Dostoyevsky – The Idiot

I’ve started to read The Idiot several times, got as far as Myshkin arriving in Petersburg once or twice, but never got as far as realising his “Prince” character was the “Idiot” – as the naïve and well-intentioned voice in a complex world of love, money, ambition and personal motivation. Dostoyevsky’s strategy to communicate his message, like Tolstoy’s Levin in Karenina, or the child noticing the emperor’s (lack of) clothes.

All makes sense now. Thanks to a Tweet yesterday, I was prompted to listen to the whole of a BBC R4 dramatization in 4 parts.

(Thanks to an approving Retweet by Andrew Copson.)

It’s all there. Not just the Prince, but the strong feminist woman, outcast in a world where the other female characters were second class citizens. Recommended

[Talking of strong feminist women, also recently read Margaret Wertheim’s “Pythagoras’ Trousers – God, Physics and the Gender Wars”. Also highly recommended.]

Is Matter Conscious? No it isn’t, but …

[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:

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.

Descartes 1650
Spinoza 1677
Leibniz 1716
Newton 1727
Boscovich 1787
Maxwell 1879
Mach 1916

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.

Philip Goff Round Up

Two things happened last week that made it essential I pick-up my Philip Goff thread.

    • Firstly there were a number of on-line philosophers – who should know better – reacting to Goff’s taboo-breaking promotion of pan-psychicism. Pigliucci, Churchland, Baggini, etc, (all people I otherwise respect) and more to the point their on-line hangers on, got quite hostile, to the point of misrepresenting and dismissively ridiculing what Goff is actually saying. A few of us responded in his defence –many tweets here. (Similar happened last year when Bernardo Kastrup was promoting his idealism.)
    • Secondly, having signed-off from considering Goff, I found myself at a meeting of North-East Humanists where Goff was the speaker on his topic of pan-psychism. An excellent talk and subsequent discussions, that reinforced how close I am to agreeing with Goff in my own position.

So, …

[Holding Posts for now:

Contemplating formatting the consolidated review for wider publication, beyond the blog. IStillOU]





Hypocrisy – In Bad Faith

Hypocrisy has been a formal topic of mine since my late-1980’s / early-90’s days (Brunsson, Argyris, Action Theory, et al). Great Point of View “On Hypocrisy” by Will Self this morning, pointing out two key things.

(1) Hypocrisy is an essential / inevitable / necessary part of social order in a functioning civilised society, but

(2) there is a world of difference between bad-faith and good-faith hypocrisy. Compounded levels of irony can become a disguise for bad motives in thought, speech and action.

Hear, hear!

Reading (& Writing) Catch-Up Jan 2020

Happy New Year everyone, just the one resolution here.
Not posted since November and not read much either.
Kinda(*) stalled I guess.

Work got serious in a shift from planning & requirements gathering to funding & implementation, so I’m distracted by the day-job – in a good way, for all the right reasons – and several half-completed reads / reviews got neglected. That and the dire doom and gloom left by UK GE 2019. Five more years of bloody #Brexit in prospect (still say it’s never gonna happen, except in face-saving-BINO “Brexit-in-name-only”). Actually only blogged 60-odd times in 2019, less than half the least year since I started in 2001 – mostly, in recent years, because so much more interaction happens directly on social-media, Twitter mainly in my case.

Been sticking pretty close to the Trans vs TERF battleground because it contains all the “it’s complicated” elements. Totally misguided reductive science-based “rights” campaigning agendas on the one side, real caring humanity on the other. Graham Linehan is on the right side of it, like Lewis Moonie, J K Rowling and Martina Navratilova, and Glinner’s made it his business for some time to fight this one to a conclusion, with his comedy writing career on hold. All power to his elbow. [Quite a large movement now using the hash-tag #BanGlinner in an ironic support for his free-speech.] Anyway, it’s grist to my mill on identity in philosophical realism, if I can ever do it justice.

