The Emergent Cosmos and The Hard Problem of Consciousness


One of the many surprising ideas in modern physics is that of spacetime being an emergent phenomena. Despite emergence being a tricky concept to nail down, we are relatively familiar with the idea when contrasting features of the world around us at different scales. It explains, for example, how the liquidity of water emerges from the interactions of H2O molecules, and how heat emerges from the random motion of particles.

However, spacetime as described by Einstein’s theory of General Relativity is supposed to be the very fabric of the cosmos itself, and common sense may understandably lead us to wonder from what exactly it is supposed to emerge.

http://carazara.files.wordpress.com/2010/08/egg_20hatch1.jpg

But it gets worse for common sense.

Not only is spacetime theorized to be emergent, but its contents – mass and energy in the guise of the fields and particles described by quantum mechanics – are not immune to this reduction. Both leading contenders for a theory of quantum gravity, loop quantum gravity and string theory (together with the holographic principle), suggest that the cosmos in its entirety – the whole kit and caboodle one might say – could be emergent.

I am using the phrase “emergent cosmos” here rather than “emergent universe” to try to capture how if spacetime and all it’s contents (the “cosmos”) is emergent, then the Universe consists of more than just the cosmos. It is, at its foundations, something else.

As to what that something else is, our theories of quantum gravity are unclear. Here our everyday language fails us, because without space, time, matter and energy, even words like “it” and “is” lose their usual meaning. We are left only with the language of mathematics with which to imbue difference and relation, number and geometry. It is from this position that theories like Max Tegmark’s Mathematical Universe proceed.

All talk of an emergent cosmos is, of course, still controversial. But it is at least mainstream. When it comes to the Hard Problem of Consciousness however, things get murkier, and despite some movement from the likes of Tegmark in the direction of having science address the issue, it remains for the most part seen as a philosophical hangover of per-scientific thinking.

Within philosophical circles the issue is taken more seriously, as evidenced by the amount of words devoted to it by those who’d like to jettison the whole thing. But is still divisive, and the trend over the last fifty years or so seems (to my unprofessional eye at least) to be away from thinking its solution could revolutionize metaphysics, and towards being a obstacle to overcome.

Here, in the realm of the armchair blogosphere, we can safely diverge from that trend, contending that like an aspirin in a collection of interacting H2O molecules, the emergent cosmos may help dissolve the hard problem of consciousness.

However, as in my previous posts on the subject, this suggestion comes with a disclaimer. We have already had to accept the controversial idea of a an emergent cosmos to get here, and the divisive assertion that the hard problem is not illusory. Neither the water nor the aspirin may exist. And now we need to take the even more speculative turn of suggesting that the best place for the aspirin is in the water. But for those willing to entertain the idea that experiential consciousness may consist at the base, non-emergent, sub-Planckian scale (that we’ve previously termed the Potentiat), this does perhaps give us reason to be cheerful.

The hard problem is essentially the problem of explaining how experiential consciousness can arise from non-conscious mechanistic matter just by arranging that matter in a certain complex configuration such as those we describe as brains. Our usual conception of emergent properties seem to many to be inadequate to explain this. Unlike the liquidity of water, which seems like a reasonable end point of interacting H2O molecules when all their interactions are understood, interacting neurons, oscillating electrical waves, or even quantum objects, seem to give no hint that one of their end results will be subjective inner experience.

Traditional panpsychism and panprotopsychism seek to address the problem by granting all matter some amount of actual or potential consciousness respectively. But quite apart from any conceptual issues the schemes have, they are resisted by many for just that reason: they seem prima facie implausible based on our direct experience of the differences between conscious and unconscious systems.

We previous speculations we have instead ascribed panprotopsychism to the Potentiat alone, with subjective consciousness obtaining only in certain configurations of that non-emergent base.

