The Quality of Being

It seems Goff and Kastrup have fallen out. With a great swell of interest in pan-psychism and idealism stoked by these two in the last couple of years it was no surprise they came together to compare notes recently.

They’re not new to each other. Goff was actually an academic referee to Katsrup’s PhD I believe. I’ve had them both in the “close but no cigar” camp for a while. Much common ground with each other and with my own position in terms of the issues they are resolving in “science-informed” orthodoxy of current philosophical views of the world, both ontological and epistemological. Each making their own needlessly but importantly different choices in framing their metaphysics. Pity. But from my perspective much scope for narrowing those differences to the insignificant. Close but no cigar, as I say.

I’ve not really diagnosed their falling out, other than noting the Twitter traffic arising.

My own position I’d call “pan-proto-psychist” in these terms, but I’d call the metaphysical proto-stuff “information”. Significant difference between things, the stuff that gives things identity, is information (in the von Neumann sense), knowledge in the participatory awareness sense of one adjacent thing with the other. Very much Whitehead’s creative process reality, as I discovered in the last year or so.

What I didn’t expect to find was people making reference to Galen Strawson as a positive source of views on pan-psychism. I had him in the analytic, logical-positivist camp, wrongly it seems.

Reading Strawson’s “Mind and Being—the Primacy of Panpsychism” I further didn’t expect to find him translating “Sein und Sosein” as “being and quality“. I’ve a lot more reading to do, but this sparked another great synthesis for me.

The radical empiricism of Wm James was dubbed “Quality” by Pirsig – the pre-conceptual (in-the-moment) sensing of one thing by another. It’s this inter-objective sensing that gives rise to possible thoughts of psychism. Adjacent things being “aware” of each other even if neither is “conscious” in the orthodox everyday sense. It’s that process, an event of one detecting a coming together – a nexus – with the other that is the most fundamental “atom” of anything else physical or psychical. Hence pan-proto-psychism for me. Pirsig built his whole Metaphysics of Quality on this. I’ve simply arrived at the same view calling this property of the Whiteheadian nexus “information”.

[Hold: Need to come back and link references. Needed to capture the thought for now. Adding detail below:]


After that reading …

Mind and Being – The Primacy of Panpsychism ( Strawson 2016)

[First 19 pages – need to extract notes – admits to significant recent change of position from Strawson since (say) 2003 – explains my confusion.

Very like Whitehead approach to “doing metaphysics” – setting-up a few axioms then arguing why these provide “best” explanatory solution to known situation and known issues.

Being is as being does – and all science is about observation of what things do (external), never about any intrinsic (internal) nature – a la Goff – so readily denied by scientists.

A very important new read.]

You don’t have to call it ‘materialism’ (‘physicalism’) if you don’t want to.
(He does, because as he says, even “physics” is just an abstract set of rules – structural relationships – with no such thing as intrinsic physical nature behind it. I don’t because “physics” comes with all that baggage of misplaced concreteness. As he says several times, these are just terminological differences – what we choose to call things. Closely related to the  things I say about the reality of memes relative to the (much more intangible) reality of (say) genes and species readily accepted by most.)

[22] In the case of experience, the having is the knowing.
(James / Pirsig “radical empiricism”. Foucault “savoir”. Knowing in the “biblical” sense. Directly acquainted … he says … any non-experiential concrete reality is, by contrast, wholly ungrounded … radically and irredeemably verification-transcendent belief. A “posit” (* See figure here). We know the experiential is real and we also  know—about as well as we know anything in science—that it’s literally located in the brain)

[23] human experience is neural activity.
This is by now far beyond reasonable doubt.
(Mostly neural. Mostly brain. Neural/brain plus other endocrine / biochemical interactions with the physical.)

(a given that… ) pure panpsychism is the most parsimonious hypothesis about the nature of concrete reality?

We think in terms of things comprising stuff in spatio-temporal pictures, even though our physical models tell us everything (even our brain) is 99.999% vacuum (plenum).

From one intuitively natural perspective matter is quite astoundingly insubstantial, an intricately shimmering almost-nothing … When we go on to consider a brain we find many further layers of staggeringly
intricate organization—in an almost entirely empty space. Such is matter. Such is the material brain. It helps to maintain this picture when we’re wondering how experience can be physical. It helps to resist the picture of a mammalian brain as … a piece of meat that can be diced and fried with garlic; although it’s also that. Terry Bisson’s thinking meat anyone?

Those who (like [Strawson’s] former self) can’t shake their commitment to the idea that we know what space (spacetime & matter) is in some truly fundamental respect may simply be unable to engage fully with the ‘mind-body problem’
(Hallelujah! There’s an element of letting go existing certainties – allowing a crack, a crack in everything, it’s how the light gets in. The anthemic theme.)

17 No Mystery – Many say that experience (consciousness) is a mystery (it sells a lot of books) . But what is mysterious? We know what experience is. We know exactly what certain types of experiences are simply in having them.

