Sean Carroll vs. Philip Goff on panpsychism

Many misunderstand the illusion that illusionism refers to. This series of recent tweets from Frankish tries to address a common misunderstanding (the rest of my post is a quotation of the tweets):

Do illusionists deny the existence of experiences and imply that empathy with other people’s feelings is misplaced??

Illusionists don’t deny that we undergo states of the kind we call “conscious experiences” (seeing colours, tasting foods, having pains, etc). Nor do they deny that the nature of these states matters to us and should matter to others.

Illusionists merely deny a certain philosophical account of what these states involve. They deny that they involve our being acquainted with an essentially private world of primitive qualitative properties–with mental versions of redness, sweetness, painfulness, etc

Illusionists hold that experiences are complex clusters of brain processes, which track, model, and react to significant features of the world. Conscious experience occurs when the brain also tracks, models and reacts to these processes themselves.

Our sense of being acquainted with a subjective inner world arises from this self-monitoring. However, the brain doesn’t track its own processes in fine detail. It just models their overall shape and valance, which it represents schematically, as a primitive mental quality.

So it’s not experiences (the clusters of perceptual and reactive processes) that are illusory but the qualitative guises under which they are represented and made available to other brain systems, and thus to ‘us’ – the persons constituted by all these brain systems.

If anything, I think, this view should make empathy easier. It retrieves experience from a private realm, where no one but the subject can truly know it,and roots it in perceptual sensitivities and reactive dispositions which others can notice, describe, and empathize with.

Thanks for the offer. That journal is available online, and I have access to it, so a simple citation would suffice. :slight_smile:

The specific article is:

The meta-problem is the problem of consciousness . Journal of Consciousness Studies , 26(9-10):83-94

The whole issue is devoted the Chalmers paper.

There is an earlier issue Frankish edited devoted to illusionism.
Illusionism as a theory of consciousness. Journal of Consciousness Studies, 23(11-12) (2016)

If there is a DOI, I have not been able to find it. I have no academic access, but with the doi scihub works. I bought the 2016 issue, although many of its articles are now online, including Frankish’s at his site.

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thanks, will have a look.

At the risk of sounding grandiose, illusionism sounds like a model that I came up with largely on my own (though I have no illusions that no one else had already thought of it).

Start with the presumption that there is a world of some sort outside of our brain. Our brain only has access to this world thru the electro-chemical signals communicated to it thru our sense organs. The things we consciously perceive as a result of these stimuli is an illusion or representation that does not necessarily coincide with what actually exists outside of our skulls. Rather, it is the equivalent of a graphical interface which has arisen over the course of evolution and which allows us to negotiate the world in a matter suitable to our survival. This does not just apply to our sense perceptions such as of colours, object, sounds, etc. It also applies to our cognitive functioning. The latter addresses an argument often made by theists when they raise the question: Why is the world comprehensible thru logic and reason? In the model I describe, logic, reason, math, etc are computational processes that just happen to produce results that are beneficial to our survival when we use them. Whether they actually represent laws by which the external world operates remains unknown and unknowable.

That post to me does not seem to be about the issue of phenomenal consciousness because it does not speak to why we have these qualitative experiences. For example, we can conceive of “zombies” who act exactly the same as us (including speech) because they have all those same electrochemical processes that you describe, but yet have no phenomenal experiences.

Or consider the childhood puzzle: are you experiencing the same thing I am when you see something red?

I don’t think any of your post speaks to that puzzle (which is a version of the explanatory gap).
It’s those sorts of puzzles, plus others like the Knowledge Argument (Frank Jackson), that the philosophy of illusionism and its alternatives are trying to address.

Your post seems more on the issue of what we can know about how the world truly is. I guess that concern goes back to Plato’s cave, with many contributors since then, particularly Descartes and Kant. Putnam’s brain in the vat and of course movies like The Matrix and Inception all speak to the topics in your post.

The post-Darwin version is that evolution rewards success, not truth, so we can not claim any knowledge of how the world is. Plantinga started there and produced the evolutionary argument against naturalism: very roughly: under naturalism about our beliefs, and given that evolution rewards success not truth, he argues that naturalism is self-contradictory. Mr Google will provide the details.

Donald Hoffman, a psychologist, has a long history of arguing for a theory like that, and he takes it to the limit of arguing that the world is just consciousness and idealism is the right philosophical outlook on reality. He throws in some quantum woo for good measure (consciousness is needed to collapse the wave function). He has a recent book on it, and Googling will find many articles and podcasts where he pushes his ideas.

The upshot for me of both these lines of argument is that we really do want to be able to argue that our senses and mental representations can give us an accurate model of the world, not merely a successful one. I could give lots of links on that, but …

True, and it was not intended as such. And, I guess, neither is Frankish’s.