By exclusively situating experiential consciousness in the Potentiat, we no longer need to explain how consciousness arises from matter. It is from certain configurations (number 3 below) of the already non-material Potentiat that consciousness obtains, and it simultaneously achieves this while also serving as the base from which the emergent matter of the relevant brain mechanism arises. And if one accepts downward causation from the emergent cosmos (what we have previously termed the Instantiat) to the Potentiat, it can even be the cause of the non-emergent configuration.

Emergent Phenomena

Click to enlarge

Additionally,  non-consciousness-producing configurations obtain instantiation of emergent spacetime, matter, and energy (number 2 above). So in effect, the emergent Instantiat we are familiar with through super-Planckian physics and special sciences is a) entirely non-conscious b) exists (in emergent terms) objectively for all observers, and c) exists independently of any observers. In other words it is much as traditional physicalists would have it. And indeed, there may be no reason to place any brain function other than experiential consciousness beneath that super-Planckian level.

The ontological expansion we have made is just the non-spaciotemporal Potentiat base, in which consists (under some configurations) conscious subjects that are correlated with emergent brains because they share the same source.

We dissolve the hard problem because we no longer need to explain how consciousness arises from matter, but rather how it arises from that non-spaciotemporal base. We also need to explain how the cosmos arises from that base, but that question is already being addressed by physics.

Of course, explaining how consciousness arises in the Potentiat may be no easy task in itself, but the target, being non-material, at least seems prima facie more suitable for a panprotopsychist treatment. And I’d also suggest that it is aligned better with our own subjective sense of experiencing, remembering and imagining the world, which to me at least seems more abstract than concrete.

More to come another time, so thoughts on a postcard please.

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18 responses to “The Emergent Cosmos and The Hard Problem of Consciousness

  1. There is no problem for the idea that all mental and corporeal phenomena are emergent. At least, Buddhists and Taoists have never found one. You might like to check out George Spencer Brown for a mathematical description of the laws by which it happens.

    • Thanks for the reference. I’m not familiar with either of those philosophies in depth, nor Brown’s work but will look into them at some point.

      Are you saying that they have phenomenal experience emerging from matter? If so, is does that matter have a panpsychist aspect? Or does it just emerge as a novel property?

  2. Not quite. Mind and matter would be co-dependent and dependently arisen. There would be a phenomenon prior to mental and corporeal phenomena. The hard problem, if it is defined as the problem of how consciousness emerges from matter, would not arise. Materialism and Idealism would be false. This original phenomenon is the axiom on which Spencer Brown (in his ‘Laws of Form’) grounds his ‘calculus of indications’, which is a model of the process of emergence.

    Brown is difficult, but he is much discussed by others. Thomas J. Macfarlane is also worth a mention, since he is excellent on these issues.

    Well worth investigating this other view. All too often it is simply ignored.

  3. Hi there,

    I’ve been meaning to jot down some thoughts on your posts, and I’m glad to have found some time to do so.

    First a few comments on metaphysics. I think you’re right to refer to the difference between the pontentiat and instantiat as an ontological difference. Furthermore, I like the way you pinpoint this difference when you draw attention to the fact that the potentiat contains unactualised possibilities, while contents of the instantiat are given as actualised. The interesting point here is that if the potentiat is more fundamental than the instantiat – as modern physics seems to suggest – then aren’t we committed to treating unactualised possibilities (or more accurately: the structure of the possibility space), as having a higher ontological priority (i.e. more reality) than the actualised entities that inhabit the instantiat? I think this line of thought is worth developing.

    (I’d briefly just mention that to my eyes it’s not dissimilar to a distinction drawn in Deleuzian metaphysics between the actual and the virtual. Here the distinction is not that of the micro and the macro relevant to QM, but of the current state of a physical system to the attractors in its state space. E.g. the tendency to melt would be considered an unactualised but real – i.e. virtual – tendency of a lump of metal. The idea is that the structure of the state space – the tendencies to melt, solidify, and the emergent properties of its various configurations (e.g. sharpness) – are given higher ontological priority than the actual state it is in. A great introduction to this is Manuel DeLanda’s Intensive Science & Virtual Philosophy. I enjoyed it greatly – I suspect you might too.)

