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A strange perspective on the practice of science

Bernardo Kastrup responds to Peter Vickers

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Last week on IAI News, Peter Vickers gave his own view on the debate between Philip Goff and Bernardo Kastrup concerning panpsychism and idealism, questioning the role of scientific evidence in this metaphysical debate. But his arguments miss the point of the endeavor and rely on a majoritarian view of scientific truth, argues Bernardo Kastrup.

 

The thrust of Vickers' piece, “Panpsychism, idealism and science,” is an argument about whether theories of mind such as panpsychism and idealism can be considered scientific. He suggests they cannot. The very question, however, already betrays some conceptual confusion regarding the definitional differences between science and philosophy, particularly metaphysics: insofar as a theory of mind is a metaphysics, of course it is not scientific; by definition. It can therefore be argued that the very motivation for his piece is a straw man.

Science studies nature's behavior, insofar as it can be ascertained through empirical experimentation. Metaphysics, on the other hand, although certainly informed by science, makes tentative statements about what nature is. Theories of mind like panpsychism and idealism are metaphysical theories, in that they maintain that mind is a fundamental part of what nature is.

One could argue that, because of its speculative character, we should refrain from metaphysics altogether and focus solely on what science can ascertain about nature's behavior. This is perfectly fine, but it implies that we have to abandon mainstream physicalism as well, for physicalism is a metaphysics; it makes statements about what nature is—namely, entities outside and independent of mind, which can be exhaustively described purely in terms of quantities. Vickers seems to lose sight of this when he says that panpsychism and idealism

can only be suggestions, or hypotheses. What we find is that the two authors [me and Philip Goff] sometimes state explicitly that we ought to believe in their favoured proposal. But given that these are philosophical proposals this seems like an exaggeration.

I don’t recall calling for belief, as that would be rather out of character for me unless I were to be speaking in a religious context (I have commented extensively on religion, though that tends to be clearly demarcated from my analytical work). By and large, I prefer to talk in terms of living according to the most plausible metaphysical hypothesis, which is an exercise in reason, not belief.

Metaphysics, although certainly informed by science, makes tentative statements about what nature is.

Be that as it may, Vickers’ point again applies to physicalism as well. Defending a belief in physicalism should also be considered an exaggeration, a non-scientific speculation, if Vickers’ argument is to remain internally consistent.

To avoid this rather semantic issue, the panpsychist and idealist arguments can be formulated as follows: insofar as it is okay to believe in physicalism, we have better reasons to believe in idealism or panpsychism instead.

Vickers also denies that there can be empirical, scientific evidence indicative of idealism and contradictory to physicalism:

when one tries to place the evidence put forward for panpsychism and idealism on this spectrum, it certainly comes much closer to the ‘fully philosophical’ end of the spectrum.

I think this is demonstrably untrue, as the body of my work bears witness to. I have gone to great lengths to catalog and articulate, precisely and explicitly, why the latest results in several different areas of scientific inquiry seem to favor analytic idealism. Science can and does inform metaphysics, even though metaphysics is not science. If Vickers disagrees with the empirical, evidentiary aspects of my work, I invite him to criticize them specifically. As it is now, Vickers' criticism is too vague and generic to award a refutation; I wouldn’t know what to refute.

He continues:

There is a second, more serious indiscretion, though. This is when the philosopher asks us to take seriously a proposal that goes strongly against established scientific opinion.

This is the first of a series of rather questionable assertions in Vickers’ piece. Every major advancement in the entire history of science has come in the form of “a proposal that goes strongly against established scientific opinion.” Without such proposals, there would have been no Relativity or Quantum Mechanics, to mention only two prominent and recent examples.

A couple of centuries before Relativity and the quantum revolution, Sir Isaac Newton was ridiculed—for decades, no less—for proposing that gravity was an invisible force that acted at a distance. The proposal of that eminent natural philosopher went very strongly against established scientific opinion, which considered invisible forces acting at a distance as pure woo-woo. Thankfully, however, science—at least when done properly—is not about opinions, but about evidence.

Vickers continues:

More common is a situation where we are asked to take seriously a proposal that is in tension with a strong scientific consensus (it doesn’t actually contradict the relevant scientific claims, but it sits next to them rather awkwardly). On the face of it, the proposals of both Goff and Kastrup are cases in point.

