Informational Panpsychism – a Dual-Aspect Monism

In many discussions of the work of the modern panpsychists (eg Goff and more recently (Bollands) a universal-lifer who posits no distinction between the actions of living and conscious things), I have pleaded for a pan-proto-psychism / pan-proto-living world-view where the proto-stoff is information.

One obvious reason is that information exists non-contentiously at all levels in the cosmos. No reason to posit that life and/or consciousness as we know them literally exist at fundamental physical / metaphysical levels.

The second reason is that it’s possible to construct both physical and (living) conscious things from that monist stoff and in doing so not give priority to either physicalism or psychism in the language of our metaphysics.

(I use information in specific ways – both ontologically syntactical form and epistemologically semantic or significant informing way – also in an entropy-complementary / information-theoretic Shannon way – and importantly in a process / active-verb-noun way, information as the act of informing one thing of another.)

Another feature of not having to make a physical / psychical choice at the outset is we can apply quantum (Democritan atomic) thinking to the smallest “particles” of this information stoff. With an information model these can be conceived of as small as possible. That is by definition it is not conceivable to posit or discover any smaller component. (I’ve always assumed that’s what Democritus intended a-tomically before physicists decided to give smallest chemical element particles the name atom.)

In this formulation the smallest things, the smallest (conceivable) difference (on any arbitrary dimension) between any two things (this-thingy and not-this-thingy) is a bit of information, smaller than which it is not possible to be. A good candidate for the ultimate atom if ever there was one?

Since I last wrote up my most comprehensive version of the above (presented here in 2019), several things have happened. I’ve made more considered readings of Whitehead’s Process Ontology concerning the coming together nexus of awareness between one thing and another (mirrored also in Smolin’s nads.) Pre-conceptual (qualitative) awareness & response – the conscious-and-life-like behaviour – is core to radical empiricisms. Also, in evolving my thinking along with Dennett, I recently discovered I’d forgotten earlier Chalmers ideas on information underlying consciousness.  (And a zillion other references in the blog.) However …

… this morning , I read a 2016 MPhil thesis by Nino Kadić, a student of Goff, who had also positively reviewed Bollands. A paper which so far as I can see on a first reading comes very close – in much more formal philosophical discourse than I – to the metaphysics I’m suggesting above.

Rough Notes:

Phenomenal Bonding – Goff’s idea as used by Kadić – seems to be very much the solution to new objects emerging supervenient on others without direct (conventional) causal link. Always key to patterns emergent upon patterns. (Sure, the information patterns must always have an embodiment but the new patterns emerge independent of the embodiments. A car / motorcycle is not the sum of its parts, it’s the arrangement. ‘Twas ever thus, just ask Theseus (or Trigger).)

(And many more notes of Section 4 Phenomenal Bonding, Information and Panpsychism.)

4 thoughts on “Informational Panpsychism – a Dual-Aspect Monism”

  1. I read the paper and recorded my impressions, but so far I haven’t had a chance to prepare a reply.

    It seems to me that the idea of semantic informational differences presupposes awareness, because the idea of “meaning” presupposes awareness. To take the example of the light switch, the semantic difference between “closed” and “open” is nonexistent unless the switch is connected to a circuit and interacting with electrons. For the electrons, the position of the switch has a semantic significance. Without them, it has none. It’s not enough to say that the information difference has meaning for the light switch in isolation.

    But this suggests that without an independent awareness of the semantic significance, this significance cannot arise spontaneously, as it were from nothing.

    So a syntactic smallest possible difference in information does not involve the awareness we are trying to re-introduce, but a semantic difference presupposes it. Semantic information difference itself is not enough to carry us into a new understanding, unless we construe it in a way that already incorporates that understanding.

  2. Agreed. The syntactical is pre-awareness, the semantic post-awareness.
    (But all this proto-conscious think focusses on that act of awareness – the Whiteheadian nexus?)

    My specific interest was that “phenomenal bonding” … in the act of awareness?
    Incidentally the author also responded on Twitter, and promised to come back on my point of interest.

  3. My note for p. 36 is:

    “p.36 If there was an “argument” against the summing of objects, I missed it. . . (at section 3.1, “forthcoming” by Chalmers). Hypothesized “relationship R” to explain this is more or less equally empty of content (“forthcoming” by Goff). This is the “car parts” bit called to my attention re motorcycle bits.”

  4. However, I coluld suggest that semantic information differences apply to the switch in respect of the electron, and to the electron in respect of the switch, in a mutually sustaining way. The difference “open-closed’ is experienced phenomenally by the electron as the act of an other, while the difference “flowing-static” (say) is experienced by the switch as the response of the other to its own disposition.

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