Dual Aspect Monism

Interesting set of unrelated conversations throwing-up unexpected connections in the past week.

After the recent exchange on pan-psychism ended with Massimo Pigliucci conceding ….

…. I found in my reading of Mumford in connection with Russell’s metaphysics as a response to idealism, more specifically my doubts about that, I picked-up another passing reference to pan-psychism as another alternative.

Earlier today Philip Goff (also at Durham, like Mumford) interacted on a light-hearted thread about the limitations of sets … so I looked him up.

I see he is also an advocate of pan-psychism – (pan-proto-psychism I prefer) – more specifically as a Dual Aspect Monism. In fact I see he has (a) written a book “Consciousness and Fundamental Reality” and (b) is participating in 2019’s Science of Consciousness event.

“Some Russellian monists adopt panpsychism …”


That exchange with Pigliucci included me saying this question of what we were really suggesting by pan-psychism – beyond the straw-man that “electrons think” (not) – was really just the old monism / dualism (and in my case maybe “trialism”) debate. Seems to me that Dual Aspect Monism is what I was really trying to say with “trialism”. Two aspects cogitans and extensa of a single underlying res fundamental. Res Informatica in my case.

[As I ended the previous post I need to draw the connections together with Rovelli and Verlinde and include now Goff … in progress.]

[And I really am going to have to recap on Russell and metaphysics going back to starting again from idealism. Sigh.]

Doubts on Russell & Idealism

Spookily, I mentioned in the post before last that I had started a proper read of Stephen Mumford’s “Russell on Metaphysics and his first chapter is woven around Russell’s (supposed?) response to idealism. Spooky because in the previous post Ben Gibran (@PhilosophyFails) made a throwaway remark about philosophers attracted to idealism for the same reason some settle for pan-psychism of some kind.

Now, I’m not strong on isms when it comes to schools of thought and models of the world- an avoider of (the risks of) dogmas generally. In my amateur philosophical journey I’ve passed through many schools at first and second hand. (The isms lie on many independent axes, philosophical, scientific, political and cultural, and they’re not competing for the same ground necessarily.) Useful to know the archaeology of how thought has evolved and to file away connections of potential future value, but not essential (to me) to be able to talk about each ism as a thing-in-itself.

Rather than shoe-horning concepts into foreign ideas I see my approach as taking the best understanding I can make of each idea I come across and morphing or synthesising the best-bits model as I go. There is always a sense of broad and narrow aspects of each ism – the essential feature or a more complete world-view built using it. It does mean however that, having gutted them for the best-bits, I often feel I’ve left works about historical isms behind. I habitually call myself a post-post-modernist to emphasise this take. I’ve moved on. Obviously I make mistakes and my best current guess is always an evolving work-in-progress. It’s the main reason I stop to go back and read particular resources that throw up cognitive dissonances. (See why I’m reading about Russell on metaphysics – the suggestion I may have been wrong about him, and that’s significant to my evolved view so far.)

That said, the first 3 or so chapters on Russell, concerning idealism are already throwing-up doubts about my doubts. Do I crash on and see what the read throws-up or do I pause and diagnose why I have doubts about Mumford’s views about Russell’s doubts – given I’m not wedded to idealism (or Russell) anyway? As ever I will have to do both. Reading lists never grow shorter.

All roads lead back to taking a position on time & causation and on mind & matter. (This is as good a holding post – with links – on my position on dualism for now – but many PoPoMo references ….)


Sabine Hossenfelder blogged a few days ago short post with the title “Electrons Don’t Think“. For me it was an obvious straw-man click-bait headline against pan-psychism. Sabine does admit her naivity in pointing out this is the first she’d heard of pan-psychism. Obviously, no sane philosopher or physicist suggests objects like electrons are sentient – beyond inevitable thought experiments and “ways of talking” which often confuse the unwary.

So I said as much in my one-liner response at the time.