Vickers often uses ambiguous characterizations that render his intended meaning rather unclear, at least to me. If my proposals “don’t actually contradict the relevant scientific claims,” should I be happy about it and move on, despite their “sitting next to those claims rather awkwardly”? What does it mean for a proposal to “sit awkwardly next” to scientific claims, when it doesn’t actually contradict them? What is he talking about here?

Whatever the case, my argument for analytic idealism does not go against any scientific position, for analytic idealism is—again—a metaphysics, an ontology, not a scientific theory. It may well go against philosophical opinions or prejudices some scientists may personally hold, but that is irrelevant for the same reason that the food preferences of the judge are irrelevant to the merits of the legal case.

Vickers:

Kastrup’s idealism is even more revolutionary, and would no doubt be repugnant to the vast majority of practicing scientists: for Kastrup, the electron itself is an immaterial idea, an aspect of mind. It all sounds very unscientific, and even ‘new age’. New Agers sometimes argue that the Earth is conscious, for example.

If this were a recognizable characterization of scientists’ views, such emotional reactions and associations would nonetheless be irrelevant. But I am more hopeful than Vickers seems to be regarding the ability of the scientific community to operate objectively, based on reason and evidence.

Indeed, my hope is an educated one: unlike Vickers, I have been a professional scientist for many years and know the community fairly well, having worked in places like CERN and the Philips Research Laboratories (where the Casimir Effect of Quantum Field Theory was discovered). Even during my high-tech years, I have continued to move in advanced science circles, as my job entailed creating new technologies based on the latest scientific developments. To this day, in my philosophy role, I collaborate closely with well over a dozen active scientists and contribute regularly to science magazines such as Scientific American, which publishes my material because, apparently, it isn’t “repugnant” at all to their readership.

Mind you, my proposals are unscientific in the sense that they do not constitute a scientific theory. But they are not unscientific in the sense that—as acknowledged by Vickers himself—they “don’t contradict the relevant scientific claims.” Scientists, by and large, understand this; they are not just a bunch of prejudiced fanatics.

As for the allusion to the “new age,” I shall interpret Vickers charitably and not construe it as a hardly-disguised, adolescent schoolyard jab.

Vickers then proceeds to claim that my

presentation of the science seems significantly biased towards his [my] idealism. At the very least the presentation is not neutral.

Of course my presentation is biased towards idealism, for that is the case I set out to make! I am not trying to prove the Riemannian hypothesis or solve the Münchhausen trilemma. I am arguing for idealism. So I talk about evidence pertinent to idealism. This shouldn’t be concerning or surprising to anyone, should it?

My argument for analytic idealism does not go against any scientific position, for analytic idealism is—again—a metaphysics, not a scientific theory

Now, if Vickers’ suggestion here is that I am misrepresenting the evidence or deliberately misleading my readers, then we have a very different issue in our hands. I would then challenge him to point out, explicitly and precisely, the instances in which I allegedly carry out such misrepresentation. I would take such an accusation very seriously—were it to be made—as it would constitute a challenge to my integrity as a scholar and public intellectual.

For the avoidance of doubt, I do not misrepresent any scientific evidence. I have gone out of my way to word my summaries and characterizations of the evidence in a fair and objective manner. I do choose the evidence I work with based on its relevance to… well, my work. But I present this evidence objectively, accurately and precisely. The burden is on my critics to point out precisely where this allegedly isn’t the case. Vague insinuations are not constructive.

Now consider this passage:

 In a 2019 Scientific American article he [Kastrup] favours one particular interpretation of quantum mechanics – Relational Quantum Mechanics – and even states that this particular interpretation has recently been ‘verified’ by physicists.

Yes indeed. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. In the article Vickers refers to, I made a technical assessment based on the newest laboratory evidence that had just been published in the technical literature, argued my case openly and precisely, with substance and appropriate technical references, and then presented it to the scientific community for their evaluation. Is this a sign of misrepresentation or just standard scientific best-practice?

I stand by the technical assessment Vickers is alluding to here fully. The principal, defining and utterly non-trivial tenet of relational quantum mechanics—namely, that the physical world is relative to observation—has been directly confirmed by a recent experiment. I fail to understand why Vickers seems to see a problem with my pointing this out. Should I pretend not to be acquainted with the latest developments in a field relevant to my work?

