Podcasts/Sacred Tension-ST Hard Problem FINAL6h1xw
ST_Hard_Problem_FINAL6h1xw SUMMARY KEYWORDS consciousness, physics, pan, philosophers, brain, conscious, sean carroll, people, neuroscientists, thinking, sam harris, book, philosophy, universe, problem, experiments, big, reality, scientists, experience SPEAKERS Philip Goff, Stephen Bradford Long
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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. Well, before we get started with the show, as always, I have to thank my patrons. For this week. I have to thank Bryce son, Bridget Nix, Reverend Jaden. And Greg, thank you so much. I truly could not do this show. Without You. You are maintaining this show, ensuring that I can bring you interesting content to the public for free. And if you would like to join their number, please go to patreon.com forward slash Steven Bradford long and for $1 a month or more you get extra content every single week. And it really, really helps. All right. Well, this week, I'm delighted to welcome Philip Goff back to the show. Philip, how's it going?
Philip Goff 01:46 It's going pretty good. Thanks for having me back. Nice to see you again.
Stephen Bradford Long 01:49 Yes, you too. So we talked in 2020, I believe, right before the pandemic hit. Right. Yeah, it was January, it was like in January or February. Or maybe it was early. Maybe it was in 2019. And that I don't I don't remember. I just remember we were we talked and then it felt like the world fell apart. But it's great to have you back on. So tell us some about who you are and what you do. Before we get started.
Philip Goff 02:18 I am a philosopher, I teach at Durham University up in the cold north of England. And I am interested in reality. I guess I work mainly unconsciousness. I'm interested in how to fit consciousness into our overall theory of reality. And I think the traditional scientific approach won't really cut it and defender slightly wacky view called pan psychism, which I guess we could get onto. So that's my main focus. But I guess I'm interested in the nature of reality in many in many different aspects and facets of it.
Stephen Bradford Long 02:57 Absolutely. You also wrote a fantastic book called Galileo's error. Which I Yes, you should you shouldn't be. You need to like pull yourself together. You need to be better at plugging yourself. But no, like Galileo's I keep wanting to say Galileo's middle finger I'm like no, that's another book by Alice, Drager Galileo, Galileo's error is a defense of Pan psychism for a popular audience. So could you describe what pan psychism is? And of course, longtime listeners of the show already know what pan psychism is, because I've talked about it before but to those who are new to the show, what is pan psychism?
Philip Goff 03:37 Well, the word literally means everything has mind pan, everything that means everything psyche means mind. But the way it's standardly understood these days is is it's the view that the fundamental building blocks of reality, perhaps fundamental particles, like electrons and quarks have incredibly simple forms of conscious experience. So you know, the conscious experience of a human being is very rich and complex, you've got emotions and thoughts and colors and sounds and so on. But conscious experience comes in different shapes and sizes, the you know, the experience of a horse is simpler than that of a human being. Experience of a mouse is simpler still. And as we move to simpler and simpler forms of life, we find simpler and simpler forms of conscious experience for the panpsychist. This keeps on going right down to the basic building blocks of reality which have incredibly simple forms of experience to reflect the very simple nature. So so it doesn't mean literally kind of it doesn't necessarily mean tables and chairs and rocks and planets have consciousness although sometimes psychics do think that it just means that maybe the things they're may ultimately made up of have very simple forms of experience. And so in that sense, consciousness pervades the universe.
Stephen Bradford Long 05:06 So would you say that in the pan psychist view, in the same way an atom has spin and mass, etc? It also has consciousness by which we mean it is like something to be that Adam.
Philip Goff 05:22 Yeah, pretty much but the way actually the way you describe it then sounds a little bit dualistic and this is a very common thought about pan psychism and, and I guess it captures some kinds of Pan psychism but the kind of pan psychism I defended, it's not that the particle has its physical properties like and then its interior property and and charge and, and these weird consciousness properties, right?
