PanPsychSTMASTEREDa6uge SUMMARY KEYWORDS consciousness, pan, materialism, electron, experience, problem, people, form, brain, galileo, science, physical, view, thinks, book, physics, materialist, philosophers, dualism, option SPEAKERS Will, Philip Goff, Stephen Bradford Long
Will 00:00 You're listening to a rock candy podcast. Hey, I'm Will and they call me the doctor. And I'm Joe, the maestro, we host a podcast called common creatives, where we break apart the art, we love to see what makes it tick. Basically, we give you the definitive take on whatever or whoever we're discussing, you don't need to go anywhere else. So check out common creatives wherever you listen to podcasts.
Stephen Bradford Long 00:47 This is sacred tension, the podcast about the discipline of asking questions. My name is Steven Bradford long, and we are here on the rock candy Podcast Network. For more shows like this one, go to rock candy recordings.com. All right. So I'm a big believer in bringing these conversations with all sorts of different types of people to you for free. I believe in all of the work that I'm doing with rock candy, and on the blog, on the website, my articles, and I want to make sure that you can all continue to get those for free, anytime, anywhere. But it is not at all for me for me to do this work. In fact, it takes an enormous amount of time and energy and money to produce this show, to run rock candy recordings to write an article every week. It's a lot of time and energy. And so if you want to see my work, have a long life. And if you want to support me in my endeavor to make sure that people can get my content for free, then please go to patreon.com forward slash Steven Bradford long. And for $1 a month, $5 a month or $10 a month about the amount of a cup of coffee or a or a lunch, you can make sure that my work has a long life. If you love sacred tension. If you wake up every Monday morning, looking forward to the show, then please consider becoming a patron. And also just in general support the small artists you love. We are doing this out of passion and it is usually hard, difficult, miserable work, but we love it. And it is only sustainable because of people like you direct supporting us directly. So just in general, if there are small artists you love, please give them your love. Give them your money, give them your support, share them with your friends, all of that means the whole world to us. So go to patreon.com forward slash Steven Bradford long and as always, I have to thank my most recent patrons also I'm so sorry if I don't mention you. A lot of these shows are not released chronologically. So if I don't get to your name in this episode, I probably will in a later episode. So for this episode, I have to thank Todd Jessica Lena Blake, type three, Kate and Sarah and myth Sarn. Thank you so much. You're my own personal Lord and Savior. And I can't do this without you. All right. Well, with all of that finally out of the way, I am delighted to welcome Philip Goff, author of Galileo's error. That is his most recent book to the show. Philip, thanks so much for being on my show today. Hi, thanks for inviting me. It's good to be here. Good to join you. Absolutely. So go ahead and just tell us some about who you are and what you do.
Philip Goff 04:01 I am philosopher from my work at Durham University in the UK. My main area of focus is consciousness. I'm interested in the challenge of understanding how we can fit consciousness into our scientific worldview, our scientific story of the universe. I defend quite an unusual position, I guess the view pan psychism which is roughly the we could talk more about it but it's roughly the view that consciousness pervades the universe and is a fundamental feature of it. So sounds kind of wacky, but I guess I'm come to think that it avoids the deep difficulties that face more traditional options. unconsciousness and so you know, it turns out, although it sounds a bit wacky, turns out to be quite an attractive view. So yeah, so I spent a lot of time defending that I I do a lot of academic work, I guess published over 40 academic articles and an academic book published in 2017, on this topic called consciousness and fundamental reality, but then more recently, I've been trying to do what not a lot of academic philosophers do do, which is trying to reach out to a broader audience and writing a lot of popular articles trying to communicate these ideas in, you know, in a more accessible format. And, and so my my more recent book, Galileo's era, foundations for a new science of consciousness, is really trying to try to put these ideas in a very, very accessible form. So you know, you don't have to have any philosophical background or
Stephen Bradford Long 05:42 Yeah, that's fabulous. So So and that is me what you were describing kind of the general audience, I'm fascinated by this stuff. I'm fascinated by kind of science and philosophy of mind and consciousness. I'm into all kinds. I'm into all that stuff. I think it's fascinating. But I'm also very much not an academic. So your book is very accessible. For example, it has pictures, which I really appreciate it. That's very nice for for people like me, why did the pictures? Oh, fabulous.
Philip Goff 06:17 Well, that's sort of self portraits I got from the publisher, and it said, so you will provide the pictures and I was like, Oh, I thought you were gonna do that. I can't draw. I can't do pictures. My wife was on maternity leave. And so she, yeah.
Stephen Bradford Long 06:33 Great. So So you have pictures for Dummies like me who dropped out of high school? So? Yeah, so So I want to talk to you specifically about pan psychism. Because I feel like it is a convergence of a lot of fascinating issues that are interesting for me, but also are interesting subjects for religion and philosophy. In general, this is all stuff that I think anyone who thinks about religion in the show is very much about religion. It's very much about religious experience, processing, religious trauma, different kinds of religious perspective, so on and so forth. I think anyone who thinks about religion has also had to think about this subject. So hold on, let me turn on Do Not Disturb so that we don't get interrupted. Just realized I hadn't done that. So sorry. Yeah, so it's this fascinating cross section for me, of just all sorts of things that I think about. So pan psychism is Oh, and I and I read your book when it first came out last year, I think, I think it was November or October. And you know, I listened to your interview on Sean Carroll's podcast MindScape. And I was like, Oh, this is just so fascinating. I have to get this book. So I think I got the book, like the day it came out. And yeah, yeah, no problem. I bought it on Kindle. And I really enjoyed it. And I've been wanting to talk to you ever since. So I'm so glad that that we're having this conversation there. So So pan psychism is kind of an answer, to what to some fundamental problems, and consciousness or what are perceived as fundamental problems. What are those problems? What What is it trying to answer?