I said I owed Philip Goff a more positive review after my fuller read, but ultimately I remained on the disappointed side. Close but no cigar.
[* Post Note – got to meet & hear Goff speak on Thursday at a meeting of the North-East Humanists. Even more convinced there is barely a cigarette paper between him and Dennett, though he doesn’t see it yet. Didn’t want to make that the main topic of – mainly linguistic – difference, when so far as I can see they are both making the same philosophical point about the damage being done by “scientism”. Much more important that humanist / rationalist / sceptic types understand the materialist error at the root of science. (Kinda / sorta are part of Dennett’s lexicon, when dealing with topics whose choice of words carry baggage that gets in the way of shared understanding – hold your definition he says, until you’ve progressed your dialogue constructively at the kinda / sorta level.)]

I read Timothy Sandefur’s biography “The Ascent of Jacob Bronowksi. Very good, highly recommended as a much needed biography, especially since the death of Bruno’s daughter Lisa Jardine meant her much anticipated memoir is now left incomplete. New to me was the amount of his philosophical thinking, ultimately foundering on disappointing idealistic naivety, but much of it along the right lines, Close but no cigar again. I have so many notes & highlights to feed into that particular mill.

Between Christmas and New Year, I’ve been reading Lionel Davidson’s “Kolymsky Heights“. Reading it because nonagenarian Mum, studying Russian literature under U3A, was disappointed to find it was a modern (1994) thriller. After previously underestimating Lee Child and Jack Reacher (courtesy of Andy and Heather Martin), (and Dan Brown’s “Origin), I thought I’d give it a go. It has amazingly positive review quotes in the cover blurbs, not least Philip Pullman’s “the best thriller I’ve ever read”. ?!? Man, it is the most tedious stereotypical garbage, with only the Asian / Siberian geographical detail to redeem it. James Bond meets Ice Station Zebra. I’ll finish it(*), if only to meta-understand the plot itself and its narrative structure, but it’s going to be a slog.

[(*) Finished it, and it didn’t improve. Reasonably exciting chase, will-he-won’t-he escape closing scenes with plenty of violent confusion requiring an epilogue to explain the outcome – spoiler – he survives and gets the girl with no discernible twist(s) – yawn.]

On the other hand, great to see Wendy Pirsig donated Bob’s Honda CB77 and related archive materials to the Smithsonian, and they published a piece on his philosophical motorcycle road trip. It was the highlight of an otherwise disappointing year in efforts to establish Bob’s legacy.

Pirsig’s writing may be more important now than ever.”

As the clinical psychiatrist advised Bob all those years ago, I’m going to stop reading and just bloody write something. This time, it starts with a resolution to quit the two decades of dithering between the textbook and the narrative fiction … I’m on it. I am resolved.

IOU Philip Goff

I started my read / review of Philip Goff’s “Galileo’s Error” in my usual way, that is “nothing new under the sun” – gutting it to glean reinforcement for my own position – I already bought metaphysical pan-psychism(*) a long time ago – but based on a partial / skim read at that point.

Following that I have a much longer review drafted that followed the same theme, with plenty of new sources and quotes as I read to a conclusion. But that review is now on hold for a major re-write. I underestimated how good Goff’s contribution is.

IOU – (And no need to wait for me, go read it. Never did get round to publishing a further review.)

(Should add, I got a lot of hits on that previous Goff post.)


(*) My position is essentially a metaphysical pan-proto-psychism – a la Dennett. I’m guessing from Goff’s footnotes much closer to Sam Coleman (and Tononi’s Integrated Information Theory – IIT) in fact, both of which Goff contrasts with his own final (literal) panpsychist position, closer to Kastrup it would seem. But the differences (to me) remain basically linguistic. Why use the word consciousness for the fundamental (evidently “unconscious”) stuff?

It is definitely “orthodox” physical science, and its unholy alliance with popular “objective-evidence-based” humanism / rationalism / scepticism, that needs to learn the error of its Galilean ways. “Our very rationality is at stake” to quote myself. My differences with Goff boil down to choice of existing words in everyday use as far as I’m concerned.