But I am myself something of a pan-psychist – often I say “pan-proto-psychist” to stave off the insane presumption. The stuff of intelligent life IS in everything, and from that point on we’re into metaphysical territory as to what fundamental “stuff” really might be and whether we take a monist over a dualist view. Move over the particles and waves, materials and energies of quantum physics and beyond.

Massimo Pigliucci, a Stoic and evolutionary philosopher for whom I have a lot of time, tweeted in support of Sabine’s post:

To which I further reacted:

Now I’m not advocating fuzzy thinking in order to avoid the seeming conflict – per Ben Gibrain (Philosophy Fails) point. What I am suggesting – a la Dennett – that we have to suspend judgement on objective choices where object definitions are themselves at issue. Hanging on to the uncertainty as long as the discourse requires to achieve a sane conclusion.

Personally, as I’ve written many times before, consistent with many working at the quantum gravity level, I think “information” (any significant difference) is the fundamental stuff of both physical and sentient things.

There is no elan vital separate from the res extensa, they are both manifestations of the same res informatica forever entangled at higher evolved levels.

A New Leaf

Last day of 2018, and I’ve just dug out a new read to start 2019.

“To some who know a little of Russell’s philosophy, it might seem strange to speak of him being engaged in metaphysics. He is often depicted as standing squarely in the empiricist tradition that had, on the whole, rejected metaphysics and was concerned primarily with the theory of knowledge or epistemology. If this book has but one aim, it is to relieve its readers of that misconception. Russell was a metaphysician.”

writes Stephen Mumford in his “Russell on Metaphysics”

It seems I am exactly that target audience.

In my case, more in contrast to Wittgentstein, I see Russell as the analytic philosopher, a pure logician, so wedded to empiricism and logical positivism that his epistemology so constrained his implied realist ontology, that he simply “didn’t get it” when Wittgenstein made his linguistic-turn from the analytic logic of his Tractatus to the word-games of his “Investigations“. So much so, that I often cast the Tractatus itself as one long joke at Russell’s expense; a joke that he sadly didn’t get and which led to Wittgenstein’s withdrawal from the game until he had found the incentive and a new way to express the point he had been trying to make all along.

Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate Russell as a thoughtful public intellectual – a philosopher to most in everyday terms, as Mumford notes – for his commitment to real moral questions and campaigns of the day, not least humanism and rationalism. An inspiration to many. But always seeming to be limited by his narrow grasp of reality – an impression reinforced by the rarefied conceptual detail of his “Principia Mathematica“, as Mumford also notes in his introduction.

For me this is further undermined by the likes of Riemann and Gödel. Exhibit A:

OK, so anyway, you got me banged to rights. This sceptical cynic will have to read-on and report back.

Darwin’s Untruths

A short follow-up to my more detailed post on discussions with Dr Mike Sutton, presenting on his “Nullius in Verba: Darwin’s Greatest Secret.
[Edit note: emphases added.]

Firstly I’m NOT interested in arguing whether Darwin (and his bubble) told any untruths. (Quite possibly, they may have, but it’s irrelevant. Sutton is making no claims against Darwinian evolution itself. There may be evidence of untruth claims, there may not be any worthwhile peer-review of such claims, there are plenty of rebuttals of such claims. All irrelevant.) I’m arguing about whether, even if true, it makes any sense to therefore publicly claim “Darwin was a liar”.

Telling an untruth – even with intent to deceive – doesn’t necessarily make you a liar. Got that? Do not pass go.

OK, so even if Darwin (and his bubble) told untruths (with intent to deceive), the question becomes one of his / their motives and the motives of anyone wanting to promote the “Darwin was a liar” message? (Sutton has not yet responded to the specific points in my original post. JF Derry has provided plenty of rebuttals in the comments there.)