Philip Goff 08:33 Yeah, so as I think of the challenges, how consciousness fits into our scientific worldview, so I mean, to make it vivid if you study neuroscience, I'm not a neuroscientist, but I'm very interested in neuroscience and try to keep as up to date as I can. And when you study neuroscience, you'll learn about neuronal firings and action potentials and various kinds of neurotransmitter and calcium chambers. And overall, a really complicated story of the electrochemical signaling of the brain. What you won't learn about on the face of it, if you're just learning about the science of the brain, what you won't learn about us things like feelings, experiences, emotions, you won't learn about what it's like to see green or what it's like to taste chocolate. In fact, it seems on the face of it that the whole neuroscientific story of the brain could go on in the complete absence of feelings or experiences or this story of electrochemical signaling seems like that could go on without feelings or experiences at all. And yet we know that obviously, the feelings and experiences exists nothing is more evident than the reality of one's own experiences, one's own pleasure or visual experiences. And so we face this challenge of How what we know about ourselves on the inside, fits together with what science tells us about the brain and the body from the outside. So, you know, there are a variety of options here a variety of approaches, I mean, I guess the the traditional ones that I learned when I was an undergraduate philosophy student are, on the one hand, materialism, the hope that we can kind of somehow explain consciousness in terms of that electrochemical signaling. So you know, we can explain what we know about ourselves on the inside, in terms of what science tells us about the brain from the outside. So that's one option, materialism, I guess I'll convert that our conventional scientific approach are closest to the other hand, a very traditional option of is dualism, the view that consciousness is non physical, outside of the physical workings of the body and the brain. But I guess I've come to see that, you know, I just think both of these views have such deep and well recognized difficulties. And that's really, where we start to look for alternative possibilities, like pan psychism.
Stephen Bradford Long 11:13 Yeah, so this is something that I had not thought through very deeply until I read your book. And I have had moved from just kind of this passive, a, uh, what were the two categories again, there's materialism, materialism, and dualism, dualism, okay. So, you know, I just kind of been a passive duelist. But you know, being a theistic Christian, believing that consciousness was, was an aspect of soul, which was kind of separate from the body and the brain and just not knowing how any of that shit worked, but just kind of accepting that as true. And then when I D converted, I, I kind of took on a, a more, I took on more of a passive materialistic approach that consciousness is something that emerges is an emergent property of material stuff, following the laws of physics. And that's, that's still kind of my bias that's still kind of my home base. I feel like I hold on to it loosely. It's like, I'm, uh, I have no fucking clue what's actually how any of this shit actually works. But that's kind of my my limited, tentative provisional hypothesis right now. But I think what I started to realize reading your book was, it's actually quite a quite complicated, and I feel like I've taken both of these positions for granted and didn't really appreciate just how complicated and convoluted they become. So what are the problems with both of these positions? Why why are both of these positions likely wrong?
Philip Goff 13:07 Yeah. Well, I mean, maybe I've gone through a similar journey to you really, you know, I mean, I initially wanted to be, I've actually probably probably went the other way around. When I was an undergraduate student in philosophy, I thought, you know, I wanted to be a materialist. Because, you know, I thought that was a scientifically credible option. And I came to be disillusioned with that. And as I described in the book, and then, and I guess, I think I was like, kind of a closet duelist. For a while, I sort of thought that's the only option, but it was kind of a bit a bit embarrassed about it. And I actually ended up writing my end of end this end of a undergraduate dissertation, arguing that, you know, the problem is just irresolvable. And I went off and tried to do something else, forget about it. But anyway, coming to answer your question, the problem I'm saying is, yes, it's a complex debate. But I suppose that the way I like to introduce it is, the problem is that physical science works with a purely quantitative vocabulary. Whereas consciousness is an essentially, quality involving qualitative phenomenon. just mean that in the sense that it involves qualities, if you think about the redness of a red experience, or the smell of coffee, or the taste of mint, you can't capture these kinds of qualities in the purely quantitative vocabulary of physical science. And so as long as your description of the brain is framed in a purely quantitative vocabulary of neuroscience, I think you're inevitably going to leave out these qualities and hence leave out consciousness itself. I think consciousness or conscious experience is essentially defined by these qualities it involves, you know, one thing I tried to press in my work, hence the time that the book is Ah, you know, we shouldn't be surprised that our conventional materialist approach can't account for consciousness because it was designed to exclude consciousness. So a key moment in the scientific revolution, you know, what the the moment that kicks it all off really? Well. One of the key moments, is Galileo's declaration that mathematics is to be the language of the new science, the new science has to have a purely quantitative vocabulary. But Galileo understood quite well, I think that you can't capture consciousness in these terms, you can't capture the qualities of experience in this quantitative, abstract language of mathematics, you can't captured an equation, you know, the redness of a red experience. So Galileo said, right, what we've got to do, we have to, if we want to mathematical science, we've got to accomplish isness. Outside of the domain of science, that's sort of the soul that's outside of science, once we can, we can capture everything else in mathematics. So that's the start of mathematical physics, which has gone incredibly well. But I think what we've forgotten is that it was never supposed to be a complete picture of reality, it's gone so well, because Galileo focused in on a very narrow focus task, capturing the quantitative mathematical features of reality. And so people, you know, I think, a lot of people, this problem is now taken very seriously, which wasn't always the case. Used to be a sort of taboo topic. For much of the 20th century, it's now taken very seriously, but a lot of people think, oh, you know, we just need to do more neuroscience, you know, look at the great success of physical science. Of course, it's one day going to crack this problem. I think that narrative is very powerful in people's minds. And what I'm trying to say is, you're thinking about the history of science in the wrong way. Visit, yes, physical science has been so successful. But it's been so successful precisely because it was designed to exclude consciousness. So it's really not surprising that, that we're now facing troubles, Galileo would have predicted this, you never dreamt that, you know, we're supposed to use this purely quantitative tool to capture qualitative consciousness. So yeah, that's, that's roughly the starting point.
