Wednesday, January 02, 2019

Electrons don’t think

Brainless particles leaving tracks
in a bubble chamber. [image source]
I recently discovered panpsychism. That’s the idea that all matter – animate or inanimate – is conscious, we just happen to be somewhat more conscious than carrots. Panpsychism is the modern elan vital.

When I say I “discovered” panpsychism, I mean I discovered there’s a bunch of philosophers who produce pamphlets about it. How do these philosophers address the conflict with evidence? Simple: They don’t.

Now, look, I know that physicists have a reputation of being narrow-minded. But the reason we have this reputation is that we tried the crazy shit long ago and just found it doesn’t work. You call it “narrow-minded,” we call it “science.” We have moved on. Can elementary particles be conscious? No, they can’t. It’s in conflict with evidence. Here’s why.

We know 25 elementary particles. These are collected in the standard model of particle physics. The predictions of the standard model agree with experiment to best precision.

The particles in the standard model are classified by their properties, which are collectively called “quantum numbers.” The electron, for example, has an electric charge of -1 and it can have a spin of +1/2 or -1/2. There are a few other quantum numbers with complicated names, such as the weak hypercharge, but really it’s not so important. Point is, there are handful of those quantum numbers and they uniquely identify an elementary particle.

If you calculate how many particles of a certain type are produced in a particle collision, the result depends on how many variants of the produced particle exist. In particular, it depends on the different values the quantum numbers can take. Since the particles have quantum properties, anything that can happen will happen. If a particle exists in many variants, you’ll produce them all – regardless of whether or not you can distinguish them. The result is that you see more of them than the standard model predicts.

Now, if you want a particle to be conscious, your minimum expectation should be that the particle can change. It’s hard to have an inner life with only one thought. But if electrons could have thoughts, we’d long have seen this in particle collisions because it would change the number of particles produced in collisions.

In other words, electrons aren’t conscious, and neither are any other particles. It’s incompatible with data.

As I explain in my book, there are ways to modify the standard model that do not run into conflict with experiment. One of them is to make new particles so massive that so far we have not managed to produce them in particle collisions, but this doesn’t help you here. Another way is to make them interact so weakly that we haven’t been able to detect them. This too doesn’t help here. The third way is to assume that the existing particles are composed of more fundamental constituents, that are, however, so strongly bound together that we have not yet been able to tear them apart.

With the third option it is indeed possible to add internal states to elementary particles. But if your goal is to give consciousness to those particles so that we can inherit it from them, strongly bound composites do not help you. They do not help you exactly because you have hidden this consciousness so that it needs a lot of energy to access. This then means, of course, that you cannot use it at lower energies, like the ones typical for soft and wet thinking apparatuses like human brains.

Summary: If a philosopher starts speaking about elementary particles, run.

712 comments:

  1. Better read "Fashionable Nonsense: Postmodern Intellectuals' Abuse of Science" by Alan Sokal, written more than 20 years ago, and as we see it now, it's getting even worse

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  2. There are also philosophers and even mathematicians who say that nature does calculations underneath the phenomena. Is that also an indefensible position? (Just curious as an amateur outsider.)

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  3. As my history teacher used to say, just an observation, not a judgement. :-)

    You've said here several times that various topics (usually suggested by readers who perhaps wrongly assume that you don't get out much) aren't worth writing on, even to say that they are nonsense. So I'm a bit intrigued that you took the trouble to inform us that panpsychism is nonsense. :-)

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  4. Sabine,

    I am very glad you introduced the subject of panpsychism, and I totally agree with you that panpsychism doesn't work as an idea. Above all, in terms of the simple QM that chemists use, all electrons are identical, and in ordinary quantum mechanical terms, that means that if you swap the coordinates of two electrons over in the Schroedinger equation, all that happens is that the sign of the wave function flips - with no physical consequences.

    However, it is crucial to understand why the idea of panpsychism has any traction at all. Notably, a well known neuroscientist, Christof Koch, suddenly embraced panpsychism as the explanation for how matter thinks - i.e. how brains can do what they do. Koch had previously argued vigorously that brains were conscious simply as a result of the computations they perform.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christof_Koch

    The puzzle about consciousness is not so much that we can think, but that we can experience things - emotions, interest, beauty etc, because all we have inside the brain is matter - elementary particles! Obviously we can make matter compute, but who believes that their computer can actually feel pain, or pleasure, or anything - it is just as daft as saying that an electron can be conscious!

    The philosopher David Chalmers condensed this problem to a nutshell by pointing out that the real problem of consciousness was not rational thought, but what he called qualia - how does a physical system feel sensations or experience things - anything. Obviously a computer can react to a stimulus - it could even be programmed to scream - but nobody believes it really has felt pain - it is just an amusing trick. Chalmers calls this the "Hard Problem".

    There is a more consistent way to understand what consciousness is, but that really turns physics on its head.

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  5. While I would agree that panpsychism is a laughable concept, I do feel your divisive summary is unhelpful, Sabine. As you well know, there is no black-and-white separation of philosopher from physicist: many people fall into both camps, such is our desire to understand beyond some equation.

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  6. This is a very nice argument against panpsychism, that I've not seen before. I think it's interesting to relate it to Galen's argument against atomism. He claimed that (i) atoms cannot be conscious, since they are unchanging, (ii) no combination of unconscious parts can be conscious, (iii) we are conscious. Therefore, we cannot be combinations of atoms. Of course, most people today (including, I think and hope, a large majority of philosophers) would reject (ii). It would appear that panpsychists are targeting (i) instead.

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  7. "if electron had thoughts, it would change the number of particles in collision"... What?

    If a physicist starts speaking about consciousness, run!

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    Replies
    1. Schrödinger's book What Is Life is an early start on the issues that am raises for conciousness.

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    2. I was just mirroring the ridiculous conclusion of this article. I'm sure physicists can say sensible things on consciousness as much as philosophers of mind can say sensible things about particles, and as much as
      Schrödinger had a sensible take on *life*.

      But in this case it would have been better if Sabine Hossenfelder had just read some introduction to the metaphysical conundrums of consciousness and contemporary state of the art before commenting random "pamphlets" on the subject, because this article is quite useless.

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  8. Sabine Hossenfelder:

    "But the reason we have this reputation is that we tried the crazy shit long ago and just found it doesn’t work. You call it “narrow-minded,” we call it “science.”"

    So does a "philosopher" who writes in professional output about clear nonsense like "panpsychism", deserve a job in a university? Given we know that they are writing utter gibberish. Should they be paid with taxpayers' money?

    " Can elementary particles be conscious? No, they can’t. It’s in conflict with evidence."

    No, you're wrong. Panpsychism is "most probably true", according to Philip Goff:
    https://aeon.co/ideas/panpsychism-is-crazy-but-its-also-most-probably-true

    Who is Philip Goff?
    Acquaintance of Luke Barnes, and he has received money from the......Any guesses which Foundation? He is employed by Durham University.

    Unbelievable. Cranks everywhere you look.

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  9. The view you are addressing is not the panpsychism defended in contemporary philosophy for at least two reasons: (A) The claim is not that particles have thoughts but that they have (extremely basic) experiences.(B) The claim is that the the particle has physical properties like spin and charge *and* consciousness properties, but that spin and charge are identical with consciousness properties. The idea is that physics characterises physical properties in terms of their behaviour, but in their intrinsic nature they are forms of consciousness.

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  10. The problem with both 'consciousness' and 'free will' is that they are so difficult to define in the first place. To play devil's advocate: what property is it, exactly, that you are saying an electron does not have, when you say it does not have a 'consciousness'? Do you have a definition that allows you to decide empirically whether some physical object has it?

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  11. Yes of course, you are right, but The free will theorem has given us a nice twist on the idea: "It asserts, roughly, that if indeed we humans have free will, then elementary particles already have their own small share of this valuable commodity."

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  12. I believe you are right that panpsychism is complete nonsense. However, the the way you prove your point ."...if electrons could have thoughts, we’d long have seen this in particle collisions..." seems invalid to me. Mice think. If you collided two mice at near the speed of light in the LRC (Large Rodent Collider) I doubt their capacity for thought would be evident in the collision debris.

    Bob

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  13. I agree, and we don't even have any good definition of what "consciousness" even is. Personally, based on both AI research and a few psychological studies, I think consciousness is just a perpetual feedback loop in a working brain.

    The brain is filled with interconnected (and changeable) neural models that represent everything we have learned and know. Senses trigger these models, which trigger other models, ad infinitum. That is subconscious thought (without language); these models being triggered in parallel by both external events and internal states.

    Many of these models are neurally tied to associated words, and the neural models that fire when we hear those words. When the latter are activated, it is as if we heard those words internally (the same neural model that recognizes an actually spoken word is activated). A lot of them can be composed by our language centers into sentence fragments and sentences, giving us an internal dialogue, but in the wake of what the actual thoughts were (in the form of inter-model signals) that precipitated the sentence. Meaning our conscious thoughts are always several milliseconds behind the subconscious game (as some experiments demonstrate).

    But, like actual speech, those "statements" or "questions" in turn can trigger other subconscious models that generate questions, or answers, or add confirmations, etc, and the process is repeated, giving us this impression of an internal conversation.

    Which it is; but I don't think the "language" part is entirely necessary, the consciousness part behaves as a clearing house in an hierarchy of neural models. Perhaps as a means for multiple parts of the brain to resolve conflicts and reach a consensus on what to do, or learn (remember as a conclusion), or prioritize. We can argue with ourselves.

    To Sabine's point, that requires a great deal of organized complexity, and in turn I think consciousness is a spectrum amongst the brained animals. But no mental models == no consciousness.

    But I suspect mental models can be instantiated in materials other than neurons, so I wouldn't rule out machine consciousness. The most rudimentary forms of that may already exist in self-driving cars. They require an internal model of themselves (its own physical boundaries and capabilities) and internal models representing external reality (other cars and how they might move, the road, lanes, signs, objects in the road, the effects of weather, etc) revealed by their internal and external sensors. These models are interacting with each other to make decisions about what to do (if anything) every few milliseconds.

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  14. Phillip,

    Yes, very observant. As you notice, I've moved on to new shores of nonsense.

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    Replies
    1. Why would you even attempt to set a standard for consciousness? Is that scientific?

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  15. Well, the famous neuroscientist Christof Koch is panpsychist, see also the integrated information theory. Also, the quantum theory of consciousness by Penrose und Hameroff is kind of panpsychism. I do no say that panpsychism is true but do not put everything on philosophers.

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  16. Quentin,

    Has it occurred to you to actually read what I write rather than fabricating nonsense sentences and pretending they are quotes?

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  17. artuncut,

    If spin and charge are identical with "consciousness properties" then your "panpsychism" is just verbal gymnastics.

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  18. Vincent,

    As long as it's a property, electrons don't have it.

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  19. емиванов фф,

    The logical conclusion of the free will theorem is that human don't have free will, which is entirely correct.

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  20. Bob,

    Not sure if that was a serious question. You cannot presently calculate what happens if you collide two mice. If you could, it would matter whether their constituent particles have "consciousness" or "experience" (or really any kind of property that distinguishes them). But why collide mice if you can collide the particles themselves and rule out the idea?

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  21. Your response reveals that you haven't understood the view you're attacking, at least if you're aiming to target the form of panpsychism that is currently taken seriously in academic philosophy (what article was this in response to?). The claim is (A) that physics doesn't tell us what physical properties are; it merely provides mathematical models that predict their behaviour, and (B) those very properties that physics characterises behaviouristically are, in their intrinsic nature, forms of consciousness. There are all sorts of ways one could challenge this view, but it's clear that you haven't yet come to grips with what the view is. It's a form of the Russell/Eddington inspired view that has become known as 'Russellian monism', summarised here: https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/panpsychism/#RussMoni

    I'm Philip Goff (Durham University): not sure why my gmail account is listing me as 'Art Uncut'.

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  22. I think the relevant question for panpsychists is, are you saying that the electron has perceptions, can focus attention, has imagination, emotional feelings, memories, or any of the other capabilities we commonly associate with consciousness? If not, then whatever watered down version of consciousness is being discussed isn't the one most of us find interesting.

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  23. artuncut,

    You are evading to address my point. If you rename "spin" into "consciousness" you still have the standard model of particle physics and no panpsychism.

    "those very properties that physics characterises behaviouristically are, in their intrinsic nature, forms of consciousness"

    I just told you that we know they do not have an "intrinsic nature". They are featureless. Experiment tells us so.

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  24. "physics doesn't tell us what physical properties are; it merely provides mathematical models that predict their behaviour"

    In some sense, this is the idea behind Max Tegmark's mathematical-universe theory.

    I'm Philip Goff (Durham University): not sure why my gmail account is listing me as 'Art Uncut'."

    Easy: it is conscious and has free will and is amused at your reaction. :-)

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  25. We are sharing the same randomness, that's how I read the Free will theorem. "Random" and "Free" are negative terms, we just know what their opposites mean.

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  26. You're not understanding what 'intrinsic nature' means in this context. The claim is simply that the identity of a physical property is not given in terms of its behaviour. What is your argument against that claim?

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  27. @Sabine and artuncut (Philip Goff)
    I think Sabine and Philip G. are using the word "intrinsic" with different meaning. With "intrinsic", PG seems to mean "fundamental" or "basic". You, Sabine, interprets it as if he implied that elementary particles have a substructure, which is of course wrong, but not what PG implied, in my view. Let him clarify this.
    (PS: I think there is a "not" missing in point B of PG's first comment).

    @Sabine
    It would be helpful if you provided a link referring to the views you are criticizing here.

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  28. art uncut,

    "the identity of a physical property is not given in terms of its behaviour. What is your argument against that claim?"

    Define "identity of a physical property". The "identity" of spin is either identical to that of spin, in which case you have normal particle physics, or it's not, in which case you have nonsense.

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  29. Like most people, I find it intuitively obvious that the mathematical machinery of QFT describes fields of insentience not sentience. Hence the Hard Problem of consciousness. But is this a scientific discovery or a plausible philosophical opinion? Recall the claim that science doesn’t know the intrinsic nature of the physical, the mysterious "fire" in the equations, wasn't made by some scientifically illiterate philosopher but rather an outspoken materialist physicist. For sure, the fields that make up biological minds are configured differently from the rest of the physical universe. But are we also ontologically special?
    This remains to be shown:
    https://www.quora.com/Are-particles-conscious

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  30. opa,

    I do not necessarily mean "fundamental" when I say "intrinsic". I really mean anything. Any property that you assign to (say) an electron that is not identical to the properties we know it has suffers from the problem I laid out above. And if it's identical, then there's nothing new about your theory.

    If I had wanted to link to the documents I was reading, I'd have done that, but I do not want to draw attention to nonsense. If you're really interested, Google will help.

