Idealism, panpsychism and science

Are philosophers of mind merely speculating?

Philosopher of science Peter Vickers puts forward his take on the recent IAI News standoff between panpsychism and idealism

It is absolutely accepted that the philosopher should have a great respect for science, as an epistemological endeavour. On the face of it, both science and philosophy search for truth: scientists ask ‘big’ questions such as “Where did human beings ultimately come from?”, and philosophers similarly ask ‘big’ questions such as “What is the relationship between the mind and the brain?”. But whereas scientists sometimes actually reach truth (human beings evolved from more primitive mammals, which themselves evolved from amphibians, etc.), philosophers seemingly never do, and are doomed to forever go round in circles.

Looking back at the history of philosophy, it is usual to speak of ‘fashions’; for example, when we ask about

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Ry Suraski 7 July 2024

Is metaphysics speculative????? If a bear shits in the woods, does it make a sound?

"The reasons [to find panpsychism reasonable] are ‘philosophical’ and so of limited persuasive power". I mean, yes, in the sense that literally every belief, including that scientists exist, or that the world has existed for longer than one second, or the experiments of empirical science ever occurred, are ALL mere philosophical propositions. Tell me, in scientific terms: why are some unfalsifiable, non-empirical philosophical beliefs "more sciencey" than others? Because they're culturally popular right now? Metaphysics can only use so much science. The issue with these metaphysical worldviews isn't that they aren't "based enough in science" because they literally have the aim of accounting for modern physics generally. That cannot be done via science. It's not logically coherent. If you hold the only confirmed-real camera in the entire universe, would you say it's impossible to know whether cameras exist because so far there's been no direct photographic evidence?

This whole article is a strawman. Dismissing metaphysical perspectives for not being empirical is like dismissing psychotherapy for having practical aspects that predate/are not based on the principles of neuroscience, which would limit psychology to whatever neuroscience has and could achieve. Or maybe more like dismissing all ethics that aren't codified into law as invalid.

Nobody has claimed that metaphysical worldviews are "based in science"- they are interpretations of the science, just like physicalism (also 0% empirical). Is this a weird, long-winded proposal that the entire field of philosophy must present a disclaimer before every statement that defines what philosophy is and carefully explains that it is not a natural science...?

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This discussion should be based only on confirmed facts, and not on philosophical speculation and scientific assumptions.

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What this argument points to is the epistemic ontological explanatory gap "of" or The Hard Problem". To the idealist there is the appearance of fundamental mind or consciousness. To the biologist all cell functions are underlined by the physical laws of nature. To a neutral physicalist it should make no difference whether we name this mind consciousness physics....For the philosopher the highest domain above the mammalian brain which evolved to operate the most complex sensorimotor system in nature is the human brain and system of social interaction or human language. Languages which share and direct the inner brain states or how nature solved the other minds problem. For the philosopher this highest domain claims metaphysics as the gauntlets of speculation which he hurls down like Zeus at the scientists. The scientists and engineers deal in a world of convenient language and concepts which enable their work. Galileo, Newton, Hume and others may have freed the scientist from the world of an appeared supernatural of gods and spirits. A world of language which socialized and directed humans for centuries. Galileo may have tried to isolate science and free us from the gap by landing us in the gap. Inside the gap we watch those neurons fire under a microscope and like the computationalist theorize that a philosophical zombie or computer can perform the same mind function without experience. Galileo may have solved a tree falling in the forest and nobody hears it, but what if the forest burned and nobody entered, would they feel heat? Heat and energy can be dismissed as Hume's billiard balls or neurons acquiring unique physical states by precise molecular interactions. The highest state of nature or consciousness as the lowest entropy organized states or informational states....fundamental feelings in organisms of hot and cold which evolve into higher mammals with multilayered neocortical structures which can extract metadata or metalanguage from more fundamental states.