Vigorously advancing new and potentially polemical views through fresh argument and newly available data, just as I’ve attempted to do in this case, is precisely the manner in which science makes progress. As a matter of fact, it is the normal and healthy way of doing science, as any actual scientist will know.

But Vickers insists: 

The truth is, this interpretation remains a minority interpretation, and it is wholly misleading to suggest that it has been experimentally supported in a way other interpretations of quantum mechanics have not been.

What matters here are the relevant and verifiable facts, not arbitrary proclamations of truth. As Vickers should know, there is absolutely nothing inaccurate or misleading in my argumentation, at least for those who understand the technical issues in contention. There are many interpretations (fourteen significant ones, in my last count) and no consensus about them in quantum mechanics. As such, all interpretations are minority views. It is perfectly acceptable to argue for one or another interpretation. Physicists do it all the time, as do all good academics.

Indeed, arguing for one’s preferred interpretation is core to the field of foundations of physics. It’s what a lot of those folks do. Chris Fuchs dedicates his career to arguing for an interpretation called ‘QBism’. Carlo Rovelli is publicly associated with the relational interpretation, even though lately he has been focusing on loop quantum gravity. Henry Stapp—a living legend of quantum theory who should command the most profound respect from us all, and with whom I have had the distinguished honor of co-authoring a Scientific American article—defends an idealist version of the orthodox Copenhagen interpretation. The list goes on. The debate that ensues is how the field progresses. If Vickers thinks that defending a particular interpretation is misleading and constitutes a distortion of science, then the daily scientific practice in foundations of physics is guilty of both. Vickers’ contentions betray a surprising lack of familiarity with how basic science is actually done.

Let me try to be as clear and explicit as possible in addressing Vickers’ assertions: yes, recent experimental work has indeed conferred onto the relational interpretation a remarkable, arguably unexpected, non-trivial degree of experimental confirmation. Yes, this is significant; the relational interpretation scored some fat brownie points there. Yes, I have proudly pointed that out and continue to do so. And no, there is nothing misleading or conspiratorial about it. This should be clear to all scientists as well as philosophers.

If Vickers thinks that defending a particular interpretation is misleading and constitutes a distortion of science, then the daily scientific practice in foundations of physics is guilty of both.

Finally, take the following passage, in which Vickers does not hold back::

In another article Kastrup (together with collaborators) once again presents the science in a potentially misleading way. The authors reference some recent scientific experiments and write, “these experiments indicate that the everyday world we perceive does not exist until observed”. But the experimental results are fully compatible with the three most popular interpretations of quantum mechanics (GRW, Bohm, and Everett), all of which account for quantum phenomena via the assumption that the everyday world does exist prior to being observed. As the article proceeds, a serious potential to mislead persists, in particular when it is stated that, “QM seems to imply that the world is essentially mental”, and “According to QM, the world exists only as a cloud of simultaneous, overlapping possibilities”. These statements are incorrect, or at least very much biased. To the vast majority of relevant thinkers, QM does not imply that the world is essentially mental; that is just one (minority) view.

The entire passage above is meant to show that I, alongside some living legends in the world of quantum theory, have been misleading people. But if we look carefully at what Vickers is actually doing, something else proves to be the case: (a) he quotes the concluding assertions of one of our articles, the culmination of an involved and careful line of argument; but (b) he ignores the entire technical build-up that led to those concluding assertions in the first place—in other words, he quotes out of context, failing to at least mention precisely the argumentation that would have revealed his accusations to be wholly unfounded; and then (c) having done this, he incorrectly portrays our conclusions as claims of consensus in physics—which would indeed be misleading, although it’s hard to imagine that the editors of Scientific American would let something like that happen—instead of the conclusions of our own argument line. No one who reads the article carefully would possibly mistake it that way, for if our positions were consensus we wouldn’t have needed to write our article in the first place; and neither would Scientific American bother to publish old, consensus news, would they? So now I ask you: who is being misleading here?

I stand by the claims in that Scientific American article fully. I consider it a diligent and well-informed piece of work. Criticizing it properly demands more than lifting quotes out of context, misrepresenting its very intent and proclaiming mere opinions. It is an eminently technical article so valid criticisms should address the technical issues in contention.

