Panpsychist Physicalism (continued)

Continuing the discussion about “panpsychist physicalism,” I’m sharing another one of my replies over at The Skeptical Zone (click here to read what I am responding to). 

Thanks for the reply, keiths. Of course, everything depends on what we mean by physicalism. “Scientific materialism” is a phrase I borrow from Whitehead to refer to an outdated sort of physicalism that has not yet fully internalized relativity, quantum, and complexity theories. Despite these 20th century paradigmatic revolutions in physics, most popular accounts of physicalism still describe matter as “stuff” with simple location in space that is fully present at an instant in time and that can be exhaustively explained by reduction to its parts. Following a full reckoning with relativity, quantum, and complexity theories, this view of matter must be entirely rejected. Do we agree so far?

You say there is no evidence of purpose in physics. I would agree that there is nothing like deliberative decision-making of the sort most of us believe human beings are capable of. However, right at the base of physics in what Eddington called “the supreme law among the laws of nature”–namely, entropy–we see that energy displays a clear directionality and thus a form of teleology toward greater global disorder (Stan Salthe makes the case for this sort of interpretation). As complexity theorists studying far from equilibrium systems have argued (e.g., Ilya Prigogine, Eric Smith), this tendency toward global disorder can actually facilitate the local emergence of greater organization (e.g., the temperature gradient between the Sun, deep space, and Earth’s surface leads inevitably to the emergence of life, which dissipates this gradient way more efficiently than would non-living chemistry).

So I challenge the idea that physics shows no evidence of telos. There is plenty of empirical and theoretical evidence for it if it hasn’t been ruled out a priori by a metaphysical distaste for final causation.

The idea that special arrangements of fundamentally purposeless, inert, insentient particles could give rise to even non-conscious feeling, experience, or an inward perspective on the world (i.e., something it is like to be a thing) strikes me as nothing short of a miracle. The idea that such arrangements could give rise to living creatures with conscious intelligence capable of understanding the fundamental nature of the universe strikes me as absolutely absurd. It’s not just that I find these notions incredible, it’s that I have never seen a causal explanation for how this sort of emergence (even if “weak”) might work. I cannot even imagine what such a causal explanation might look like.

4 Replies to “Panpsychist Physicalism (continued)”

      1. I always enjoy Bryant-Segall exchanges. Deleuze likes Lucretius a lot, so the bridge to Whitehead isn’t far off. The clinamen is basically Nietzsche’s eternal return. I like it because it sounds like cinnamon.

  1. Hard sciences, such as physics is a special type of human narrative about the world. It is not the world. When we speak about the physical world, concepts of energy, and different concept of matter, etc, we are into such narrative about the world, not the world. Shrodinger said:
    ”The material world has only been constructed at the price of taking the self, that is, mind, out of it.”
    And this material world narrative do not exist in the world but in our Minds are all our narrative. So trying to locate ”experience”, ”Mind” and all this into the narrative in our Mind that methodologically has to exclude Mind is really an hopeless business and not understanding what science and objectivity is. It methodologically banish subjectivity. TRying to explain within such methodologically constructed narrative what is the subjectivity actually constructing this narrative is illogical.

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