My best guess at Darwin’s untruths is that

  • (a) he probably did not consciously use Matthew’s work as a source,
  • (b) probably didn’t believe he’d been influenced when he published, and
  • (c) after subsequently corresponding with Matthew and giving acknowledgment in the 3rd edition of The Origin of Species, he probably thought the matter closed – so he could get on with the ongoing task of expounding and defending the Theory of Evolution by Natural Selection – for which Darwin is rightly recognised.
  • (d) over time he may have realised he may actually have been influenced by Matthew’s work, at first and/or second hand, and was embarrassed, but the bubble needed to defend the project now in progress primarily against the religious / creationist establishment at that time.
  • (e) Matthew was possibly seen as a nuisance crank in his personal claims – to various publishers, not just Darwin’s bubble, and
  • (f) an impression reinforced by the fact Matthew was a Chartist, part of a radical socialist campaign against the Victorian establishment.

Motivations were (and still are) largely “politics” (small p) as I said already.

When I said that several times in conversation with Sutton, he denied it initially, assuming I meant Politics (capital P, partisan). I was simply pointing out he himself had made a political choice not to include the Chartism angle in his own book. That is, politically he has made  tactical choices which truths not to include in his own book, given his own strategic aims in publishing.

Which is the “so what?” I’m questioning: – Why make the claim?

Now, however, I’m not so sure the politics is purely tactical, given Sutton’s actual Politics – front and centre in his Twitter bio (*). I fear Matthew is to be cast as the downtrodden socialist worker sticking it to the Tory establishment. That context may indeed be real, but it’s not part of the content of the science.

Objective truths have to be valued above all within the processes of science itself. Sci-comm campaigns are of course always full of exaggerations, half- truths and white -lies. Shit happens in the real world, it’s how we get stuff done. Climate change – and (say) David Attenborough speaking at #COP24 – being the highest profile current example. Galileo as I mentioned, and his relationship with the Catholic church, being another high-profile historical example.

In my repeated experience, people who claim to be defending some narrow definition of truth above all else, tend to be doing so for reason of some extreme, misguided or dogmatic agenda. In balanced positions, most people can see that practical truth is usually more complicated. Science, and other topics claiming / wishing scientific qualities, tend to get blurred between use-mention / content-context distinctions, when dealing with this problem. [Many more examples in current dialogues.]

[If you want to respond to anything specifically written in this post please make sure you’ve read the original first, and considered the 4 explicit points summarised as being the questions at issue.]

[(*) Post Note – And, he he ha ha, he’s not ignored me entirely: He’s edited his @Dysology Twitter bio to remove the revolutionary leftie bollox. Hillarious. What a total charlatan. RIFF: This whole exchange – including rebuttals – nicely proving my real agenda that science is polluted by politics and that culture is infected by scientism. Together these form a vicious circle. Society is degenerately devolving to lowest-common-denominators – a kind of PC-autism. “Common” factors because the world of human communication is reduced to single noisy “village” – there is only one context, no boundaries or good fences to mediate – let alone facilitate – proper constructive dialogue.  (Brexit – populism without wisdom – is simply the latest example.)

Terry, we coined and shook-hands-on a two word name for this state of affairs when we spoke Friday last. Remind me 😉]

[Post Note: Key part of Sutton’s argument as presented to us (inc me directly) is Harry Frankfurt’s definition of truth. Sutton of course misses Frankfurt’s point “On Bullshit”. See follow-up on the distinction between careful good-faith lying and careless bad-faith bullshit in the ongoing draft / footnotes here. Care matters.]

Was Darwin A Liar And So What If He Was?

Teesside Skeptics in the Pub had a talk from Dr Mike Sutton last night (6th Dec 2018). He presented the gist of his book “Nullius in Verba: Darwin’s Greatest Secret.” as a simple timeline of events and communications in the development, publication and promotion of “Darwin’s” theory of evolution by natural selection.

Sutton is pretty much rejected by the science establishment because he treats the venerable Darwin as a target of accusations. We’re a sceptical bunch, so he came to the right place. It was a lively discussion.

[Post Note: This is a raw post with further claims and rebuttals in or linked in the comments below. Mostly irrelevant to the main point IMHO. Cut to the chase and go to this follow-up post on “Darwin’s Untruths” and only come back here if you really want to follow-up detail.]