With this, only one thing remains to be addressed in Vickers’ assessment of my work. He repeatedly suggests that the opinion of the majority in science is a reliable indicator of truth and legitimacy, against which my work should be judged for accuracy and neutrality. Here are two passages from his piece (the emphasis is mine):

 Kastrup’s idealism is even more revolutionary, and would no doubt be repugnant to the vast majority of practicing scientists

To the vast majority of relevant thinkers, QM does not imply that the world is essentially mental; that is just one (minority) view.

Again, I have never claimed that my views are those of the majority or represent a broad consensus (my whole behavior is an implicit acknowledgment of the precise opposite). The idea that I have done this is at best a straw man and at worst a hallucination. I am not busy with this kind of thing. Instead, I am busy with constructing solid arguments to underpin my views, so to show that they are more plausible, coherent, parsimonious and empirically adequate than the alternatives, regardless of how many other people happen to be onboard with them.

In his preoccupation with whether the positions I defend are those of the majority or the minority, Vickers misses the sole point of relevance: they are my positions, my work, my output, my views. And I hope that their merit will be evaluated based on the quality of the arguments and evidence I put forward. It is not misleading to focus my work on articulating my views as best as I can, is it?

Indeed, Vickers’ entire case now seems to rest on this one question. Is it valid to think of the majority’s opinion in science as a suitable reference against which to judge the very honesty of my work? For him, if the position I am defending is not the majority’s view, then my defending it is deceptive and misleading. The logic here is not clear, but it seems unavoidable to conclude that this is what he thinks.

Needless to say, the entire history of science demonstrates unambiguously that, if anything, the majority’s opinion is an indicator precisely of what is not true or reliable; for the majority’s view has been consistently contradicted and refuted at each significant advancement in the development of science.

If Vickers’ peculiar and perplexing view of how legitimate science should be done had been adopted early on, science would have been in stasis since the late 16th century. For no significant advancements since then have come about without an overturning of the majority’s opinion. Vickers’ repeated appeals to majorities are incomprehensible.

To wrap things up, what I find most conspicuous in Vickers' piece is precisely what it does not do: it does not contribute anything positively to the debate it purports to address. Moreover, it fails to justify his criticism of my work in any objective manner.

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Bobby Rencher 15 June 2021

That is a really strange practice of science! It is so amazing really.

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Markus Padilla 15 June 2021

The Vickers claim that the majority view must be correct is depressingly common as if the truth is decided by a popular "X Factor" style vote. I hope Vickers takes the time to respond to your response, Bernardo and issues a thoughtful response, if not an apology!
I wish the ideas like idealism would spread steadily and hope the incomprehension of those ideas won't crystallize around such morons.

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Markus Padilla 15 June 2021

The Vickers claim that the majority view must be correct is depressingly common as if the truth is decided by a popular "X Factor" style vote. I hope Vickers takes the time to respond to your response, Bernardo and issues a thoughtful response, if not an apology!

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Andreas Schmidt Mumm 14 June 2021

Kastrup quotes Vickers: "This is when the philosopher asks us to take seriously a proposal that goes strongly against established scientific opinion." and then elaborates that scientific advancement is always based on new proposals like the theories of Relativity and Quantum Mechanics.
Certainly these theories were not proposals coming from philosophers, and they didn't go "strongly against established scientific opinion" but rather monumentally expanded on it.

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Markus Padilla 8 June 2021

Vickers portrays science as a subjective exercise driven by majority opinions, prejudices, and vulgar associations. Bernardo provided a thoughtful and well-reasoned response. I'm looking forward to Vickers' retraction.
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Ashok Zaman 14 December 2020

* And does that not depend on what it assumes about the ontological status of observer and observed?

Ashok Zaman 14 December 2020

James,

While I would agree that *ideally*, "no science agrees with a materialistic world" that is most certainly not the case in practice, it is not the case in terms of the a priori ontological presuppositions involved, nor how it is understood, or taken to represent and mean more widely. It is quite explicitly used to argue that there is nothing more to reality than what it can measure, and those who support this argument are self-satisfied that the matter is settled beyond question; it has become the ascendant worldview. To suggest otherwise is to be in denial.