    On consciousness we differ. While I don’t really want to get into the question of whether the hard problem really is a hard problem or not, what I’m interested in is how your proposed location of consciousness in the potentiat actually helps with the hard problem.

    To my mind Searle offers the best formulation of the hard problem when he says that unlike physical entities which have a third-person ontology – that is their existence depends on their appearance in the intersubjective realm (via common measurement or the explanatory work they do in theories), consciousness has a first-person ontology. It exists only insofar as it is experienced. The supposed problem is then phrased like so: how can an entity with a first-person ontology be explained in the third-person?

    All scientific descriptions are third-person descriptions. This includes quantum loop gravity, etc. The essence of the hard problem is not questions about non-locality or ‘mechanistic’ metaphors – these are red herrings – it lies in the epistemological gap between first-person experience and third-person description. As such, quantum mechanics doesn’t help you. You’re still left with the same question.

    The reason I find panpsychism unpalatable is that it doesn’t solve the problem so much as stipulate it out of existence. It does solve a problem of consistency that follows from accepting the hard problem as intractable – if consciousness is just an irreducible brute fact of the universe then why should it be confined to brains – but it does not solve the hard problem. It’s a forced move in game that needn’t be played.

    Sam

    • Hi Sam,

      Thanks for the comment and the encouragement. On Deleuze, the little I know about his ideas are from Matthew Segall’s YouTube channel, and I’ve been meaning to find out more. I’ll check out your suggestion.

      On the hard problem as put by Searle, that “physical entities… have a third-person ontology” I would accept, at least for the instantiat. For the potentiat however, I’m unsure how that can be the case. Without spacetime to differentiate spacial and temporal location, and its contents to differentiate shared properties for the first-person to measure, it’s not clear to me in what sense an objective viewpoint exists.

      I’m imagining the first-person experience to originate in the potentiat here, so that makes the instantiat in its entirety amenable to scientific measurement, and would accept that science proceeds by this method and that as such it is a third-person activity.

      The potentiat on the other hand I imagine as a composite of proto-experiential and – in some configurations (that I’ve previous termed consciats) – experiential properties. I do think that consciats partake in the content of the wider potentiat by accessing (disconnected aspects of) the (instantiat-) counterfactuals it contains, and I take that to be what we experience as imagination. However, the counterfactuals that are accessed by each consciat neither need to be third-person accessible (because the multi-layered nature of the potentiat’s contents provide so many duplicates), nor of course is our experience of them shared (we don’t have access to each others’ imaginations).

      It might seem that I’m then condemning the potentiat to be beyond scientific understanding, but that’s not the case, because although I’ve already accepted that “physical entities… have a third-person ontology”, I question the further claim that “All scientific descriptions are third-person descriptions”.

      Here I take “descriptions” to mean our theories and models, and these are mathematical. To be honest I’m genuinely confused as to in what way maths is third-party. This may just be my lack of understanding in that area (I am aware that there is argument as the nature of math!) so I’m open to being corrected, but to me it seems that mathematics is abstract, and should capable of describing anything that’s rule-based, regardless of whether third or first person.

      With that in mind, I’d put mathematics – and therefore scientific description – in the potentiat (pace Tegmark in a sense). Then, a la the formulation of the hard problem in the article, the question becomes not how “an entity with a first-person ontology be explained in the third-person”, but how an entity with a third-person ontology can be explained in the first person The answer to this question would be that the emergent ontology of the instantiat is being explained by physics. We ascertain that explanation via measurement, which we can do by virtue of the instantiat being a shared phenomena between consciats (as well as an objective result of instantiation from the potentiat).

      This still leaves your last comment on the unpalatable way in which panpsychism dismisses the problem. All I can say here is that many will feel the same way about eliminative materialism, and that I can see the parallel there. I suspect you feel the same way too and are looking for some middle ground?