I see the question more as “What does it mean to say ‘The world as it truly is’, and is that even a meaningful statement?” We can imagine a being not encumbered by our awkward and compromised biological sensori-neurocognitive apparatus who is able to see the “world as it truly is” without mediation thru our senses. Or can we, really? On what basis can it be said that some other way of experiencing the world does so “as it truly is?” What is the gold standard?

I’m not quite talking about The Matrix or the brain in the vat, because those scenarios still seem, to me, to presume the existence of “world as it truly is” that could be accurately perceived by someone else. I guess what I’m saying is that I am skeptical that it is even possible for a subject to experience the “world as it truly is”. Rather, we can only have “The world as it is, including subjects who interact with parts of the world in particular ways that cause them to have experiences that they believe are reflections of that world.” A world without those subjects, or different kinds of subjects, is not that world, not the world “as it is.”

OK, I don’t even really know what I’m saying anymore. :slight_smile:

I’m aware of the EAAN, and my response is fourfold:

  1. It commits the error of presuming that an atheist would use the fact that it evolved as warrant to believe that our neural apparatus is reliable. I know of no one who does that.

  2. Our minds have evolved to help us survive, not to accurately perceive “the world as it truly is”, and I’m totally cool with that. Everything we perceive and believe is the result of how our brain processes the information fed to it by our sensory systems, and we have no idea how, if at all, this relates to a “world as it truly is” that might exist apart from us. There’s nothing we can do about that, that’s just the way it is, and the way it is seems to work out more or less fine. So I’m not going to stay up nights thinking about it.

  3. Positing the existence of a god does not solve the problem. We are then left, instead, in the position of knowing only that our minds operate in a way that is consistent with God’s plan for the universe, and that may or may not entail our minds being able to accurately understand the world. If you use your reason to convince you that God wouldn’t create our minds to be unreliable, well, maybe that’s just what God wants you to think.

  4. Our minds do operate as if they were meant to facilitate survival rather than to accurately perceive reality. One example:

Yes, that is the question. That is where people go wrong.

It doesn’t actually mean anything to talk of the “the world as it really is.”

More explicitly, there isn’t any way that the world really is.

The widely held idea that there is a way that the world really is – that is the illusion.

Phenomenal consciousness is not itself an illusion (in my opinion).

We (as members of a community) describe the world. So we can talk of the world as we describe it. We cannot talk of the world as it really is. We can only talk of the world as we describe it.

Phenomenal consciousness is the world as our brains describe it to us. And there’s no reason to suppose that the description my brain makes up, should be identical to the description that your brain makes up. And to even say that is to bend the meaning of “identical” beyond what is reasonable.

We English speakers have our way of describing the world. French speakers have their way of describing the world. And for somebody who has not learned French, the French way of describing the world will seem to be gibberish.

If I could connect your neurons into my brain, to see how your brain describes the world to me, that would also be gibberish. Or, as William James put it, that would be a blooming buzzing confusion.

We do, however, manage to translate our brains description into English for discussion among ourselves. But that translation is imperfect and incomplete.

The Chalmers hard problem is based on the false assumption, that there is a way that the world really is. Over at TSZ, I have been describing that as implicitly theistic and implicitly dualistic. It presupposes that there is a “god’s eye view” and it presupposes that we have some hidden communication channel (which we might call a “soul”) to inquire about that god’s eye view.

I disagree. Frankish is trying to deal with the philosophical puzzles of phenomenal experience. It’s just Dennett from Consciousness Explained onwards, but explained much better. And Dennett was and is concerned with those answering those arguments. See also Frankish’s articles for Illusionism issue of Consciousness Studies and his Diet Qualia article (both at his web site, I believe).

There is a lot of philosophy about that which I don’t want to try to rehearse here. I can certainly agree with saying we must use conceptual schemes to describe reality; we don’t have a God’s eye view. But I believe that our everyday experience and action aligns our everyday scheme with the causal structure of reality at everyday scales, and our scientific practices align our scientific theories with the unobservable entities (better: the causal structures/information patterns) from which our everyday reality emerges.

Assuming you are a naturalist, I don’t think your argument addresses Plantinga’s point which is basically that the belief in evolution and naturalism together leads to a contradiction. There’s an old thread at TSZ with OP by KN which gets into the argument further; there are even more details are on SEP which I’ve linked too.

I’ll have a look at that material, but what is the apparent contradiction, if you don’t mind giving a brief summary?

I ETA’d my point to add that I am assuming you are a believer in naturalism. I am just going to quote the relevant section from the SEP article (which Plantinga wrote). I think he has subsequently tightened it up. There’s a whole book on dealing with Plantinga’s argument, he is a well-respected philosopher, eg in modal logic, and he does not make easy-to-find errors in published material. (Of course, Plantinga is not a naturalist, and he argues God has enabled us to have true beliefs).

Here’s the quote from Plantinga in his SEP Science and Religion article, Section 5.