As you say, at the lowest levels of physics 'matter' becomes insubstantial. Well then, is it not a legitimate question for science, what is it then measuring? And does that not depend on what it assumes ontological status observer and observed? Meaning, that science, and a lot of what you have said and claimed in your posts are *unavoidably* metaphysical, despite the claim that you are anti-metaphysical. When you say "We don't incorporate consciousness into gravitational or electromagnetic equations..." "If science is to inform metaphysics, what it tells us by and large is that consciousness does not play much of a role in how the universe goes about its business", you are already making claims that implicitly involve an ontological distinction, ergo a metaphysical argument. For one, speaking of consciousness as if it were a thing among other things, measurable.

I am not saying this specifically to defend Kastrup's *analytic* idealism, which argues for consciousness as ontological primitive. Taken as a *purely* conceptual framework, along with materialism, of course one can make the argument that it is nonsense, indistinguishable from materialism, and as such inconsequential. But, again, this would be to ignore what is already presupposed in scientific epistemology, and how the very insubstantiality of 'matter' at the lowest levels points, not to nature construed as something 'out there', but to the construal itself.

Ariel Ase 12 December 2020

One of the deep problem of science, or of those who make it, concerns with the unique way of seeing reality. Generally speaking, science is a more homogenous discipline, it is fundamentally empirical and materialistic. All speculation based on a mathematical or physical model to explain reality, if remaining in the theoretical reign, is closer to philosophy than science. Philosophy is more heterogenous discipline. Some says that it is like a pendulum, oscillating between science and the arts. It is more open to new ideas, an open-ending endeavour. It pays the price of being of little progress if some. But this is in appearance, as most of the now a day scientific work are based on previous philosophical statements, thoughts, though not many scientists do realize it. Philosophy is not only about science (philosophy of science), but it is a much larger activity, which includes epistemology, ethics, aesthetic, logic and metaphysics. Science is more conservative in the way of thinking, philosophy is more diverse and sometime radical in the way ideas are conceived. Philosophers are mostly fighting each other to introduce their ideas, by making their cases to be accepted. Having said that, why do scientists bother philosopher’s comments regarding what reality could be? Why can not we see reality from a different perspective? Why being so set-minded in defending a materialist doctrine that has lasted for so long, without giving possibility to other ways of thinking? Although materialism is associated with science, it is one among many other philosophical doctrines, having born in the mind of materialist Greek philosophers, Leucipo, Democritus, and then Epicure. Please, scientists, do not do to philosophers what the religion institutions have done to science during the long periods of human history. Let’s be free of thinking. Let’s allow thinking to flow, to be open.

James Cross 11 December 2020

Ashok,

In some ways, I am not only directly objecting to Kastrup's view but to the view of everyone who thinks that the idea of metaphysics or ontological primitives makes any sense. So again there is no science that agrees with Kastrup. No science that agrees with materialistic view of the world. Both of these views are nonsense and are actually indistinguishable from each other when decomposed. If everything is one thing, then we can call it whatever we like. When we look at the lowest levels in physics, matter becomes more and more insubstantial. When you read Kastrup on his "excitations" that compose the mind at large they are hardly different from the lowest levels of physics.

My blog is called Broad Speculations so I have explored various positions over time. Any description I have of consciousness arising from EM fields or neural circuits is in the context of science and to repeat something I already wrote. These are useful abstractions that provide a common language for discussing relationships and measurements nothing more. They are useful until better ones come along but they are not descriptions of the fundamental reality.

Ashok Zaman 11 December 2020

James,

If anything, upon reading the post of yours that I was responding to, you end up saying something that is hardly an objection to Kastrup's view. Not to put words into Kastrup's mouth, but his distinction that science as a study of *behaviour*, not what it is, was relevant to my point. I never said it is necessarily physicalist, only that its epistemological methodology *currently construed*, entails ontological presuppositions that are, in effect, physicalist. It's only by clearly acknowledging that scientific epistemic practice describes nature's behaviour -- according to its pre-established ontological framework -- that its *limitations* viz. the nature of consciousness, come to light. Such a scheme is fine, but only insofar as we understand that by this what we are doing is decomposing the world/sense-objects into pre-defined, externally imposed, separable and measurable units (*derived* from, not fundamental to nature), then recompose it/them again according to those units, thus rendering the world as if it was something *we made*. A pretty picture.

You may claim to be free of a metaphysical view or presupposition, but your blog clearly asserts that consciousness is produced by (or through) some physical mechanism, and attributes subjective behaviour to the brain, a material object. In effect, the brain attributed with these abilities in the absence of a subject, for the benefit of a subject.

