Friday, April 04, 2008, Panpsychism

Apparently, Strawson agrees with something I've been saying for a while now:
The third of Strawson’s leading theses is a good deal more tendentious than the first two; namely, that emergence isn’t possible. ‘For any feature Y of anything that is correctly considered to be emergent from X, there must be something about X and X alone in virtue of which Y emerges, and which is sufficient for Y.’ But Strawson holds that there isn’t anything about matter in virtue of which conscious experience could arise from it; or that if there is, we have literally no idea what it could be. In particular, we can’t imagine any way of arranging small bits of unconscious stuff that would result in the consciousness of the larger bits of stuff of which they are the constituents.
Yep. This is the problem with epiphenomenalism: it tries to have it both ways. That is, it takes as given that matter is the only thing that exists, but it also agrees that the mind is separate from the body. It's no less magical than Cartesian dualism, really, because, while accepting that an individual atom has precisely no consciousness on its own, it fervently claims that a large collection of atoms can be conscious, but only as a collection, not if broken down individually again. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts, you see. Well, I don't see at all. If the parts contained not even the potential to be conscious, so that the sum of those parts would have no more consciousness than the parts individually, then the whole is just as inanimate.

Strawson's out is to suggest that the parts really do have the potential to think - panpsychism is apparently the term (who knew?). I always thought that was called "monadology," but I guess dressing up old philosophy in new clothes will get you tenure. It's a strange sort of refuge. Given that epiphenomenalism is bunk, we are presented with a problem: there are things that actually think; matter cannot think; matter is the only thing that exists; oh no. The first premise is pretty easy to accept; the second is what Strawson rejects. When you are utterly committed to the third, but something has to go, I guess you embrace panpsychism. All right.

I wonder if Strawson fell asleep when his class dealt with Kant's transcendental unity of apperception. You see, from the fact that reality impinges on the sense organs, we cannot infer that all the sense data created will belong to a single experience. Panpsychism seems especially vulnerable to this problem. If every thing has its own experience, then we have a very strange, inexplicable fact about the world: the experiences of those individual things are collected in one personal experience that, by its nature, includes all those discrete experiences. Why unity instead of plurality?

Unity must be an experience that each individual thing has, which brings us back to monadology, which is insane. Or to solipsism, which is insane. Or madness. Which is insane.

Well, there's another book for my long reading list.


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