Stephen Bradford Long 17:21 So too, so if I'm understanding you correctly, and to kind of put this into my own words, it's almost like the most immediate experiences of our lives the most intimate part of what it means to be human, which is to be conscious, to have feelings, to have emotions to have senses. You know, I'm, I'm drinking this kind of Lacroix right now. And there's, and I'm, you know, it's a gorgeous, gray day outside my window, and I'm looking out over the Appalachian Mountains. And the experience of that cannot be scientifically quantified in any way, is what I'm hearing you say? And it's like, what, there is no mathematical formula for the emotional response I have to a film, right. Or the experience of the emotional, yes, yeah. Yeah. Okay.
Philip Goff 18:25 Oh, sorry. And kind of, I mean, yeah, it's good. Actually, I think you gave a really vivid account of what we're trying to get out here consciousness because it's, it's sometimes a little bit of an ambiguous word. Often people hear something like awareness of your own existence, people think of self consciousness, but all I'm really meaning is any kind of subjective experience conscious, your consciousness is just what it's like to be you right now. Right? And, you know, you gave her your visual, your auditory experience. And so I wouldn't, so you said, then, you know, we can't quantify it at all, I mean, it but maybe I can qualify things slightly. I mean, you can there is, you can kind of there is a sort of structure and experience, you can quantify if you take color experience, for example, you can you can, there's a kind of quantifiable structure there. Think about hue, saturation, and lightness colors have these three dimensions. And we can map various colors in this color space, you know, according to these different dimensions. So there is a kind of structure there we can map. But what I would say is that kind of abstract structure doesn't capture the whole quality of the experience. Without that kind of information. You can't fully capture that the redness of the red experience, you know, so to see that vividly, you know, a colorblind neuroscientist might learn all this information about the abstract structure Your color experience. But she'll never know really the redness of a red experience, you never know what it's like to have a red experience. There's a there's a wonderful, there's a color scientist, not Nabil, who she's interested in this stuff me who has cones missing from his eyes. So he can only see black and white, gray. And, and he describes this, he says, You know, I with all this structure and he's a color expert, you know, I know about the such rich information about the structure of experience. And that gives me a kind of abstract template, I can sort of think of it like sounds or something. But I don't really get the qualities of experience. So I think I think it's that that that that the neuroscientific description, can never really get at
Stephen Bradford Long 20:49 what I'm left with, when I contemplate this stuff, and you know, for example, I last year, actually kind of right before reading your book, I read David Bentley hearts the experience of God. And I'm not sure if you're familiar with David Bentley, Hart. I'm a little bit yeah, yeah, I've been super critical of him. But I also, he also kind of led me into this very profound place of just meditating on, on, on being and the mysteries of consciousness. And so whenever I start thinking about this stuff, I'm just left with the utter mysteriousness of reality. And because I'm a non theist, I don't have, you know, God to rely on. I kind, I'm kind of a materialist in that I believe there is nothing but material stuff, generally. But but that doesn't resolve the fundal mysterious, the fundamental mysteriousness that I experienced when talking about this stuff. So So there's another option that you discuss in your book. And that is dualism. So we've mostly been talking about materialism, what is dualism? And why does that not work?
Philip Goff 22:09 Yeah. So dualism, I mean, it's probably the most popular view of consciousness in human history. But most religions associated with the form of dualism. So the idea that consciousness is non physical, outside of the physical workings of the body in the brain, you might identify with a soul. But actually, I mean, there are contemporary dualists, like David Chalmers, who are you know, can you talking about the mysteries that are complete atheist? naturalists, they think consciousness is non physical, but they want to really bring it into the scientific story. So actually, when David Chalmers read an early draft of my book, and I was talking about the soul when I talked about dualism, and he said, right, you've got to take that out. I don't believe in the soul. So he thinks he thinks, he postulates these special psychophysical laws of nature, that govern the relationships between the physical brain and the non physical consciousness. And he wants to say, this is just a completely law governed scientific phenomenon. You know, it's not physical. So we have to expand our science, but it's still a completely part of the natural world. You know, I once asked him if you use while I say this in the book, he is religious. And he said, if he has any spiritual views, and he said only that the universe is cool. So yeah, I can get by that. He again, wanted to be a materialist. And, yeah, so So I mean, look, I've got a lot of time for dualism and some very interesting work. But you know, I wouldn't kind of dismiss it off hap out of hand, especially these kind of more naturalistic forms. But I think the problem is, I think maybe the problems are more straightforward scientific nature, you know, so most journalists, although they think the mind is different from the brain, they think there's a close causal interaction. So you know, the, you know, when the the mind makes a decision to raise the arm, this makes changes in the brain and the arm goes up, you know?
Stephen Bradford Long 24:19 So there's like a chain of command. Yeah, on the on the other way, as
Philip Goff 24:23 well. So light bounces off, objects goes in the retina of the eye makes changes in the brain that causes visual experiences in the, the soul or the immaterial mind. So yeah, so there's a, you know, my thoughts in my mind, cause my words so there's a complex interaction there. And I suppose I think, like many, many philosophers, if that were the case, if you know think about what what things would be like if that were the case, if there were an immaterial soul, impacting on the brain every second of waking life, you know, all the words I'm saying Right now is my soul. You know, that would really show up in our brain science. I think, you know, there'd be all sorts of things happening in the brain that had no physical explanation, it would be like, there's loads of miracles. Yeah, well, there's a poltergeist playing with the brain.
Stephen Bradford Long 25:15 I was about to say it would be like, it would be like miracles, it would be Yeah, but we don't really observe that. And so is this what's called the causation problem. What is it called? What is this causal causation?