Johnny O'Neill 7 December 2020

Without diving into the validity of panpsychism, I would point out that, as far as the ‘a tree falling in the forest’ thought experiment, a conclusion stating that since no one was there to experience ‘sound’ there then was no ‘sound,’ but only vibrating air, is logically incorrect for the simple reason that by that logic, there was no tree that fell, either, and indeed, no forest which contained a tree. If no experience of sound, no sound; if no experience of electromagnetic light waves, no sight. Indeed, the basis of the thought experiment itself is only valid if we assume an objective reality existing independently of experience, and which admits of the falling tree making a ‘sound,’ such assumption thus rendering the question itself moot.
Taking that further, Schrödinger's famous cat in the box thought experiment is the same thought experiment as the tree in a forest. If there is a cat in a box (the falling tree) that no one can see or hear or directly experience, is it alive (meowing)?
Lacking experience of the cat, there is no ‘cat in a box,’ so again, it’s a moot question. The experience of a ‘cat in a box’ is, at best, the memory of a cat being placed in a box. It’s analogous to René Magritte’s famous painting of a pipe with the words, ‘This is not a pipe,’ painted underneath the ‘pipe.’
It’s a painting, not a ‘pipe.’ It’s a memory of a cat, not a ‘cat.’ It’s the assumption that a tree is falling, somewhere, not a ‘falling tree.’
While questions such as ‘is it a pipe’ are curiosities in our everyday dealings, when applied to things like the interactions of subatomic particles, they can be of profound importance. What is ‘it’ that we are actually ‘experiencing’? ‘Subatomic particles’? Or, perhaps, “an ‘awareness’ of what is ‘termed’ an ‘interaction’ ‘between’ what we ‘call’‘subatomic particles’”? Or, perhaps, some ’thing’ else entirely…?

Hugh Manbeing 6 December 2020

.... I mean, let's face it, when you leave university with your philosophy degree, you've acquired the wisdom that the Marxists, the right wing press and the home secretary will allow you to have - and I don't think these people really know what the depths of human wisdom are.
For really exploring philosophy, there were better universities in India a thousand years ago. £27,000 for a modern philosophy degree - when there are mushrooms growing all over for free ? No thanks :-)

Vyacheslav Dianov 5 December 2020

Too much confusion and idle talk.
This discussion should be based only on confirmed facts, and not on philosophical speculation and scientific assumptions.
I suggest starting the discussion with the fundamental question - is the world objective or not?
This question raises the need for a rational explanation of the spirit world. Does the spirit, the soul really exist or not?

Hugh Manbeing 5 December 2020

....I should add that the relevance of extreme happiness is that it often is an aspect of non-dual experiences, but not always. Either way, if you were to survey scientists compared to people declaring an interest in non-duality or psychedelics, I think you would, generally, find a difference in depth of wellbeing both experienced and sought. A hunch.

Hugh Manbeing 4 December 2020

When they teach exploration of, and experimentation in, non-dual experience in universities we may get some clarity on these matters.

Hugh Manbeing 4 December 2020

...in fact, in this matter, academics have been hobbled by the superstitious prohibition on psychedelics and a cultural prejudice against extreme happiness, and so what we really have is a politically correct, socially obedient version of science and philosophy, with the real business being conducted off campus.

Ethan Bills 4 December 2020

Given the job of science - i.e., understanding the objective causal properties of physical systems - science is, by definition, not metaphysics. Indeed, unlike science, Idealism is a metaphysical ontology intended to answer what reality is, that is, the essential, underlying nature of existence; therefore, by definition, Idealism is not science. Peter, instead of merely dismissing Bernardos views and calling them unscientific, how about you actually address them based on their philosophical merit. From what I can tell, Idealism is by far the most parsimonious, explanatory description of reality, especially when considering that Physicalism can't answer for the sole datum of existence itself - phenomenal consciousness - and to survive as an accurate ontological description of reality must postulate an infinite multiverse. Perhaps it's time for you to take these views a little more seriously.

Vic P 3 December 2020

Very good article. I think what underscores the idealist and panpsychist position is a starting point. What "really" needs to be done is refine mind and consciousness as the reality problem. If in reality mind and consciousness exist at the levels of panpsychism or idealism, then how do our minds create our reality at this scale of objects, space, time, feelings, smell, sight....The physicalist approach may yield the proper data but the gap to explain this scaled reality still points towards the panpsychist idealist.