Stephen Bradford Long 05:47 And then like a more spiritual properties. Yeah, as well. That's something
Philip Goff 05:52 that's that's too, too dualistic that's like this to separate us. But rather, the view is strange as it sounds, it's physical properties like mass, spin and charge are forms of consciousness. So that sounds you know how what how do you make sense of that? If you do physics, my genius niece has just started studying physics at Manchester University. She's landed about maths spin and charge doesn't seem like she's learning about forms of consciousness. But well, the inspiration, the reason, contemporary analytic philosophy is returned to thinking about pan psychism is largely because of certain important work by Bertrand Russell in the 1920s. And what he was doing in the 1920s was just thinking really hard about the fact that physics is purely mathematical. And we said we are we sort of take that for granted. But I mean, this was a radical innovation by Galileo, I talked about him about Galileo's era. And and since then, physics has been kind of completely mathematical. So So Russell's thing what I mean, I guess if you're, if you're a scientist, you're often you know, you just want to do the experiments and get the results. But if you're a philosopher you want to do what does that what do we learn about the nature of reality, from the fact that physics is purely mathematical, the description it's giving us of the universe is purely mathematical. So there's a couple of ways you could go with that one reaction is to say, well, maybe that shows that the universe of base is made up of mathematics, you know, is kind of made up of numbers and functions and vectors, the kinds of things we find in physics. So that's the position the physicist Max Tegmark defends. But another another possible way you can go is to say, well, maybe there's something underlying the mathematical structures, physics identifies, maybe there's something that those mathematical structures are the structures of, you know, Stephen Hawking had this great line. And the final page of A Brief History of Time, when you said, even the final theory of physics will be just will just be a bunch of equations, it won't tell us what breeds fire into the equations. So. So the pan psychist idea is, what we have at the fundamental level of reality is just these very simple conscious networks of very simple conscious entities with very simple experiences that behave in very simple, predictable ways. Because they are very simple experiences. And then through their interactions, they form patterns, they form mathematical structures. And then the thought is, those mathematical structures are the mathematical structures identified by physicists, it's consciousness that breathes fire into the equations. So we sort of, we get physics, out of consciousness. And we can do that. Because physics is just pure math, as you say, we say maths over here. But physics is pure maths. And so as long as you have something that's playing the role of that can realize there's mathematical structures, you can get physics, out of facts about consciousness. So it's not like there's the conscious stuff and the physical stuff, and they're kind of separate. It's there's just consciousness stuff. But that realizes the mathematical structures of physics. Sorry, that was a little bit long winded
Stephen Bradford Long 09:26 was No, no, no, no, that's great. And it's also trying to resolve a really challenging problem, which is, I guess, what people call the hard problem of consciousness, which is basically like, how is it that dead material things following the laws of physics give rise or, or translate to or whatever, this conscious experience that you and I have where we where we He can perceive the world and there is a unique character of all of the colors and experiences. It's a unique experience of what it means to be us and how we experience the world and our thoughts and our visual field and so on. Right? And how is it that conscious that that consciousness? Where does consciousness fit in this mathematical world that you are describing? And that is the hard problem of consciousness as I understand it? So would you say that like that's, that's the problem that pan psychism is trying to resolve or one problem?