Philip Goff 25:31 I guess there's a general issue of mental causation, okay, problem of mental causation. And then the more focused problem starts on many philosophers think we've got good scientific reason to believe that the physical world forms a causally closed system, in the sense that everything that happens in the physical world has a physical cause. So my, everything I do the movement of my lips, as I talk, you know, my hand movements, it has a complete physical explanation in the brain. This is called the causal closure of the physical or the causal completeness of the physical. And if that's true, and you know, this is disputed, some people do, but some people, a lot of people argue we have scientific reason to believe this. It looks like there's nothing left for consciousness to do. Right? If, if everything I do has a physical explanation in my brain, what left is the for consciousness to do? And that seems problematic, because we surely want to say, you know, my consciousness causes me to do stuff causes me to act and speak and express my thoughts. And so yes, I mean, this the you know, this the way is ever David Chalmers kind of says clever things to try and get around there. So, other duelists say, actually, we don't have scientific reason to accept this causal completeness of the physical, it's just a, it's a dogma of materialists rather than something we have reason to believe. And you know, it's a fair point, in a sense, because there's, there are no peer reviewed scientific articles arguing for this. But some people think it's something we can, you know, as philosophers, we can read out of science in some way. Yeah, so So but there are deep private, deep on the face of the deep difficulties there.
Stephen Bradford Long 27:15 So So basically, it sounds like every single solution that we that we have right now to try to explain what consciousness is and how it fits into our understanding of the world just doesn't work. Or there are some very profound gaps and mysteries in our own in our understanding of ourselves. Where does pan psychism fit into this? How does pan psychism? Suppose supposedly fix these problems?
Philip Goff 27:47 Yeah, yeah. So well, the starting point is, starting with the pan psychist is the idea that physical science doesn't really tell us what matter is. And that seems like a really weird thing to say at first, you know, if you if you learn physics, you seem to learn these incredible things about the nature of space and time and matter. But, you know, what philosophers of science have realized is that physics for all its richness is confined to telling us about the behavior of matter what he does. physics tells us, for example, the matter has mass and charge and spin. And these properties are completely defined in terms of behavior, things like attraction, repulsion, resistance to acceleration, this is all about behavior, what stuff does, you know, and that's why physics is so incredible, because if you know what stuff does, in great detail, you can manipulate it and you can produce incredible technology. That's why physics is so successful. But physics isn't telling us about what philosophers like to call the intrinsic nature of matter what matter is, in and of itself in this, is that, okay?
Stephen Bradford Long 29:06 Okay, so let me think about okay, so, basically, what I'm hearing is, so say, someone were to ask, what is an atom? Yeah. Someone A, you couldn't actually answer. With a, you couldn't actually tell that person what an atom is, you could only tell them what it does.
Philip Goff 29:31 Well, I mean, atoms are made up of smaller things. So let's maybe take an electron. So right, and atoms made up of, you know, protons and quarks. And so ultimately, we get down to it most matter to quarks and electrons. So we got the, you know, the the electrons spinning around in a sense. So you know, so let's think about an electron, right? What does physics tell us about it? So you say to a physicist, what's, what's an electron? And the business says, Well, you know, it hasn't said In the amount of mass, and it's negatively charged, and you say, Okay, what's the mass? Well, mass is characterized in physics in terms of gravitational attraction, right? The more mass something has, the more it attracts other massive things. And the more it resists acceleration, so the you know, the harder it is to get it to speed up or slow down or change direction. Charge is defined in terms of attraction and repulsion, right? Like things repel opposite, opposites attract, like charges repel. That's it. So so um, the same is true with spin in a slightly more complicated way. And if things get a little bit more complicated, you bring in the Higgs boson, but essentially, all we're learning about is what it does. So to many philosophers, it seems like a reasonably quite reasonable. Okay, that's what it does. But what is it? What is
Stephen Bradford Long 30:57 it? So? So it's almost like a fundamentally different category? So it's like an asking, what is something we can add? At its most basic level, we can only get what it does. And those are two different categories is what I'm hearing you say, Yeah,
Philip Goff 31:13 I sometimes make an analogy to a chess piece, you know, you might want to if you've got like a real concrete chess piece on the board, and, you know, you might be interested in what it does, if it's a bishop that moves diagonally, and you know, any number of places, but then you might want to say, Okay, but what is it? Is it? What is it? Is it made of wood? Is it made of plastic? Is it made of metal? And you seem like you get an answer to that. And, you know, we get to answer in terms of chemistry, chemistry is defined in terms of physics, but when you get down to the basic properties of physics, you don't find out what they are, you just find out what they do.
Stephen Bradford Long 31:47 Okay, so, where does? Where does pan psychism come in to this issue?
Philip Goff 31:54 Good. So you might think so what what the hell it is got to do with consciousness. But well, I mean, the reason for the recent resurgence of interest in pan psychism, in academic philosophy, you know, it's gone from being something that was kind of laughed at, or just ignored to being something that's been taken very seriously in the last eight or 10 years. And it's partly due to the rediscovery of some really important work from the 1920s by the philosopher Bertrand Russell, and also the scientist Arthur Eddington, who is the first scientist to confirm Einstein's theory of general relativity. So I think the genius of these two guys, I sometimes make this bold claim that they did for consciousness in the 1920s, what Darwin did in the 19th century for the science of life, but
Stephen Bradford Long 32:44 that is a very bold claim. Yeah, I remember you saying that in your book. Yeah.
Philip Goff 32:49 Well, you gotta be provocative. But anyway, I think their genius was to bring together this problem. That's sometimes called the problem of intrinsic natures, that physics isn't telling us what matter is to bring that together with the problem of consciousness, and to see that we could give them both a unified solution. So one problem is, you know, we've got, we're looking for a place for consciousness and our scientific story, it doesn't seem to fit anywhere. The other problem is, we've got this huge hole in our scientific story, that physics just tells us what stuff does not what it is. So the proposed solution is put consciousness in the hole, right? You can't lie and replace, yeah, you don't get replaced with consciousness, you've got a hole, why don't try and put consciousness in the whole. So the result that the view is a kind of pan psychism the view that but it's, it's important to emphasize it's not it's pan psychism, sort of stripped of any mystical connotations. The idea is this just matter maybe particles and fields, but it can be described from two perspectives. So physical science describes it as it were, from the outside, in terms of its behavior when it does, but matter from the inside. matter in terms of its intrinsic nature is constituted of forms of consciousness. So it's a beautifully simple, elegant way of bringing together what we know about ourselves from the inside, and what science tells us about the brain from the outside. So that's, that's the kind of that's the picture.
