Presentation on theme: "Russellian Physicalism Online Consciousness Conference Februaru 2009 Barbara Montero City University of New York."— Presentation transcript:
Russellian Physicalism Online Consciousness Conference Februaru 2009 Barbara Montero City University of New York
According to David Chalmers, the central antiphysicalist arguments show we must reject physicalism. 1) We can conceive of a world, that although just like ours at the level of fundamental physics, lacks consciousness. 2) A world matching this conception is possible -------------------------------------------------------- 3) Consciousness is not physical.
Or rather, they show physicalism must almost be rejected. Russellian monism, the view that “consciousness is constituted by the intrinsic properties of fundamental physical entities,” falls through a loophole. It may be that when we conceive of the fundamental physical world we fail to conceive of its intrinsic properties. The real conclusion: either physicalism is false or Russellian monism is true.
Is this good news for the physicalist? Although Chalmers says Russellian Monism “may ultimately provide the best integration of the physical and the phenomenal within the natural world” and “there appears to be no strong reasons to reject the view,” he argues that it “has much in common with property dualism, and that many physicalists will want to reject [it].” “While the view arguably fits the letter of materialism, it shares the spirit of antimaterialism.”
The goal of this paper is to show that the gap in the current antiphysicalist arguments is more significant than Chalmers has made it out to be. Chalmers, as I shall argue, fails to take into account a variation of Russellian monism, what I refer to as “Russellian physicalism,” that falls through the loophole, yet is fully physicalistic.
Some physicalists never saw conceivability arguments as bad news in the first place. But, still, they should take heed of Russellian physicalism since even if the conceivability of “zombie worlds,” is not a guide to their possibility, such worlds may be possible nonetheless. Russellian physicalism can be consistently maintained, even if some of the physicalist’s worst zombie-riddled nightmares depict a possibility.
I. What is Russellian Monism? It takes its inspirations from Bertrand Russell’s view that fundamental physics tells us only about the structure of the world, about the abstract relations between things but not about the things themselves. Russell puts the view thus: “All that physics gives us is certain equations giving abstract properties of their changes. But as to what it is that changes, and what it changes from and to—as to this, physics is silent.” Or in Galileo’s famous words, “the book of nature is written in the language of mathematics.”
According to the Russellian monist, nature consists of more than abstract relations described mathematically. In addition to the relations, there are the things that stand in relation to each other. Besides laws there is something for the laws to describe.
It is difficult to say much about these first order properties, the properties of nature itself since we explain things in terms of their relations to other things: what things do, how they affect us, how they are related to other things, and so forth.. Think of how, e.g. we explain what a cantilever bridge is. But although the properties that concern the Russellian do something—they form the determination base for consciousness— there is more to them than what they do. They not only do something, they also are something.
But what are they? Intrinsic properties? Lewis: “An intrinsic property of a is a property a would have whether or not anything else besides a existed.” But physics tells us about intrinsic properties: The property of being a positively charged particle is such that if it were in a world with physical laws x, y, and z, (where x, y, and z describe the laws of our world) and with entities and properties u, v, w (where u, v and w describe the other entities and properties of our world), it would be attracted to a negatively charged particle.
Are they the “the categorical bases of fundamental physical dispositions” (Chalmers)? In due deference to Quine, who thought that dispositional terms are not part of a mature science, it may be, as Simon Blackburn puts it, that “science finds only dispositions all the way down.” Categorical properties are supposed to be the properties that ground dispositional properties. But consciousness is, according to the Russellian, nondispositional.
The Russellian monist holds that there are fundamental properties unbeknownst to physics that ground consciousness. I will call them “Inscrutables.” Chalmers accepts the Russellian picture of physics and the idea that inscrutables (at least in part) determine consciousness. Yet to do so, as I will go on to argue, is to accept that physicalism, both letter and spirit, might be true.
II How Russellian Monism Slips Through It depends on how we understand the argument. Recall: the conceivability argument moves from the conceivability of worlds that duplicate our physics yet lack consciousness to the possibility of such worlds and then concludes that because such worlds are possible, physicalism is false. But what are to count as the fundamental properties physics?
A) The structural properties given to us by microphysics B) Such properties as well as the inscrutables. We must hold A), if Russellian monism is to be consistent with the failure of upward determination. If B), The Russellian explains away the intuition that the failure of upward determination seems possible: it seems to us that we can conceive of a world duplicating our physics yet lacking consciousness, but this is merely because we do not imagine the full story of fundamental physics.
It also depends on how we understand the position. All Russellian monists think that structure alone does not suffice for consciousness. And all accept that consciousness exists and its existence is determined, at least in part, by what I am calling “inscrutables.” But Russellians can differ as to how they understand the relation between inscrutables and the structural properties of physics.
Do the fundamental properties of physics require inscrutables? If they do not, then position is consistent with the possibility of worlds that duplicate our physics (as thought of as duplicating only the structural properties) yet lack consciousness. If they do, then the Russellian explains away the intuition: when we think we can conceive of world duplicating our physics without consciousness, we are not imagining everything that follows from duplicating our physics.
