Monday, 12 October 2015

A Miniature: Panpsychism & Monism


What is the panpsychism argument? This:

  1. Since there is consciousness in the complex parts of the world, and
  2. since the complex is only a sum of simple parts, it follows
  3. that there must also be consciousness in the simple parts of the world. [This is a paraphrase of a forgotten writer.]
Premises i) and ii) seem obviously true. However, I’m not sure that iii) is a correct conclusion (to i and ii) or whether it's in fact true.

There is indeed “consciousness in the complex parts of the world”). For instance, in the brains of human beings (if ‘in’ is the right word). Most people agree that consciousness is a result of some level of complexity.

How complex must something be in order to bring about consciousness? Human beings, for example, have billions of neurons in their brains. Ants have, say, tens or hundreds of thousands. Is that enough to bring about consciousness? Or is there more to this story than simply counting how many neurons a creature has? If a creature had trillions of neurons, would it be ultra-conscious or have an ultra-consciousness? Need that complexity be only the complexity of neurons and other aspects of the human brain?

What if we connected a thousand computers up and programmed them to work as one? If that could be done, would that integration automatically create consciousness? Is it an a priori truth that something simple (like an earthworm or even a pencil) can’t be conscious?

As for premise ii). Yes, it would seem to be the case that “the complex is only a sum of simple parts”. Indeed the complex must be a sum of simple parts otherwise it wouldn’t be, well, complex. However, what about the word “only” as in “only the sum”? Perhaps there's more to a complex machine, creature or thing than simply the addition of simple parts to one another in order to create a complex whole. Perhaps something emerges from the addition of simple parts. Perhaps something emerges from the complexity engendered by the addition of simply parts to one another.

Is a nation state, for example, ‘only’ the sum of its parts? Is a class or set only the sum of its members? Is mind or consciousness only the sum of the parts of the brain (as well as, perhaps, other physical things)?

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