Stephen Bradford Long 34:24 So, it so it proposes to resolve these problems by saying that the intrinsic nature of say an electron and electron of an electron is consciousness is caught is that the electron has some kind of intrinsic experience.
Philip Goff 34:48 Good. So the way I like to put it as I often often when people hear about pan psychism they think the view is that the electron has its physical prop parties like mass charge and spin, and also these consciousness properties.
Stephen Bradford Long 35:05 But that's just another kind of dualism is exactly.
Philip Goff 35:09 I mean, there's quite a famous physicist, I forgotten their name though. Sabina pawsome Felder is it, who's who's written this, this criticism of Pan psychism. But she interprets it in that way. And she thinks, Well, if there were these funny extra properties of electrons, you know, we detect them in our physics, and we don't So this week, I'll be true. But as I tried to argued at length on Twitter, this really misunderstands that the contemporary form of Pan psychism. So the view is not that there's the physical properties of the electron. And these consciousness properties, the view is the physical properties are forms of consciousness, mass, spin, and charge are forms of consciousness. So physics tells us what mass does, but it doesn't tell us what it is, and maths. The idea is, it would be an incredibly on an almost unimaginably probably unimaginably simple form of experience. And then the complex experience of the human or animal brain is somehow built up from the very simple experience of it's of the brain's most basic parts. So yeah, that's the kind of picture
Stephen Bradford Long 36:20 so I'm gonna get really, really high. I'm gonna have to think about that in a bit more. But, okay, so, so this idea. Yeah, and I Okay, so I've heard you say this not only an interview in other interviews, like with Sean Carroll, but also in your book, that mass and spin these fundamental qualities of or these these behaviors of an electron, that those are that instead of it being here's an electron it has physical characteristics, which are mass and spin and then it has a conscious experience. Instead, the consciousness and the mass and spin are one and the same thing. Yeah, it's okay. Okay,
Philip Goff 37:10 different forms of consciousness, right? What an electron has these different properties, mass spin and charge, they are on this view, three different incredibly simple forms of consciousness. So physics tells us what they do.
Stephen Bradford Long 37:25 So does that. So does that mean that it has any kind of self knowledge or reactivity that it is able to, to, to to know itself? Is that what we mean by consciousness in the context of an electron?
Philip Goff 37:43 No, no. Okay. And this is this is why I guess Yeah, it's important that the word consciousness is is such an ambiguous word. Okay, you know, and many people use it to mean something like yeah, self awareness or something. And you know, certainly, I mean, awareness of human existence is probably not something we would want to say a rabbit has nevermind electron. That's, you know, that's a very sophisticated human experience is an incredibly sophisticated form of experience involving self awareness. And you know, there it's the result of millions of years of natural selection. But all I mean by consciousness is just experience. Something is conscious that the philosopher Thomas Nagel famously defined it by saying something's consciousness, there's something that it's like to be it. And in human beings experience exists in very complex forms. You know, in horses less much less complex in mice slept much less complex. You know, and you know, the bed, maybe bedbugs have some very simple form experience flies and flies, banging against the window trying to get out maybe it has some very simple form of experience. And it seems conceivable, at least that, you know, that experience could exist in unimaginably simple forms.
Stephen Bradford Long 39:03 So So, okay, so basically, what you're saying is this spin, the atom is experience or the the electron is experiencing spin. Therefore it is yeah, okay. I've just, like, just tried to parse this, I'm like, Okay,
Philip Goff 39:25 I suppose because you're thinking when you experience something, you're, you're this the thing you're experiencing, like is that but I mean, I don't think you know, in perceptual experience, we experience something outside of ourselves, you know, I experienced the table, but I think not all forms of experience, involve experience of something. This is maybe there between transitive and intransitive, consciousness anyway, we don't need technical words. So you know, if you think about pain, you know that pain is a feeling and it's not or a feeling of anxiety. Suppose you're feeling anxiety. If it's not obvious, you're experiencing something outside of the experience, you're just, it's just a it's just a form of experience
Stephen Bradford Long 40:10 yourself. Okay, got it. Yeah, so
Philip Goff 40:11 I'm not saying that the electron is perceiving things outside of itself. I'm just say it is having experiences, maths spin and charge. So I wouldn't say it's experiencing maths, I would say, maths is an a form of experience it has, I mean, you know, if we want to make it vivid, we could think of like maths as a form of, like a feeling of pain or something. But, of course, that's an incredibly far too complex and experienced to what we're talking about. But yeah, mass is a form of experience that the electron enjoys.
Stephen Bradford Long 40:50 Okay, so, so then basically, the, the image that I guess you're painting for me is that there are these tiny miniscule sorts of experience or of consciousness known as electrons, which form atoms which form molecules, so are tiny forms of consciousness than coming together to build larger form, you know, super structures of consciousness that that are more complex? And if so then, so a human being, or, or a pig or a dolphin would be like various forms of super consciousness.
Philip Goff 41:33 Yeah, that's the idea. So that. Yeah, and the pan psychist. I mean, another common misunderstanding the panpsychist need and think that literally, everything is conscious, despite the meaning of the word pan means everything psyche means mind. So literally means everything has mind. But the basic commitment is that the fundamental building blocks of reality, perhaps electrons and quarks, although you can, you can have different interpretations of physics as well. They have incredibly simple experience. And as you say, human or animal experience is built up from those simple forms of experience. But they needn't hold that every random combination of particles makes a conscious thing. So a pancake is needed think this table in front of me is conscious. They think that it's made up of things that are conscious, but they needn't think there's experience associated with the table itself as a whole. It could be that there's something pretty special about the kind of arrangements we find in human and animal brains that enables them to have their own forms of consciousness over and above the consciousness of their parts. But yeah, that's that's the basic view.
Stephen Bradford Long 42:53 So how do we go about determining whether this idea is true or not? How do we how do we determine if pan psychism is actually an accurate view of the world? Like, what models are there that can be put forth? Or like, is there any way to test this idea? Or are there any models to kind of rigorously analyze this to determine whether it's, it's true or not?