The Amazon blurb is a good (combative) summary of Sutton’s position. Briefly, it is already well known and acknowledged by those involved in the history of evolutionary science that Patrick Matthew had earlier published a “similar” version of the Theory of Natural Selection for which Darwin is famous. Sutton goes as far as claiming – and citing much objective evidence – that Darwin lied in claiming that he couldn’t have been influenced by Matthew’s prior work.

Rather than a further report on the presentation itself – slides will be made available – the following summarises the key discussion points, and my own conclusions.

There is no doubt Darwin could have been influenced by Matthew (as Matthew was by others). No doubt some of the people in Darwin’s “bubble” had read some of what Matthew had previously published. Whether Darwin or any of these had spotted the significance and relevance of Matthew’s work – and phrasing – to Darwin’s origin of species is moot. As is whether the “full theory” of the processes of natural selection was complete before Darwin put his efforts into developing (and revising) his own full theory already existed in Matthew’s work – as some have claimed – but that’s a level more detailed than we could go into in one talk.

One things is clear is that Darwin himself acknowledged in the 3rd edition of the Origin of Species, as have many evolutionary biologists since, that Matthew had published the essence of – even most of and more – Darwin’s theory earlier. Another thing that is clear is that the “origin” of an idea, the intuition of its significance is never one person one time. It takes time and effort to get any idea promulgated and recognised – tell me about it! – by multiple publications and dialogues, fleshed-out and revised. First to publish carries some institutional weight, but doesn’t trump the fact that science is more than having and publishing an idea – that’s more like patenting for commercial gain, a proprietorial claim.

To me now, as a pan / neo-Darwinist more excited by 21st century developments in Extended Evolutionary Synthesis (EES), Darwin is simply the most influential name attached to the basic theory, a reward for the effort put into its development and promotion. Origination isn’t really the point as noted above. Science is complicated and dynamic, and history is messy and unscientific. “Darwin’s Dangerous Idea“, to quote (my hero) Dennett, alliterates nicely, but doesn’t idolise Darwin as the sole originator, simply as the most influential name attached to the idea.

Now I’m the first to acknowledge science is hidebound by numerous myths that seriously cramp progress and lead scientists into bad behaviour. That’s mostly what this blog is about in fact, keeping science and humanism honest. Galileo is often positively mythologised in much the way Darwin is. Science and atheism negatively mythologise the irrational nature of religious belief, and so on.

Whether or not Darwin was influenced by Matthew, the real claim is that he and his bubble lied about the significance of his work and about whether he and they could have been influenced.

As ever such debates come back to what we mean by truth and lies, and in fact that is the main myth of scientism – that all truth is about objective facts. And we can further “define” what we mean by lies as knowingly telling untruth with intent to deceive (a la Frankfurter). But this is just first-base, with further loops and Hofstadterian “strange loops” of intent in deception – a la white-lies, less-than-whole-truths and creative claims. As Dennett says – hold your definitions. By all means declare them to clarify discussion, but definitions are your conclusions, not constraints on the dialogue. Definitions – like every other “species” – evolve by natural selection.

Even on that basic Frankfurter definition of lying, I’d still say on the evidence presented, Darwin could have lied, but there was only circumstantial evidence that he might have, with only a couple of exceptions. It is important to note that those examples are in correspondence about the work, after the event, not part of the theory. Ongoing context not content.

For example: “No single person” had / could have actually read Matthew’s work. “No natural scientists” had “apparently” been aware of Matthew’s work. Clearly these are deliberate assertions which are not true in any literal objective sense, and much easier to show with 21st century “big data” technology not available to Darwin at the time. But these are rhetorical statements, they are not part of the scientifically objective content, required to meet basic logical standards of truth and falsehood. That mega-myth I call scientism, that ALL truths must meet the logical objectivity of science itself. Real life, and large parts of social-science and psychology, are not reducible to repeatable scientific paradigms.

In some sense Darwin may have lied, but what do we gain by simply calling him a liar? We certainly get the polarisation response – adoption by conspiracy theorists and enemies, and rejection as a pariah from the establishment. Is that what we want? More noise and heat than light and knowledge.