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  31. Sabine,
    I'm not a philosopher (thanks God!), but I would not dismiss this so easily.
    Things can be identical, but also perceived as different.
    Example: a written page can be perceived as some black dots on a white surface OR as a text conveying meaning, depending on your point of view.
    I think PG means that physical properties like spin are perceived as they are by physicists if you adopt a physicist's stance, but can be perceived as "conscious" if you adopt an intentional stance.
    Disclaimer: this is just to clarify things, it does not mean that I agree with panpsychism.

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  32. OK, I've googled that already.
    But it's a bit strange that you write a whole blogpost about smth, and then say you "do not want to draw attention" to it. Well, I would have been blissfully ignorant of panpscychism for the rest of my life had you not drew attention to it on your blog.

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  33. opamanfred,

    If you want to say that panpsychism may be just particle physics plus the idea that we call particles conscious without that having any consequences whatsoever, I think that's silly but have nothing object to this. If you otoh want panpsychism to have any consequences, then it's wrong, that's what I am saying.

    Ask Google how PageRank works and you'll understand why I don't link to it.

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  34. I'm not using the word 'identity' in a funny way. I'm just talking about what spin is. My view is: Physics tells us what spin *does* but doesn't tell us what spin *is*. You haven't told me what's wrong with that view.

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  35. artuncut,

    Well, then please go ahead and tell us what spin is.

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  36. I think the mistake being made here (not by Sabine) is this expectation that consciousness is "special" in some way, when all the features of consciousness (and qualia) are easily explained by a mechanistic process. I didn't mention qualia; but it too is simple: When I see the color blue, the neural group that recognizes "Blue" outputs a signal that acts as input to ten thousand neural models in my head that incorporate the color "blue" in whatever they represent. Blue cars, blue fruit, blue skies, blue aliens on Star Trek. Some more than others, but all at a subconscious level. That is what it means to "see the color blue", all these neural models being primed to fire, and because they are primed, more likely to fire, actually influencing future decisions.

    This interpretation is consistent with experiments in psychology concerning "priming", which you can read about on Wikipedia. Even though we all vary in our life experiences with the color blue or anything else, there is enough commonality that priming has real-world applications, it can be used by magicians and salesmen to influence the choices people will make. Also proven by repeatable experiments.

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  37. Quentin,

    Let me see, you are unable to comprehend what I wrote to the point that you cannot even quote it at verbatim, but clearly that must be my fault. That certainly goes a long way to demonstrate your argumentative power.

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    Replies
    1. Sabine, I found the tone of your article so arrogant, and its content so misinformed, that it dissuaded me from spending too much energy arguing with it.

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  38. The panpsychist proposal is that spin is a form of consciousness. Your confusion is that you think the panpsychist thinks the electron has physical properties like mass, charge and spin *and* consciousness properties. That's not the view. The view is that physical properties like mass, charge and spin are forms of consciousness.

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  39. Sabine,
    No, i don't think it's entirely useless.
    Take people (or animals, for that matter): you get a different view if you consider them as a bunch of inert matter or as sentient agents. Nonetheless, it's the same bunch of cells, or elementary particles.
    You may claim that sentience is an emerging property. That's one possibility.
    On the contrary, these panpsychism supporters seem to believe that it's an intrinsic property of matter, even microscopically, which aggregates to result in the forms of consciousness that we observe.

    But I agree with you on one point: how does this consciousness manifest itself at the particle level? Perhaps artuncut can clarify this.

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  40. The obvious way for a philosopher to avoid the conclusion in the OP is to take the claim that particles are conscious to have no empirical implications. This can of course be a coherent position, but (as a philosopher) I think it would be a big mistake to not take the objection seriously or regard it as a substantial problem for panpsychism. Just dismissing it by retreating to an empirically unfalsifiable position reeks of ad-hoc:ery.

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  41. To me, panpsychism doesn’t require consciousness to be inherent in a particle, but rather inherent in the overall system, which includes the space within which the particle exists. Particles don’t exist separately from space time. As far as I know, that’s an axiom. What we call consciousness seems to me to be a relative aspect of the universe, something that emerges from the space between. In this sense, it could be said to be pan, everywhere, or emergent and nowhere. It is nowhere for the same reason it isn’t an property of a particle, because both the space and the particle are required for it to exist.

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  42. I'll give the panpsychists this, they're less ridiculous than the chauvinists who think humans contain some special 'qualia' that makes them more magical or real than an AI or a question-begging p-zombie. If you really want to believe that there is something special to consciousness that is more than a physical description, at least let it go all the way down.

    But Descartes already knew that this kind of duality can't hold up forever, or else half of it is meaningless. If someone would like there to be a distinction between the physicists' spin and the electron's consciousness of spin, they'll have to give the electron a pituitary gland or something like this so that its spiritual nature can actually have some effect on the world. Otherwise we really, really don't need to bother.

    -Doug

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  43. Hi, first time commenter :)

    I don't want to take panpsychism too seriously, but if we were to, then shouldn't we focus on whether the fields have consciousness instead of the individual particles? In that case, even though an electron doesn't have enough degrees of freedom to think, the electron field might? Perhaps an electron carries a quantum of thought for the field :)

    Even though the field has a lot more degrees of freedom, modern physics accounts for them pretty well so it seems to me that going this way reduces panpsychism to the idea that consciousness is the unfolding dynamics of the universe and isn't meaningfully separable from physicalism by experiment.

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  44. bee:

    relevant Feynman quotes:

    "Imagine how much harder physics would be if electrons had feelings!"

    "The electron is a theory we use; it is so useful in understanding the way nature works that we can almost call it real."

    note: this last one surprised me but it is compatible with Boltzmann 's view of atoms:

    "The question whether matter consists of atoms or is continuous reduces to the much clearer one, whether the continuum is able to furnish a better picture of phenomena. ".

    naive theorist

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  45. Philosophy is love of sophistry.
    + Stuff doing extra things has additional degrees of freedom. Thermodynamics - spectroscopy - would not accurately predict. It does, they don't.

    Vacuum diffract a large molecule through a multislit grating. How does it "know" how to pass through all slits then be whole after passage? Quantum mechanics. Consider a single enantiomer extreme chiral divergent molecular beam and Hund's paradox. How does each molecule "know" its handedness after passage? Oppose quantum mechanics and thermodynamics. One fails.

    Cytherean highlands are extracted (1350 psi of 470 °C supercritical CO_2), condensed, crystallized, grown, annealed, volatile heavy metals as intermetallics - topological insulators and such. Venus is an evolved artificial intelligence, God. giggle

    https://www.iep.utm.edu/fem-stan/
    … Argument in counterpoint
    https://netwar.wordpress.com/2007/07/03/feminist-epistemology/
    .... Luce Irigaray disproves an invarinat lightspeed.

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  46. bee,

    if your argument was valid, then let's ask about the human brain.

    what is the human brain but elementary particles of the standard model.

    since you just "proved" elementary particles of the standard model don't have consciousness, neither does the human brain.

    or to put it another way,

    how do elementary particles, which have no degree of freedom for consciousness in your criticism, assemble to form consciousness in human and animal brains?

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  47. hi sabine,
    like Quentin, I do not comprehend the argument you bring forward in the sentence starting with "But if electrons could have thoughts...". Could you please explain it in some more detail?
    thanks rolf

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  48. Sabine,
    Regarding not linking to the specific treatments of panpsychism that you are criticizing, couldn't you still cite them without linking to them? It seems that Philip is accusing you of attacking a strawman version of the modern philosophical panpsychist view. And since Philip seems to be the primary proponent of this view, it feels a bit difficult to dismiss that accusation, especially without any sort of citation to what you're referring to.

    If I understand everyone's views correctly, you are saying that you cannot sensibly add consciousness to the standard model in any way with physical consequences, while Philip is proposing that we can "identify" consciousness with aspects of the standard model that are already there (or other things without physical consequences). This vaguely epiphenomenalist seems to me silly in the light of biology rather than physics...

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  49. Panpsychism is really an old idea. Lucretius around 40BCE invoked the idea as a “swerve” in the motion of atoms in the void as an argument for consciousness or free will in the physical world. This is a sort of panpsychist argument. Chalmers invokes the Chinese room argument for the reality of the hard problem. A room with workers given instructions for how inputs are responded to with certain outputs can't by any means have consciousness. This is really a way of saying in effect computers are not mental objects, which I am more or less in agreement with on that specific point. Goff goes further to say the reality of the hard problem necessitates some inherent consciousness in physical reality.

    We could instead of thinking of elementary particles just think of quantum states or waves. Can quantum states have some “swerve?” Let's consider the difference between two quantum states |ψ(t)> and |ψ(t + δt)> with

    |ψ(t + δt)> = |ψ(t)> + i(∂|ψ(t)>/∂t)δt + O(δt^2).

    That is just Taylor's expansion and we drop the O(δt^2) term as insignificant. Now invoke the Heisenberg uncertainty between energy and time ΔEΔt ≈ ħ which is just an energy form E = ħω of the older Fourier ΔωΔt ≈ 1. This then leads to

    i∂|ψ(t)>/∂t = Ĥ|ψ(t)>/ħ,

    which is just the Schrödinger equation. Therefore

    |ψ(t + δt)> = |ψ(t)> - iĤ|ψ(t)>δt/ħ

    and this means the general time development of a quantum wave is |ψ(t)> = e^{-iĤt/ħ}|ψ(0)>. So we have the wave equation and unitary evolution. If there is any “swerve” this means we have some additional term Γ so that

    |ψ(t)> = e^{-iĤt/ħ - Γt}|ψ(0)>

    that is nonunitary. This sort of model does occur in looking at the reduction of states with decoherence or measurement. But this is added “by hand” in a sort of ad hoc manner.

    There is nothing in quantum mechanics that indicates this nonunitary term is fundamental. I argue that if there is some panpsychism in quantum physics this term would be inherently fundamental to the evolution of quantum states. This does have some boundary with the whole issue of quantum measurement or decoherence and so forth. It leads to the issue of how classical states are somehow stable on a macroscopic level. I would however argue that quantum information is fundamentally conserved and that superposition and entanglement phases enter into environments or reservoir of states in a way that is intractable or not deterministic on a practical level. This is similar to coarse graining of fine states into macrostates in statistical mechanics. This means that decoherence of quantum states does not necessitate a conscious being. I think the fashionable idea of quantum consciousness of the 1990s is then wrong.

    We can then focus again on panpsychism. The idea is somewhat useful as a foil. It appears nonsensical to think the universe has some panpsychic aspect. We then take the subjective knowledge of our conscious being and ask how this comes about. The Conway-Kochen argument puts some limits on the idea of freewill, or eliminates it altogether, and the Libet experiments and following measurements illustrate how a subject's awareness of an event follows neural processes involved with forming that awareness. The most reasonable idea for consciousness is some epiphenomenology, or as Dennett argues for a heterophenomenology of multiple drafts that “compete” for entering subjective awareness.

    As it is said, a mathematician and theoretical physicist minimally needs paper, pen and a wastebasket. The philosopher gets rid of the wastebasket. I did a minor in philosophy in college. The field is a huge mixed bag, where some philosophers were outstanding (mostly in the past), others had at least something to say and the remaining third or more leave one asking Whiskey Tango Foxtrot.

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    Replies
    1. Actually Epicurus came up with the "swerve" idea. Lucretius was a follower of Epicurian philosophy.

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  50. erratum: I wrote

    |ψ(t + δt)> = |ψ(t)> + i(∂|ψ(t)>/∂t)δt + O(δt^2)

    and there should not be an i = sqrt{-1} in there.

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  51. Now you're in my wheelhouse Sabine and I agree with you.. I have read some of Dr. Goff's work and critiqued it. Sent him a link too but he did not respond. But if panpsychism (and dual-aspect monisms) are bunk one is thrown back on the question "whence mind?" There is another path but alas it leads to a conclusion abhorrent to both physicists and philosophers!

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  52. Isn't this low hanging fruit which doesn't really require a post?

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  53. "But if electrons could have thoughts, we’d long have seen this in particle collisions because it would change the number of particles produced in collisions"

    Does it? Wouldn't all particles having the exact same thoughts be compatible with observations as well?

    I joke, of course, but I'm sincerely wondering whether all particles having the same thoughts or merely the same capability for thought would be experimental distinguishable.

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  54. neo,

    Your conclusion is wrong for well understood reasons. Some concepts are emergent and make sense only for large numbers of constituents. Consciousness is a property that can emerge in a large collection of particles. Like, say, conductivity.

    Personally, I would argue that consciousness is continuous and not binary (it's not on/off, it's small or much), but I guess a lot of other people would disagree. I'm not sure it's a worthwhile discussion to have.

    In any case, your conclusion that a set of elements cannot have a property that the elements don't have is just not correct.

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  55. Rolf,

    I do not see the problem with the sentence, sorry. Does it help if I rearrange it like this:

    "But if electrons could have thoughts, it would change the number of particles produced in collisions. We would long have seen this."

    ?

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  56. Matthew,

    Yes, that's the tragedy. I actually think it's an interesting question - and one that can be addressed scientifically. Alas, the field is contaminated by mediocre ideas.

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  57. Koenraad,

    Never underestimate how many people you can offend by stating the obvious ;)

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  58. uk,

    yes. and if you call rename "thought" to "spin" then maybe they can even have two thoughts.

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  59. Quentin,

    Are you actually attempting to justify your clearly documented attempt at fabricating a nonsense quote?

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  60. artuncut

    "spin is a form of consciousness. Your confusion is that you think the panpsychist thinks the electron has physical properties like mass, charge and spin *and* consciousness properties. That's not the view"

    You mean to say, presumably, that's not your view. For all I can tell, you are simply trying to rename spin to consciousness. I hope you know the definition of spin. I have no idea how you think this "consciousness" agrees with what anyone else means when they speak of consciousness.

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  61. Blogger artuncut said...

    > The panpsychist proposal is that spin is a form of consciousness.

    What the hell does that even mean? What novel observable consequences can you derive from such a claim?

    Frankly, I think it is pointless to speculate about consciousness until we know a lot more about how brains work. We're like a couple of cavemen speculating about what makes the stars shine -- without understanding QM and the structure of atoms they have no hope of getting anywhere near the right answer.

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  62. I don't just mean my view I mean the view that's currently being taken extremely seriously in academic philosophy, as perhaps the most promising hope for moving forward on the problem of consciousness. I'm very curious to know what you read that prompted your blog post. I'm afraid you're still not getting the view. Panpsychists would be guilty of redefining spin only if we accepted that physics tells us what spin is. But that's precisely what we deny: physics tells us what spin does not what it is. You haven't given any provided any argument contrary to that claim. Chapters XII and XIII of Eddington's 'The Nature of the Physical World' are a good intro to this stuff. Of course he's dealing with the physics of his time, but I don't think that makes a difference to the general point that physics tells us what physical properties do not what they are.