Philip Goff 43:24 Yeah, good question. Well, I mean, I could give two answers to that one philosophical and one more scientific, but so I think that there is a deep philosophical problem at the core of the science of consciousness. And that is that consciousness is unobservable. You can't look inside somebody's head and see their feelings and experiences. We know about consciousness, not through observation or experiment, but just through our immediate awareness of our own feelings and experiences. So I think this really constrains our ability to deal with it experimentally. So you know, of course, science is used to dealing with observables. But in all other cases, science postulates and observables, to explain what can be observed. So electrons, for example, are unobservable, you can't directly perceive an electron. But we postulate electrons as part of a complicated theory, that standard part Standard Model of particle physics that explains very successfully what we do observe. Right? So we postulate things that we can't observe to explain what we can observe. Right in the unique case of consciousness. The thing we are trying to explain is an observable, and I think that is that is a completely different kind of issue. So how do we deal with it scientifically Although what we, although we can't perceive it, what we can do is we can ask people, you, that's the only way you can gather data for a science of consciousness apart from your own consciousness, right? To find out about other people's content, you ask them. And if you do this, when you're scanning their brain, and you say, you know, what are you experiencing when this better your brain lights up? You're a scientist in this way able to map complicated correlations between various kinds of experience and various kinds of brain activity. And this is really important data for science of consciousness. But that that is, the problem is that's the limit of because consciousness is unobservable. That's the limit of what we can do experimentally. And that is not important as it is that's not itself a theory of consciousness. Because what we ultimately want from a theory of consciousness is an explanation of those correlations, like, why is it? Yeah, certain kinds of brain activity, correlate with certain kinds of experience? Why should that be? So I just, I don't think we can answer that experimentally. I think at that point, we have to turn to philosophy. And there are various philosophical proposals for explaining that, you know, materialism is one dualism is another pan psychism is another and we just have to assess them on their own terms. So you know, some people say, as you just said that a very common question to me. How do we test it? Well, in a sense, I don't think we can test it. But I don't think we can test any of these theories, materialism do that the neuroscientists are people. Some people think the neuroscience supports materialism. But I think you know, the neuroscience is neutral on all these options. The neuroscience just gives us correlations between brain activity and experience, then we have to turn to philosophy, assess the various options. And as we've discussed, most of them look pretty terrible. Pan psychism. Sounds kind of crazy. But it avoids it seems to be the best option. There is the least worst option, if you like, like Churchill said about democracy, apparently, you know, it's the worst system of government apart from all the others, I kind of think pan psychism theory of consciousness apart from all the others. So to just finally, I suppose it's, you can't directly tested like any theory of consciousness, ultimately. But it's justified, I think, by a kind of inference to the best explanation, you know, we know consciousness exists, we need an account of how it fits into our scientific story. And pan psychism looks to be the best option there is.
Stephen Bradford Long 47:43 So is it possible that the human mind is just not equipped to handle this stuff? You know, is it is it possible that we're just, you know, we're evolved to survive? And we might not necessarily be evolved to to understand the deepest mysteries of the cosmos? And? And is it possible that we just don't have the cognitive structures or capacity to be able to deal with this kind of stuff? In which case? Do we just accept mystery? Do we just embrace agnosticism? And, and so I love the idea of Pan psychism? Why is it preferable? And maybe you aren't saying that it is. But why is it preferable to agnosticism to just embracing the fact that I don't know what the fuck is going on? You know, I wrote an article recently called Satan in the void, you know, kind of about my own religious experience within Satanism, and how a fundamental part of that is Satan, the image of Satan is not so much a god but a guide, he's, and he points me personally, to embrace just the fundamental mystery of reality, and to kind of let go of binding narratives that might protect me from from just the absolute mysteriousness of the universe. And me and I, maybe you aren't saying that, that this is preferable to agnosticism, maybe it's both maybe we can hold a theory like materialism slash pan psychism slash dualism in one hand as a potential reality and then on the other hand, say, ultimately, we don't know what what are your thoughts on that?
Philip Goff 49:48 What I yeah, that's, that's a really interesting question. Yes. So I mean, so there is an option in the philosophical literature called Mysterion. ISM, probably most famously defended by the floss. Colin McGinn knew at this paper, can we solve the mind body problem? And he argued the answer is no. And he speaks really wonderfully about when he decided about he was just so tortured by consciousness. And then he decided there was this proof that actually we couldn't solve the problem of consciousness. And he just had a sort of a great relief and the ability to live with himself. And I mean, I can really relate to that I think there's problem of consciousness really gets in your bones that
Stephen Bradford Long 50:32 locks you up, it really does.
Philip Goff 50:34 Stay clear. I tried to stay away, you know, drag me back in. I think I think Steven Pinker holds something like this view. I think I saw him give a talk at the big consciousness conference. When I was in my early graduate career. I think he thinks something like that, you know, you think I mean, these these people you think of as hardcore naturalist atheists are all over the place of consciousness. I think, you know, Daniel Dennett has, you know, it's very much the opposite view to me is almost denying the existence of consciousness, whereas Sam Harris, actually is much more on my side of the debate. And yeah, you know,
Stephen Bradford Long 51:15 and his wife Annika Harris, who yes, neuroscientist has, I actually, I just saw that she wrote an article about pan psychism. To read.
Philip Goff 51:25 Yeah, I have to work on that. Actually. We
Stephen Bradford Long 51:28 Oh, nice. Yeah, we can I got some good conversation. You should. You should, you know, just in passing, be like, hey, so there's this idiot with a microphone in western North Carolina, who really wants to talk to you about pan? psychism? No, I'm kidding. You don't need to do that. So yeah.