That – [E] a plurality of subjects can’t possibly combine to form or generate a single subject – is merely conjecture.
I can’t feel any deep difficulty in the subject combination problem
(Me neither. This is about a proper appreciation of evolutionary emergence of species – it’s not magic. Many experiencing subjects combining to form an experiencing whole. Why is this any more of a problem than a zillion quarks combining to form a box of meat, or 100,000 rivets – or starlings – flying in close formation? Simply show me how.)

I also believe (with William James et al) that there’s a metaphysically primordial way of thinking about what a subject of experience is given which there is, in the case of any particular episode of experiencing, no
real distinction between the subject of experience or experiencer and the experience or experiencing. (Yay!) This may contribute to my failure to feel worried by the combination problem. I don’t, however, think that this particular belief is indispensable to the lack of worry—except insofar as it’s linked to the Sein ist Sosein (Being is Quality) claim.
(You and me both.)

A Keith Turausky reference on this page too!
40 I’m mindful, also, of Turausky’s suggestion that particular experiences may be formed by subtraction—reduction—sculpting—of a base of experiential ‘white noise’ (cf. Turausky unpublished).
(It’s Free Wont, rather than Free Will. Consciousness – creativity – is about structuring not construction. Turausky, previously on Psybertron.)

P30 (Final page, before references)
[30] We should favour panpsychism(*) over all other substantive theories of the fundamental nature of reality.
(* ie everything is experiential – that the intrinsic (non-structural) nature of the energy that is widely agreed to wholly constitute physical reality is experientiality. Works for me using “experiential” rather than “conscious” – which is why I prefer pan-proto-psychism to panspychism. The crude suggestion of everything being conscious confuses many otherwise intelligent thinkers.)

12 thoughts on “The Quality of Being”

  1. Having read only Kastrup’s “further reply” (I’m disinclined to watch videos), I gather the main points of contention are:

    1. whether the idea that “perception”, e.g. of colours, arose from more basic “feelings” as an evolutionary response amounts to an invocation of physical materialism. Goff suggests so, for some reason, but Kastrup says that to evolve from one quality to another does not imply evolving to a quality from a quantity. Personally I don’t know why Kastrup is intent on bringing evolutionary theory into an account of panpsychism, but to the extent that we think of evolutionary theory in traditional quantitative terms, I see where a confusion might arise. Are processes bound by an impetus toward survival, and if so, is this binding essentially a physical one?

    2. whether under mainstream physicalism, phenomenal states can be causally efficacious. Kastrup doen’t think so, but apparently Goff “emotionally” insists on it. Like Kastruo, I find this hard to understand, but then I don’t really know what Goff said.

    As to your own theory involving information, once again I am hard-pressed to comment on your post because it takes the form of a rough sketch, assuming that the reader is on the same page, as it were, about a variety of other tings mentioned in passing. Without a unified account that assembles your ideas into a self-contained narrative, it’s difficult to take my bearings. I find this also about your posts on the gender debate.

    But I will share my own latest ruminations about panpsychism, because exchange and discussion are always good. Today it occurred to me that if every process expresses intention, then the probems of causai efficacy and free will take on a different character. This woulld imply that when a rock rolls downhill, it is expressing an intention in response to its environment. The intention is quite boring and predictable, calling to mind the idea of a rock as a “monotonous process” but instead presenting the idea of a “monotonous intention.”

    Moreover, if we suppose that intentions assemble and unify naturally, then we might say that the intentions of the individual atoms composing the rock are naturally unified as they interact with one another, and become assembled into a larger unit of intention as a matter of course.

    When a rock rolls downhill, it is responding in a simple way. When water sparkles in the sunlight, however, we are seeing a literally fluid response to many things: the wind, the currents, the sunlight, gravity. The result is a chaotic behaviour, so complex that it can never be reproduced perfectly and exactly — adding an element of unpredictability. But the water is not yet alive, nor are its sparkles, because the unpredictability is still somewhat limited and analyzable. For example, we might write a computer graphics program that effectively simulates the sparkling of water fractally. Although no particular body of water is reproduced, the phenomenon of sparkling in general is thus amenable to quantitative prediction.

    The turning point where life appears might be the point at which quantitative prediction of chaos breaks down — if there is such a point. I’m wondering idly whether at some point a chaotic situation cascades, more or less like the nuclear cascade of an atomic explosion, so that it begets more chaos, uncontrollable chaos, and the true unpredictability that is freedom, and life. One might want to invoke quantum probability in there somewhere.

    The advantage of this line of thinking is that it assumes freedom at the very heart of nature, in the expression of intention. But for most things, the intention is so limited as to appear quantitatively predictable.

    Thanks for the opportunity to ramble on about this.

  2. As I say, this was just a “capture the thought” post that needs a lot of the background and reasoning linked in.

    As you say, this way of thinking suggests the physical laws are more “boring and predictable” responses to environmental stimulus, higher conscious responses being more complex and subtle behaviours. Same kind but different in degree. (I don’t feel the need to introduce chaos or quantum uncertainty to account for the unpredictability, just the multi-layered complexity.)