James Cross 10 December 2020

Ashok,

BTW, I thought I was completely clear that I am not a physicalist. If anything, I am anti-metaphysical.

"Science is anti-metaphysical. It doesn’t care about the ultimate nature of what it is observing and measuring. Its models, its particles, forces, and fields, are not models of fundamental reality. They are useful abstractions that provide a common language for discussing relationships and measurements nothing more. They are useful until better ones come along but they are not descriptions of the reality.

Some may object that a sort of anti-metaphysical, pragmatism is a form of metaphysics. Well, perhaps, it is. But, if it is, it is a metaphysics that doesn’t care about the fundamental nature of reality, that maybe considers it a pointless question".

https://broadspeculations.com/2020/04/05/does-science-need-metaphysics/

James Cross 10 December 2020

Actually Kastrup himself doesn't *agree* with you.

I wish there was an edit option.

James Cross 10 December 2020

Ashok,

I'm not sure which position you are trying to take. If science is necessarily physicalist then I can't see how you can ever argue that we can use science to inform a metaphysics that is not physicalist. What's more, given science's success, then how could you argue that it is telling us anything other than physicalism is the more correct metaphysics.

Actually Kastrup himself doesn't argue with you. He has written:

"The popularity of materialism is founded on a confusion: somehow, our culture has come to associate it with science and technology, both of which have been stupendously successful over the past three centuries. But that success isn’t attributable to materialism; it is attributable, instead, to our ability to inquire into, model and then predict nature’s behavior".

https://iai.tv/articles/why-materialism-is-a-dead-end-bernardo-kastrup-auid-1271

So science works quite well but it doesn't actually require a materialist viewpoint.

Ashok Zaman 10 December 2020

Like most physicalists, you want to have your cake and eat it too.

"I'm saying science doesn't require a metaphysical belief"
"Science may require in cases a physicalist methodology because it is about measuring things"

That is not an epistemology that is free of ontological commitments, then. You may claim that it shouldn't be confused with some requirement that it must assume a material foundation to reality, and yet, methodologically and in practice, it is. It's built right into the methods and instruments of measurement, as if there were an independently available observer-space, like a hermetically sealed container of measurable things.

Elizabeth Ann Curran 10 December 2020

BK
Bravo and thank you. Many of the comments you make above articulate precisely what I, as an amateur philosopher, have struggled to debate with more physicalist, “scientifically minded” acquaintances. In future I shall simply provide them a link to this piece.
EAC

James Cross 10 December 2020

Asok,

A true believer in what? I'm saying science doesn't require a metaphysical belief. Scientists may individually have metaphysical beliefs. Many may be materialists/physicalists but even the notion of some fundamental basis of reality - an ontological primitive - not only isn't required for science, it might even be antithetical to it.

Science may require in cases a physicalist methodology because it is about measuring things but that shouldn't be confused with a requirement that it must assume a material foundation to reality. I think science can function quite well with no assumption about some singular basis of reality that underlies the measurements.

Ashok Zaman 10 December 2020

James,

To bluntly insist that the epistemic *practice* of science doesn't entail a priori ontological presuppositions, is such a stubbornly and laughably flawed position, it can only be held by a blind fanatic. A true believer.

You'll probably construe this statement as being anti-science. It's not.

Molly Allegretti 9 December 2020

James,

The accusations you are making against Kastrup are really distorting what he's saying. I feel like you have some personal animosity to the man.

If anyone is a mere polemicist it would be Vickers.

If someone is going to make claims that are easily refuted by a charitable reading of the above essay I am not sure what to do.

James Cross 9 December 2020

Asok,

You write:

"James, you're still speaking of science as if its epistemological process stands alone, free of prior ontological commitments".

Yes, that's correct.

James Cross 9 December 2020

Gregor,

Okay. So Kastrup says he wants to appeal to science which consists of a body of knowledge developed over the last few hundred years based on experiments and observations that is agreed to by scientists. But does he really? Do you?

No. You both want to seize on something which isn't a part of the body of knowledge and claim the knowledge of science is "not true or reliable".

If it isn't true or reliable, what is about yours or Kastrup's view that makes yours more true or reliable? Cite the evidence.

Kastrup wants to claim there is some crisis in modern science and physics but it is only to make a polemical argument for a metaphysical position. His position has nothing to do with science or a new paradigm. He offers no scientific evidence.

