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Tuesday, 21 May 2019

Rudy Rucker and David Chalmers: Rocks Do and Don't Have Minds


David Chalmers: Rocks Don't have Minds

It's no good a panpsychist saying that

"panpsychism holds that every basic entity - usually understood as a physical entity—is also a mind"

unless we have a definition of the word 'mind'. Until then, the panpsychist may as well say that

panpsychism holds that every basic entity is also a flabbergist.

Thus it's very nice that David Chalmers explicitly states that he doesn't believe that (for example) rocks are conscious or have minds. At least that puts a lot of fluff out of the way. And that's why Chalmers has used the technical term “proto-experience”.

So is it that rocks don't have experiences/consciousness or that they don't have minds? That's a big difference. Let Chalmers speak for himself:

I do not think it is strictly accurate to say that rocks (for example) have experiences.”

Chalmers is very careful (as usual) with his words. However, in the process of being careful, he's also not very convincing. Surely most people wouldn't use a diplomatic phrase such as [it is not] “strictly accurate to say that rocks have experiences”. Indeed virtually no philosopher would put it that way either. Even according to Chalmers' own “panprotopsychism” it can be said that Chalmers needn't have put it quite so diplomatically (or nicely).

Then Chalmers brings in “possibility” - which he often does. He writes:

But I hope to have said enough to show that we ought to take the possibility of some sort of panpsychism seriously: there seem to be no knockdown arguments against the view, and there are various positive reasons why one might embrace it.”

Of course once possibility has been given house room, then almost anything goes (which is itself a modal statement). And it's precisely because Chalmers gives so much time to possibilities than he argues for (philosophical) zombies, “naturalistic dualism” and, here, panpsychism. Indeed because we're dealing with possibilities, it's the case that Chalmers is perfectly correct to argue that there “seem to be no known knockdown arguments" against panpsychism... or zombies... or naturalistic dualism. 

Still, many philosophers would say: So what! That is, are possibilities alone enough to sustain a broad philosophical position? One can give house room to a possibility and yet still reject its actuality or even its relevant probability. And aren't infinite things possible before breakfast? Should we incorporate all of them into our philosophies?

Still, it's not all about possibilities. Chalmers, after all, finishes off by saying that “there are various positive reasons why one might embrace” panpsychism... naturalistic dualism... zombies. This implies (or at least Chalmers' wording does) that the possibility of panpsychism is a negative phenomenon (or case); whereas the other reasons (which he “embrace[s]”) are “positive”.

Lets get back to Chalmers diplomatic phrase. So what's the difference between these two statements? -

I do not think it is strictly accurate to say that rocks (for example) have experiences...”

and

rocks may have experiences associated with them...”

What does rocks “hav[ing] experiences associated with them” so much as mean? And who (or what) associates experiences with rocks? Of course panpsychists associate experiences with rocks. But Who else does?

After these statements, Chalmers more or less admits that he hasn't got much more than that to offer us. He firstly says that “[p]ersonally, I am much more confident of naturalistic dualism than I am of panpsychism”. And then he finishes off by saying (to repeat):

The latter issue seems to be very much open. But I hope to have said enough to show that we ought to take the possibility of some sort of panpsychism seriously: there seem to be no knockdown arguments against the view, and there are various positive reasons why one might embrace it.”

To be fair, these words were written in 1997 - so perhaps Chalmers does now believe that he has knockdown arguments for panpsychism... zombies... or naturalistic dualism. Then again, he probably believes that there are no knockdown arguments in these - or in any other - areas of philosophy.

Whatever the possibilities are, David Chalmers' position is still radically at odds with Rudy Rucker's.

Rudy Rucker: Rocks Have Minds

Rudy Rucker taught mathematics at the State University of New York at Geneseo from 1972 to 1978. He then taught maths at the Ruprecht Karl University of Heidelberg from 1978 to 1980. After that, in 1986, Rucker became a computer science professor at San José State University. (He retired from that job in 2004.) Rucker has also written non-fiction books on mathematics and physics; such as Geometry, Relativity and the Fourth Dimension and Infinity and the Mind. More relevantly to panpsychism and rocks, he also wrote The Lifebox, the Seashell, and the Soul.

In his 'Mind is a universally distributed quality' (from What is Your Dangerous Idea?), Rudy Rucker says that “[e]ach object has a mind”. This means (to him) that “[s]tars, hills, chairs, rocks, scraps of paper, flakes of skin, molecules” all have minds.

Rucker isn't only saying that all these objects have “experiences” (or embody what philosophers call “phenomenal properties”). And he certainly isn't saying that they only embody “protoexperience” or “panprotoexperience”. (As David Chalmers has it.) No; Rucker uses the word “mind”; as well as the words “experiences” and “sensations”.

So it must now be said that when (some) philosophers (such as Chalmers himself) use the term “experience” or “phenomenal properties”, they aren't necessarily also talking about minds. Nonetheless, it can of course now be argued that experiences and phenomenal properties must surely come attached to (as it were) minds.

So how does Rucker define “mind”?

If Rucker defines the word “mind” so that it only includes what he calls “inner experiences” and “sensations”, then his use of that word would be - by his own definition - correct.

Perhaps experience does come along with mind in the sense that it's hard to think of a mindless experience. However, that may not quite be the case when it comes to phenomenal properties because, prima facie, one can conceive (a word often used when philosophers like Chalmers modalise about these issues) of them as belonging to non-minds; or to, yes, Rudy Rucker's rocks, scraps of paper or flakes of skin.

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