      Anyway, let me know your thoughts and anything that needs clarifying – not used to trying to explain myself on-the-fly, but great to discuss.

      Matt

      • Re third- and first-person descriptions, the distinction I’m making (and I believe Searle is too) is between those which describe publicly accessible phenomena and those which describe privately accessible phenomena. You’re right that it’s not clear how pure mathematics fits into either of these categories, but when it’s employed in a scientific theory I’d say we’re most certainly dealing with a public phenomenon – hypotheses must explain experimental data and make predictions about new data. This is as true of quantum field theory as it is of thermodynamics.

        I guess my question to you is – do you think consciousness is in principle explainable by an empirically grounded mathematical model – quantum or otherwise? If your answer to that is yes, then there are many who would say that is a reductionist thesis which falls foul of the hard problem. On the other hand you say ‘how an entity with a third-person ontology can be explained in the first person’, which sounds to me a lot like a problem of idealism.

        I suppose the marriage of these two is characteristic of panpsychism/property dualism, but to me this just feels like sidestepping the problem by simply stating that it is so. The potentiat is something we can only describe ‘from the outside’ with probability distributions – what can be meant by ‘consciousness lies in the potentiat’? What’s to stop me just saying that consciousness lies in carbon?

        While I wouldn’t call myself an eliminative materialist, I don’t think the way it deals with the hard problem is analogous to the above. It commits to the assertion that phenomenal qualities must reduce to physical ones, and then sets about trying to see how that can be so. Similarly, idealism commits to asserting that all there is is phenomenal qualities, and and then sets about accounting for objectivity.

        Sam

      • Thanks for the reply Sam.

        I think we’re agreed then that there is a difference between scientific description (which is mathematical, and the nature of which is an open question), and scientific measurement (which is a third-person activity “dealing with a public phenomenon”). You also say that “hypotheses must explain experimental data and make predictions about new data” with which I also agree.

        Where I think we might diverge is that I’d like to make a further distinction between data which comes from a direct study of the phenomena in question, and that which is indirect from secondary phenomena. The latter can lend support to a hypothesis about the primary phenomena. For instance, we can measure biological, chemical and now even atomic phenomena directly under the microscope, but we don’t yet have the technology to do the same with all subatomic particles because they are too small. Of course, in principle they are directly measurable, but my point is that it wouldn’t matter if that wasn’t the case: we would still know what we know about them now.

        Similarly, the potentiat may be forever beyond the reach of direct third-person measurement, but in being the phenomena from which the instantiat emerges, we might look at the lowest level emergent phenomena (currently theorized to be strings) and get at any rule-based behaviour that way. Additionally I’d hope to correlate that with a future phenomenology and neuroscience.

        So in summary – the potentiat can be described by mathematics, and tested indirectly against low-level emergent instantiat phenomena. Again this is both highly speculative and highly optimistic, but I don’t think an understanding of such a third-person-inaccessible realm is out of the question.

        So when you ask “do you think consciousness is in principle explainable by an empirically grounded mathematical model” my answer would be a hopeful “yes”. Then to “there are many who would say that is a reductionist thesis which falls foul of the hard problem” I would say that yes it’s reductionist, but that it might dissolve (or more rightly reverse) the hard problem as I’ve already suggested. And finally to it sounding “a lot like a problem of idealism” I have to concede that it does, while pointing out that it’s a kind of proto-idealism, as only the consciats are conscious. The rest of the potentiat is not, and the instantiat in no way depends on consciats being present. problems with idealism is not something I’m that familiar with, so would be interested in your thoughts on that.

        Finally I’d just like to say that I still consider materialism to be the best bet both generally and in regards to the mind. I plan to blog as to why I think that’s the case in the future. For now, spouting these non-materialist ideas is where I’m at, most probably as a contrary reaction to the large numbers of thinkers who appear to just assume a materialist position and treat alternatives as pseudoscience or god-smuggling.

