Thursday, 2 January 2020

The Case Against Professor Donald Hoffman

[This is a standard introduction to all my commentaries on videos.]

When it comes to my commentaries on particular videos, only the content of - or the words within - the video itself will be discussed. That is, the commentary won't be a case of detailed research on the subject discussed or person interviewed (as one would find in an academic paper or even in an in depth article). The reason for this is that I believe that this will help both the readers of the piece and the viewers of the video – even if such readers and viewers aren't exactly newcomers to the subject discussed or the person being interviewed in the video.


I'm gonna shout a bit in the following!

I've been studying philosophy for a bit now but I must admit that I hardly understood a word of the last hour of this "interview". (This was even harder to understand than Heidegger or Derrida.) Now was that simply because what Professor Donald Hoffman and Zubin say is so damned complex and novel? Or was it because it's so damn vague, suggestive and designed to titillate?

The endless references to "the mathematics", "mathematical models" and "mathematical theorems" (as well as the compulsory reference to Godel) just seem like a cheap attempt to give what's said kudos. Hoffman is desperate to show his physics/mathematical credentials, despite holding what many would regard as various wacky position. He shows these credentials when he keeps on talking about "the maths" and "mathematical models". Yet I can't help feeling that the term "mathematical models" is being used vaguely in Hoffman's contexts and that such models don't do the work he claims they do. (I believe too that the word "model" is often overused and misused outside of physics.)

It's like saying: This can't be wacky because I keep on mentioning mathematics. These references to maths are sugarcoating the deep and vague wackery. Now that's strong, rhetorical language from me. However, I can honestly say that I've never heard such pretentious and improvisatory stuff from a professor. And you simply can't sugarcoat this wacky pill with mathematics... It may sound pleasing when stoned; but in the cold light of day, it sucks... Or at least the things said in the last 30 minutes suck. 

(The early part of the interview on evolution is interesting; though not original to Hoffman. It's about how, in evolutionary terms, a species doesn't require all the details of any given environment in order to survive and propagate - or it doesn't require "truth", as Hoffman poetically puts it.)

On a specific technical point. Panpsychism is not dualist; as Hoffman claims it is. If there is consciousness (or "intrinsic phenomenal properties") "all the way down" to the particle and all the way up to the animal brain, then how can panpsychism be dualist? There's no separation of mind and matter in panpsychism because all matter has mind (or, at the least, experience).

It would help if Zubin, the guy interviewing Hoffman, offered some criticisms of Hoffman's positions. All we seem to have in this interview is two people agreeing with each other. In addition, we also have Zubin putting the position Hoffman has just put in his own hipster way. There's way too much agreement for my liking.

Donald Hoffman on Panpsychism

This video features Donald Hoffman - and other philosophers/scientists - on panpsychism... except that the person interviewing Hoffman has to get him on track (rather than keep him on track). That is, Hoffman doesn't offer his views on panpsychism for most of the interview. Instead, he puts his position on “icons”, “interfacing”, etc.

Hoffman believes (as stated at 32:30) that there are two (only two?) forms of panpsychism – and only one of them is “dualist”. The problem is, again, I don't understand his reasons for this
Hoffman seems to confuse – and this in incredible! – (scientific) realism with dualism. That is, realists (not dualists) “believe that an electron really exists and it really does have physical properties”. He also says that these dualists believe electrons “have a unit of consciousness”, ect. (A "unit"? Why a unit?) Hence the panpsychism.

The other version of panpsychism is actually a kind of idealism. And Hoffman adds his holistic or cosmological (like Philip Goff's “cosmopsychism”?) view in which he rejects separate “agents”, etc. And then he says this is “what [he] can show mathematically”. (Here we go again!) He calls his theory “conscious realism”; which he prefers to the term "panpsychism".

Now I don't want to get bogged down with terms or which is the correct one. However, Hoffman clearly doesn't fully understand the philosophical terms he uses. That's fine; he classes himself as a “scientist”. But I do suggest that if he's going to use terms like “panpsychism”, “realism” and “dualism”, then he should do more philosophical research and talk a little less about his own “mathematical model”.

My main argument is that Hoffman is hopeless when it comes to bringing the maths together with his philosophical speculations; primarily because his knowledge of philosophy is very rudimentary.

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