Metaphysical Foundations (Pt4)

Click here for part one of this series.

Part three in this series sketched-out an idea for a fundamental ontological division in the Universe. It suggested a sub-Planckian base to reality (coined the Potentiat), and a super-Planckian extension to that base which we observe as the emergent macro properties and phenomena of physics (coined the Instantiat).

This division is not one of substance. The only substance proposed is the content of the Potentiat, and when that content obtains certain states, the additional macro-scale contents of the Instantiat with which we are familiar through observation emerge: spacetime, all its contents, and further emergent levels of properties and phenomena.

So by referring to the content of the Potentiat as “substance” we are not saying that it is physical, and by referring to the content of the Instantiat as “physical” we are not saying that is is substance. Substance here is that which fundamentally exists in non-emergent terms, and physical is the bottom layer of that which emerges. Insofar as the the emergent content and workings of the Instantiat (which are the targets of all science bar Quantum Gravity), we assume a physicalist position. Only then do we extend our ontological commitments, and this is only in response to physicalisms failure to account for the phenomena of quantum mechanics, experiential consciousness and libertarian free will.

As before it is important to note that the ideas presented here do not claim to be anything more than metaphysical speculation. They are guided by my understanding of mainstream scientific models and philosophical arguments, but they are not facts, nor personal beliefs.

What I’ve coined the Potentiat is the Universe below the Planck scale, or more accurately the pre-scale Universe, since the Potentiat is non-spatial. It was previously suggested an approach to the nature of the Potentiat called panprotoexperientialism.

The idea of consciousness as fundamental has a long history in the form of the philosophical position of panpsychism, and panprotoexperientialism is a variation on that. Panpsychist positions are usually regarded as an anti-realist position, not only granting our conscious experience metaphysical primacy, but also denying the existence of the objective world (not only does the tree make so sound when it falls, but with no-one to observe it, the tree ceases to exist at all).

The version of panprotoexperientialism suggested here is not anti-realist, or more accurately, it’s target means it’s not, because that target is not the Instantiat but the Potentiat.

In the Potentiat we have a metaphysical base that is both proto-experiential (because individual experiencing agents form within it), and proto-physical (because the Instantiat emerges from it). Nothing in the Instantiat on the other hand need be experiential (or even dual-aspect experiential) to accommodate consciousness. Rather the Potentiat should fulfill this role in addition to its role of being the source of the Instantiat.

So here we have a metaphysical monism, where from the single source of the Potentiat emerges both the Instantiat and also what we will call Consicats: individual bound instances of consciousness.

We’ve also previously discussed the Potentiat in terms of a geometric and topological object. The Potentiat consists of the overlaid uninstatiated shapes that the object could take according to the rules that govern it. The Instantiat is the particular shape that obtains, and the temporal unfolding of the Instantiat consists in a sequence of those shapes.

In common with theories like Loop Quantum Gravity and metaphysical ideas like the simple Game of Life and Gregg Rosenberg’s Theory of Natural Individuals, causation here is rooted in the structure and relations of this object’s nodes, each with a differing configuration and number of connections to its neighbours.

The specific rules that govern the scheme are a matter for the various models that posit them, but we might conjecture features that could be explanatory under the system proposed here, or at least that might serve as examples of the kind of features that would do that. If we go beyond a two dimensional visualization of the Potentiat until we have not just the geometry and shape of the object in mind but the topology as well, then we might imagine some interesting features.

Presumably there will be parts of the whole that are topological simple with minimal connections between nodes, and others that are exceedingly complex with tangles and loops. The properties of these structures will relate to whether and what they Instantiate both at the bottom layer (waves, particles) and in subsequent emergent layers. However, we should also note that causation might work in both directions, with the emergent layers influencing further development of the Potentiat’s structures from the top down, and creating more complexity there. This means the suggestions here need not be fully reductionist in outlook..

Judging complexity is itself a thorny issue, but by most measures the brain is a highly complex object and so would presumably be supported by an equally complex structure in the Potentiat. Perhaps experiential consciousness might be associated with a peculiarity of that proto-experiential base structure?

We might imagine features like closed loops to fulfill this role. Nodes might become isolated from the rest of the system, making only a one-way flow of information possible and corresponding to the same features of subjective experience.

Similarly, the closed structure might contain enough internal nodes to form other structures within. These might have differing properties to each other, but be bound by their mutual containment, and perhaps reinforced by their constant association. This might provide potential solutions to the Binding or Combination Problem that is common to all panpsychist theories.

Turning to libertarian free will, if we assume that it can only be initiated by Consciats, then it also seems reasonable to suggest that devoid of them the Universe would see the Instantiat sequence unfold from the myriad Potentiat possibilities in a very particular way.

This is not to say that the unfolding of the Potentiat would be a deterministic process. The first emergent level of the Instantiat remains quantumly indeterministic in its effects, but without Consciats and the free will process amplifying and directing those indeterminacies, the perturbations of the system would be small and non-cumulative. This means the Instantiat sequence would always quickly and easily settle back to the path through the Potentiat possibilities that conforms to the Principle of Least Action, which is already generally regarded as a fundamental property of the Universe.

This is just akin to saying that without consciousness and free will, the Universe is practically deterministic, but with them it is not, and that free agents influence the path that the Instantiat sequence treads through the Potentiat.

An analogy for this is an old-fashioned Choose Your Own Adventure book. The book is undoubtedly deterministic because it has already been written before it’s opened by the player, but the free choices of the player shape which entries in the story occur in that particular reading. The book as a whole represents the Potentiat, and the particular story told the non-determined Instantiat. The reader represents a Consciat.

To embrace the fact that there are multiple Consciats in the real world, we might update our Choose Your Own Adventure book to a Multi-User Dungeon on a computer, and to represent Universe before consciousness arose, we might image an automated demo mode running through the story, but each time taking the first option displayed because it expends less energy that way.

As with all analogies, ours has to stretch and fail somewhere, and an immediate thought is that here the player or players are outside the system, whereas Consciats are very much embedded in it.

There is more to say here, on how and why consciousness and free will might have evolved, and on how that process could be driven by the protoexperiential nature of the Potentiat, It might also be useful to look at some of the details of the various theories of quantum gravity and philosophical ideas on causation to compare their features. Further we need to look at possible processes of data transfer between Instantiat, Consciats and Potentiat involved in the proposed processes of experience, cognition (yet to be addressed) and free will.

However, this series was only meant to be a single post and has gone on long enough! I’ll turn to these topics in new individual posts.

I hope you’ve enjoyed coming with me on a speculative journey, and that even if you disagree fundamentally with my suggestions, that I might have illustrated how modern scientific ideas actually open-up these issues, rather than close them as some physicalists would have you believe.