Universe, at the very heart of the tiniest subatomic particles? Such an idea – panpsychism as it is known – might sound like New Age mysticism, but some hard-nosed analytic philosophers have suggested it might be how things are, and it’s now a hot topic in philosophy of mind.

"Panpsychism’s popularity stems from the fact that it promises to solve two deep problems simultaneously. The first is the famous ‘hard problem’ of consciousness. How does the brain produce conscious experience? How can neurons firing give rise to experiences of colour, sound, taste, pain and so on? In principle, scientists could map my brain processes in complete detail but, it seems, they could never detect my experiences themselves – the way colours look, pain feels and so on.

***

"Yet physics seems to leave out something very important from its picture of the basic particles. It tells us, for example, that an electron has a certain mass, charge and spin. But this is a description of how an electron is disposed to behave: to have mass is to resist acceleration, to have charge is to respond in a certain way to electromagnetic fields, and so on. Physics doesn’t say what an electron, or any other basic particle, is like in itself, intrinsically.

***

"Here, some philosophers argue, there is scope for an exciting synthesis. Maybe consciousness – the elusive subjective aspect of our brain states – is the ingredient missing from physics. Perhaps phenomenal properties, or ‘proto-phenomenal’ precursors of them, are the fundamental intrinsic properties of matter we’re looking for, and each subatomic particle is a tiny conscious subject. This solves the hard problem: brain and consciousness emerge together when billions of basic particles are assembled in the right way.

***

"There are problems for panpsychism, of course, perhaps the most important being the combination problem. Panpsychists hold that consciousness emerges from the combination of billions of subatomic consciousnesses, just as the brain emerges from the organisation of billions of subatomic particles. But how do these tiny consciousnesses combine? We understand how particles combine to make atoms, molecules and larger structures, but what parallel story can we tell on the phenomenal side? How do the micro-experiences of billions of subatomic particles in my brain combine to form the twinge of pain I’m feeling in my knee?

***

"A related problem concerns conscious subjects. It’s plausible to think that there can’t be conscious experience without a subject who has the experience. I assume that we and many other animals are conscious subjects, and panpsychists claim that subatomic particles are too.

***

"I remain unpersuaded, and I’m not alone in this. Even if we accept that basic physical entities must have some categorical nature (and it might be that we don’t; perhaps at bottom reality is just dispositions), consciousness is an unlikely candidate for this fundamental property. For, so far as our evidence goes, it is a highly localised phenomenon that is specific not only to brains but to particular states of brains (attended intermediate-level sensory representations, according to one influential account). It appears to be a specific state of certain highly complex information-processing systems, not a basic feature of the Universe.

***

"Panpsychism offers no distinctive predictions or explanations. It finds a place for consciousness in the physical world, but that place is a sort of limbo. Consciousness is indeed a hard nut to crack, but I think we should exhaust the other options before we take a metaphysical sledgehammer to it.

"I’m not a panpsychist. I agree with panpsychists that it seems as if our experiences have a private, intrinsic nature that cannot be explained by science. But I draw a different conclusion from this.

"Rather than thinking that this is a fundamental property of all matter, I think that it is an illusion. As well as senses for representing the external world, we have a sort of inner sense, which represents aspects of our own brain activity. And this inner sense gives us a very special perspective on our brain states, creating the impression that they have intrinsic phenomenal qualities that are quite different from all physical properties. It is a powerful impression, but just an impression. Consciousness, in that sense, is not everywhere but nowhere. Perhaps this seems as strange a view as panpsychism. But thinking about consciousness can lead one to embrace strange views."

Comment: What I present is disjointed, therefore, read the whole essay, but I don't think consciousness is an illusion


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