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  63. [Actually, James of Seattle said ...]

    Sabine,

    The title of your post suggests a category error. Saying electrons don’t think is like noting cars don’t fly, which isn’t saying much if the topic is transportation. Thinking is associated with consciousness, but it doesn’t define it.

    As everyone agrees, philosophers are struggling with defining what consciousness is. The problem is that we are starting with this most complicated form of consciousness, i.e., us. Because of this, there is much confusion as to which parts of this complexity are necessary for consciousness, and which parts have consciousness as a necessary component.

    So in trying to determine what consciousness is, (at least some) philosophers are trying to isolate the smallest/simplest component which can be called a consciousness component. (Note: I didn’t say conscious component.) In trying to do this, panpsychists have gone all the way to the bottom, saying that whatever that minimal component is, it’s there in every particle. P. Goff would say it’s the component that gives an electron its spin. The problem with this is that these philosophers have not identified a specific property which would distinguish a consciousness component from a non-consciousness component.

    There is a possible answer to this question which would give panpsychism, specifically, a consciousness component is one that “interacts with the environment”. But few (or none) would accept this as the defining criterion. The question then becomes what additional constraints on “interaction with environment” make it a consciousness-type interaction.

    Stay tuned.

    *

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  64. Good post. Well thought out. I have a silly question: if we don't have free will, how can we possibly have consciousness?

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  65. uk above has hit on one flaw in Sabine's argument. Why must electron "thoughts" be distinct from one another?

    More generally, the argument proves too much. Observing automobile traffic patterns that fit statistical models in no way establishes a lack of consciousness among these entities (although on a bad commuting day it might seem so!).

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  66. I had promised myself to not comment on the philosophy bashing here but I can't help myself. Philosophers of physics tend to know something about physics. Philosophers of mind likely don't know much about physics. How about regarding the argument in the OP as a contribution, in the spirit of cooperation and division of labor, rather than as proof that "philosophy is the love of sophistry"? There is plenty of fodder for name-calling on every side if that is the road we want to go down. Let's not?

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  67. Hello all.

    Let's just lay some things out here, for clarity's sake.

    There are two versions of panpsychism being conflated here. There is what I will call the "Leibnizian" version, which is most similar to his theory of monads, the idea that the world is made up of consciousnesscules that are simply tiny versions of our own consciousnesses. And there is the more modern view, which I will call the "Chalmersian" version, in which the world is made up of the normal matter we see around us, but that this matter has properties of "what-it's-like" to interact with the world around them.

    The Leibnizian view is more what Dr. H is attacking initially. The Chalmersian view is closer to what Mr. G is defending. They have moved a little closer to each other in the ensuing debate. Dr. H has correctly identified the major flaw in the Chalmersian view - the fact that, in order to be coherent, this property of matter, and, indeed, of us, to have qualitative feelings associated with interactions with the world around it, must have no actual physical consequences. This has been conclusively shown by Brown philosopher Jaegwon Kim, in his Physicalism, or Something Near Enough.

    There is, however, no reason these qualitative states cannot be compatible with physicalism (though Chalmers, Kim, and apparently Mr. G have convinced themselves otherwise). They can have real world consequences if they are physical things themselves. Identifying an electron's spin with some kind of conscious state is an attempt to do this, but it cannot have any consequences for experiment, or it would have been seen already, as Dr. H says. Which means Mr. G's position is either (a) that qualitative experiences of electrons (and people) are epiphenomenal, and so have no physical consequences, and so have no empirical content, or else (b) that we can consistently refer to physical phenomena as identical with behavior caused by qualitative experiences, which cannot consistently change the experimental picture at all, and so has no empirical content.

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  68. Dear Sabine,

    Panpsychism belongs to metaphysics. Yet, the standard model is also based on metaphysics, yet some other kind of metaphysics as compared to panpsychism. The metaphysics of modern physics is made in the 17th century and it did not changed much since that. There is a nice book that describes how the Universe become mathematical in that times:

    Edwin Arthur Burtt, The Metaphysical Foundations of Modern Science. A Historical and Critical Essay.

    Well, it is rather an old book (the beginning of the 20th century) but it is written pretty well. It shows how the ideas of Kepler, Galileo, Descartes and others (the book follow the development up to Newton) have completely changed the middle age metaphysics. The secondary qualities have been completely removed from mathematical Nature and this means following.

    Please have a look at A Cartoon Epistemology by Steven Lehar

    http://cns-alumni.bu.edu/~slehar/cartoonepist/cartoonepist.html

    It nicely describes the consequences of the scientific revolution from that side in terms of neuroscience. What you see around you is the reconstruction of your brain. Hence when an astronomer watches a star, the star that he/she sees is actually in his/her brain.

    This is the metaphysics upon which the standard model is based.

    Best wishes,

    Evgenii

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  69. Panpsychism has the virtue of consistency. There are only three possibilities: everything is conscious/nothing is conscious/some things are conscious and some things are not. The third alternative is frustrating because without understanding how consciousness arises we have no grounds to delineate the two states. We have many theories of consciousness but none are convincing. (Which is why certain psychologists and physicists insist, out of pure desperation, that consciousness is an "illusion." Unable to solve the problem, they abolish it.)

    "Consciousness" does not always mean "thinking." Minnows, so far as we know, have no interior life. Yet, drop a pike in among a school of them and they will immediately become aware of a threat, assess the threat and respond in a manner consistent with self-preservation. All this -- and not a single thought in their "heads."

    I am not a pansychic (?) but it is a consistent and uniform theory -- something that materialism lacks. And, it would not require a particle to "think" or respond in a novel manner each time it is disturbed anymore than we can expect our minnows to come up with a novel reaction each time a pike lurks about.

    In science, the effort to maintain absolute materialism often requires a cure that is deadlier than the disease. Our host, Dr. H., self-identifies as a "superdeterminist" and her reasoning seems rooted in comments by John Bell. That great man suggested that experiments that demonstrate "spooky action at a distance" could be vitiated if "fate" had determined that the behavior of entangled particles was programmed from the inception of the universe (Causality.) This would seem to solve the superluminal problem -- but at the cost of taking on board intelligent design and jettisoning biological evolution. If, that is, everything is determined by initial conditions at the moment of creation then evolution -- which is based on randomness -- cannot happen. One simply cannot have random events (e.g. genetic mutations) in a predetermined universe. Superdeterminism thus seems no different from Islam's "It is written" and just a variation of intelligent design.

    Without philosophy, science is just data. The philosophy of the moment is "promissory materialism." Panpsychism may be false -- but it is consistent and offers explanations. In that sense, it is no more ridiculous than vibrating strings in hidden dimensions inaccessible to observation or experiment. And, God knows, physicists spend a lot of money on the latter.


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  70. You made my electrons cry. Of course no two of them are crying at the same time.

    -drl

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  71. Bee, I urge you to delve a bit deeper on this topic.

    Freeman Dyson states in his 1979 book Infinite In All Directions:

    “[T]he processes of human consciousness differ only in degree but not in kind from the processes of choice between quantum states which we call ‘chance’ when made by electrons.”

    Quantum theory has many interpretations of the formalisms and these differing interpretations generally don't come with empirical distinctions. Ditto with panpsychist interpretations of QM and physics more generally. Dyson, Bohm, Russell, Whitehead are just a few of the many prominent physicists and philosophers of the 20th C. who have accepted some form of panpsychism. Skrbina's book Panpsychism in the West is an excellent survey of the field.

    The specific interpretational difference that Dyson and others have focused on is that the probabilistic outcomes of QM should be viewed as the result of countless tiny choices by each wavicle. So it's "choice, not chance" as I've framed it in my writings. It seems very strange, at first blush, to posit any kind of choicemaking ability at such a fundamental level, but the interesting and surprising thing is that once you do this all sorts of other physical and philosophical conundrums can be resolved. My book, Eco, Ego, Eros, focuses on these issues.

    And if you don't have the time or interest for a book length look at these issues, here's my article (turned later into a book chapter) that addresses some of the issues you're talking about in your post: https://www.independent.com/news/2010/dec/26/solidity/.

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  72. Hi Sabine.

    Some of the commenters have questioned what you wrote in the following paragraph:

    "Now, if you want a particle to be conscious, your minimum expectation should be that the particle can change. It’s hard to have an inner life with only one thought. But if electrons could have thoughts, we’d long have seen this in particle collisions because it would change the number of particles produced in collisions,"

    and I also feel this seems somehow a shaky or problematic argument.

    I would begin with asking for clarification regarding your assertion in the initial conditional, namely:

    "...if you want a particle to be conscious, your minimum expectation should be that the particle can change."

    It is not clear to me (and perhaps others) why we ought to assume that "[a] particle can change" is the consequent of assuming "a particle [is] conscious."

    Can you elaborate on why you feel this would be the case?

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  73. Bee,

    then how does the brain, consisting solely of elementary particles, create consciousness, and could other types of matter also form consciousness?

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  74. Sabine write:

    "Your conclusion is wrong for well understood reasons. Some concepts are emergent and make sense only for large numbers of constituents. Consciousness is a property that can emerge in a large collection of particles. Like, say, conductivity. "

    I don't agree that consciousness can be said to be well understood at all! Indeed it still often appears in lists of fundamental scientific problems yet to be solved.

    The concept of emergence seems incredibly vague for something that underpins the whole of science! No science is done without at least one conscious human. Every other 'emergent' phenomenon seems rather trivial compared with the supposed emergence of consciousness from matter. Conductivity is there is a very simple form in a simple stream of electrons. Sand dunes (another common analogy) emerge from wind blowing over sand, but again the conceptual gap between wind and sand on the one hand and sand dunes on the other isn't that big!

    Anyway, conductivity isn't understood as emergence, it is understood in terms of solid state physics and partially filled shells of electrons.

    Saying that consciousness just emerges from the stuff in our brains - or indeed from multiple drafts as Dennett would claim - is just embarrassingly daft. The drafts of your next paper aren't (presumably) conscious. Other aspects of the body - such as how the kidneys work have been described in detail - nobody relies on the theory that urine just emerges from kidneys!

    The conceptual gap between electrochemical phenomena and assorted chemicals on the one hand, and sensations such as fear or love, or just perceiving the colour red is vast. I mean nerve impulses give rise to more neurotransmitters that initiate more nerve impulses, but where does that all end, what is the bit that bridges the gap between brain physics and actual experience?

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  75. Sabine
    The logical conclusion of the free will theorem by extension must also be that the thing we call “ Love “ is nothing more than an illusion/ delusion . Reading that back makes me think of Nietzsche and his “ god is dead “ statement and his realization of the implication of that statement .. If you believe free will has been discarded to the garbage can of discredited philosophy then you best take “ love “ with it .

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  76. Sabine wrote: When I say I “discovered” panpsychism, I mean I discovered there’s a bunch of philosophers who produce pamphlets about it.

    Years ago, in another science discussion forum, I had a lengthy debate with a physicist who was a hardcore believer in panpsychism. That's how I "discovered" the word.

    Since then I've learned that there are different flavors of it, and that's all I care to say. :-)

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  77. neo wrote; how do elementary particles, which have no degree of freedom for consciousness in your criticism, assemble to form consciousness in human and animal brains?

    Sabine already responded to your main point (and I agree with her response), so I'll respond to this part.

    Humans can build machines that emulate physical and mental attributes of organisms. Every year we're getting better at emulating human consciousness. It seems possible, if not probable, that in the future we'll build machines that truly pass a robust Turing test.

    If it's not a great mystery how machines built by mere humans can emulate consciousness, why is it a far-fetched notion that nature can build machines that manifest consciousness? If consciousness can emerge from human-built machines, why can't it emerge from nature-built machines?

    Someone might say that human consciousness is "real" while machine consciousness isn't. But if human consciousness is designed and built by nature, what does "real" mean?

    Isn't it the case that humans conveniently use their own consciousness as a standard for "real"? We regard our version of consciousness as special because it's capable of self-reflection, abstract thought, and other fancy stuff we're awfully proud of. Indeed, some of us think the human brain is so special, it defies any natural explanation that involves just elementary particles. But nature has built a lot of different brains. The human brain has its pros and cons. I think it was Castaldo who mentioned a "selfish algorithm."

    Single-celled organisms respond to their environment. Are they conscious? If we're going to talk about what's real and what isn't, where do we draw the line, and why? Even if humans never completely figure out how consciousness emerges from elementary particles, and how nature built it, is that evidence for explanations like panpsychism? Or is it just evidence that humans aren't smart enough to figure it out? Are we willing to give it another few thousand years of hardcore scientific research before we consider woo woo explanations? What's the rush to jump to conclusions? Looking for natural explanations has served us pretty well so far, better than any other approach we've tried. Let's keep doing it.

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    Replies
    1. The main issue is that there's a difference between emulating the behaviour of a conscious person and generating a qualitative first-person experience. Consciousness is a polysemic word. Since the 1970's or so, metaphysics has focused on this qualitative aspect, i.e. on how first person experience and physical behaviours are related. There are influential philosophical arguments (by Nagel, Chalmers, Jackson) to the effect that no amount of equations describing the physical behaviour of a system would tell "what it's like to *be* that system", at least without ad-hoc reference to our own first person experience. Many are convinced that there's an explanatory gap between physics and first person experience (NOT conscious behaviour!). This is the context where panpsychism comes in, s an attempt, among others, to fill this gap.

      I'm just saying this for context, not defending anything here about consciousness...
      It's important to appreciate the academic context of a discussion before criticising a position. Note that some philosophers deny that there's an explanatory gap but it's not trivial (there's a huge literature on this).

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  78. "But if electrons could have thoughts, we’d long have seen this in particle collisions because it would change the number of particles produced in collisions."

    Long ago and in a land far away I observed that a fellow commuter always purchased the same coffee from the same coffee stall every morning. This strikes me as being equivalent to your example of the thoughtless electron. The commuter merely reacts in a (mathematically) predictable way to a given set of stimuli. Given that I have no evidence to the contrary I therefore conclude the repetitious behaviour demonstrated by the commuter indicates they, like your electron, are incapable of thought.


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  79. the boundary between living and non-living is fuzzy at certain points, if you think about the boundary between living and dead, that makes it pretty clear that being alive is a real, definable property of some things, under some conditions, and not others.

    More broadly, the comparison with life highlights a huge unstated premise – the hidden assumption – that underlies this chain of logic. It is that the properties of organised, complex, dynamic systems derive solely from the properties of their components (or at least may do so). Though many refers to the theory as “non-reductive”, I can’t think of anything more reductive than claiming that the most crucial property of what may be the most complex system we know of – the human brain – inheres in its simplest components.