Philip Goff 10:39 Exactly. That's, that's the main main motivation. So far, I've been describing this crazy view, why would you take it at all seriously? Well, the motivation is it offers a particular particularly elegant solution to the hard problem of consciousness. In fact, what it does is it kind of turns the hard problem of consciousness on its head. So the standard approach to the hard problem is to say, Okay, we start with matter, the matter of the brain ultimately understood through physics, we start there, and then we try and get consciousness out of matter. Now, we've been banging our head against a brick wall for many decades now trying to do that and got precisely nowhere. You know, we've learned a lot about the brain. But we've got precisely nowhere with understanding how electrochemical signaling could produce and in a world of colors, and sounds, and smells and tastes. And I think there's good reasons to think that that just can't be done. We could, we could perhaps talk about that. But at any rate, there's general consensus that it hasn't been done, whether or not it can be done. And we, and we haven't even made any progress on that. It's not like, you know, we've got a little we've, we've explained how it makes pains, but we haven't explained how it makes colors or something. We're just totally clueless. So so. So that hasn't worked out very well getting consciousness out of matter. So the panpsychist does it the other way around, start with consciousness, and get physics and matter out of consciousness. And it turns out, actually, surprisingly, that's really easy. Because for the reasons we were discussing, because physics is purely mathematical, as long as you've got some stuff that realizes the right patterns, the right mathematical structures, you can get physics out of it. So so it's really hard, I would argue, impossible to get consciousness out of matter. Really easy to get matter out of consciousness. So that's, that's the motivation
Stephen Bradford Long 12:39 in it sound, you know, just listening to you talk. I have two thoughts. The first is I don't, I think that we, I don't think that people realize the depth of the hard problem of consciousness. Like, because we take consciousness for granted, we take consciousness for granted. And we take science and the material world for granted. We it's like, they these two most fundamental things that we experience, we take both of them for granted. And it isn't really until you you start to sit down and explore your own consciousness through something like meditation, or maybe psychedelics, or through philosophy, or whatever it is, that you realize that the hard problem is truly a hard problem. Like, it's, it's, um, and so you know, I've been 2021 was like, the year of meditation for me, and I decided that I need to bone up on my meditation practice. So I, I really delved into a daily meditation practice primarily with Sam Harris. And it, it really demonstrated to me just how hard of a problem it is, of understanding how how on earth is it that this thing that I call my conscious experience, can gel or seeing or click with the material world in a real way or how does that how does that material world give rise to my consciousness is a complete mystery is like, truly the most fundamental thing about us our consciousness is maybe the most mysterious thing we've ever encountered. So I think that we tend to take that massively for granted and just listening to you talk what you are describing really sounds like ancient mysticism like Hinduism, forms of Hinduism or stoicism, like constantly. Consciousness is at the heart of everything or consciousness is like at the base of reality, but with maybe like a modern philosophical, scientific twist.
Philip Goff 14:45 Yeah, the boat. So two very different points there. But both both really interesting. I mean, I think you're totally right that people don't get the depth of the hard problem. Since the 1990s. People take this very serious variously as a serious scientific problem, which wasn't always the case, for much of the latter half of the 20th century, consciousness was just a taboo topic and you couldn't you couldn't do it was thought you can't do serious science on this. So now people take it seriously, but they, but they just they still most people think we just need to do a bit more neuroscience, you just need to do a few more experiments. But you know, what I want to press is? This isn't just another phenomenon, that we haven't done the right experiment. Yes. This consciousness, and you know, this is the thing, the thing I'm about to say now is the thing I'm most passionate about getting across to people. The problem is consciousness is not a publicly observable phenomenon, right? You can't look inside someone's head, and see their feelings and experiences. Now, you know, science is used to dealing with things you can't observe, like fundamental particles, or wave functions, or even other universes, some physicists entertain the idea. But it's, it's really different in all of those cases, we postulate things we can't observe, to explain what we can observe. Right? That's, that's the whole task of science in every other case, where we hold and the whole task is to account for the data of public observation experiments. In the unique case of consciousness, the thing we are trying to explain, is not publicly observable, and that's a totally unique situation. And, you know, it really constrains our capacity to deal with it experimentally. So So you know, we can, to an extent deal with an experimentally because we can, although I can't see your consciousness, I can ask you what you're feeling. And I can scan your brain while I'm doing that. And then we can start to map up, you know, which kinds of brain activity are correlated with, which kinds of experience and that's a really important experimental scientific project. But that's not the full story. Because what we ultimately want to know is, why why do certain kinds of brain activity go along with certain kinds of experience? Why does brain activity go along with experience at all? And because consciousness is not publicly observable? That's, that's not a question, you can just answer an experiment. And that kind of makes people nervous, and, you know, just want to do the experiments. But, you know, we either pretend it doesn't exist, or we just accept that the standard tools of experimental science aren't going to answer all our questions in this regard.