        Cheers again,

        Matt

    • Hi guymax,

      When you said earlier “There would be a phenomenon prior to mental and corporeal phenomena”, what is the nature of that phenomena if not mind or matter?

      Matt

  4. This phenomenon would be Tao or Nibbana, ‘something’ (but not a thing) that would transcend the distinctions of the phenomenal world and the categories of thought. Hegel calls it a ‘spiritual unity’. Kant calls it ‘not an instance of a category’. Plotinus calls it the ‘Authentic’, Peirce calls it the ‘First’. It would be the final reduction of mind and matter, and their origin and source. This would allow us to explain the failure of materialism and idealism as fundamental theories, and thus also to explain why the hard problem can seem intractable.

    Tough one to swallow, in this anti-religious age, but I don’t think it can be simply ignored while no other solution seems possible.

    • Hi Guymax,

      I don’t think any idea should be dismissed out of hand so long as it’s internally consistent.

      For my own purposes here I’m trying to stick to only using metaphysical furniture that correspond to evidenced phenomena, i.e. the matter/energy/spacetime of physics, and the contents of experiential consciousness as a ubiquitous first-person phenomenon.

      An independent base from which both emerge is interesting, but I can’t think of anything objectively evidenced or universally experienced that justifies my including it here.

      I’ll certainly read up on it though.

      Matt

  5. Hey – I’ve had to go down here as I’ve run out of reply buttons!

    It looks like we agree on quite a lot. I understand the distinction you make between things which are observed directly and those which are observed indirectly – i.e. by their effects – and I regard this latter as equally valid, and I certainly didn’t mean to imply that we could not in principle model the potentiat.

    That said, I still don’t understand how a mathematical model of the potentiat could possibly help with the hard problem. Of course, if you simply suggest that phenomenality just arises there sui generis then you can get back consciousness at the brain level – give me a little bit of consciousness and I’ll give you a lot – but to me this doesn’t constitute a solution to the hard problem. I think perhaps our difference lies in our understandings of this problem.

    In this sense, if you’re saying that consciousness can be reduced to a mathematical model of some sort, without positing phenomenality as sui generis somewhere down in the gears of theory, then I would describe this as a variant of physicalism. It’s just a bit different to usual brain-level physicalist theories, e.g. computationalism, in that it identifies a much smaller scale as the relevant point of emergence.

    (Of course, computationalism does not preclude the involvement of quantum effects in the production of consciousness, e.g. via random number generation (though why would evolution bother when pseudo-random data is everywhere?) or even quantum computation (seems pretty far-fetched to me). But I think you’re looking for a more central involvement of QM than that.)

    On the question of physicalism as a default, I think you’re right when you say that many people take it as a given. However, there are also many people who hold principled physicalist positions because they believe there’s strong reasons to do so. It’s not always obvious from a discussion which of these categories a person falls into, so in my opinion it’s always best to just argue for a position in the strongest way possible, without worrying about the motives of those who oppose it.

    The thing about consciousness is that whatever the answer is, it’s going to sound crazy. This gives enormous scope for people criticising others for holding ludicrous positions. In the end it all turns on whether the hard problem really is a hard problem or not, by which I mean whether the hard problem is really distinct from the so-called ‘easy’ problem. Out of interest, have you read any Dennett on the topic? I know he’s a obvious choice, but I do genuinely think that he does a great job of casting doubt on the hard problem. Forgive me if you’re already familiar, but this paper is a great starting point:

    http://www.fflch.usp.br/df/opessoa/Dennett-Quining-Qualia.pdf

    Sam

    • Hi Sam – sorry for the delay. I’m unsure why the replies are restricted! I’ll look into it.

      First off I agree that even if quantum effects are shown to be harnessed by the brain, that need not mean anything more is going on than a computationalist would claim, especially if such effects aren’t tied specifically to experiential consciousness. In fact, even if experiential consciousness does live at the sub-atomic level or below, I would still probably expect there to be non-experiential aspects of brain function that also harness QM.