    The answer to the mystery of consciousness – and it remains very much a mystery – surely lies in a non reductive physical ism that recognizes that complex, even seemingly miraculous properties (like consciousness, or life itself), can and do emerge from the dynamic interactions of matter when it is organised in certain highly complex ways, not from the bits of matter themselves. In this view, consciousness is a property of a process (or of many interacting processes), not of a substance.

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  80. Vincent wrote: The problem with both 'consciousness' and 'free will' is that they are so difficult to define in the first place.

    Consider this general statement of what a definition of consciousness needs to do:

    "Definitions of consciousness need to be sufficiently broad to include all examples of conscious states and sufficiently narrow to exclude entities, events and processes that are not conscious."

    Funnily enough, you could say the same thing about any definition. For example:

    "Definitions of dog need to be sufficiently broad to include all examples of dogs and sufficiently narrow to exclude entities that are not dogs."

    Consider this statement:

    "Something happens when we are conscious that does not happen when we are not conscious, and something happens when we are conscious of something that does not happen when we are not conscious of that thing."

    In other words, first we decide what exhibits consciousness and then we define consciousness. The phrase "I know it when I see it" comes to mind.

    Hasn't some clever person come up with a decent definition? I'll have to think about it and search around a bit.

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  81. I am not a scientist and thankful for that. To be required to toe the line of all the pseudoscientific crap of the 20th century that is driven by grants, money and fame would drive me crazy. People who believe in nothing will believe in anything. These scientists (term used loosely) think of ways to create new ideas, play with the math in order to obtain funding for their pet project, knowing fully they truly have nothing. They write their grant updates with statements like "we are on the verge of" in order to keep the funding flowing. They appear to have stopped observing nature and spend their time doing mathics, falsely believing they're doing science, all the while science is passing them by. They hold on to cockamamie ideas like "Branes", multiple universes, and an entire plethora of equally huckster ideas that would make PT Barnum blush, yet people eat this sh_t up and hold these hucksters in high esteem. They promote only themselves and no new idea is able to escape the PHD process of the University as any person with fresh ideas will never have a PHD advisor. Sad state of affairs and I am afraid it will get worse before it gets better.

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  82. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  83. art uncut,

    "physics tells us what spin does not what it is. You haven't given any provided any argument contrary to that claim."

    Science is about describing observations. In science we construct models that we use to make predictions. A spin is a property of a wavefunction, which is a mathematical object in our best current model. We know exactly what spin is in this model. It has a definition that you can look up in any textbook.

    If you are asking anything besides that, you are asking a question that's unanswerable. Of course you cannot answer this question either. Saying that spin is "consciousness" does not explain anything. I could equally well say "spin is tokohila" which explains equally little.

    Besides this, you are still evading to even address my point. If you claim that spin is consciousness, then your "consciousness" is merely putting an uncommon noun on something well-known. If you mean anything else, your model is wrong.

    Look, go and write down the standard model of particle physics and then try to figure out what you want to change about it in order to give consciousness to particles. I am telling you there is nothing you can change about it without ruining the model's power to explain data. I understand that this is inconvenient for you, but I think you should face this problem.

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  84. Unknown,

    "The title of your post suggests a category error. Saying electrons don’t think is like noting cars don’t fly, which isn’t saying much if the topic is transportation."

    Cars and planes both belong into the category of transport devices.

    But indeed, saying that electrons don't think is like noting cars don't fly. It's equally obvious and equally correct.

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  85. SRP,

    Well, one of us misunderstood UK's comment. My reading of it was to point out that if all electrons have the same thought, then that would be compatible with the standard model. Which is a joke, of course.

    Look, if you want to call a fixed property of an elementary particles (eg its electric charge) a "thought" then that's just a meaningless way to use the word "thought".

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  86. Henning,

    Well, as you may have noticed I decided to not mention the insult which even prompted this blogpost.

    But really I think that philosophers who write about what's clearly in the domain about particle physics ought to pay some attention to particle physics. You cannot simply add properties to elementary particles as you like. At the very least I expect a paper about the topic to explicitly address the point. Particles don't think. Stuff is made of particles. These are the facts.

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  87. Bruce,

    Consciousness is the ability of a system to comprehend its environment and/or itself (depending on whether it has self-awareness), where by comprehend I mean it has a predictive model. If the self-prediction is unreliable that comes with the illusion of free will. Free will isn't necessary for consciousness any more than it's necessary for a computer to execute code. It's just that our brains are running a rather complicated code, one that we ourselves don't really understand.

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  88. Hi James,

    Thanks for the interesting comment which is very helpful. I will admit it did not occur to me someone may want to write papers about a theory that has no empirical content whatsoever.

    It would be fine with me to just agree that any version of panpsychism that is compatible with evidence does not add empirical content to the theories we have already. It should be clear then that panpsychism is either wrong, or superfluous and hence on the same footing as religion.

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  89. b.e. hydomako,

    Thanks for your question. The point I am trying to convey is this: If you assign the word "thought" or "consciousness" to one unchangeable internal state (say "spin up") then you will have to stick with this definition. Of course you can do this if you wish - you can define anything as you like. But then you do not gain anything over just starting with the standard model of particle physics to begin with. You may as well take it at face value.

    If, on the other hand, you actually want to attach any other property to the elementary particles that they do not already have, then you run into the problem I laid out above. In summary, we know that electrons don't think.

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  90. neo,

    I don't know how the brain creates consciousness!

    My best guess is that consciousness is a relational property that can emerge in system with many constituents that process information (weakly emergent, of course). Probably unsurprisingly this puts me in line with Tononi and Tegmark.

    As I said in various other places, however, I think it's a mistake to treat consciousness as an absolute, eg to think you can look at the connectivity of a system and determine its level of consciousness. Consciousness is necessarily *about* something, so it's relational. It may be about the system itself, but it's still relational. More concretely, if you want to find out whether a system is conscious, you need to look for maps between (parts of) the system and its environment (or itself), rather than for connections, period. (I wrote about this here.)

    If you believe this is correct then many systems have awareness and experience on rather low levels, whereas consciousness is a more sophisticated type of predictive power that only happens in few systems.

    There is a cutoff though below which a system cannot have an awareness of anything else just because it does not have sufficiently many connections to have a model of anything else. An elementary particle is the obvious example. An electron is an electron. You cannot use it to make predictions about anything else than an electron. An electron just is. (Though, as I pointed out, you can hide complex structures at high energies. There are other problems with that however. I wrote about this elsewhere.)

    Different thing entirely for, say, the human brain. The human brain can use some arrangements to analyze (say) the wavefunction for the electron. So, the brain can model an electron, but the electron cannot model a brain. Those are quantifiable properties, and at some point, I am sure, we'll come up with a way to quantify consciousness. Not sure I'll live to see it though :/

    Best,

    B.

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  91. David,

    "I don't agree that consciousness can be said to be well understood at all!"

    I did not say it is. I said that the argument "particles don't have consciousness, and brains are made of particles, therefore brains don't have consciousness" is wrong for well understood reasons. A set of elements can have properties that the elements of the set do not have. Emergent properties of composite systems are not properties that any of the composites have. Electrons do not have a conductivity, metals have. Atoms don't have viscosity, fluids do. And so on.

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  92. Sid,

    You use the word "delusion" carelessly. Love is a collection of brain patterns. That doesn't mean it's not real.

    God isn't dead, of course. It's hard to be dead if you never existed in the first place.

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  93. Unknown,

    Dare I say "think about it"? Your commuter almost certainly did not perform the exact same action every day. These actions may have had a universal common (same selection of coffee), but if you'd videotaped them, you'd have noticed that no two were alike.

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  94. Not sure if my recent piece in SciAm prompted this post, but here it is for others to consider: https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/observations/the-hippies-were-right-its-all-about-vibrations-man/.

    And a critique of the post:https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/observations/wait-maybe-the-hippies-werent-right/

    And my response to the critique: https://medium.com/@aramis720/joshua-tans-critique-of-my-scientific-american-piece-on-our-resonance-theory-of-consciousness-4aa9a634fa96

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  95. neo:

    you said:
    "how do elementary particles, which have no degree of freedom for consciousness in your criticism, assemble to form consciousness in human and animal brains?"


    How do little stones, which have no degree of freedeom for being a house assemble to build houses? Following your argument, each stone would have to be a little house in order to be able to form a big house.

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  96. Also, Bee, you cite Tononi approvingly, but his work is entirely panpsychist, as his collaborator Koch has long acknowledged even though Tononi has shied away from this label. Their 2015 piece is pretty clear on this: https://royalsocietypublishing.org/doi/full/10.1098/rstb.2014.0167

    And here's my review of Tononi's book: https://www.independent.com/news/2013/nov/21/hi-phi/

    My interview with Tononi on these topics a few years ago is a chapter in my book, Eco, Ego, Eros (Koch, Tononi's longtime collaborator, wrote the foreword to my book, which is explicitly an exploration of panpsychist consequences in various sciences).

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  97. There is this worm with a brain consisting out of 302 neurons. These neurons have been modelled on a chip and a toy-vehicle steered by this chip shows wormlike behavior. Does the worm have some basic level of consiousness? Does the toy vehicle have?

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  98. Tam, I assure you it had nothing to do with your recent sci am piece. (Which I read, but really I don't see what it has to do with panpsychism.)

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  99. We've heard this all before: Fritjof Capra and his The Tau of Physics, Gary Zukav's The Dancing Wu Li Masters (the former is much worse than the latter) and so on.

    There is no reason to think that consciousness is not an example of emergence.

    Note that trying to explain human consciousness as a result of consciousness of elementary particles is an attempt to avoid determinism---via a deterministic argument. (Stephen Jay Gould pointed this out in a critique of Capra's The Turning Point.)

    The main problem I see with this is that "consciousness" has a clear meaning* and calling some property of electrons "consciousness" is not helpful in any way.

    ----
    * Even if people can't define it, they know what it is: To paraphrase a Supreme Court Justice, "I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description ["consciousness"], and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it, and the properties of electrons involved in this case are not that."

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  100. @Phillip Goff
    "But that's precisely what we deny: physics tells us what spin does not what it is. You haven't given any provided any argument contrary to that claim."

    And still you don't reveal what spin *is*, which you claim to be able to, and why what it *is* is an example of the subjective awareness we call consciousness. A conscious system is aware of (some of) its processing.

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  101. @Tam Hunt

    But your article just talks about how information gets passed around - with resonances. But a system is conscious because it is aware of its processing, not because of the way it carries out its processing.

    You also write in your article:
    "from electrons to atoms to molecules to bacteria to paramecia to mice, bats, rats, etc., all things may be viewed as at least a little conscious."

    Mice, bats and rats, of course, but atoms and molecules?? They are conscious because they can resonate with each other?? Aren't they simply resonating with each other???

    More and more, I think a thorough audit of academics at universities is required. The standards appear to be dismal.

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  102. Wow Sabo! a lot of comments on this topic

    Consciousness is based on or analogue of other forces THIS CAN BE PROVEN with comparison to sound!
    What you require for this proof is:
    A piano
    A knowledge of basic scale composition
    A fat top marker
    and some folding card

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  103. @Phillip: You say that people know what consciousness is, even if they can't define it. I honestly doubt that, not trying to be facetious. Examples in nature: ants, ant colonies, ducks, dolphins, people with severe Korsakoff. Can you tell which of them are conscious?

    Or to what degree? As Sabine mentioned it is probably better to think of consciousness as a gradual thing. That still leaves it as a tough question.

    And not just academic, the question is becoming more relevant with the new developments in AI. Alphazero already displays creative thinking very convincingly, even if it is on a narrow domain. Deepmind and others are actively working on a "general AI", that should have the same general-purpose intelligence we do. (Well of course the goal is to make them better at it, not just the same.) Do we have to give algorithms rights one day? And when has that day arrived?

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  104. Sabine, while I was reading it, my friend saw your post about electrons with brains and his first thought was - "..the perfect voter."

    -drl

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  105. I did not think (or know) much about panpsychism until 2018 when I came across a talk on YouTube by Galen Strawson on how "real" materialists must be panpsychists in some way. There is a paper by him, "Realistic Monism" (pdf online), which a good starting point as any. And there his NYTimes (The Stone) article "Consciousness isn't a mystery. Matter is." And then I've been following Philip Goff (@Philip_Goff) and the discussion about his new book for 2019 "Galileo's Error: A new science of consciousness".

    The point is that there is something to considering the possibility of there being both physical (or informational, or behavioral) constituents (or states) of matter and psychical (or experiential) ones, and it is the latter theoretical aspect that is overlooked by scientists from physicists to neurobiologists. I think this could eventually be useful in the semantics of bioprograms, the products of synthetic biology.

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  106. "You say that people know what consciousness is, even if they can't define it. I honestly doubt that, not trying to be facetious. Examples in nature: ants, ant colonies, ducks, dolphins, people with severe Korsakoff. Can you tell which of them are conscious?

    Or to what degree? As Sabine mentioned it is probably better to think of consciousness as a gradual thing."


    No contradiction here. One can know what it is and also say where there is more or less of it.

    I think that if you ask people which of these are conscious, there will be much agreement.

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  107. "Do we have to give algorithms rights one day? And when has that day arrived?"

    Perhaps. Not yet.

    Max Tegmark has written an entire book on this.

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  108. Sabine said

    "I did not say it is. I said that the argument "particles don't have consciousness, and brains are made of particles, therefore brains don't have consciousness" is wrong for well understood reasons. A set of elements can have properties that the elements of the set do not have. Emergent properties of composite systems are not properties that any of the composites have. Electrons do not have a conductivity, metals have. Atoms don't have viscosity, fluids do. And so on."

    Yes, but in each of your examples, there is a fairly obvious link between the properties of the isolated entities and the supposedly emergent properties of the collection.

    Electrons already transport charge from A to B as they move. They also move (actually accelerate) in response to an electric field. I suppose if anything the existence insulators is a bit more unexpected.

    Atoms have inter-atomic forces, so the idea that a large number of atoms could exert a drag on a moving object isn't that hard to understand, and of course there is a mathematical kinetic theory of viscosity.

    When people talk about consciousness being emergent, they seem to be talking about something altogether vaguer - there is no no analogy with the properties that you describe. Where is the kinetic theory of consciousness?

    Here is a TED talk by another prominent neuroscientist that is very worth listening to:

    https://www.ted.com/talks/donald_hoffman_do_we_see_reality_as_it_is?language=en

    It illustrates one reason why consciousness is very relevant to science in general, and may actually underlie scientific observations. There are longer versions of that talk if people are interested.