    Thanks for dropping by AJ

  3. Strawson’s (2015) ‘Realistic monism: why physicalism entails panpsychism’, was the final in for me to panpsychism, though I’d been pondering something similar for years. It was the final duck-rabbit flip to the realisation (as you say of p.24) of why consciousness should be rejected as a problem, seen as an isolated island thrown up de novo by evolution in a sea of physical darkness, to being accepted part of the very stuff that evolution had to work on. Senses suddenly make sense. Natura non facit saltum.

  4. Frustration for me is I made that duck-rabbit flip 20 years ago, when this writing project started, and there are precious few people I can have that conversation with even now.

    That non-saltum quote is close to why I chose “information” to name the fundamental experiential units of proto-psychism. In evolution, new species look like step changes – with 20:20 hindsight, like all science – but that’s just perspective, the processes are continuous. It’s a bit like differential calculus of continuous functions. “In the limit” steps are infinitessimal but not literally zero. The quanta – “Democritan atoms” – in this scheme, how close together can two “experienta” be and still be conceived of as distinct – what’s the smallest difference between to adjacent experienta. This is the smallest (infinitessimal) conceivable piece of information – a quantum “bit”. By definition it is the smallest conceivable distinct “thing” – what Democritus meant by “atom”. Everything else is patterns evolved from these.

    Exciting thing for me is that since an experientum is an exchange of a bit knowledge between two things – ontology and epistemology are one and the same.

  5. From a second article by Kastrup, “The irony of Philip Goff’s Arguments” (July 12, 2020), I gather another point of contention is that Goff favours subject combination, and Kastrup favours subject disassociation, as ways of addressing the “combination problem” (how micro-psyches are related to the macro-psyches of which they are constituents). Neither of them has a good explanation. Kastrup has criticized Goff for having no good explanation, and now is very upset that Goff’s response is to criticize Kastrup for having no good explanation. Ironically, Kastrup finds this ironic. In short, as far as I can see, the plot has been lost and they are engaged in a Punch-and-Judy show. I see nothing to choose between either answer to the combination problem, and personally lean towards Goff’s working hypothesis that it just happens in the nature of things. It’s an explanation that would serve equally well for Kastrup’s theory. The real question is which has primacy, the One or the Many? Turning to Heraclitus: “The way up and the way down are one and the same.”

  6. I agree plot being lost. Close but no cigar, sadly. But like Strawson in the the reference above I see the combination problem as a non problem, just a feature of an orthodox physicalism, easily fixed by a better metaphysics.

  7. If by “the reference above” you mean your own, to Mind and Being — The Primacy of Panpsychism, then I can’t comment, because I haven’t signed up to download it, and your comments give little guidance about what it says. But if you mean Mark Hammond’s reference to the online PDF “Realistic Monism,” it looks like Strawson adopts a working hypothesis similar to Goff’s, and in the same apologetic spirit. He argues that combination is plausibly solved by emergence, but the details remain unacceptably vague.

    “For we can take it that human or sea snail experientiality emerges from experientiality that is not of the human or sea snail type, just as the shape-size-mass-charge-etc. phenomenon of liquidity emerges from shape-size-mass-charge-etc. phenomena that do not involve liquidity. . . This is not to advance our detailed understanding in any way. . . The present proposal is made at a very high level of generality (which is not a virtue); it merely recommends a general framework of thought in which there need be no more sense of a radically unintelligible transition in the case of experientiality than there is in the case of liquidity. It has nothing to offer to scientific test.”

    I’m not sure whether this takes combination to be a “non-problem” in some way that differs from Goff’s approach. I’ll have to check my notes on what Goff wrote in “Galileo’s Error” (I think I reviewed it on this site somewhere).

  8. All those page numbered quotes are from that Strawson piece with my responses in italics. (Free to download once registered.)
    I also believe (with William James et al) that there’s a metaphysically primordial way of thinking about what a subject of experience is given which there is, in the case of any particular episode of experiencing, no
    real distinction between the subject of experience or experiencer and the experience or experiencing. (Yay!) This may contribute to my failure to feel worried by the combination problem. I don’t, however, think that this particular belief is indispensable to the lack of worry—except insofar as it’s linked to the Sein ist Sosein (Being is Quality) claim.
    (You and me both.)

  9. Hi “m” yes, I’m a big fan of Dennett and have seen this take. I don’t accept “literal” panspsychism either, but pan-proto-psychism is fine by me (and more recently Dennett). I think we have to be very careful with the use of language when we say “a thing is *literally* conscious” as opposed to talking about aspects and components of conscious-ness at various levels of evolution.

    It’s why serious philosophers like Dennett and Pigliucci and physicists like Hossenfelder ridicule literal panpsychsim of this kind. I would too if it weren’t very close to solving many of the problems the more scientistic types dismiss as mere illusions.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.