      I also think you’re right to say the scheme is physicalist, at least in the sense that I think all levels are describable by physics. This is same sense that Strawson describes his view as physicalist isn’t it? But there’s another sense in which it’s not physicalist isn’t there, in that the bottom layer of microphysics is an idealist one of proto-phenomenal properties? I think I’ve described it previously as “extending the physicalist ontology”.

      As to how this helps with the hard problem, I do see your point and agree that with our current knowledge it’s hard to imagine any scheme where experiential consciousness is not an illusion and its arising doesn’t seem somewhat strange. I have to admit find this somewhat strange in itself: that to account for the way we primarily experience the world (first-person) has become the subject of strangeness, rather than accounting for our secondary way of experiencing the world (third-person) being so.

      Firstly I’d suggest that some accounts seem stranger than others, and that panpsychism minimizes the ‘strange’ intuition by having experience at ground level, because we no longer have to describe how mind arises from matter or energy. Here experiential subjects can then emerge exclusively in the potentiat base as consciats, removing any need for them to arise from matter. This is just intuition, but as I’ve said before, the notion of mind arises from something that is non-spaciotemporal makes more sense to me than it doing so from matter.

      Secondly, matter itself emerges independently of whether the potentiat configuration happens to be producing a chair-parts or brain-part, and with mind tucked-away at the base, the physics of the emergent cosmos remains as it is now. The idea of not having to amend current super-Planckian physics is appealing to me.

      Thirdly, I was initially drawn to dual-aspect properties, but I find it difficult to accept that there are a whole class of fundamental properties at scales science is reasonably familiar with that it is just somehow missing. By suggesting a fundamental division between the emergent cosmos and the pre-emergent base, that allows us to place panpsychist-style proto properties in the latter rather than the former, alleviating that worry.

      On a side note, I’m not suggesting any of these ideas are original. If they’re at all coherent I’m sure others will have suggested them, and if not… probably the same! I obviously haven’t argued my case here at all; these are intuitions based on my understanding of current science. I’m hoping those with a better understanding of philosophy and physics will put me straight where I’ve gone wrong in that understanding. I plan to provide some proper references for the various more controversial or oft-misunderstood science concepts in a future post. Perhaps that will be the best time to point out where my understanding is on shaky ground.

      As far as reading Dennett, I do have Consciousness Explained but haven’t finished it yet. My starting point for trying to understand the topic was “Philosophy of Mind: Classical and Contemporary Readings” edited by Chalmers, which does include that paper if I recall. I need to go back and read that whole volume again now I have a better understanding generally.

      Cheers,

      Matt

      • I think Strawson would be described as a non-reductive physicalist: while mental states arise from and depend on physical states in some way, they do not reduce to them. Under this view, a complete description of physics, chemistry, biology, and neuroscience would not solve the hard problem, and to think it would is to make a category error. The explanatory gap remains.

        If you are of the opinion that there is such an explanatory gap, then to my mind panpsychism is a move worth making, and to explore that avenue (and its variants) is a noble venture! Indeed, that’s what you’re doing here, and the reasons you give for then locating phenomality at the sub-Planckian level, etc., are valid. I wish more people would be as free in their speculation.

        One thing I’d like to touch on is a common misrepresentation of reductive physicalism. The question that it concerns is: is qualitative consciousness an illusion? Some people seem to think that the reductive physicalist is committed to answering this question in the affirmative, but while there are certainly some that do, they needn’t do so necessarily.

        Mary’s Room is helpful in thinking about this: she’s a superscientist who never leaves a black and white room, learns everything there is to know about colour without ever seeing something coloured, one day leaves the room and sees a red apple – bam, she learns something new. The force of this thought experiment comes from the idea that no matter how much propositional knowledge you have – how many facts you know to be true – this doesn’t amount to having any qualitative knowledge – knowing what something is like (looks like, sounds like, feels like, etc.)