    BTW the Amazon website still does not offer your book in Kindle format!


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  109. Philip Thrift said...

    "Philip Goff (@Philip_Goff) and the discussion about his new book for 2019 "Galileo's Error: A new science of consciousness""

    Have you read Galileo's book, "Philip Goff's Error: A new consciousness of science"?

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  110. David,

    Consciousness is an act of information processing. I don't understand why some people think there's something mysterious about it. Frankly I think it's an ideology simply driven by their wish to believe that humans are somehow "special". Panpsychists otoh seem to find it more romantic to think that everything is conscious and everything is one and so on. Also ideology-driven wishful thinking, also wrong.

    Extreme positions are almost always wrong.

    I don't know why people keep telling me there's no Kindle version of my book on the amazon page. Look, thousands of people have bought it and read it. It most definitely exists. I have seen the page myself, both on the dot com domain and on the dot de domain. I am looking at it right now as we speak. The link is here. If that doesn't work, there's something wrong with your browser or your internet connection or both.

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  111. The wave function is a mathematical entity that is well understood. But it's a contentious philosophical question how we should think about the reality that corresponds to that mathematical entity. The panpsychist offers one proposal. But it's offered not to solve any empirical problem but to solve the problem of consciousness. I know you don't take the problem of consciousness seriously, but then just argue for that and stop wasting time with a misplaced 'empirical refutation' of panpsychism. It's like criticising a heater because it doesn't cool you down...that's not what it's supposed to do...

    Your final couple of paragraphs show you're still not getting the view, but I can't think of any other way of expressing it. This is one of the best popular-level pieces on it: http://nautil.us/issue/47/consciousness/is-matter-conscious?fbclid=IwAR3f7KUsnZYP2DJ4jSccGlQ6ml8VVbPQuUtauK2AUl6aBhj4vIQDKWmbsks

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  112. bee:

    you might want to look at Scott Aaronson's devastating (IMO) critique of IIT

    https://www.scottaaronson.com/blog/?p=1799

    https://www.scottaaronson.com/blog/?p=1823

    note: Tegmark's attempt to treat consciousness as a state of matter (https://arxiv.org/pdf/1405.0493.pdf) is even more ridiculous than his 'mathematical universe'.

    note to Phillip: "There is no reason to think that consciousness is not an example of emergence.". while i am a member of the 'emergent physics' crowd (i'm not sure how big that crowd is), it's not sufficient to say that we have 'no reason not to believe' perhaps, we need to try to understand consciousness on its own terms, not on the terms of physics.

    Physicists really need to get over themselves. we may be looking for (some) of the laws of nature but it is 'Trumpish' to think that Nature follows ONLY the laws of physics. there can be other laws for other phenomena bin other domains of nature.

    and we are not even "the master of our own domain (as per 'Seinfeld')(and an't) since we don't (can't?) address the truly fundamental questions of physics - e.g. why is entropy a measure of multiplicity and why does nature follow the 2nd law (either absolutely or statistically)? it would be better to take von Neumann's attitude towards our work

    ""The sciences do not try to explain, they hardly even try to interpret, they mainly make models. By a model is meant a mathematical construct which, with the addition of certain verbal interpretations, describes observed phenomena. The justification of such a mathematical construct is solely and precisely that it is expected to work."

    naive theorist

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  113. naive theorist,

    I commented on Tegmark's 2014 paper here. While this approach arguably has shortcomings, there is nothing "ricidulous" about it. (In contrast to, say, panpsychism.)

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  114. I think Schrodinger long ago (and possibly de Broglie as well) discussed whether electrons are conscious (i think he concluded they weren't ).

    in my area there are 60 second radio shows called 'not a sermon, just a thought'. If electrons can't think, maybe they can give sermons instead, maybe for a fee.

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  115. art uncut,

    I never said I don't take the problem of consciousness seriously, I merely point out that you are not solving any problem. And in my eyes, that makes you and people like you a problem. Hope that explains it.

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  116. Sabine, you are wrong!
    Electrons can think to the same degree with the thinkers who think electrons can think.
    (OK, I shared this as a joke. I hope it doesn't offend any electrons.)
    Nice article BTW.

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  117. David Bailey said...

    "Here is a TED talk by another prominent neuroscientist that is very worth listening to:"
    As fully expected, it isn't worth listening to at all. Just another narcissist at TED talking sh*te.

    Here's the transcript:
    https://www.ted.com/talks/donald_hoffman_do_we_see_reality_as_it_is/transcript?language=en#t-1298415

    TL;DR Hoffman says nature may not be as we perceive it. Who knew? He produces not one new piece of knowledge about nature based on his "theories".

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  118. There are two mistakes in Sabine's argument against panpsychism:

    1. It conflates thoughts with experiences. Panpsychists say an electron has experiences, but not that it thinks. It might, say, experience redness. This is just an analogy: obviously we don't know what electron experience would be like.

    2. More importantly, the argument assumes that if an electron is conscious then it must undergo changes ('if you want a particle to be conscious, your minimum expectation should be that the particle can change'). This, if I understand, would be what causes the problem in changing 'the number of particles produced in collisions.' But a panpsychist need not hold that the conscious electron undergoes changes. It might just have a continuous experience (not thought) of redness, as above.

    So the anti-panpshycist argument is ineffective.

    About spin: Philip Goff says that spin is a form of consciousness. But the idea might be more that the electron is a conscious entity, even something which wholly consists of conscious experience (e.g. a 'ball' or 'field' of more or less diffuse experience of visual redness), and spin is something the electron does. So spin is a behaviour of a conscious entity.

    The theory about physics which comes down to modern philosophers from Arthur Eddington and Bertrand Russell is that the mathematics gives a partial description of physical entities: in terms of what they do, how they behave and interact. That's all it tells us about them. Just as for a person there is more to her than what she does (her 'character'), there is plausibly more to a physical particle than what it does. Now there are philosophers and philosophically informed scientists who deny this and say all there is to physics is behaviours, with nothing 'behind' the equations to give them substance. But for those who think the equations must describe something that goes beyond mere behaviours, who think that where something is done there must be a doer, for various reasons making consciousness essential to that deeper entity is desirable - it helps explain why assembling a lot of such items gives you a conscious brain.

    'Spin' might refer to the deflection behaviour of an electron in a magnetic field, or to the property that the electron has that produces this behaviour. When used in the latter way, Goff's claim, I think, is that spin's true nature is as an aspect or property of the electron's consciousness.

    Sam Coleman (a neutral monist, not panpsychist, for what it's worth)

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  119. Sam Coleman,

    Both your your objections are wrong because neither is being used in my argument.

    1) It does not matter whether you call it consciousness or experience or whatever, electrons don't have any properties besides the ones that are in the standard model (to very high precision).

    2) You seem to assume that by change I mean a change in time, but indeed I meant a change from one particle to the next. It does not really matter, point is that there is no place for anything in addition to the standard model, regardless of how you want to call it. Electrons don't have "thoughts" they don't have "experiences" or "consciousness" or anything else besides the known quantum numbers.

    So either you claim that particle physics needs no amendment but is already "panpsychic" (fine, but makes the word panpsychic entirely meaningless - why not just call it physics then) or it's not, in which case your theory is wrong. Take a pick.

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  120. @Unknown (James of Seattle): (at least some) philosophers are trying to isolate the smallest/simplest component which can be called a consciousness component. [Not a conscious component]

    We already have that, it is called a neuron; or more generally, a generalized pattern recognizer, which is what single neurons do. They take inputs from sensory organs or other neurons (that have recognized a pattern). Some of this inputs will act as excitatory, others as inhibitory, but this is an analog system, not a digital one. If the pattern on the inputs is close enough to a general pattern for the neuron and the excitatory outweighs the inhibitory, the neuron emits an electro-chemical signal which can act is inputs to other neurons; or commands to a muscle. But a neuron has a limited reserve of the chemicals necessary for signaling, so if it signals too quickly it will exhaust the supply and fail to fire. As a biological system in a noisy environment, we also see neurons fire (apparently) spontaneously, without input.

    Evolutionarily speaking, it is a reasonable hypothesis that even a single neuron can perform a survival purpose, like sensing environmental danger (e.g. heat or light or chemical makeup) or opportunity (e.g. a food gradient). One neuron can provide a few bits of information, all that is needed for an instinctual reaction. (I bring that up to counter any argument that only collections of neurons would do any good. For more detailed evolutionary analysis, seek "Evolution of Nervous Systems" on Wikipedia as a start on plausible routes).

    Other biological mechanisms were the precursors of neurons, but it seems justifiable to say neurons are a necessary component of consciousness, if not conscious themselves.

    Your argument about minnows and pikes doesn't address the problem. Fruit flies have a quarter million neurons; the smallest fishes have at least 20,000 and exhibit flight responses from danger. Minnows don't have to be conscious to process information about their environment and flee from danger; their eyes and olfactory senses serve to increase their odds of survival, among other fitness advantages (like seeking food and mates).

    consider something without neurons; like dried (non-living) fish food. When scattered on the surface of a tank with hungry fish in it, the fish food does nothing to protect itself from being consumed. It is not conscious and does not sense a danger of being consumed. The minnow processes sensory information (using nerves and neurons) and reacts to it to survive, the fish food does not. Neither do other living objects, like plant seeds.

    Consciousness for an object requires some sort of awareness, which requires some sort of internal predictive model of objects in the world (perhaps including the object itself). Nature stumbled upon neurons as the component to construct such predictive models; we humans have recently stumbled upon electronic systems as a component which seems serviceable. There may be other components that could serve as well, I wouldn't presume neurons are unique in this regard.

    But ultimately any pattern recognizer must be complex enough to have at least two states, YES (pattern present) and NO (pattern not present), and must be complex enough for the signal to effect some change of state in the owner; like YES=SPEND ENERGY TO ESCAPE, NO=CONSERVE ENERGY.

    Elementary particles do not have the complexity to recognize patterns or change their state. Thus they are not "conscious", and any redefinition of consciousness to include them is double-talk and fraud, hijacking a word and giving it a new meaning in order to unjustifiably appropriate the connotations of the original word.

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  121. Phillip Goff wrote:

    The claim is (A) that physics doesn't tell us what physical properties are; it merely provides mathematical models that predict their behaviour, and (B) those very properties that physics characterises behaviouristically are, in their intrinsic nature, forms of consciousness.

    An elementary observable I will call Ô acts upon a quantum eigenstate |o> to give the eigenvalue O as Ô|o> = O|o>. An elementary example, which requires some elementary knowledge of calculus, of this is the exponential function e^{-imφ} and the observable expressed as the mathematical operator i∂/∂φ so that if this acts on our exponential function we get

    i∂e^{-imφ}/∂φ = me^{-imφ}.

    I get the same function back multiplied by a real number. This is in fact how the azimuthal projection of spin or angular momentum is described. Bosonic string theory with the Witt or Virasoro algebra is a variation on this theme. This is quantum mechanically what we mean by a physical property, something that manifests itself from a quantum state that as an observable is the entity actually measured in an experiment. The quantum state is complex valued and in general an element of a Hilbert space that is not exactly ontological, at least not in the ordinary sense.

    I can't particularly put my finger on anything here that strikes me as consciousness. Of course consciousness is elusive; when I or anyone tries to put their finger on consciousness it is never there. We have trouble defining it and understanding what possible measurement would point to consciousness, say measurements of dynamical neurons in a person or animal charge, might give the clear signal “C is here,” is not forthcoming. If all physical properties have consciousness then we might think of geology and ponder whether the property of a rock being a schist has consciousness. That being a metamorphic rock with a matrix of mica plates it is highly processed. Does it have more consciousness than basalt or more basal igneous rock? Is the schist more conscious if it has garnet or is that a different sort of consciousness? Some rocks or crystals have spin glass properties so if it is tweaked with an EM field or just a physical percussion it has complex behaviors of signals running around. Does that have consciousness? We are in a way climbing “mount complexity” here. At some point with biological systems we can really talk about consciousness, though we are not sure how this happens.

    Panpsychism is then a proposition about things that appears impossible to support with any observation or experiment. It is not clear to me how this could ever be empirically supported, particularly since we have difficulty understanding what consciousness is or how it is manifested in neurological systems. To say consciousness is some aspect of quantum states or elementary particles would strike me then as projecting an already enigmatic question into the impossible.

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  122. Sabine,
    re. commuter. The lesson is, perhaps, don't try to be lighthearted on a scientific blog?

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  123. "note: Tegmark's attempt to treat consciousness as a state of matter (https://arxiv.org/pdf/1405.0493.pdf) is even more ridiculous than his 'mathematical universe'."

    Neither am I convinced by it, but there is no need to point that out, as I didn't mention it here. I mentioned his book on AI since it discusses things such as when AI should have "human" rights and so on. And, in other threads, his mathematical-universe book. I never said that everything he does is correct.

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  124. Thanks Sabine.

    On 1: If you say 'electrons don't have any properties besides the ones that are in the standard model', and this is a premise in your argument, then your argument begs the question. It is meant to show that electrons aren't conscious, but this now seems to be an assumption behind the argument. If that's the conclusion and not an assumption, on the other hand, then the question is what are your premises.

    On 2: So you mean differences among electrons. That's fine. The panpsychist can accommodate this by claiming that each electron has exactly the same type of experience. That's what one would expect given their physical properties. So still the anti-panpsychist argument will not go through.

    The panpsychist will indeed say that particle physics needs no amendment - as a description of what particles do. But if the question is, what is the deep nature of physical reality whose behaviour physics describes (the meta-physics), then an addition to the ontology is needed. Panpsychism is a suggestion about the true nature of the entities whose behaviour physics describes so accurately. This is a bit like the difference between a complete description of what someone does and knowing the character they have which is behind the actions and produces them. We don't know the 'character' of electrons from physics alone (so Russell/Eddington tell us), and panpsychists make a suggestion about their underlying nature. I hope that makes sense.

    Sam

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  125. Philip Goff said...

    "This is one of the best popular-level pieces on it: http://nautil.us/issue/47/consciousness/is-matter-conscious?fbclid=IwAR3f7KUsnZYP2DJ4jSccGlQ6ml8VVbPQuUtauK2AUl6aBhj4vIQDKWmbsks"

    TL;DR There is a hard consciousness problem - how consciousness arises from matter - and a hard matter problem - what is the thing in itself.It is suggested that gathering more and more physical information may not solve either problem. It is suggested therefore that consciousness is considered as the hardware in which the structures of physics (the software) are instantiated as matter. This is suggested because we already experience consciousness subjectively. This instantiation is termed "experiencing" consciousness. So an electron is a "stream of electron experiences".

    At the end of the article, it is pointed out that there are problems like the "combination problem": why does consciousness arise in a brain made up of matter, even if that matter is instantiated consciousness?