Obviously we “care” about truth, but standards of truth are contextual. Beyond science we have rhetoric, politics and religion. Politics definitely cares who it “offends” with raw whole truths – pragmatic tactics and strategies prevail. It’s always necessary to predict potential reactions that may get in the way of successfully getting your message out there. Let’s face it, there was plenty of choice-politic in how Darwin and his bubble dealt with the religious climate facing their theory. Maybe he hadn’t been conscious that he had been influenced by Matthew and was embarrassed when he realised he might have been? Maybe he had to lie? Maybe his establishment bubble made him lie? It was necessary to manage the messaging in order to get evolution by natural selection established. None of this “lying” compromised the content of the theory. Even Sutton himself took care not to include truths about Matthew’s position as a Chartist in his own book, in order to remove one distracting line of (spurious) objection to the content of his work. That’s life. No doubt some of Matthew’s difficulty getting more of his own work published and having his own claims rejected, failing to gain any establishment allies at the time, also hinged on him being seen as a dangerous nut-job thanks to his overt politico-religious position.

Anyway, after all the ifs and buts, what would we like to achieve, and what would explicitly calling Darwin a liar add to that?

  1. We care about truth, but should we promote a narrow “autistic” conception of absolute objective truth as the only game in town? No.
  2. Darwin is already a pretty successful branding for the basic idea built on so successfully by so many scientists and philosophers in so many (non-biological) fields since. Does it help to confuse that message with unnecessary detail truth and/or denigration of the name most associated with it? No.
  3. Should we give Matthew more credit in public consciousness? Sure, but no doubt other important contributors to the science and to the sci-comms.
  4. Should we educate  the public (and the scientific establishment!) in lessons of how scientific progress is messier and less scientific than science itself? How science is itself trapped in myths that are holding it back? You bet. Philosophy of Science and the History of Philosophy and Science are subjects distinct from science itself. Rhetoric is not a dirty word.

Not sure calling Darwin a liar adds to that.

[Since those 4 points above have not been addressed yet, I have in fact posted  follow-up with additional considerations.]

Partition Walls as Good Fences

Really just a holding-post as a reminder I need to publish a definitive version of the Good Fences piece. It’s been compromised so many times by suggestions of tailoring it to current publishing opportunities, but the generality of it continues to emerge.

This post today from Jon Haidt has given me the nudge:

#GoodFences – The ship bulkheads is a good metaphor. The ship is a complex integrated system, with communications of people, materials, energy and information across all areas, yet the compartmentalisation is crucial to surviving its failure modes. Evolution requires conservation more than it needs mutation. (Silos vs integration – is not a “choice”. Basic taxonomy and mereology.)

Political System Change

Listening to Isabel Hardman et al on BBC R4 Start the Week, getting lots of: “individual politicians and the parties are (generally) good and valuable for their aims and purposes – despite the title of her book – but that there’s lots wrong with the machinery and processes, that need to be changed …. by that machine”. That’s evolution folks.

Here we’re talking constituency & national arrangements, yesterday (and everywhere else) we’re talking national & EU arrangements, but it’s the same issue. How to respond to something that’s broken. Throw the baby out with the bathwater, or fix it with the tool that’s broken?

Same solution from me – the “scrutiny” of systemic issues and problems, and the analysis and creativity needed to draft proposed improvements that can be implemented through the ongoing buzzing, booming confusion of day to day operations. It’s a ship of Theseus. It needs to be delegated to a standing cross-party “constitutional convention”. Not the same people who will have to vote on the motions and amendments and answer to their constituencies and parties. It will have an ongoing task list of issues and ideas being worked on continuously, delegated to specialists where appropriate, but the convention convenes periodically, say twice a year / 8 or 10 times per electoral cycle. (See previous post.) The proposals of the convention are made to legislative voting members through existing party and committee arrangements – but they’ve already been drafted by expert analysis and dedicated effort. It’s not a second level of committee bureaucracy, those remain focussed on issues by topics in their remit. The convention is focussed on cross-topic meta-issues that apply to the system itself.