Since in each case the Russellian has a response to the conceivability argument, nothing of much substance turns on these distinctions. For simplicity then, by “the fundamental physical properties,” I shall mean just the structural properties of fundamental physics, and I shall assume that these properties do not require consciousness-generating inscrutables.
III From Monism to Physicalism We have a position that Chalmers admits avoids antiphysicalist conceivability arguments. Yet, why does Chalmers remain undaunted? The reason is that Russellian monism, as Chalmers sees it, isn’t really physicalism, because it “acknowledges phenomenal or protophenomenal properties as ontologically basic.” The phenomenal form results in panpsychism. But what about the protophenomenal form?
Even in its protophenomenal form the view, “can be seen as a sort of dualism” since it acknowledges “protophenomenal properties as ontologically fundamental, and it retains an underlying duality between structural- dispositional properties (those directly characterized in physical theory) and intrinsic protophenomenal properties (those responsible for consciousness.” Moreover, it retains some of the “strangeness” of the phenomenal version of the view since “it seems that any properties responsible for constituting consciousness must be strange and unusual properties, of a sort that we might not expect to find in microphysical reality.”
So the view is antiphysicalistic since, 1)It posits fundamental protophenomenal properties 2) It is a form of dualism 3) Protophenomenal properties are strange and unusual; we would not expect to find them in microphysical reality. The possibility of dark matter being composed of something utterly different from ordinary matter casts doubt on the idea that dualism as necessarily antiphysicalistic. And each new revolution in physics brings strange and unusual properties. The fist point, however, is rather more vexing.
Does Russellian monism posit protophenomenal properties? If the protophenomenal is just whatever it is that serves as a dependence base for the phenomenal, then certainly the view does posit such properties. But all forms of non-reductive physicalism hold this. On the other hand if the protophenomenal is supposed to be tainted with the phenomenal, then such a position is more panpsychist than protophenomenal.
What if the Russellian holds that inscrutables have no other role than that of determining consciousness. They are protophenomenal because they specifically ground the phenomenal. The fundamental properties of physics form the dependence base for everything except for consciousness. Does this make the view physicalistically suspect?
As I see it, the basic schism between physicalists and antiphysicalist concerns whether human beings (and perhaps other animals) have a special place in the world. If mental phenomena were fundamental, God had us in mind when she created the world. When we understand the fundamental physical as excluding mentality, we go some way towards capturing this schism. Yet perhaps physicalism also requires that the fundamental properties are not for the sole purpose of grounding consciousness. Is Russellian monism, physicalism manqué after all?
Russellian monism, understood as such, may best thought of as a borderline case of physicalism. But Russellian monism need not be understood as positing specifically consciousness grounding inscrutables (i.e. as protopsychic.) Rather, the Russellian can posit that inscrutables form the dependence base for the entire concrete world, only a very small portion of which is mental.
The Russellian view of physics leaves us with a highly abstract picture of the world: “Our knowledge of the physical world [i.e. the world described by physics]” Russell tells us, “is only abstract and mathematical.” Yet, arguably, the world is more than equations; arguably, God is not only a pure mathematician, but an applied one as well. And on this way of understanding the Russellian view, inscrutables ground the applications.
If inscrutables are in this way the substance of the world, if they are, to use Stephen Hawking’s words, what “breathes fire into the equations [of any possible grad unified theory of physics] and makes a universe for them to describe," there is nothing particularly protopsychic about them and a world with them should be perfectly acceptable to a physicalist. This is the view that I think is appropriately deemed “Russellian physicalism.”
So it seems that Chalmers’ reasons for why we should think that Russellian monism is antimaterialistic in spirit are either not forceful, as with the accusation that the view is a form of dualism and is strange or do not apply to Russellian physicalism, as with the accusation of it positing protophenomenal properties. As such, the view is not only in name, but also in spirit physicalistic.
IV But what of the Hard Problem? But the question of how inscrutables ground consciousness remains. In its panpsychist form, the Russellian view is thought to solve, or at least go a long way toward solving what Chalmers refers to as “the hard problem of consciousness,” that problem, as Colin McGinn once put it, of how “Technicolor phenomenology arise[s] out of soggy grey matter.” If panpsychism is true, this soggy gray matter is, at bottom, itself Technicolor.
Some think that not even panpsychism would help alleviate the hard problem. Block’s argument. It’s like arguing that carbon dioxide emissions are irrelevant to the greenhouse effect because you can imagine a world whose protons were actually miniscule earth-like structures creating carbon dioxide emissions, yet such emissions would not be relevant to the explanation.
Russellian physicalism does not alleviate the hard problem. Rather, it claims that the world is such that we cannot see the solution, for inscrutables are fundamental properties yet physics, which is our only insight into the fundamental nature of the world, is blind to them. Nonetheless, it has the advantage of not needing to posit consciousness at the ground level.
But why should we accept the view at all? My aim has been, not to convince you that Russellian physicalism is true, but rather to show that there is a version of physicalism that is consistent with the antiphysicalist intuition that the failure of upward determination is possible. But, in fact, if you accept the antiphysicalist intuition yet also think that physicalism of one sort or another must be true, I have also presented an argument for the view since Russellian physicalism is, among the current panoply of solutions to the mind-body problem, the only view that allows you to do both.