Philip Goff 51:48 But yeah, so I know, look, I think Mysterio is is an option we should take seriously. And look, I mean, who knows what the truth is? I'm not you know, I defend panpsychism. But, you know, it's not like, I mean, I give some pluses tend to talk about credence rather than belief. So credence being in a degrees of belief, plus was up to you know, how much credence do you have in this view? So, you know, I think pan psychism looks to be the best option. But you know, I mean, I give some credence to all these views, including materialism, for that matter, including the view that consciousness doesn't exist, or fellow pan psychist sometimes get upset with me about this. My close friend, Keith Frankish, who doesn't think consciousness exists, but yeah, but what okay, why go for Pan psychism rather than materialism? I mean, why would you go for mystery? If you have an explanation? If you you know, if there's a possible explanation that, you know, so Einstein said, look, I've got this general relativity theory that, you know, can explain so much about gravity and the things you'd got wrong, and you think I can, but I'd rather wait and see, you know, but you're not right. I think we go with the best option there is, although having said that, I'm, I guess I'm sort of open to the possibility that we won't be able to fill in the details of Pan psychism. Like, will we ever know what it's like to be a quark, there's a good paper, actually by someone Pat neuters, he's got a paper, what's it like to be a quark? But I don't know, you know, I mean, I don't think we really know even as Thomas Nagel famously pointed out, we don't really know what it's like to be a bat, because a bat has such a different form of experience of us. And so will we ever know, you know, what it's like to be a fundamental particle? Or will we be able to, you know, so I mean, I think we deserve an active pan psychism Research Program, trying to fill in the details, see where we can get to, but I think, you know, as naturally evolved creatures, we might be that we just can't fill in all of the details. I think we've got lulled into a false sense of security, because we've, we've done so well with physical science. But I think as I've said it that didn't went so well, because it was focused on a quite limited tasks, basically describing the behavior of stuff, constructing mathematical models to describe the behavior of matter. We can do that very well. But whether we can, you know, penetrate the intrinsic nature of matter, really understand the details here, I'm not sure we ever will. But even if we can't, and, you know, we can keep trying, but even if we can't, I still think reason we've got reason to believe, to give a lot of credence to pan psychism. The general view because it does seem to be, you know, the best general explanation of, of how consciousness fits in even if we prove unable to fill in all of the details.
Stephen Bradford Long 54:46 So it kind of sounds like what you're saying something that professional skeptic and debunker Mick West said to me on a recent episode, where he said that so he does a lot of work with conspiracy theories and like UFOs, and aliens and all that kind of stuff, and he said something that I really like and that I've been thinking about ever since where he said, instead of saying it is an alien, or it isn't an alien, you know, say something you see, say you see something in the sky that looks like UFO instead of saying, it isn't alien, or it isn't an alien, instead, make a list of every conceivable possible thing that it could be. And you could and he said, you can still keep your pet theory on the list, you can still keep alien on the list. But then real rearrange that list in order of what is most likely. Yeah, yeah. And, and so I don't know that just what you just said, kind of reminds me of that. It's like, it's like evaluating a spectrum of plausible spectrum of probability.
Philip Goff 55:52 Yeah, that really rings true to me. I think I listened to that episode. Actually, I listened. Oh, great. Awesome. Yeah, I mean, people get so ideological on these matters, you know, and so you do get the more pan psychism is taken seriously, starting to get a lot of anger from some materialists. You know, and get very ideological in this and get, I think, people, you know, people talk about religion as a crutch. And, of course, people do get very passionate about religion, because it's wrapped up with our identity. But I also think a certain kind of scientistic materialism people get that gets wrapped up in people's identity. And, you know, it starts to become I agree with a sense of certainty that this idea that, you know, we know where the truth lies, we haven't got all the answers, but we know where they lie. We know we're not like those idiots, who, you know, that's a very reassuring, and I think people are very resistant to, to having that challenge. So yeah, so look, I'm, yeah, I put all of these options on the table. Really? You know, we're consciousness. But, but having said that, I do think I do think pan psychism. Actually, I might I don't think I'd go so far as to say I believe pan psychism, though, I think that will be a little bit too. But I do think it in my view, it shines so much above the other options, I just feel that the other options when you look at it plainly and without bias, I think the other options just have such deep difficulties. So do you think pan psychism is the most probable view, but still, I think we should remain, you know, really cautious, you know, cautious, very cautious. Absolutely.
Stephen Bradford Long 57:42 Yeah. I really, really, really respect that. And, you know, what you were just saying about kind of this, this? I don't know this religious, I don't know, dogmatic materialism, I encount, I've encountered that in with theism, and anti theism. And you know, I always try to, I try to make very clear that I'm not an anti theist, I don't believe that God, I don't believe that God does not exist. Instead, I don't believe in God, that's a big difference. And, you know, it's like, my materialism is kind of similar. I don't believe that reality is I don't believe that the material is all there is I don't believe that the supernatural does not exist, or, or some metaphysical. I don't believe that some metaphysical plane does not exist. I don't believe in a metaphysical plane. Yeah. Does that. Does that make sense? You know, and so it's so for me, one is much more a position of humility. And I can say what I think is more likely, but ultimately, it's it's just about evidence. It's, it's, it's about, um, I don't believe in God, because I haven't seen evidence of God. I and that's it. It's that simple. It's really as simple as here's a claim. I don't believe you. That's yeah, that is all it is. But to me, that is much more open handed. That is that is much more flexible. And I feel like you know, maybe because I was raised practically in a fundamentalist Christian Cole, I'm, I may be predisposed to being open to being too open. Like, I feel like I'm open to any to anything. I mean, I'm sure there are things. I'm sure that there are things that I'm not open to but I'm open to all kinds of crazy shit. I'm open to the idea that all of reality is a is a hologram on the event horizon of a black hole. I'm open to the idea that this is all you know, a simulation. I'm open to the idea of all kinds of events. sanity I'm open to the existence of God is, to me, it's just a matter of evidence. And so in that same way, I'm open to the existence of Pan psychism. I think it's a fascinating, really cool idea.