Goff himself describes the many levels of “consciousness” from the fundaments of all reality to the mind of an intelligent being in increasing levels of complexity. We’re still really left with the classic “combination problem” so far as I can tell. For me accepting that the fundamentals comprise proto-consciousness-stoff (to use the Germanic style) that evolves in dynamic patterns through the many layers. The fundamental stoff is “experiencable” – potential experience, potential mind, potential everything in fact. Raw information whose patterns evolve inexorably through physics, chemistry and biology to conscious mind.

[Dennett to a T. With the qualitative fundamental nature, Pirsig to a T too. And, with this intrinsic nature from the inside, and what stuff does from the outside, we also have Whitehead and Smolin.]

Goff’s real novelty for me is the Russell-Eddington synthesis, which I mentioned previously, but for which I still clearly held anti-Russellian prejudice before reading more thoroughly. I owe this a proper review. Much better argued than Kastrup. Deeply affecting.

Goff’s Radical Dennett?

I’m reading Philip Goff’s “Galileo’s Error” as mentioned previously. As usual before reading the main content, I read all the intros and the end notes / bibliography / index / refs to see who’s work is mentioned, though I can never know whether positively or negatively at this point.

My favourite check is whether the author mentions Daniel Dennett and if so, whether their sole reference is to his 1991 “Consciousness Explained (Away)”. My pet hate being those who ignore ten books and 30 years of evolution in understanding. Goff passes that test. Dennett’s 2003 “Freedom Evolves” also gets a mention though that’s still almost 2 decades before his “From Bacteria to Bach and Back” (B2BnB). Creditably Goff’s first mention of Dennett is also based on a conference-meeting-in-person at the arctic cruise conference set up as a Dennett vs Chalmers contest mentioned here as “a few years” before 2017 when he said “lately he’d been gravitating toward pan-proto-psychism” (Seems to have been June 2014 if this equally interesting account is to be believed.)

Sadly Goff’s first mention – echoed in those linked reports – is that:

“Daniel Dennett is one of the most radical and uncompromising of materialist philosophers”

It’s a commonly held misconception. (Just like the idea that Dennett suggests consciousness and will are some epiphenomenal illusions – he does no such thing. Sam Harris has learned a lot from his dialogues with Dennett.)

Anyway, Dennett never really had any metaphysical claims, materialist or otherwise, he was always about evolving pragmatically what is known, from “here and now”. His target audience (bar the God vs Science detour) has always been the scientists of consciousness, and the evolution of scientific reasoning. Most of those scientists are surely materialist, but his journey is to show (has already shown) that is an untenable position.

As I said in the closing statement of my own review of Dennett’s B2BnB in 2017 (linked above), the need for science to relinquish this untenable position means that:

“Our very rationality is at stake.”

On a par with the logical positivists misunderstanding Wittgenstein’s message to Russell.

Anyway, this is only page 77 out of 217, so time for Goff to redeem himself and recognise Dennett’s evolutionary understanding aligns totally with modern pan-psychism. Dennett’s work is about the style of argument that will allow materialist scientist types evolve that kind of understanding.


[Tononi & IIT get positive mention, Kastrup doesn’t get a mention. Despite Kastrup’s literal pan-psychist claims he is really, like myself and Dennett, a pan-proto-psychist too. That proto-psychical (and proto-physical) stuff being information – in the active verbal sense, a la Whitehead) – nothing new under the sun again?]

[Reading on.]

[Good news, Goff confirms later in that same chapter:

That Dennett’s “illusory” views are qualified by “in a sense”.

That Dennett was persuaded the dualist view couldn’t be true, and therefore a physicalist metaphysics can’t be true (since mind & consciousness are real). But as I say apart from debating on the side of the scientists – an artificial argument – Dennett hasn’t been concerned with metaphysical claims anyway.

Therefore odd that Goff continues – after these 2014/2017 statements – with another 1991 quote from Dennett – re the “black & white Mary” thought experiment. We agree already. Consciousness (and rational understanding of it) evolves. Let’s move on, evolution waits for no man.]

[And a charitable reading of Goff on Dennett, this whole chapter is entitled “Can Physical Science Explain Consciousness?” If the best living philosopher there is, debating on the side of science, can’t get to “Yes”, then the answer is probably “No”. Like Wittgenstein with objective logic, I’ve always said Dennett, with orthodox scientific argumentation, the point was always to show the need for something else to explain the real world.]


