Strawson’s Silliness

Confused myself a couple of times over Galen Strawson, but had pigeon-holed him as one of the bad guys, contrarian for the sake of it, even though he takes an enlightened view on panpsyschic possibilities which I’d failed to notice for a while. One of the “random bookmarks” I’d left dangling recently was to his “Consciousness Deniers”.

I see now why I had discarded Strawson – I’d considered his consciousness deniers take on Dan Dennett back here in real-time in 2018.

The Denial of Dennett’s Consciousness
Dishonest disagreement – Galen Strawman.

Looking at it now with a potentially panpsychic perspective, as I’ve pointed out to many a panpsychist, Dennett is in fact a pan-proto-psychist anyway.

So the bookmark moves on to Strawson giving the (also 2018) Isiah Berlin lecture at Wolfson College, after his “Silliness” essay (hat tip Mark Hammond – that “Great Silliness” is the NY Review piece I’d bookmarked above) – he’s a perpetual provocation – says Wolfson’s Hermione Lee …

One Hundred Years of Consciousness
– A Long Training in Absurdity

And yes … it is the same agenda – the deniers.
The deniers deny that they are deniers – and Dennett is one of his targets.

All dots joined-up now!

[Schopenhauer and Wm James come out on top, which is good. Denial of consciousness is absurd – obviously, trivially – but rather than be a pompous smart-arse, name-dropping his opinions of everyone else, Strawson really needs to engage in good faith dialogue with the living.]

7 thoughts on “Strawson’s Silliness”

  1. A question. Just to clear up some confusion on my part. Do you anywhere outline the distinction you make between pain old vanilla panpsychism and pan-proto-psychism?

  2. Good question. Full answer in my “epistemic ontology” work in progress … but roughly:

    Pan-psychism – gets us into realms where questions arise like “are fundamental physical things conscious?” – are rocks, electrons, quarks, quanta “CONSCIOUS” or maybe are they motivated by some unseen consciousness or conscious thing in the universe? Any debates at this level invariably mangle any definition of what we mean by conscious / consciousness. Certainly something different to what we mean by a higher-order intelligent being like ourselves being conscious. (I always go back to Dennett in terms of definitions, starting with “the kind of consciousness worth having”.)
    In short “ConsciousNESS is everywhere / Everything IS CONSCIOUS” (which most people would baulk at).

    Pan-proto-psychism – says the fundamental “particles” of the universe are / or contain the fundamental “particles” of consciousness. Which – unless we abandon all physics – effectively says the fundamental “particles” of the universe ARE the proto-stuff of BOTH (orthodox) physics AND consciousness. They are not conscious per se, but include the potential for all the manifestations of consciousness we see at higher evolved levels – without ever having to defend suggestions that fundamental physical things are necessarily conscious themselves in any meaningful way (or that some greater consciousness lies out there somewhere).
    In short “The STOFF of consciousness is everywhere, we’re all made of the same stuff” (which is no weirder than we’re all made of charmed quarks in most people’s books).

    That make sense?

    PS Good example of the tying-in-knots of “pan-psychsim” definitions of consciousness / being-conscious in this piece:

  3. In a way that is my opening point about contrarianism for the sake of it (and the overall point about dialogue instead of critical debate.)

    There is lots that Strawson (or Goff, or Kastrup, or Dennett, or Whitehead, or Rovelli, or Smolin) say on this topic that I entirely agree with. So much so that I spend most of my time trying to point out to them that, but for tweeking a few choices of words, they’re really agreeing with each other. But professional science, philosophy, politics (critical thinking) is all about finding fault and disagreeing, making a name for “yourself” vs the others. Identity politics vs #GoodFences. Some like Strawson, and Dennett in his youth, get great pleasure out of pompous put downs of others. What they’re all bad at (except evolved Dennett) is saying, “oh yeah, we’re really trying to say the same thing, if we just allow our thoughts to evolve”.

    I don’t dislike Strawson because I disagree with anything he says.
    I dislike him because he’s proud to disagree with everything everyone else says.

  4. Philosophers are as susceptible to the narcissism of minor differences as any, it would seem. My aha! moment here is where you mention in another linked post that anyone still seeing Dennett through his now 30 year old Consciousness (not) Explained needs an update. I found that work very clever (as, of course, he is) but ultimately a sort of bait-and-switch. If he has altered his views, I would be delighted. Do you have a (please God short) reference?

  5. If pan-proto-psychism holds that consciousness arises from the same fundamental “particles” that explain the material world, then it’s not that different from ordinary materialism, which holds exactly the same thing, except without the word “same: that is, ‘consciousness arises from the fundamental “particles” that explain the material world.’ How does adding the word “same” help explain how consciousness arises? It rather fudges the question, so that it looks sort of like panpsychism, or anyway something other than reductive materialism, without actually adding any value. This is the problem I have with Dennett, or anyway my reading of him. It’s a sort of “weak panpsychism” that quickly bleeds away into ordinary materialism.

    The stronger version of panpsychism does make extraordinary demands on our understanding of materialism, by suggesting that the fundamental components are significantly more than we think they are; for example, that they make choices instead of rattling around like so many billiard balls, or whatever the inanimate and blind quantum equivalent might be. If this is troubling and implausible, so be it. At least it’s a clear statement of some difference, compared to ordinary materialism and the cryptic, technically unnecessary “emergence” of the phenomenon we know as consciousness.

    What we mean by “consciousness” is at issue here, and maybe belongs in quotes, the same way “particles” is in quotes.

  6. In terms of “defining” consciousness and the story of its evolution from the material / physics – that’s the same question it always was. (That’s what Dennett is about – suspending that definition until you have a credible story – a story of his I already buy. The story is longer – not a fudge – but *not* what this post is about.)

    The fact that “physics and psychics” share the same proto particles – I *would* be happy to call physics (ie it’s “not that different”) – but it’s gotta be *quite different* from orthodox materialist / physicist types would think of their matter and energy particles? (Again, I have no doubt what the nature of these “particles” is – my metaphysics (Dennett’s too) – But the point is it would be a metaphysics that both “physics & psychics” could accept. That’s THE point here. Everyone can agree 😉

    [Additional point – having a human understandable “nature” for those particles “in reality” is part of the ontological commitment – unlike the weird inexplicable roots of modern orthodox physics?]

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