    So this theory does not in the end solve the hard problem of consciousness, and adds nothing to our knowledge of nature. How can we have such an all-encompassing theory that adds diddly squat to our knowledge of nature?

    What is the value of this theory, Philip Goff? It can't even explain why a brain experiences consciousness.

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  126. I think this whole conversation between S.H and P.G. is going nowhere, because there's a common ground missing. S.H. doesn't know:

    - what metaphysics is, how it is related to physics, why most contemporary philosophers think that physics is not self interpreted but that metaphysics is required
    - what the metaphysical problem of consciousness is, why it is serious and different from a scientific problem, what is panpsychism supposed to solve in this particular context and how

    The problem is that both these points rest on lengthy philosophical discussions full of subtleties that started centuries ago, at a time when philosophers and scientists were mostly the same persons. The problem is that it's impossible to present them in just one comment. You have to take a few courses, or read an introduction to philosophy of science and another to philosophy of mind, to appreciate them. But scientists and philosophers are no more the same persons, these courses are not often given to student learning science, and it's quite obvious that S.H didn't have them.
    And the problem is that without this common ground, you are doomed to talk past each other.

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  127. Unknown said...

    " it helps explain why assembling a lot of such items gives you a conscious brain. "

    No, it doesn't. This is what you philosopher types are calling the combination problem, apparently. The one thing you have set out to do with this monism, explain subjective conscious experience in the brain, you have failed to achieve.

    Can we have another couple of million from the Templeton Foundation for a rethink, please?

    The only way consciousness will be understood is by studying things that are known to exhibit it - so brains not electrons. Or maybe copy a brain into silicon to produce consciousness artificially and have a poke around with that.

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  128. As I understand it, panpsychism postulates that awareness is a basic aspect of the universe, equally as basic as energy/matter. And panpsychists generally assume that the awareness of an electron is no more and no less than awareness of its surrounding electromagnetic field. Awareness does not imply free will, and does not imply that an "aware" electron has any extra properties or degrees of freedom than the electrons known to physics. Your argument appears to be directed against a special "non-mainstream" version of panpsychism that I have never heard of.
    Many versions of panpsychism also assume that awareness is one and unitary, and that the concept of "individual awareness" of an entity such as a human or an electron is only valid as an approximation, just like the concept of a "separate object" in physics. I really fail to see how your argument refutes any of this.

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  129. Next time, better not feed the beast. When you comment on panpsychism one way or the other, you become part of the problem. Too bad you are not alone: even Einstein's "spooky action at a distance" and Schrodinger's "cat" as well as "many worlds" and "pilot wave", etc. are perpetuating nonsense.

    Why not stick near and expand what we know? For instance, can YOU clarify what a "particle" actually is? What about a "wave"? Shouldn't we understand these first before claiming "wave-particle duality"? Sadly, there are no answers anywhere. Just opinions and hype.

    Here's some advice for your next book: discuss all the major physics experiments and what we ACTUALLY see. Clearly separate the Observable from the Provisional Conclusions and from the Hype, while dedicating very little space to this last one. And don't even dare mentioning Einsteins uprising, Schrodinger's sordid love affairs, or WW II. Good luck!

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  130. I think it´s not only that physicists are narrow-minded, it is also that they claim a 'Theory of Everything' for themselves while in parallel simple questions cannot be answered by them.
    Examples:
    "From which natural force does consciousness originate ?"
    "Does Life and consciousness always go hand in hand ?"
    "Are AIs conscious ?"
    "What laws must apply so that matter can be conscious" (like living-matter)
    "What are the laws behind Abiogenesis ?"

    When I look at all the TOEs that scientist present to public, there is not even a single Big Bang Theory that clearly demonstrates that life and consciousness
    have to emerge one day out of matter or of quantum mechanics.

    I think the 'origin of consciousness and life' is a fundamental deficiency in the current world view of modern science.

    kind regards,

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  131. If all matter is conscious on some level, why does it matter how you organize it? Why do I have a brain inside my skull instead of a block of cheese or a miniature scale model of London's suburbs? I assume that proponents of panpsychism would answer that it is important how matter is organized, at which point we go full circle and find ourselves back at the original question; If my own personal conscious experience requires matter to be organized in a specific way (my brain), why exactly is it necessary for particles to be conscious in order to explain my own consciousness?

    If human consciousness requires conscious particles and a carefully organized brain, where would you draw the line to show which parts of consciousness are contributed by magic electrons and what comes from brain structure? And if consciousness does depend on brain structure, how does a particle still contain anything comparable to consciousness?

    These people seem to be pretending that an object cannot be greater than the sum of its parts. A pile of steel does not make a bridge, a block of silicon is not a computer, and a bucket of neurons isn't just magically going to be as conscious as my brain.

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  132. Inspired to re-read this by Lubos Motl's post, where his rabid hate leads him to "prove' panpsychism is reasonable.

    As to the issue itself, I'm pretty sure that Integrated Information Theory has an unknown, if not unknowable, relationship to consciousness in any ordinary sense of the word. Worse, it seems to me that any intelligible notion of information has to specify what a signal is. As applied to electrons, yes, it seems to me you are entirely correct that there are no interactions that can describe signals intrinsic to the electron.

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  133. Sabine,

    In addition to Sam Coleman's point about experience vs. thoughts, there's also this: your argument exists entirely within the framework of quantum mechanics as we currently understand it. If there is some deeper theory which gives rise to quantum mechanics, then equating any possible properties a particle can have with quantum numbers is just wrong. Surely you're not claiming that it is impossible for there to be a deeper theory than quantum mechanics?

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  134. I think Schrodinger long ago (and possibly de Broglie did as well) discussed whether electrons are conscious (i think he concluded they weren't ). Some people talk to plants and pet them, because they say they have feelings, and are easily hurt.

    Electrons, like media celebrities and politicians, 'spin'--up or down. Photons don't.
    This might imply they think, or think they think (and hence, possibly, do). I guess one could make an analogy between their spin orientation and whether they are male or female, wghich may affect how and what they think. (I think the economist larry summers when at harvard suggested that in general males prefer thinking about physics, while females may prefer playing house.)

    In my area there are 60 second radio shows called 'not a sermon, just a thought'. If electrons can't think, maybe they give sermons instead, maybe for a fee. I am open to the possibility that sermons do provide evidence of thought.

    I found this blog because L Motls cited it. (I may have oosted this comment before but can't tell. I disagree with his poletics, but he knows alot of physics, and his blog i find hilarious.)

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  135. "1) It does not matter whether you call it consciousness or experience or whatever, electrons don't have any properties besides the ones that are in the standard model (to very high precision)."

    how do you know that electrons don't have properties, hidden variables, etc that either have been proposed and not confirmed like supersymmetry or preons, or either the technology hasn't been invented yet to measure it, or is outside observation?

    @Peter Speckmayer said...

    a house is still a material object.

    consciousness is immaterial

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  136. How about an idea that every particle is a disturbance in the complicated concious field? :p

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  137. FWIW, my understanding of panpsychism is that, at the level of particles, it only says an electron "experiences" (for instance) a magnetic field. The proof of this "experience" is that the electron's movement is affected by the field. Panpsychism seems to consider this form of "experience" meaningful.

    It seems more attractive, perhaps, up at the level of, say, trees, which clearly "experience" seasons and weather conditions. (Again, experience defined as something that causes a reaction.)

    Why this is considered meaningful quite escapes me.

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  138. And just think: Some particles end up in septic tanks. I'll bet they're pissed.
    I can hear them now:

    "I TOLD you that coming back as cheesecake was NOT a good idea over cosmological timeframes. But NOOOO... "

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  139. As usual, it's assumed particles are "fundamental". Perhaps they are emergent. Define charge. Define magnetism. Define gravity. Perhaps consciousness resides in a field of wave-form, and particles are its memory.

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  140. Bee, my SciAm piece and the general resonance theory it describes is based explicitly on a panpsychist assumption that all matter is associated with at least some type of mind, albeit highly rudimentary in the vast majority of cases (like a single electron). There is a vast amount of scholarship looking at these questions and explaining why panpsychism, as strange as it seems when first encountering the notion, is actually the least strange of the various options like materialism, idealism, dualism, etc. To me the most compelling arguments for panpsychism are, in brief 1) when we look at the biological world we see only incremental change over time and generally incremental changes between species, so why would consciousness be any different if we agree that consciousness is based in biology?; 2) emergence of such a basic feature of the universe as consciousness seems highly implausible, if not impossible, so it seems highly likely that the evolution of life and matter more generally is the evolution of consciousness from the very start. https://www.independent.com/news/2011/jan/08/c-wordconsciousnessand-emergence/

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  141. @Steven Evans, our general resonance theory is based on the panpsychist assumption that all resonating structures are associated with at least some degree of mind, albeit highly rudimentary in the vast majority of cases. The point of the theory is to suggest a way in which these very tiny minds can combine into minds like ours (this is the "combination problem" in the philosophy of mind and neuroscience). Without this assumption, the theory would indeed be just a re-statement of the physical facts of resonance in various real-world situations. Our key step is to suggest that it is resonance that allows for far faster information flows, a step change, to achieve an integrated state that is the hallmark of consciousness, it's unity in each moment. Non-resonating structures can't reach very far at all in terms of complexity and thus in most cases such collections remain "mere aggregates" rather than resulting in combination of consciousness. We have a couple of new papers coming out in 2019 so if you're interested stay tuned.

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  142. Why do you think panpsychism doesn't help solve the problem of consciousness?

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  143. Sabine, you might add to your argument the notion of identical particles, which has observable consequences. I can imagine 15 billiard balls all having a round table discussion, because they are distinguishable objects, but not electrons.

    Of course, now someone will claim electrons have a collective consciousness, so it will never end.

    -drl

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  144. t seems to me that if you are a "real" materialist (some might say physicalist, but I prefer the former term) and you think your own consciousness is a real thing (and many do not -they think it is an illusion or something like that), then consciousness (or experience) is a part of matter at some point. Some think it is an emergent thing that appears somehow when the right "complex" configuration of matter (like a brain) is in place. But "emergent" seems more mystical to me than that the ingredients of consciousness are distributed downward into "lower levels" of matter (cells, molecules, etc.).

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  145. It is interesting to see people try to "explain" the mystery of consciousness by invoking other "mysteries".

    According to the SEP, panpsychism is "the view that mentality is fundamental and ubiquitous in the natural world".

    Experience without mentality is nothing more than to encounter or undergo an event or occurrence. Even mindless, consciousness-free things can "experience" things; so panpsychism that refers only to experience is vacuous.

    sean s.

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  146. I'll note in passing, that Philip Pullman's fantasy novel trilogy "His Dark Materials", posits a particle called "dust" -- later in the trilogy "dust" is also called "dark matter".
    The "dust" is conscious and imbues humans with consciousness.

    No idea if author Pullman is a practicing panpsychist. I've read he's gotten into trouble with organized religions ... his "dust" condensed into real "angels" aeons ago and much of the trilogy has been interpreted as an attack on organized religions. Whatever ...

    - TomH

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  147. Bee's argument that because all electrons follow the same law they cannot have either experiences or thoughts simply does not folliow. Nitpicking about counterexanples involving the regular behavior of people on the grounds that if you look hard enough you'll find variations fails because of course in principle a more elaborate regularity could cover such variations. Put another way, Sabine's argument poses a logical inconsistency between the possibility of an accurate psychological/social theory of human behavior and the possibility of human consciousness. This claim appears specious.

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  148. "Consciousness is an act of information processing. I don't understand why some people think there's something mysterious about it. Frankly I think it's an ideology simply driven by their wish to believe that humans are somehow "special".

    I wonder,Dr.H., whether on further reflection you feel this is a good definition of consciousness. You have two lovely children and is what you feel when you see them happy mere "information processing?"

    It is not uncommon for any of us to use analogy be way of explanation -- with misleading results. During the Enlightenment, the analogy of Creation was the clock (beloved by deists.) In the latter 19th century, when thermodynamics began to supplement simple mechanics, the analogy was the steam engine (you will recall that Wigner's demon manned a simple steam engine.) Now the analogy is "the brain is a computer" or, in your case, consciousness is "information processing." That last phrase, according to the OED, was introduced into the English language as late as 1950. I wonder whether you haven't, thus, latched onto a trendy, contemporary phrase to "explain" something rather strange.

    Before it was relocated to Spain, I spent an hour with "Guernica" at the MoMA and I was feeling something -- distaste for war, admiration for Picasso, simple appreciation for the imagery in the painting, etc. -- and don't think I was really engaged in information processing. But, I THINK I was conscious!

    Aren't human beings actually quite "special." Of the tens of millions of living species, can you identify another species with a sense of irony? Can any other species recognize the subtle distinction between, say, satire and sarcasm? In fact, human beings seem VERY special!

    In their efforts to maintain a coldly rational universe scientists sometimes seem to throw the baby out with the bathwater. I mentioned, just above, that you self-identify as a superdeterminist in order to avoid "spook action at a distance" theories (which, face it, have metaphysical implications.) Forgive me if I repeat what I said: if everything IS predetermined than evolutionary theory -- which is based entirely on random events -- is invalidated. One cannot have random events in a predetermined universe.Why can we not, in the interest of openness, actually confront the implications of our beliefs for other fields of science and scholarship?

    Scientists, like all of us, make vivid, arbitrary statements: "Consciousness is an act of information processing" or "All human activities are based on pain or pleasure" (B.F. Skinner -- and Plato!) I am not sure that wrapping such ober dicta in the dignity of science is really fair play.

    I have no idea whether particles are conscious. You have insisted on one "test" of such an hypothesis and left the debate satisfied. But, although you are far brighter than me, you don't always seem to fully explicate your occasional ukase.

    Best wishes for a prosperous 2019. Not to intrude into your affairs but have you looked into a tenure-track position at an American college. I would think they would be honored to have you!

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  149. "If a philosopher starts speaking about elementary particles, run."

    If you want to take Sabine's advice on this, it would be better to seek out someone who (unlike the author who is the target of Sabine's criticisms) is actually a professional philosopher. There are plenty of those writing about particle physics. Here are some suggestions as to where to start, if you're interested in the sorts of things philosophers say about particle physics.

    http://filosothots.blogspot.com/2019/01/actual-philosophers-talking-about.html

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  150. "The logical conclusion of the free will theorem is that human don't have free will, which is entirely correct."

    When a physicist starts talking about free will, run. I have yet to meet one who offers an opinion like this who has even a passing acquaintance with the issue or the arguments. Of course humans have free will.

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  151. "The logical conclusion of the free will theorem is that human don't have free will, which is entirely correct."

