Introducing Philip Goff and a panpsychic universe (Introduction)

by David Turell @, Thursday, November 16, 2023, 18:49 (157 days ago)

He sees purposeful activity:

"Today, I am hosting the British philosopher Philip Goff, a professor at Durham University in England. He is a strong proponent of panpsychism, which the New Oxford American Dictionary defines as, “The doctrine or belief that everything material, however small, has an element of individual consciousness.”

"Goff just published a new book this week, Why? The Purpose of the Universe, where he masterfully presents his defense of this worldview, connecting it with a much needed way of addressing not only the challenging nature of consciousness but also our search for meaning beyond a strictly material reality.


"Panpsychism is the theory that consciousness goes down to the fundamental building of matter. Fundamental particles or fields have incredibly rudimentary forms of consciousness, and the complex consciousness of the human and animal brain is somehow built up from these more basic forms of consciousness.


"For its proponents, it offers an attractive middle way between the extravagant belief in the soul on the one hand, and the reductionist “there’s only brain chemistry” view, which I think ultimately denies the reality of consciousness itself.


"Either it’s just an incredible fluke that the numbers in our physics are right for life — an option too improbable to take seriously — or the relevant numbers in our physics are as they are because they are the right numbers for life; in other words, that there is some kind of directedness toward life at the fundamental level. That’s weird, and not how we expected science to turn out. But we should follow the evidence where it leads, without being influenced by our cultural prejudices.

"For many, there is a third option: the multiverse. And for a long time, I thought the multiverse was the best explanation of fine-tuning. But over a long period of time, I was persuaded by philosophers of probability that the inference from fine-tuning to a multiverse commits the inverse gambler’s fallacy.

"...the inverse gambler’s fallacy — as our observational evidence concerns the good fortune of a particular individual, and the number of people elsewhere in the casino has no bearing on how likely it is that this particular person will play well.

"This flawed reasoning is indiscernible from that of the multiverse theorist. Our observational evidence is that this universe is fine-tuned, and the number of other universes that are out there has no bearing on how likely it is that this universe is fine-tuned. Of course, there’s a lot more to say about the anthropic selection effect, and the alleged scientific case for the multiverse, and I go into all this in the book.


"Pan-agentialism is the view that not only consciousness but also rational agency goes right down to the fundamental building blocks of reality. Obviously, particles can’t deliberate or do probabilistic reasoning, but I think we can make sense of the idea that they are responding rationally to incredibly basic desires.

"I propose this as a solution to the deep and under-explored challenge of accounting for the evolution of consciousness. Rapid progress in AI and robotics has made it clear that you could have incredibly complex behavior without any kind of inner experience. So why didn’t natural selection make survival mechanisms — that is, extremely complicated biological robots which track features of their environment and respond with behavior conducive to survival without being conscious? I believe we need something like pan-agentialism to address this challenge.


"The Universe being conscious is not as extravagant a hypothesis as you might think. Physics is just mathematical structure, and there must be something that underlies that structure, something that “breathes fire into the equations,” as Stephen Hawking put it. I argue that the hypothesis that it’s a conscious mind that “breathes fire into the equations” is as parsimonious as any other proposal, and it has the advantage of explaining fine-tuning. As for why it took so long, this isn’t an omnipotent God but rather an entity that pursues certain goals under significant limitations — those recorded by the laws of physics.

"We need a hypothesis that accounts for both the goal-directedness evidenced in the fine-tuning of physics for life, but also the arbitrariness and gratuitous suffering we find in the world. Cosmopsychism sounds weird, but it accounts for the data.

Comment: Goff's answer with his pan-agentialism view in next entry. Note this interview discuses fine-tuning for life, but nothing about the design in living organisms. This is a GLARING error in his approach. It must be a major part of the discussion.

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