Gregor Flock 9 December 2020

And that...

"the entire history of science demonstrates unambiguously that, if anything, the majority’s opinion is an indicator precisely of what is not true or reliable; for the majority’s view has been consistently contradicted and refuted at each significant advancement in the development of science.
If Vickers’ peculiar and perplexing view of how legitimate science should be done had been adopted early on, science would have been in stasis since the late 16th century. For no significant advancements since then have come about without an overturning of the majority’s opinion. Vickers’ repeated appeals to majorities are incomprehensible."

...is game, set and match Kastrup.

To add something from myself: Vickers understanding of Kuhnian revolutions is poor and superficial. If it had been deeper, he would have understood and acknowledged that crises *are already there and understood by revolutionaries' whereas inferior normal scientists - or in Vickers case perhaps rather adherents of the church of normal scientism - are oblivious to them. The/A related passage from Kuhn's "Structure":

"Often a new paradigm emerges, at least in embryo, before a crisis has developed far or been explicitly recognized. Lavoisier’s work provides a case in point. His sealed note was deposited with the French Academy less than a year after the first thorough study of weight relations in the phlogiston theory and before Priestley’s publications had revealed the full extent of the crisis in pneumatic chemistry. Or again, Thomas Young’s first accounts of the wave theory of light appeared at a very early stage of a developing crisis in optics, one that would be almost unnoticeable except that, with no assistance from Young, it had grown to an international scientific scandal within a decade of the time he first wrote." (Kuhn 1970, ch. VIII, 86)

To conclude with another fitting quote from Nassim Taleb (“The Intellectual Yet Idiot,” ch. 6 in his Skin in the Game: Hidden Asymmetries in Daily Life) which also underscores what Kastrup wrote:

"They can’t tell science from scientism — in fact in their image-oriented minds scientism looks more scientific than real science." (Taleb 2018, ch. 6)

That is how pathetic groupthink-driven normal 'philosophers' and 'scientists' and 'philosophers' of 'science' can be, and I think that Vickers just might fall into that category.

Ashok Zaman 9 December 2020

James, you're still speaking of science as if its epistemological process stands alone, free of prior ontological commitments. This is simply not the case. If the question is what does science inform us about metaphysics, then clearly, given a priori commitment to physicalist ontological presuppositions, which are, in fact, baked into the epistemic process of science, then of course one can only expect physicalist conclusions. It is question begging.

While Kastrup mentions that he has scientific colleagues who do not take for granted metaphysical materialism (that is to say, physicalism), it's safe to say that it presents as the most acceptable position for a scientist to hold, as well as the one implicit (and explicit) in pretty much all science communication in the public and cultural domain today. Which is a shame, because it has become a dogma that's the singular most limiting factor in our scientific imagination, and thus scientific understanding.

History is repeating itself.

Molly Allegretti 9 December 2020

James,

The lack of consciousness as part of the fundamental constituents of reality is probably the only thing Physicalists can agree on. It's why the Eliminativists are so difficult to refute, they are simply speaking the truth that Physicalism removes all possibility of human meaning from the world precisely because there's no place for Consciousness in the final accounting of reality. It's fields, energy, matter, forces, and so on.

What science informs us about the role of consciousness is the question is yet to be fully settled. And insofar as it rests on mathematical proofs buttressing its calculations and the need for experimenters to make observations Science would seem to depend a lot on consciousness.

James Cross 8 December 2020

Molly,

Who says physicalism starts with the premise there is no consciousness? It starts with the premise that consciousness, like everything else, is physical. Everything we know about the "physical" will be in consciousness because consciousness is physical. It is not apart from the physical.

Once again it isn't a question of whether consciousness plays a role. It is a question in these essays of what science is telling us. There is nothing in science that indicates an expansive role for consciousness. There isn't idealist line of inquiry in science any more than there is a physicalist line of inquiry. There is just science and science hasn't shown yet a role for consciousness in the physics of the universe. Even if there were or could be an idealist line of inquiry, it hasn't produced any results. Maybe it could produce results at some future time, but it hasn't produced anything yet. So what science informs is no major role for consciousness.

Molly Allegretti 8 December 2020

Apologies I meant "near confirmation" not a definitive confirmation.