Stephen Bradford Long 17:42 Right. And so I you for, for example, you cannot prove scientifically that I am conscious, exist basically, like, like, I know, I'm conscious, but you can't prove that I'm conscious. I could be like a super intelligent web bot that you're seeing on zoom right now, or something. But But like, or, you know, I could be a philosophical zombie that has all of the underpinnings, you know, has is is in every single way, demonstrating normal human behavior, going to the grocery store going to a job having this podcast, but there isn't a conscious interior experience.
Philip Goff 18:23 Yeah, absolutely. And so people listening to this might think, Oh, well, this is sounding rather far fetched and conscious. And I do believe you're conscious. But this has important implications. Because I think in the public mind, the whole task of science, as I've already said, is accounting for what publicly observable data now if I religiously followed that, as it were, I wouldn't post I wouldn't believe you're conscious. If I was just trying to explain your publicly observable behavior. I just postulate a mechanism. So basically clowns,
Stephen Bradford Long 19:00 I'm so sorry. I'm so sorry. I'm interrupting. So basically, what you're saying is they're nowhere in a scientific method of the study of Stephen Bradford long would consciousness arise? Like there's there? Yeah. Or it's like, if you were to scientifically study Stephen with with scientific tools alone? No, where would consciousness appear? Yeah,
Philip Goff 19:26 just slight, pretty much a slight quantification. I guess it depends what you mean by science. I always prefer to say it's, it's not that we we can't have a science of consciousness, but we need to rethink what science is got if, but but I think in a way, what you said is totally right. Because if we have the normal standard understanding of science, about explaining public observation experiment, then what you said is totally right. If I was just trying to do a public, you know, explain everything that's publicly observable about you. I would never have any grounds of posture in consciousness. Now, an interesting case in point of this is that the philosopher Daniel Dennett, he is wonderfully consistent on this, this famous book from the 90s. Consciousness Explained, he appreciates that consciousness in the in the sense that most people use that term is not verifiable by public science. And so he doesn't believe in it. Right? He's totally consistent. He's consistent. At the other extreme, I'm consistent in thinking, you know, we need to change science to deal with this, I think most people are still in a sort of, in my view, confused middle ground where they think like, of course, consciousness exists. But they don't appreciate that if consciousness exists, if it's real, which of course it is, then the something we know to be real as the something we need to account for. That goes beyond public observation experiments. And so the job of science isn't just, you know, isn't just accounting for public observation experiments. And then it's job done. There's something extra that we also need our theories to account for. And new fundamental datum. And so I think that's where we need to get to as a scientific and philosophical community, appreciating that consciousness is a date, the reality of consciousness is a data point in its own right, over and above observation and experiments. That's the thing I'm most passionate about getting across.
Stephen Bradford Long 21:30 So it my perception, and I might be wrong about this. And this was really one of the things that I wanted to have you on, again to talk about is how it. So first of all, to kind of clarify my position, I'm not committed to pan psychism, but I'm open to it. Like, I'm open to a lot of shit. I don't know if it's true or not, when people ask me what I think about some big, philosophical or political or whatever idea, I'm like, I think I'm a grocery store manager, I don't think I have a clue. Like, I know how to sell groceries, that's my real job, actually, as I manage a grocery store. So I'm, I'm not committed to. I'm not committed to the idea. But I find it really, really fascinating. And my perception is that it's gaining some measure of popularity in certain academic worlds, and that that I would previously have not expected. And so for example, Annika Harris, her book came out recently, I forget when it was it was a year or two ago, called conscious and Annika Harris is Sam Harris's wife. And Annika Harris, says that she is oh, she explores pan psychism in her book and says that she is open to pan psychism being true, Sam Harris, I think has said something similar. And that's like very much not what I would have anticipated from someone like Sam Harris. And by the way, because this is the internet and and we're all trigger happy. I have to clarify, I'm not a fan of everything Sam Harris has said or done. And so me bringing him up on the show is not dear listeners, A A, you know, blanket endorsement of everything that Sam Harris has said, Dear Twitter before you attack me, just so you know. Yeah. But so all that to say it's coming from people who I would not have expected someone like Sam Harris, to say that. And so I guess I what is the state of Pan psychism? In as a philosophy in that, like the scientific community?
