Whilst some philosophers thrill to the loss of enchantment as a maturation beyond childishness, other philosophers express regret, and even horror, at the thought. One of the greatest of all intellectuals, the polymath Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, is firmly in the second camp. Fascinated by machines and computational logic, and one of the inventors of calculus, Leibniz was nonetheless a panpsychist: an advocate of the position that every piece of matter is consciousness. The ultimate constituents of reality are what he called monads and each is alive, having perceptions to highly varying degrees.
Every portion of matter may be conceived as like a garden full of plants and like a pond full of fish. But every branch of a plant, every member of an animal, and every drop of the fluids within it, is also such a garden or such a pond. There is, therefore, nothing uncultivated, or sterile or dead in the universe. How nice it is that Oxford University Press has published a philosopher vigorously defending panpsychism, and even something called cosmopsychism.
The associate professor of philosophy at the Central European University in Budapest argues that answers to questions about fundamental reality will be found in metaphysical reflection, not science. His writing, based on a deep knowledge of contemporary science, is crisp and concise. Given, however, that academic philosophy books are not for everyone, it is fortunate that readers can also turn to distillations of his argument for panpsychism here and cosmopsychism here. He observes that the scientific method does not pretend to tell us about the essence of reality but offers merely to measure and predict its behavior.
Indeed, physicalism is bad philosophy, he adds, for it flies in the face of the most obvious evidence we have about reality. There is one thing we know for certain about a part of reality a certainty bequeathed by Descartes, no less : We know we are conscious. We know that the stuff in our brains experiences. Are we not, asks Goff, compelled by scientific elegance to then think all physical things experience? If we deny this, insisting there are two different kinds of stuff—stuff like us and other stuff that is not conscious—we add a level of complication and mystery, which scientific elegance suggests we ought to do without.
What is mysterious is reality, and our knowledge of consciousness is one of the best clues we have to working out what that mysterious thing is really like. The author says he is not a theist. Like Albert Camus , he thinks the problem of evil intractable. Goff is a monist. There is one kind of stuff, and it is physical, but it is also mental.
1. Self-Consciousness in the History of Philosophy
Championed by Leibniz, panpsychism is the most elegant account we have of reality and thus the most probable. Goff combines panpsychism with a metaphysics of holism to generate cosmopsychism. Holism is the claim that instead of thinking of things as built up from aggregates of simpler building blocks—a position he dubs smallism—we ought to acknowledge that wholes actually precede parts, and that they explain the existence of parts. Physicist David Bohm argued that since both quantum physics and relativity were incomplete theories, they must point at a deeper theory.
He believed that this theory would be a quantum field theory that represented an undivided wholeness in the universe. He used the term "implicate order" to express what he thought this fundamental level of reality must be like, and believed that what we are seeing are broken reflections of that fundamentally ordered reality. Bohm proposed the idea that consciousness was somehow a manifestation of this implicate order and that attempting to understand consciousness purely by looking at matter in space was doomed to failure.
However, he never proposed any scientific mechanism for studying consciousness, so this concept never became a fully-developed theory. In this book, Penrose argues that the brain is far more sophisticated than that, perhaps closer to a quantum computer. Instead of operating on a strictly binary system of on and off, the human brain works with computations that are in a superposition of different quantum states at the same time.
The argument for this involves a detailed analysis of what conventional computers can actually accomplish. Basically, computers run through programmed algorithms. Penrose delves back into the origins of the computer, by discussing the work of Alan Turing, who developed a "universal Turing machine" that is the foundation of the modern computer.
However, Penrose argues that such Turing machines and thus any computer have certain limitations which he doesn't believe the brain necessarily has. These forms are clearly dependent upon brain processes.
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And I am happy to assume, pending contrary evidence, that for every subjective experience there is a corresponding state in the brain. It is commonly assumed that this implies that the faculty of consciousness is likewise a consequence of brain activity.
This stems from a conflation of two different questions: Does the brain create the forms of which we are aware? And, does the brain create the faculty of consciousness?
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Representations of reality Our experience of the world is a representation of reality created by the brain. Contemporary science has little problem with this statement. Yet the full implications of this construction process are seldom explored. Take the color green, for example. In the physical world there is light of a particular frequency, but the light itself is not green. Nor are the electrical impulses that travel from the eye to the brain. The green you see is merely the representation that appears in consciousness. The same is true of our other senses—hearing, smell, taste, touch.
The phenomena we experience do not exist in the world out there. They exist only in awareness. We mistake the representation for reality.
Matter is not made of matter The same is true of our concept of matter. Our experience of the world includes that of solid substance. Yet physics has revealed that this is far from true. More than a century ago it was realized that atoms were largely empty space. The apparent solidity we experience is due to the bonds binding atoms together in molecular structures and the corresponding forces holding molecules together. The strength of these bonds makes it almost impossible for one physical structure to interpenetrate another, which leads to the perception of solidity.
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They are more like fuzzy clouds of potential existence. We believe the representation of reality we experience is like the reality being modeled. But it turns out they are completely different. We have to conclude that physical reality is nothing like we imagine it to be, or could imagine it to be. A non-homogenous reality So is there anything we can say for sure about the physical world? It is not homogenous. That is to say, it is not all the same. The part of the world I call my finger is not the same as the air that surrounds it.
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One is solid; the other gas. One is opaque; the other transparent. Looking deeper, the structure of a nerve cell is different from that of a blood cell. At a much finer level, what we call a proton is different from whatever it is that we call an electron. We may not know what the cosmos is made of, but we can say that is highly differentiated, at all levels, from quark to galactic cluster. A field of information These variations constitute information. We cannot say what an electron is, for that would again be projecting our experience back on to the world.
All we know is various bits of information. There are quantities we call charge, spin, and mass. But we can measure them—or at least have information about the probabilities of what we might measure. Perhaps then, all we can say about physical reality is that it is a highly structured field of information. There are currently seven or so different interpretations of quantum mechanics, attempting to describe what is going on—the most popular of which is the Copenhagen Convention.
The ultimate description of the cosmos must be purely mathematical, devoid of any interpretation drawn from human experience. If we ever do meet another intelligent species that has made its own study of the cosmos, their physics might look very different from ours. But once we understood how they formulated their mathematics we would find ourselves in agreement. Experienced information Our sense organs respond to changes in this information field. These are the forms we experience—the colors, shapes, sounds, smells, textures we are aware of. This is simply how the information is translated into an experiential form—much like how the information in the CPU of a computer is translated into an image on the screen.
These forms appears to us as the material world. But this material world exists only in our awareness. It is our way of making sense of the information. A virtual reality created by the brain. Integrated information Why do some information processes in the brain give rise to an experience, while others have little effect? The new approach of Integrated Information Theory suggests that what seems to be critical is that there is not only a complex flow of information, but an integration of the information from many different processes across the brain.
This integration is reflected in our experience.
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