Molly Allegretti 8 December 2020

James Cross,

Physicalism starts off with the premise that there is no Consciousness, the one thing we actually know with certainty via our own experience. Idealism - which I am not necessarily advocating - is saying that everything we will know about the "physical" will be in consciousness and thus we can (arguably) conclude there's nothing beyond a leap of faith that said physical is outside any consciousness. Thus it does not require a Something from Nothing miracle. Simple logic should lead us away from metaphysics that violate our fundamental axioms, in the same way we await evidence God can create Ex Nihilo.

That said I think even the Physicalist neuroscientists trying to figure out the Hard Problem would be amazed to hear someone say Physicalism doesn't have something to explain.

Again, Kastrup has pointed out that lines of evidence can favor a metaphysics. If this is the only thing that happens, with no other scientific progress made by a confirmation of Idealism, Panpsychism, or some other metaphysics, this is still an incredibly worthwhile research endeavor. I'd be careful not to distort his words, there are right above the comment section after all.

As such I don't think we can say Consciousness plays no role, as we simply don't know what supports the causal regularities we find in Nature. It's an as yet unanswered question. An Idealist informed line of scientific inquiry might, for example, give us insights to what possibly lies "underneath" quantum mechanics.

James Cross 8 December 2020

Obviously I meant:

One can pick and choose various facts and theories to fit a metaphysics one chooses for other reasons but the facts and theories *cannot* prove the metaphysics true.

James Cross 8 December 2020

Molly and Ashok,

The question is what does science inform us about metaphysics. The answer is overwhelmingly that consciousness plays only a minor or no role since it is not required for any of physics to work and be predictive. Consciousness is not found as essential in any theory whatsoever.

If you want to argue consciousness plays some role in the universe nevertheless, then have at it but don't argue that science requires it or science informs us that it must.

Regarding "no value in knowing what metaphysics might likely be true in the sense of conforming best to scientific evidence", you should be able to see that science cannot answer the question about what metaphysics is likely to be true per Kastrup himself. One can pick and choose various facts and theories to fit a metaphysics one chooses for other reasons but the facts and theories can prove the metaphysics true.

Physicalism doesn't have to explain how the physical can produce consciousness because it would say consciousness is physical. The distinction between consciousness and the physical is illusory in a similar way that idealism argues the physical is mental.

Ashok Zaman 8 December 2020

I agree with Molly, you are too generous to physicalism. James' comment below only serves to illustrate how unexamined, pervasive and entrenched physicalism is; as if it were the self-evident position around which the practice of science must turn. The comment presupposes (and takes for granted) that mind, or consciousness, plays no role in the universe going about its business, to conclude that it doesn't. The epistemic *practice* of science, and its findings, are taken to be operating in distinction from it, as if entirely devoid of prior ontological commitment. Citing examples such as Einstein's relativity and the standard model as if they too are free of speculative assumption and non-empirical imposition.

Holding dogmatically to such ontological prejudices in fact, does place arbitrary limits upon the practice of science and its potential findings.

Molly Allegretti 7 December 2020

Excellent article but I think you are too generous to Physicalism, which has to also explain how the "physical" which has no consciousness can magically - in the pejorative, denial of explanation sense - produce consciousness.

As for James' comment below, I find it bizarre someone would think there's no value in knowing what metaphysics might likely be true in the sense of conforming best to scientific evidence. Surely this would inform future research.

Beyond that even if the only thing we could know was whether science best supports Idealism or Panpsychism this would still be a finding of great value to the public knowledge, far more so than findings from physics that may not ever see applicable use within our children's children's lifetimes.

James Cross 7 December 2020

There is very little in physics or science in general to support either idealism or panpsychism. We don't incorporate consciousness into gravitational or electromagnetic equations, Einstein's relativity, the standard model, or thermodynamics. If science is to inform metaphysics, what it tells us by and large is that consciousness does not play much of a role in how the universe goes about its business. The single niche area where there might be any debate is the one area Kastrup points to - a particular view of quantum mechanics that is held by a relatively small number of physicists. This view, even if it could be proven, would tell us nothing definitive of metaphysical import because by Kastrup's own admission science only informs metaphysics. It would still not answer in a final way whether the apparent physical world is really mental or the apparent mental world is really physical. That ultimately is for the metaphysicians to decide or ultimately for them to stop trying to decide.