        The r. physicalist is often portrayed as having to deny to the possibility of qualitative knowledge. This is in fact the tact that the eliminative physicalist takes, but what’s often forgot is that another option for the physicalist is available: they can reject the distinction itself. Rejecting the distinction is what Dennett does, yet people keep insisting that his position is eliminativist or behaviourist. It’s not.

        In the Mary’s Room example, rejecting the propositional/qualitative distinction amounts to the claim that when Mary leaves the room and sees the apple, there’s nothing new for her there. Ultimately this turns on the idea that learning new facts can change the way we experience things qualitatively. I don’t think this is such a big claim as those who claim the hard problem is intractable make it out to be. In my opinion this is how a materialistic theory of mind can set about solving the hard problem – not by dismissing experiential consciousness as unreal or illusory, but by challenging the dichotomy that underlies it.

        Sam

      • I used to think of Dennett as an elimitavist on consciousness, but do see the difference between seeing consciousness as illusory and claiming that it’s something different to what we intuitively feel it to be. When I say that I still think physicalism is the most likely solution to the problem, it’s his variety that I have in mind, and will post something expanding on that some time, including comments on the knowledge problem

        However, the direction I take on consciousness is ultimately bound-up with my view on free will. I consider Dennett an elimitavist on free will because for me, anything other than the the libertarian definition amounts to a redefinition of terms. That’s not to say that I’m not attracted to compatibilism (again I consider Dennett’s position the most likely to be correct), but I don’t think it’s the only possibility.

        I wrote on the subject some time ago here: https://informationvoyeur.wordpress.com/2013/02/24/free_will_defense/

        Matt

  6. Nice point about the solution, Sam, that it is going to seem crazy.

    Dennett may be crazy, sure, at least I think he is, but his ideas are dull and commonplace. Not nearly crazy enough. I get the impression that not many people think he has managed to sweep the problem under the carpet, let alone solve it.

  7. Good stuff, I look forward to that new post then!

    I’ve had a glance at your FW post – probably not a topic we should plunge into now, but I just can’t for the life of me make any sense of libertarian FW. Whether compatibilism counts as an eliminativist position or not is an interesting question; I’m inclined to say that it is not, at least not in the sense that hard determinism is, but it’s actually quite tricky to pinpoint the difference. Personally I think it comes down to wider issues about criteria for the ‘reality’ of entities in general, and that this is why it can be so confusing. I’m writing a post on this at the moment, as it happens.

    Anyway, it’s been good to discuss these things in more than 140 character exchanges!

    Sam

    • It has, and thanks for that.

      I think you’re right that we shouldn’t get into the free will debate here. Perhaps we will another time, so I’ll end by summarizing my position for you without having to trudge through posts. I take Libertarian Free Will to be something like:

      “The ability of a system embedded in a deterministic environment to initiate actions that could result in a subsequent state of affairs that differs from that which would have obtained had the system not had that ability.”

      If the environment is the whole Universe and the Universe is a fully deterministic system, this would require some part of the mechanism enabling the ability to originate outside the Universe, like the soul in some religious traditions. For me, “outside of the Universe” is a meaningless expression, so I reject this. However, science now has it that the Universe is not ultimately deterministic. The macro world is appears effectively so because of the law of large numbers, but the micro world is indeterministic. Therefore the positing of something outside of the Universe is no longer necessary. To escape the deterministic environment we have the option to locate some of the mechanism in the indeterministic micro world.

      As an example of a way this might work, I’ve suggested that consciats source information from the potentiat which presents itself in the form of imagination in phenomenal consciousness. These imaginings provide the extra input into deliberated decisions that free them form being determined. Where imaginative deliberation is involved, on replay, the starting conditions are never identical. Additionally I’ve also suggested that there are phenomena in physics that serve as examples to give us hope in resisting the causal closure of the physical.

      Anyway – I look forward to next time,

      Cheers

      Matt

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