Philip Goff 1:00:13 Yeah, I think that's great. Yeah. So, yeah, go on. No, no, I just, I think the human, epistemological state, you know, epistemological minzu of knowledge is is very frail. And it is, you know, David Hume had this thing. And you might think, why did philosophers waste time thinking about, you know, we could be in the matrix. So you don't know for certain other people have minds or whatever. David Hume argued, you know, the great 18th century Scottish philosopher, said, it's good for you, because you realize how frail our knowledge is how little we know. And it makes you less confident of, you know, people have these dogmatic certainties. And yeah, Hume talks about it. It's like he's talking about the present day, he said, people have these dogmatic convictions, and they don't want to hear anything to the contrary. So they get themselves all kind of excited. So they can't. And he says, Once you realize, you know, I don't know this. I don't know whether there's a table in front of me. I don't know, if I'm in the matrix. This sort of makes you much more humble about about the things you know, and yeah,
Stephen Bradford Long 1:01:21 I don't I don't know if I'm talking to a super intelligent web bot right now. He's just, you know, passing the Turing test with flying colors. All right. Well, so we I have so many more questions. And I have so many, there's so much more in your book that I want to talk about. But I'm afraid that we need to wrap this up. But it has been absolutely wonderful talking to you. And I would love to have you on again, especially to talk about religious factionalism. If you'd be open to that we could Yeah, at some point. Yeah. That'd be great. Yeah. And but anyway, are there any final thoughts is? Or is there any final wisdom that you want to impart to my, to my listeners?
Philip Goff 1:02:06 Oh, God, wisdom? That's a big challenge, I suppose, you know, do you kind of think this kind of sound like a sort of abstract problem? Why the hell are we worrying about it, but I do kind of think it matters. Because, you know, I think consciousness is sort of, at the root of human identity, you know, it's fundamentally we think of ourselves and relate to each other as creatures with feelings and experiences, you know, it's probably consciousness is the basis of everything that's important in human existence. And I'm inclined to believe, obviously, this is controversial, but I'm inclined to believe that our, our current scientific worldview doesn't have a place for it. And, you know, I think that can lead to a real sense of alienation. I think, you know, we know, we have feelings and experiences. But our official scientific worldview tells us, there's just electrochemical signaling going on in our heads. And I think we know intuitively that that's not the same thing. And I think that intuition can have philosophical support. So I think, you know, of course, we should always be I always emphasize, we should be thinking, not what view we'd like to be true, but what view is most likely to be true? And I do think there's a strong case to the reasons I've given for the probable truth of this view. But I also think it's, it's a picture of the world that's slightly more consistent with human well being, you know, it's a picture of the world in which we can understand how we fit in. You know, we it's a bit to the world, we can maybe feel a bit more at home. And so yes, I think this it's a it's not just an abstract problem. It's, it's also, I think, important question of how we understand the human situation, how we understand how we fit into the physical universe,
Stephen Bradford Long 1:03:57 from a purely pragmatic point of view, do you think that human that that we would have a greater level of well being if people believed in something like pan psychism
Philip Goff 1:04:10 I, so I tried to I argue this in the final chapter, I mean, so the first four chapters are sort of just the cold blooded case. So and, and then the final chapter says, Okay, well, let's explore the implications. And one very unfair review said, oh, there's no arguments in the final chapter, but you know, sort of explicitly say, you know, the argument is finished, let's explore the implications. So, but yeah, I do. I mean, I kind of think materialism is sort of pretty bleak. You know, you've just got this mechanistic picture of nature and cold immensity of empty space and, you know, whereas pan psychism we are conscious creatures in a conscious universe. I think this is a picture we can maybe feel a bit more comfortable in our own skin and Then I also talked about how it might help us relate to the environment. If you you know, if you think of a tree as just a mechanism, you'll, it's hard to have any kind of warm feelings about it, you're going to think of, okay, it's valuable because it looks nice, or it keeps us alive. But if you think a tree is a conscious organism, albeit of a very alien kind, that I think a tree has a kind of moral status in its own right. You know, if you see those terrible Brazilian forest fires, you know, if you think of them as burning of conscious organisms, you know, I think it's an extra moral dimension. So yeah, so I do I do think kids raised in a pan psychist universe would be a little bit happier. I mean, that's just speculative. I haven't done any psychological research on this. Someone should maybe. But that's my kids that are a bit older.
Stephen Bradford Long 1:05:52 Absolutely. That's, that's really, really interesting. And I have so many thoughts, but I won't pursue them right now because I need to let you go. But this has been a really, really fun conversation. Thank you so much for joining me and where can people find you if they want to get in touch or read some of your work?
Philip Goff 1:06:13 I'm on Twitter a lot too much.
Stephen Bradford Long 1:06:17 You and me both. So
Philip Goff 1:06:18 give it a break. Get some word. Phillip underscore Goff says Phillip with one owl and scarf Geo, F F Foxtrot, Foxtrot. And the website is well www. Philip Goff philosophy.com. I also have a blog, which is the worst title ever conscience and consciousness, which is just impossible to type in. But that's linked to proper website. Why I chose that name. Well, I
Stephen Bradford Long 1:06:46 follow I follow your blog. It's great. It's brilliant. You write really cool stuff. You're also very against neoliberalism and very, seems like very much a leftist and we have that in common.
Philip Goff 1:06:59 Yeah, just my political ranting. Yeah, still still getting over the recent British elections. I'm so sorry. It's you gotta have hope. Absolutely. Are you a Bernie fan?
Stephen Bradford Long 1:07:13 I am. Well, actually, I just I just went and voted for him this morning in the primaries. It's Super Tuesday. As of today is Super Tuesday, so I went and voted for Bernie I did my part. And anyway, we can have that's a conversation for another time. All right, well, that is it for this show. The music as always, as by the jelly rocks and 11 D seven. You can find their music on iTunes, Spotify, or wherever you listen to music The artwork is by Rama Krishna Das special thanks goes to my patrons. You can join their number by going to patreon.com forward slash Steven Bradford long. For $1 A month or $5 a month you get access to extra content every week and you ensure the long life of my work. This is a production of raw candy recordings, and is written produced and edited by me Steven Bradford long and as always, Hail Satan. We'll see you next week.