    When a physicist starts talking about free will, run. I have yet to meet one who offers an opinion like this who has even a passing acquaintance with the issue or the arguments. Of course humans have free will.

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  152. Unknown wrote: There are two mistakes in Sabine's argument against panpsychism . . . Panpsychists say an electron has experiences, but not that it thinks

    Panpsychists can define "experiences" and "consciousness" to fit whatever flavor of panpsychism they favor. Not all panpsychists *say* the same thing. If you're going to critique someone's argument against panpsychism, you have to identify the flavor that's being critiqued.

    Years ago, I critiqued a couple flavors of panpsychism. I lost interest in it because it doesn't appear to be useful as a proposition or a hypothesis.

    Along similar lines, we can consider J. Scott Turner, a physiologist who proposes that organisms evolve partly because of "desire." For example, birds evolved feathers and wings partly because protobirds wanted to fly. Even at the microbe and plant level, organisms have "desires." Just as "experiences" and "consciousness" can be defined by panpsychists, so can "desire" and "striving" be defined by Turner to fit his proposition. If Turner suggests that microbes have desires, you might helpfully point out that he doesn't actually mean they have desires. And yet, Turner (and panpsychists) say all sorts of questionable things. You can defend them, but only up to a point.

    And in my opinion, if you're going to critique Sabine's critique, you should also critique panpsychists. Of course, if you are a panpsychist, it would make perfect sense if you offered a robust defense of the flavor you favor.

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  153. Unknown wrote: In science, the effort to maintain absolute materialism often requires a cure that is deadlier than the disease.

    Please offer an example of how materialism has ever been "deadlier than the disease," in the context of our efforts to understand nature. Please also offer a better alternative to materialism.

    Unknown wrote: Panpsychism has the virtue of consistency.

    That's about two cents worth of virtue.

    Unknown wrote: The answer to the mystery of consciousness surely lies in a non reductive physicalism that recognizes that complex properties like consciousness can emerge from the dynamic interactions of matter when it is organised in certain highly complex ways, not from the bits of matter themselves.

    But that *is* reductive. Without the "bits of matter," they can't organize "in certain highly complex ways" and consciousness could not emerge. The model predicts that the bits of matter are necessary. That's reductive physicalism and there's nothing wrong with it.

    Some people might claim that the consciousness of supernatural beings, such as God, don't require bits of matter, but that's another story. :-)

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  154. Dear Sabine,
    Could you please clarify your attitude towards the free will theorem by Conway and Kochen?
    Best regards,
    Wojciech

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  155. Part 1 (Because it made me divide it into multiple posts)

    While I personally don't subscribe to panpsychism (is that the right ism?), I would like to play devils advocate a bit here because well - absent the ability to really talk about any of this in an empirical fashion the concept can at least serve as a conduit for a few abstract ideas that are at least interesting.

    Normally this sort of debate tends to get vitriolic but - while contentious it at least seems to be quite respectful and people mostly seem to be putting in good faith attempts to hear each other out.

    So with that in mind I'd like to defend the concept... sort of... and throw at least what I think are interesting concepts around. Also I'll probably start to use phrases like "I suspect" or "I think" or "I propose" - bear that in mind as not exactly literal. It's just easier to write that way when defending a position than getting more verbose than I'm already going to be.

    I would say first that there are many opinions and conceptualizations about what consciousness is and/or could be and it runs the gamut from non-existent and/or an illusion all the way up to "the source and nature of everything". It's fiendishly difficult topic and cuts right to the heart of what it is be "be", something that I think most people wrestle with in at least some form.

    The reason discussing consciousness is difficult is that it, with present technology and knowledge, it's not a measurable phenomenon. It being a present aspect of the universe, something experienced by many, and ultimately unexplained means that we're all left to quest for answers about being on our own. So to start slicing and dicing with our nice dualisms we begin with a more abstract question:

    What is anything?

    It's annoyingly vague but gets at the problem nicely. What IS an electron. Well we can describe it's properties to high precision. But is that what an electron's "isness" is?

    More fun is trying to describe all of the properties of an electron (a real one sitting somewhere) runs into limits. We cannot seem to know all about them. The properties are influenced by the other matter around it interacting with it. Is it in the gravity well of a planet or star? What other things presence is influencing it.

    IF you've ever played with the Feynman diagrams (as I presume folk here have) it becomes obvious pretty quickly that figuring this stuff out in a way that is 100% accurate incurs an explosion of complexity that's pretty unsettling. Fortunately we usually don't need to calculate it out perfectly for real world applications but that doesn't mean that a lot of things we do aren't approximations. I weigh myself and my apparent weight to a scale is influenced by the moon and the sun and the other planets. It's mostly negligible given that the influence of the strength of the influence of those bodies decreases with the square of the distance but it doesn't drop to zero, just a very small number.

    So what is an electron made of? Quarks? Gluons? What are those made up of? Is there a smallest fundamental particle everything is built of (like we once conceived atoms were)? The further down you go though you quickly run into more tricky effects. Electrons are just matter and matter is just a form of energy. What is energy?

    Panpshycist claim electrons have experiences. That's the baseline crux of this debate. So what could they mean?

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  156. Part 2

    I would say that one interesting interpretation of physics is one of information theory in a sense. That in reality everything is just information at the lowest level (which isn't really a level exactly - not some realm but just an abstract pointer to the idea). When an electron loses some energy it emits a photon. It didn't have a secret magical pile of photons hanging around, one was just created in the quantum vacuum (in reverse electrons adsorb photons completely destroying them). That photon propagates away at what we call the "speed of light". The term isn't really that appropriate though. A better way of noting that is 'the maximum rate at which information can propagate through the universes'. There too it's ultimately about information. We observe these phenomenon through the lens of science - our mechanism of interrogating the universe with questions as to it's nature.

    If we think of everything as just information then we're kind of in a weird realm of saying that the universe isn't physical exactly but simply information.

    The totality of information is well - everything. All information is all information.

    (here I realize it seems like belaboring the point but I don't know a better way to express all this, so I apologize).

    Consider an infinite line. Suppose you want to measure anything on this line. You have to first choose some point of reference - divide the line in two. It'll still be infinite in each direction but now you have a finite point from which you can measure. You could make tick marks along the line - inventing a number line with the reference point (the origin) as 0 - a point whose value is nothing besides being a relative measure. Now you've got the concept of positive and negative - things on one side or the other of the line. You couldn't measure anything until you had a point of reference.

    Likewise if we consider trying to have any consistent bearing on anything we do so by relating it to something else - that is to say - what it "isn't". Found a prime number? Well - you have criteria for what makes a number prime so you also have a criteria for what isn't prime. Figure and ground so to speak.

    In our imagined "all" information - how would we find or define anything with consistency? I propose that we have to create origin points and then measure from there - relative to everything else. It doesn't seem to be conceptually possible to define something out in the "everything" consistently without putting some kind of boundary around it that separates it from everything else.

    And this means that if each singular thing is defined in terms of everything, so to is it contained in the definitions of every other thing as well. In other words they all are related in some way.

    I would furthermore propose that all these things exist. I could write a computer program that would generate all possible CD's. One of those would have me singing duets with the Beatles, another would contain the sounds of yourself singing lead vocal in a band made of Dinosaur-like organisms from an alien planet, all playing alien instruments. The program would take a long time to run but a CD is just a string of ones and zeros - and all those possible combinations are "out there" somewhere. When we make or build things we're just reaching out into this unimaginably huge "everything" information space, and putting a boundary around some pattern. The fact that not every CD get's printed doesn't mean that that information isn't out there waiting to be plucked out and burned to the CD and listened to.

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  157. Part 3

    Weirder in the thought of all possible information is that ultimately that all possible information is all randomness. Without perception from outside all information you run into a problem of doing anything with it. All possible information is ultimately the same thing as no information. Worse how could you have something outside of that which takes that all possible information and makes it meaningful?

    I think for some the overly simplistic approach is a deity and they forgo consistency to resolve the resulting paradoxes but I would take different approach here. To get there though I need to take a long rambling detour.....

    To every *ω*-consistent *recursive* class *κ* of *formulae* there correspond recursive *class-signs* *r*, such that neither *v* Gen *r* nor Neg (*v* Gen *r*) belongs to Flg (κ) (where *v* is the *free variable* of *r*).

    - Kurt Gödel

    Or more humanely as Hofstadter approached it:

    "All consistent axiomatic formulations of number theory include undecidable propositions."

    There's lots of confusion and misinformation about all of this of course but it gets to an interesting point. If you wanted a system that was fully consistent and also complex enough to represent the whole of number theory the system would be incomplete - that is to say there would be true things that couldn't be proven within the consistent system. It suggests that fundamentally things in numbers are intrinsically chaotic and complex such that it eludes encapsulation in a consistent formal system.

    While it's conflating number theory and my "all possible information" thing, I would suggest that all possible information cannot be fully logically derived - or more accurately that the same problem of encapsulation occurs. Could you invent some container for everything? The problem is that the container would have to contain itself. And so on. Ever larger infinite information containers.

    In Gödel, Escher, Bach - Hofstadter plays variations on a theme with this notion.

    "This sentence is False." (itself a nice variation on the liars paradox)

    :: Another with my own whimsy (okay it's just Russells Paradox)::

    Consider the set "All things that are Douglas Hofstadter"
    Now consider the complimentary set "All things that are not Douglas Hofstadter"
    The latter set contains itself as a member as the set itself is not Douglas Hofstadter.

    So given this concept - you can divide sets into two groups - sets that contain themselves as members "normal sets" and sets which do not - "abnormal".

    Now resolve this: "is the set of all normal sets a normal set or an abnormal set" ?


    ....okay long rambling detour complete. The point being to get to that nugget of sort of looping paradoxical concept.

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  158. Part 4

    Back to our first "all possible information" conceptualization of existence. It's all information so - unless some part of it is from a privileged reference frame - it's really ultimately no information. Infinite randomness. I suspect in a sense there is no such privileged reference frame but rather that all information simply exists. Once you're at all information (no information) then it's really just flattened into an infinite unchanging everything.

    So what the heck is our experience in all of that?!

    I think the universe itself arises from a contradiction of sorts. The something vs nothing words get thrown around but really it's a contradiction of no information is itself.. information. That's a more pure way of expressing the contradiction (though we're still stuck using language so it's still not exact).

    But how do I arrive at that? Out of that contradiction you have all possible information? Seems weird but it's in effect true logically. If you take any consistent axiomatic system and introduce a contradiction as an axiom, you can derive anything (including all the contradictions). This is the same reason why incompleteness in the number theoretical sense arises only in consistent systems. The universe is itself contradiction and from that contradiction everything follows.

    So panpsychism.

    I think one could say that in the infinite everything all possible information if you were to take any bit of information and define it, would be related to everything else by that division or boundary (as discussed way earlier). Experience would then be the derivation of that division. Experience being otherwise defined as defining ones self - a process which happens what seems like time but which is just a blip of a finite pattern in a vast infinite all information space. Each thing which is defined has the experience of being defined - not by us but by the fact that all possible definitions also exist.

    Just as a single CD might be decoded in many ways, only some meaningful to us, the electron's experience might be little more than simple informational properties to our experience but defined relative to all possible information, may have a totally different experience relative to everything. We glimpse it through only one possible decoding.



    I say all of this and it's still decidedly not clear, probably a combination of: I'm a poor writer/communicator, the ideas are difficult to express linguistically, conceptually it's not all logical almost by it's very nature.

    I feel really generally stepping through it all would require a short novel's worth of writing, not a mere blog post.

    If you suffered through this all, I appreciate it, and if not I understand.

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  159. Sabine wrote: Consciousness is an act of information processing.

    It's certainly an element of consciousness. Obviously, "information processing" would have to be defined.

    I realize that you didn't intend it to be a comprehensive definition of consciousness, but since I'm looking for one it caught my eye.

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  160. artuncut wrote: The panpsychist offers one proposal . . . to solve the problem of consciousness

    Panpsychism solves the problem of consciousness just like God solves the problem of consciousness (and a lot of other things). It's a solution, but not a useful one.

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  161. Dear Sabine,

    “One starts as a materialist, then one becomes a dualist, then a panpsychist, and one ends up as an idealist”

    Maybe you should just jump to some form of idealism?

    For the first try, I would recommend this:
    https://philarchive.org/archive/CHAIAT-11

    Best regards,
    Wojciech

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  162. naivetheorist wrote: Physicists really need to get over themselves. we may be looking for (some) of the laws of nature but it is 'Trumpish' to think that Nature follows ONLY the laws of physics

    Don't leave me on tenterhooks. Is there any evidence that nature doesn't follow the laws of physics? Can you suggest a more useful alternative to the scientific method to understand nature?

    You should give physicists some benefit of the doubt. If you offer them something more useful, they might "get over" their preoccupation with the scientific method. In stark contrast, Trump has demonstrated a remarkable resistance to facts.

    Sabine has pointed out that some physicists are resistant to facts. In this blog, I've seen one physicist who seems to be Trumpish. Very surprising and a little disturbing. Some physicists can be tainted by self-serving interests, so, not surprisingly, physicists are just as human as other people. :-)

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  163. Sabine
    God was never alive for Nietzsche, all the more profound is his statement and the brutal honesty he had in its utterance which can be admired . He would have recognized that love pronounced as a metaphysical force was also dead with scientists declaring the death of free will .
    . To say that love is nothing more than a collection of brain patterns is like saying that Arvo Part’s “ Spiegel im Spiegel “ is only a collection of sound patterns created by the radio that I hear it from .





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  164. naivetheorist wrote: we need to try to understand consciousness on its own terms, not on the terms of physics

    Please be specific about the non-scientific approach we need to use in order to understand consciousness. Please explain why you've concluded that a scientific approach is flawed and doomed to fail.

    I could point out that the scientific approach has *so far* failed to find an inexpensive, non-polluting, abundant source of energy for the world. I could claim that we'll *never* find such a source of energy if we continue to use a scientific approach, and I could say that we need to use a non-scientific approach. But that would be silly, wouldn't it? How is that any different from what you're saying?

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  165. Back to the library for you. Panpsychic philosophy thinking is hardly new. You are close to arguing that consciousness does not exist. You might try reading Whitehead's take on this (Russell's teacher). But then you fooled my by using the argument in your comment that consciousness is building an effect predictive model. Oh my. Consciousness is seeing a sunset as some beautiful in addition to being 'actually' a spectrum of photons. And no no amount of reductionism is going to get you that from a simple QM model of the universe.

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  166. As a matter of clarification for myself...Sabine, is it safe to say that, details of panpsychism aside, you reject the concept of "qualia" out of hand, as nonsense? (For example, see https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/qualia/, especially section 5 on the "explanatory gap").