We can briefly state Darwin’s doubt as follows. Let R be the proposition that our cognitive faculties are reliable, N the proposition that naturalism is true and E the proposition that we and our cognitive faculties have come to be by way of the processes to which contemporary evolutionary theory points us: what is the conditional probability of R on N&E? I.e., what is P(R | N&E)? Darwin fears it may be rather low.

Of course it is only unguided natural selection that prompts the worry. If natural selection were guided and orchestrated by the God of theism, for example, the worry would disappear; God would presumably use the whole process to create creatures of the sort he wanted, creatures in his own image, creatures with reliable cognitive faculties. So it is unguided evolution, and metaphysical beliefs that entail unguided evolution, that prompt this worry about the reliability of our cognitive faculties. Now naturalism entails that evolution, if it occurs, is indeed unguided. But then, so the suggestion goes, it is unlikely that our cognitive faculties are reliable, given the conjunction of naturalism with the proposition that we and our cognitive faculties have come to be by way of natural selection winnowing random genetic variation. If so, one who believes that conjunction will have a defeater for the proposition that our faculties are reliable—but if that’s true, she will also have a defeater for any belief produced by her cognitive faculties—including, of course, the conjunction of naturalism with evolution. That conjunction is thus seen to be self-refuting. If so, however, this conjunction cannot rationally be accepted, in which case there is conflict between naturalism and evolution, and hence between naturalism and science.

We can state the argument schematically as follows:

P(R | N&E) is low.
Anyone who accepts N&E and sees that (1) is true has a defeater for R.
Anyone who has a defeater for R has a defeater for any other belief she holds, including N&E itself.

Anyone who accepts N&E and sees that (1) is true has a defeater for N&E; hence N&E can’t be rationally accepted.

Well, some people are going wrong, I agree with you there!

In any event, I’m glad to see you still have some long posts in you. And I mean really glad.

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He is there making exactly the error I point out in #3 above.

I think he also fails to calculate the odds of NS producing organisms with complex neurocognitive systems that represent the world falsely but which nonetheless facilitate survival. I think that’s important for his argument

Actually, no. :slight_smile:

Listening to the podcast with Philip Goff, and the first question that comes to my mind: Did he grow up in the same area that The Beatles came from?

Here are my problems with that.

Firstly, what does it even mean to say that our cognitive facilities are reliable? If all it means is that we are able to rely on them, then it seems obvious that we do rely on them and are mostly successful in our lives. If reliable means something else, that should be spelled out.

Secondly, we see “N the proposition that naturalism is true”. But what does it actually mean to say that naturalism is true? There appears be a dependence on some unstated notion of a god given truth. And why should we assume there there is such an overweening truth?

Thirdly, how can we make sense of that conditional probability without a suitably defined statistical model?

I should have been clearer on my concern. Your argument is based on evolution and I take this to mean you think evolution is a reliable premise for argument. He argues it is irrational believe in evolution and be a naturalist. That is, if we represent the world falsely, then evolution (as a scientific representation) is false/unreliable.

He does agree that evolution could produce organisms that succeed without reliable beliefs.

Now you can try to form an argument that the best explanation for success is that the representation reliably captures aspects of reality. That’s the no-miracles argument in scientific realism and I subscribe to it.

On your #3: Yes, I agree he has to argue theologically for a benevolent God. I’m sure he does somewhere, given his Christianity.


He means true beliefs. Earlier in the article he says (rest of my post is a quote, and yes I know how to use quote tags. I just don’t like the look.)

“In crafting our cognitive faculties, natural selection will favor cognitive faculties and processes that result in adaptive behavior; it cares not a whit about true belief (as such) or about cognitive faculties that reliably give rise to true belief. As evolutionary psychologist Donald Sloan Wilson puts it, “the well-adapted mind is ultimately an organ of survival and reproduction” (Wilson 2002, 228). What our minds are for (if anything) is not the production of true beliefs, but the production of adaptive behavior: that our species has survived and evolved at most guarantees that our behavior is adaptive”;

Most philosophers don’t use “materialism”, as it usually reflects pre-QM understandings of reality

For naturalism, methodological naturalism is good enough (I think). For this discussion, that can be taken to mean explanations which avoid relying on God or on mental properties which are not realized in brain/body (eg no substance dualism).

Our minds reliably capture reality in terms of overall reliability in ongoing interactions with the world under the constraints of having limited time and resources to act. You can explain such special case illusions as part of understanding how such constrained, evolved sensorimotor systems operate to produce reliable (accurate) beliefs in terms minimizing average error under constraints.

My current favorite hypothesis that takes this approach is the Bayesian brain, specifically Friston’s Predictive Process/Free Energy variant.

There are approaches to justifying “accurate” beliefs that use this hypothesis. ( scare quotes mean accuracy as approximation of truth)

Links provided upon request!