[Post notes:

This Dec 2019 interview of Dennett by Louis Godbout includes an interesting passage where Dennett recalls being hit by physical / materialism way back when he was a grad student, but before finishing that sentence to talk about continuing to “crank the same handle” for the whole of his career, he switches to calling it “naturalism”. He has no metaphysical position materialist or otherwise – it’s all about the effects of natural processes.

Also great reference to the “coda” by Joshua Rothman in this New Yorker piece. Thinking evolves through interaction  with the world, aka dialogue. A piece I linked to and used in earlier talks – worth a read in its own right.

Also review of Goff by Baggini in the WSJ – disappointing on first read?

Never did follow-up the IOU for a fuller review of Goff.]

The Process Ontology of Whitehead’s Metaphysics

I’m beginning to realise that in the UK philosophical canon Whitehead took up the radical empirical monism I associate with James, Bergson, Northrop and Pirsig, and which is seeing a resurgence in those increasingly rejecting a material metaphysics underlying the physical world. New-realists like Smolin, the new-panpsychists like Kastrup, Tononi and the Integrated Information Theorists (and Philip Goff in his latest – Galileo’s Mistake – just ordered.) [This view of Whitehead came up most recently in this post and A J Owens comment thread beneath it.]

Personally, I bought a monist information realism a long time ago, and have my own evolutionary metaphysical ontology based on that, but let’s just try to do justice to Whitehead here and not get ahead of ourselves.

I rejected Whitehead initially, because of his mathematical associations with Russell and the fact Russell never really got Wittgenstein. Thanks to Goff and Mumford at Durham Uni I was prompted to revisit Russell’s metaphysical ruminations, as I am now doing with Whitehead (courtesy of long-term Psybertron commenter A J Owens). I went straight for his “Process and Reality” – his most developed metaphysical treatise and have not read his earlier more accessible writings first-hand.

Having read the whole of it and, as warned, finding the bulk of it hard-going linguistically, I keep coming back to the opening chapters, which lay his ontology bare, before he embarks on a tour-de-force comparative philosophology reviewing his ideas against those of Locke, Hume, Mill, Kant et al whilst acknowledging his drawing on James and Bergson.

In fact, I’ve read and re-read the opening chapters with increasing awe and a yellow highlighter about 4 or 5 times in the last couple of weeks of travel and hotels.

Long story short: Whitehead’s Philosophy of Organism – is a process-based reality, since the fundamental notions are the events occasioned by the coming together of experience of one with another.

[All selective / paraphrase quotations below from the Process & Reality 1978 “corrected text” edition of the original 1929 transcript of his 1927/28 Gifford Lectures. Mainly Chapter II Section I and Chapter I respectively.]

The 4 Notions

N1 / E1 – Actual Occasions
N2 / E2 – Prehensions
N3 / E3 – Nexus
N4 – Ontological Principle

Actual Occasions – are the final real entities of which the world is made. These actual entities are drops of experience [ie this really is a radical empiricism].”

“Actual Occasions ‘happen’ through their Prehensions of each other, their ways of encountering each other, the concrete facts of relatedness. Each involvement or coming together is a Nexus, a public matter of fact.

“The Ontological Principle is that reason for things is found in the composite nature of these complex and interdependent entities. No entities, no reason.”

The 4 (Categories of) Categories

C1 – The Ultimate
C2 – Existence
C3 – Explanation
C4 – Obligations

The Ultimate: Creativity is the universal of universals. Creativity – the many enter into complex unity, each “one” being distinct – a novelty in relation to all others. [As in – one never steps in the same river twice.) One being the unity of many, the coming together – a “concrescence” – of novel togetherness. Each fact is more than its [Platonic] forms, each form participates throughout the world of facts. [The] individual fact is a creature and creativity is the ultimate behind all forms.