    If so, it seems like no further debate is necessary (or even possible). I have no well-formed opinions on the matter, as I can't quite decide for myself if I think qualia are nonsense or not, but from what I have read in the thread above, I get the impression that this represents an immediate and insurmountable impasse between you and, say, Phillip Goff.

    I know a few other commenters have mentioned qualia, but I have't seen you use the term and I think it really is the crux of the matter. If you were to say "I think the whole idea of qualia is bunk" then probably there isn't much point in any conversation between yourself and proponents of panpsychism.

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  167. Dear Sabine, the post is interesting, but to be honest I think there something missed or wrong in the argument.

    The main objection is that the exact concept behind panpsychic is the experience, not the thought (like others said above). In a classical world possibly your argument would hold, but in QM and QFT actually the whole concept of interactions, (or more graphically as Feynman diagrams), is exactly about what that experience is. There are lots of things that aren't known and actually can't be known by principle in QM and QFT, so the idea of change applies just fine in a non classical world. This becomes even more obvious as we consider than things like number of particles aren't even QG observables.

    You also just said that if we assume, for example, that physics is already "panpsychic", then this would be that the idea would become meaningless. I don't understand why that would be. There are plenty of discussions in which panpsychism is exactly about explaining how the standard model represents experiences, and how potentially complex systems of those would create more complex forms of consciousness. In theory the job of panpsychism then would be to have quantitative models of those.

    This is a completely different example but also relevant (Donald Hoffman and Chetan Prakash) https://www.researchgate.net/publication/263704213_Objects_of_consciousness from which individual conscious agents (who knows potentially also electors, if we knew they were agents) can have experiences and combine with other agents in simple, or complex ways. Even the algebra of (fully) entangled agents become interesting in this setup. For example, I quote: "the idea is to construct a geometric algebra G(2, 4) from the dynamics of two conscious agents, and from this to construct space-time and massless particles. Each time we take an undirected join of two conscious agents, we get a new geometric algebra G(2, 4) with new basis vectors as described above. Thus, we get a nested hierarchy of such geometric algebras from which we can build space-time from the Planck scale up to macroscopic scales. The metric would arise from the channel capacity of the joined agents."

    Cheers

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  168. True Awareness, if it exists only says. "Go ... your selfs All"
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nFiSPAuiRdY

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  169. Consciousness is certainly a bad concept – it is rather an extreme case in the course of evolution and is not well defined – if we want to adress the question of physical and mental activity. It’s even worse, since the supposed difference between physical and mental phenomena is not defined at all. We should begin by asking relevant questions. The basic concept that can eventually be useful - and which is not tied with consciousness or animal/human subjectivity but has a much broader application - is the concept of feeling.

    @naivetheorist
    It is unfortunate that Feynman said "Imagine how much harder physics would be if electrons had feelings!"
    If they have no feelings then it would be interesting to understand why they tend to repel each other, and why they are attracted by opposite charges...
    Interactions are qualified, and I guess such a track would be more interesting than this silly and confusing stuff with consciousness.

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  170. One could just as easily assert that a brain doesn't have any "properties" besides the biological and electro-chemical activity we can detect and measure. Nevertheless, consciousness is a fact.

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  171. Unknown (Sam) wrote: making consciousness essential to that deeper entity is desirable - it helps explain why assembling a lot of such items gives you a conscious brain

    artuncut made the same point, and I'll offer the same response: Panpsychism helps explain consciousness just like God helps explain consciousness (and a lot of other things). But it's not a helpful explanation.

    Unknown wrote: So the anti-panpshycist argument is ineffective.

    Unless someone can demonstrate that panpsychism is useful, any pro-panpsychic argument is ineffective. The burden is on the pro-panpsychic side.

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  172. Sam Coleman

    ”a neutral monist, not panpsychist, for what it's worth”

    So now monism, neutral or otherwise, has been refuted by the evidence, are you giving up neutral monism, or is this a religion and are you not actually interested in the truth about reality?

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  173. If particles were conscious, they would most certainly unionize and stop working at certain hours and on certain days. They would also fight for joint custody over their gauge bosons.

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  174. Sam,

    "If you say 'electrons don't have any properties besides the ones that are in the standard model', and this is a premise in your argument, then your argument begs the question. It is meant to show that electrons aren't conscious, but this now seems to be an assumption behind the argument."

    It's not a premise, it's an experimental fact. What I am telling you is that we know from evidence that electrons do not have properties besides those of the standard model. If you want to call those electrons "conscious" nevertheless, that just makes "consciousness" an empty word. If you mean anything else by "conscious", your theory is wrong.

    "So you mean differences among electrons. That's fine. The panpsychist can accommodate this by claiming that each electron has exactly the same type of experience. That's what one would expect given their physical properties. So still the anti-panpsychist argument will not go through."

    As I have said now many times, that's just empty words. If you want to introduce panpsychism to explain anything, you'll have to make use of this consciousness somehow. So here's your choice: Empty words and no explanatory power, or your theory is wrong.

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  175. Quentin,

    You are falsely accusing me of saying something I did not say. Once again. I expressed myself very clearly. You are now trying to proclaim I said something else. I have no interest in continuing this conversation and will not approve further comments from you.

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  176. Travis,

    We know that quantum field theory is an excellent description on the energy scales in question. I have written myself many times on the possibility that quantum mechanics is not fundamentally the last word, but this bears no relevance on the question.

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  177. neo,

    "how do you know that electrons don't have properties, hidden variables, etc that either have been proposed and not confirmed like supersymmetry or preons, or either the technology hasn't been invented yet to measure it, or is outside observation?"

    You can have hidden variables, but not of the kind that are attached to the particle - it's ruled out by experiment. You can have hidden variables at high energies - but those don't help you explaining consciousness in brains. As I explain in my blogpost.

    I also explained previously here that if you want to hide anything inside a particle at high energies that brings in other problems.

    Even if you do not want to buy these arguments, my point is this: If you want to talk about assigning consciousness to particles, you should address this.

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  178. Andrew,

    We have definitions for all of that, just look up any textbook of your choice.

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  179. art uncut,

    "Why do you think panpsychism doesn't help solve the problem of consciousness?"

    You are misunderstanding. Panpsychism might help you solve the problem of consciousness, if you manage to actually stuff consciousness into elementary particles and then combine those to larger blobs of consciousness. Unfortunately that idea does not work, as I explained in my blogpost. If you, on the other hand, invent a notion of "consciousness" that is merely a word without any empirical content, it'll not help you explain anything. That seems to be what you are proposing. You can't have it both ways.

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  180. SRP,

    "Bee's argument that because all electrons follow the same law they cannot have either experiences or thoughts..."

    That's wrong and certainly not what I said.

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  181. Wojciech Kryszak,

    Well, first of all it's an interesting theorem. Alas, the name is somewhat misleading. To begin with, it works with a notion of free will that isn't very helpful imo. In any case, the conclusion they draw is that if human experimenters have free will, then so have elementary particles. Given that we know that elementary particles do not have free will, you conclude that humans don't have free will either. For that reason I think it'd better be called the no free will theorem. In any case, I don't use it for my arguments because there are better ways to talk about free will. (I wrote about this here.)

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  182. Cloud2013,


    "You are close to arguing that consciousness does not exist."

    I certainly did not say anything like that.

    "Consciousness is seeing a sunset as some beautiful in addition to being 'actually' a spectrum of photons. And no no amount of reductionism is going to get you that from a simple QM model of the universe. "

    That you perceive something as beautiful is a thought pattern in your brain. I have no idea why you think there's something about this that we cannot explain with physics. As I said above, I think a lot of people have a desperate wish to believe that there is something special about them. There is not. You are a lot of particles and that's that. A lot of particles that deny they are a lot of particles.

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  183. Richard,

    The only examples for "qualia" that I have come across are confusions of terminology. For this reason you are correct, I do not think there is even such a thing. It's just a word that people have thought up to insist there is something in need of being explained.

    Let me be somewhat more specific. There are things that we do need to explain of course (and tbh, I don't think physics will be very useful in doing that). We would like to be able to quantify consciousness and we would like to be able to measure it. We would like to know when a conscious system (being?) experiences something and if we can say something about that experience. The latter will inevitably remain a sketchy and abstract notion of "experience" because strictly speaking you can never know what someone else experiences. But if you yourself are sufficiently similar to the system you are studying you may try to find a closest match to give you an impression. Most importantly, you want to have a reliable marker for self-awareness.

    These are all scientific questions, not philosophical ones. This isn't a realm of philosophy any longer.

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  184. Ruggero,

    "In a classical world possibly your argument would hold, but in QM and QFT actually the whole concept of interactions, (or more graphically as Feynman diagrams), is exactly about what that experience is. There are lots of things that aren't known and actually can't be known by principle in QM and QFT, so the idea of change applies just fine in a non classical world. This becomes even more obvious as we consider than things like number of particles aren't even QG observables. "

    It is clear that (a) you did not understand what I wrote and (b) you nevertheless believe you know more about QFT than I do.

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  185. To Mr Steve Mason:

    I DID give an example of how heroic materialism can actually undercut science -- you seem not to have noticed. It is a small thing and Dr H. may be its sole proponent. I referred to John Bell's work that seems to finally validate "spooky action at a distance." This has obvious metaphysical implications because it suggests that distance may be an illusion. Or, it may involve some type of superluminal communication -- a concept that challenges physics. Now . . . and I am repeating myself for your benefit . . . Dr. Bell suggested there was only ONE way he could think of that he could be proven wrong. If, he declared, it could be shown that the universe is completely deterministic (based, one supposes, on initial conditions) then "spooky action" might simply reflect where certain particles were destined to be and how they were destined to behave from the very Creation. The metaphysical question -- how can distance seemingly not exist -- vanishes! But . . . and, again, I repeat myself . . . biological evolution is based on randomness. Random genetic mutations are chose by natural selection. One cannot have random events in a fully deterministic universe. (I will also note that superdeterminism is Dr. H's argument against free will. As you may see, it is also an argument against everything that Darwin wrote. And, there is much more wrong with it.) Superdeterminism thus becomes nearly identical with Fate or intelligent design -- as all nominally chance events were ordered from the "start."

    I do not know if Dr. H is the only devotee of Dr. Bell's casual remark. There may be others. But, I am not sure that an unproven physical theory (superdeterminism) that invalidates most of biology in order to preserve materialism is a benefit to science.

    Again, I think if you re-read what I originally wrote you would find I there said the same thing.

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  186. Tam Hunt

    So you are speculating that fast information flows are required for consciousness, and it is resonance that provides these in the case of the brain. But this does not show that matter is required to be an "experience" of consciousness, as in panpyschism, for consciousness to exist in a brain, and it definitely does not show that resonance between atoms is a weak form of consciousness. You are simply speculating about how information flows around the brain, and make no connection with the idea of consciousness. As you say, and as the link Philip Goff pointed to ended up saying, panpsychism just ends up at the combination problem i.e. it can't be explained why pansychic matter produces consciousness in the brain.

    Back to square one.

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  187. "That you perceive something as beautiful is a thought pattern in your brain. I have no idea why you think there's something about this that we cannot explain with physics. As I said above, I think a lot of people have a desperate wish to believe that there is something special about them. There is not. You are a lot of particles and that's that. A lot of particles that deny they are a lot of particles."

    The whole problem of consciousness arises because some physical states and activities (not "thought patterns") are accompanied by, or give rise to, or are, conscious experiences like pains, and other physical states and activities are not. (Assuming you reject panpsychism.) But these conscious experiences are conscious exactly because they have a first-person character: there is "something it is like" to be in pain, a felt quality. But physics simply does not trade in first-person subjective characteristics: it trades in third-person objective characteristics. That is why, as you yourself wrote "strictly speaking you can never know what someone else experiences". And indeed, strictly speaking you cannot know whether anyone else experiences anything at all. That is the problem of other minds, which is a corollary to the mind/body problem in general.

    I know that I can feel pain because I have those experiences. I do not know whether a lobster put in a vat of boiling water feels pain. I can see physical motions—the waving of the claws—and physics can explain that. Physics can explain how the nervous system reacts to the water and gives rise to the third-person describable behavior. But physics cannot answer the question of whether that physical activity is accompanied by any conscious sensations at all, much less what they are. The behavior could be completely autonomic and unconscious, or it might signal felt agony. And no amount of study of the physical description can answer which is the case exactly because no first-person facts follow from a third-person description, and physics only trades in third-person concepts. That is the hard problem of consciousness.

    You may feel that panpsychism does not offer a solution to that problem. But you write as if there is no problem at all. And that view is more indefensible than panpsychism is.

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  188. Tim,

    You are contradicting yourself. First you point out, correctly, that I mention the problem. Then you claim I pretend it doesn't exist.

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  189. Steven Mason said...
    "Panpsychism solves the problem of consciousness just like God solves the problem of consciousness (and a lot of other things). It's a solution, but not a useful one."

    How does panpsychism solve the problem of consciousness? How does consciousness emerge from a brain made of panpsychic matter which is forbidden by the empirically confirmed laws of physics to act in any way different to non-panpsychic matter? The "panpsychic" bit is looking a tad superfluous, and the "hard conscsiousness problem", if you think there is one, remains.

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  190. Sabine,

    I am not contradicting myself, I am pointing out that you are contradicting yourself so it is impossible to tell even what you are claiming.

    If you acknowledge there is a hard problem, then. you acknowledge that there is something about experience and consciousness (including its very existence) that you cannot explain with physics. Contrary to your words quoted above. So which is it: is there a problem or not?

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  191. @Steven Evens, you write:

    "So you are speculating that fast information flows are required for consciousness, and it is resonance that provides these in the case of the brain. But this does not show that matter is required to be an "experience" of consciousness, as in panpyschism, for consciousness to exist in a brain, and it definitely does not show that resonance between atoms is a weak form of consciousness. You are simply speculating about how information flows around the brain, and make no connection with the idea of consciousness. As you say, and as the link Philip Goff pointed to ended up saying, panpsychism just ends up at the combination problem i.e. it can't be explained why pansychic matter produces consciousness in the brain.

    Back to square one."

    Not quite. If you're interested in the issues and viable solutions check out the various links I've provided.I didn't state that fast information flows are required for consciousness. Rather, I stated that faster information flows lead to more complex consciousness through combination of very simple conscious entities, and resonance chains are the key to achieving these faster information flows. We also do not confine our approach to brains -- it's a general theory that applies to all types of matter. People like to state the nature of the combination problem nowadays as though the very existence of the "combination problem" is a showstopper. Our approach is a solution to the combination problem, as is Tononi's IIT, and some other approaches, so no shows are stopped. This paper does some comparing and contrasting of IIT and our approach: https://www.ingentaconnect.com/contentone/imp/jcs/2016/00000023/F0020009/art00005.

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