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← The raw deal of determinism and reductionism

Mark Jones's Avatar Jump to comment 124 by Mark Jones

Comment 121 by Zeuglodon

Steve Zara was the one who persuaded me that physicalism, to be more precise, was a credible base. Not in the logical positivism sense of being exclusive (if I can't detect it, it doesn't exist, or "absence of evidence is evidence of absence"), but more in the sense that, if you can't provide evidence for something, you default to the null hypothesis in practice.

I think this is an important point; that materialism is simply a description of what we have evidence for at the moment. There are presumably any number of 'othernesses' that could exist, but we need some evidence for them. If, for some reason, the only evidence we can get is of matter, then that's hardly the fault of materialists, is it? We're simply not in a position to acknowledge the existence of anything else - how is that dogmatic? But if we can get evidence for something other than matter, well, great; we can all take a look.

I think it's also worth pointing out that there is an inherent anti-materialist dogma implicit in many of these discussions. As Galen Strawson points out, we have no evidence that raw matter is incapable inherently of experience:

The puzzlement remains - the deep puzzlement one still feels, as a beginner in materialism, when one considers experiential properties and non-experiential properties and grants that they are equally part of physical reality. The puzzlement is legitimate in [a way]: it is legitimate insofar as we have no positive understanding of how the two sorts of properties connect up. But it is completely illegitimate if it contains any trace of the thought "How can consciousness be physical, given what we know about what matter is like?" If one thinks this then one is, in Russell's words, "guilty, unconsciously and in spite of explicit disavowals, of a confusion in one's imaginative picture of matter" (1927a: 382). One thinks one knows more about the nature of matter-of the non-experiential-than one does. This is the fundamental error.

In this discussion of panpsychism, he calls this 'seemingly strange view', that all particles have the capacity to experience, a simpler explanation than what we've come up with so far:

Why have we simply assumed that the physical is in its fundamental nature non experiential, what is the evidence for that idea? The answer (because it's mathematically precise) is zero evidence, for the existence of non-experiential reality anywhere in the universe, so why simply assume that the fundamental things are non-experiential and then cause this huge problem for yourself, which is the problem of, how do I get the experiential from the non-experiential. Much simpler, simply to suppose that there is experientiality already there right at the bottom of things.

To make the assumption, he goes on, that matter is non-experiential is 'pure prejudice'. Well, he has a point, even if I find it intuitively hard to take panpsychism seriously! To be clear, I find functionalism more plausible based on, for example, gaps in our own experience (so I'm not sure about Strawson's 'zero evidence' claim), but I think it's worth pointing out this prejudice against matter.

So maybe we should start calling those who suggest that matter cannot explain intention, awareness and so on, matter-ists.

Thu, 19 Jul 2012 10:07:06 UTC | #949556