Existence – 8 Categories (!) of existence – Starting with the first 3 fundamental notions above, all else being derivative abstractions:

E4 – Subjective Forms or private matters of fact

E5 – Pure Potentials

E6 – Propositions or Impure Potentials

E7 – Pure Disjunctions or Multiplicities

E8 – Modes of Synthesis – Contrast and/or Compare in Prehension – an infinite progression of categories proceeding from contrasts to “contrasts of contrasts” an on indefinitely to higher order contrasts.

27 Categories (!) of Explanation

9 Categories (!) of Obligation

An infinite progression of methods of derivative abstraction … all of the above being my selective paraphrasing of (mainly) Chapter II only.

In terms of the duality in the contrast of mind and mentality with the physically real, Whitehead points out that his nexus of occasions in prehensions cover both – in the direction of public (outward, pure-prehension) or private (inward, subjective, impure-conceptual-prehension) attention through the nexus – and that the creativity of novelty, the ultimate distinction in every one is the root of causation and law-like tendency towards an outcome – an appetition.

Those first two and a half chapters are as good as any I’ve read on a radical empirical monism, of the kind Pirsigian fans of James should easily recognise. Like Smolin and the point views / events in space-time he terms Nads, Whitehead notes the generalised conception in Leibniz Monads, but pre-conceptual, could go either way, public & pure until made impure by private & subjective conception.

I have at least another 50 highlighted quotes from Chapter I – selectively paraphrased below – outlining his reasoning for “speculative” philosophy against the domination of the hard and “particular” sciences, his justification for daring to posit a radical empirical (monist, non-physical) metaphysics, barely a decade after collaborating with Russell on their Principia Mathematica.

[Whilst “particular” sciences show great successes within their own bounds …] “one aim of philosophy is to challenge the half-truths of scientific first-principles”

“The primary method of mathematics is deduction; the primary method of philosophy is descriptive generalisation. Under the influence of mathematics [and logic], deduction [and induction] have been foisted onto philosophy as its standard method [rather than] an auxiliary mode of verification.”

“Philosophy has been misled by mathematics; and even in mathematics the statement of ultimate logical principles is beset with difficulties” [see Russell and Whitehead … and Gödel?]

“After the initial basis of a rational life, with a civilised language, all productive thought has proceeded either by poetic insight or by imaginative elaboration of schemes of thought. Progress is always a transcendence of what is obvious. The distinction between [natural linguistic] phrases and [well-formed] propositions is one of the reasons the logicians’ rigid alternative, ‘true or false’, is so largely irrelevant for the pursuit of knowledge.” [see Wittgenstein]

“The combined influences of mathematics and religion which have so contributed to the rise of philosophy, have also had the effect of yoking it with static dogmatism.”

“The demand for an intellectual justification of brute experience has been the motive power in the advance European science. In this sense, scientific interest is only a variant form of religious interest. Any survey of the scientific devotion to ‘truth’ as an ideal will confirm this statement.”

The process of reality is nothing other than …
… the experiencing subject.

Wow, Whitehead was really onto it. Such a pity his language is so largely impenetrable; such a pity he never interacted with Wittgenstein or Gödel (* see comment below) ; and such a pity Russell’s public intellectual humanism came to dominate the English-language fundamentals of science and knowledge.

Also loving the second-[and-higher-]order classifications in the ontology – something not many get with their faith in a single comprehensive taxonomy of categories “to rule them all”. But I digress [see day job].

So, on to Philip Goff’s “Galileo’s Error” – Galileo is another whose apparent take on good science came to dominate the public imagination through the ongoing mythology of the triumph of science of over religion at the expense of enlightened philosophy. [See Alice Dreger and Arthur Koestler, previous links can be added.]

Panpsychist ideas scare the orthodox scientific, as do ideas of appetition or teleology / directed purpose, but they really should sit up and take notice of the sense being expressed by an increasing crowd of credible thinkers. [See another “Friends of Wisdom” correspondence thread with a knee-jerk rejection of even mentioning such ideas.]

Light at the end of this long dark tunnel, methinks.


Post note : Creatures (organic creations) creating – very much lines up with Deutsch & Marletto – constructor theory, and human evolution towards universal constructors.