[Posting a draft from 2017]
As a rule of thumb, any headline phrased like that kinda question was almost certainly created by an editor as click-bait and invariably demands the obvious answer “No”. So despite being Tweeted by @AnitaLeirfall – generally a reliable source 😉 – I didn’t actually read it beyond a skim of the opening paragraphs – another noddy introduction to the “hard problem” – yawn, right? Anything that looks like click-bait is a turn-off, right?
That was until today when this Twitter response turned up:
Is it surprising that Spinoza doesn’t show up in this conversation?
— Robert Dunton (@BD_ElPaso) September 13, 2017
So much for my rules of thumb. Spinoza is a trigger for me. Always had a soft spot for him since a survey of my philosophical position showed me to be largely Spinozan (even though I was ignorant of his work at that time, 15 years ago) and found myself subscribing to the view that “Spinoza is the most lovable of philosophers” since I subsequently read Rebecca Goldstein on Spinoza. There is very little new under the sun I find, so coincidentally, whilst the article – in Nautilus magazine by Hedda Hassel Mørch – mentions mainly Leibniz and Russell but not Spinoza among earlier thinkers, Russell was of course the source of that lovable Spinoza quote.
The bottom line is it’s a long read which does start with some essential introductory material but which works its way to the concluding suggestion that, whilst matter is not conscious per se, matter comprises the same proto-conscious stuff as consciousness itself. Pretty much the panpsychism of Spinoza – pantheistic in Spinozan terms, but he was for all practical purposes an atheist blasphemer.
Read it, all of it, I’m not going to summarise the whole thesis here, just reinforce it with some of my own recent conclusions. The clue is in the title, the whole title, including the subtitle, not just the click-bait headline:
Is Matter Conscious?
Why the central problem in neuroscience is mirrored in physics.
Spinoza was of course dealing with how life itself and Descartes’ res cogitans could be reconciled with res extensa – the duality whose vestiges stubbornly remain in the hard problem of consciousness to this day. In those days the matter of res extensa had no equivalent hard problem; atoms were still presumed indivisible as Democritus intended, and apart from sharing the properties of material objects, they didn’t even have mass until posited by Newton. Materially, these were simpler times. As Mørch has subsequently indicated, Spinoza’s contribution though recognised as immense, was not relevant to parallel hard-problem(s) of duality **** parallels in wave-particle duality, quantum weirdness and even later speculative components underlying even the quarks, photons and all the other particles of the present day standard model of physics. Strings, Quantum-Loops, you name it.
The parallels between subjective-objective duality in the hard-problem of consciousness and the dualities between waves and particles, between quantum-mechanics and general-relativity of fundamental physics have been apparent, at least metaphorically, since Copenhagen and Schrödinger. But increasingly since then, more physicists, wrestling with unifying those decidedly weird and non-intuitive divisions, have been prepared to countenance that the metaphorical parallels may in fact be mirrored more explicitly in the physics itself. Mørch’s article describes that mirroring as potentially total – that both dualities are dissolved if physics stuff is actually comprised of the same psychic stuff. Not necessarily that the material particles of physics are conscious per se, but that they are made of the same proto-consciousness as consciousness itself.
I subscribe to a “point-particle” view of the universe, all of it. Everything is derived from (comprises / is caused by / is supervenient upon) – the relations – significant differences – between these otherwise property-less points of possibility in space-time. In this view – information both as bits and as dynamic patterns thereof. Significantly and coincidentally, until Newton added tangible mass Leibniz had held Democritus atoms to be such point-particles. Between Newton and Einstein (and Bohr and all the other quantum and relativity physicists) there had been Boscovich, Maxwell and Mach attempts at explaining physical material properties and forces in terms of simple (atomic) point-particles
Post Notes: See the comment thread and my last comment.
In small connected world mode – following-up Hedda Hassel Mørch connections (the author of the piece above), I find the IIT / Tononi connection AND I found Margaret Wertheim, author of “Pythagoras’ Trousers” (1995). Fascinating book in it’s own right – majoring on the mythologizing of Galileo and Pythagoras (a la Koestler and Dreger) leading modern science astray, BUT ALSO the only source I’ve seen other than L L Whyte to recognise the Boscovich model. Those points of “all possible being” to use the Heideggerian metaphor – “all conceivable possibility” to use Marletto & Deutsch. This is an important vein of research.
And the Pigliucci <> Goff dialogue has concluded. And Jerry Coyne has dived into irrationally defending orthodox science rationality against pan-psychic suggestions. Science orthodoxy as religious dogma is a major component of the Wertheim thesis above.