Philip Goff 23:47 Absolutely. I mean, just on it's interesting that once called the Four Horsemen of the of new Atheism, I mean, they're all kind of all over the place on unconsciousness. So I mean, so Daniel Dennett, who we just talked about is this kind of radical, almost consciousness denying, philosopher Sam Harris, as you say, I think is pretty close to my side, certainly in taking the hard problem very seriously. And pretty much the way the way my side of the debate would take it and openness to pan psychism, I think, probably follows from that. Richard Dawkins sort of seems to take the problem seriously, but and I don't know the late Christopher Hitchens, actually, but yeah, so look, I mean, yeah, I think that a lot has changed in the last 10 or 15 years. You know, when I was first looking for academic jobs, actually, well, meaning professors said, maybe don't mention that panpsychism stuff. But it's it's just a lot has changed. And it's, I mean, still a minority view. But it's it's big, it's just transformed into into a a well respected, even though minority position. I mean, I mean, one side of this This just just published quite recently a special issue of the Journal of consciousness studies with 19 essays, responses to my to my book Galileo's era, not just by philosophers, but also by scientists like Carlo Rovelli, Sean Carroll, Lee Smolin and Neil said Christof Koch, some very critical, you know, as it should be in these matters of great controversy. But, you know, I think I've been I've had some great interactions with Sean Carroll using the physicist Sean Carroll is is actually incredibly clued up. For someone who's not a professional philosopher clued up philosophically. I mean, of course, he's clued up as a physicist, that's his training and profession. But you know, an even though him and Yossef, for example, you know, strongly disagree with me, I think they, they take the position seriously enough to engage with it in a serious way. And other philosophers, other scientists like I mean, Lee Smolin, his contribution to this volume, was thinking rather speculatively obviously about whether the fundamental rethinking of physics we have to do to bring together our best theory of very big, namely, general relativity with our best theory of the very small, namely, quantum mechanics, might involve a role for consciousness as a fundamental feature of reality. Another another interesting contribution, actually by a scientist was Jonathan Delafield, but who's a site, an experimental psychologist professor at the University of Strathclyde, who has found that taking he also his career has been studying autism experimentally. And he's discovered that thinking about working on experimenting on autism within a panpsychist framework, he believes provides a deeper explanatory basis for understanding the phenomenon. And it's I'm actually finding there more and more scientists getting in touch with me. Neuroscientists, physicists seeing seeing a connection to their work. And I mean, this is one of the great things about writing a book aims at general audience I wrote in 2017, an academic book consciousness and fundamental reality, which has done pretty well amongst academic academic philosophers. But you know, it's pretty hard to read, if you don't have a PhD in philosophy, but then wrote a book aimed at a general audience. And that's been great for connecting to the public, but also connecting to the to the rest of the scientific community. So I would like to, at some point, begin to set up some kind of network of, of scientists and philosophers from a wide range of backgrounds who are all working on this kind of topic. Actually, just finally, there are kind of some hard stats on on its place in philosophy. I don't know if you've know this. There's this PhilPapers survey, which is no reason why you wouldn't know actually, I don't know.
Stephen Bradford Long 27:57 I am on top of a lot of shit, but I'm not on top of that.
Philip Goff 28:01 It's, it's still pretty obscure, but it's a big deal in academic philosophy. So they've done this huge survey of the opinion of philosophical views of Anglophone philosophers in Anglophone philosophy professors in philosophy departments, so you know, asking them, do you believe in God, do you think we have free will, what's the meaning of life and so on, and unconsciousness, the results are about 50% Are materialists. So that's still, the view that has the most is the biggest number of adherence. So that's the view that we can roughly we can explain consciousness in conventional scientific terms. But then 30% are anti materialists opposed to think we can't explain consciousness in conventional scientific terms. And then 15 20% are sort of undecided or don't like the question or something. philosophers are always awkward. And then of the 30% who oppose materialism, about three quarters of them do lists. So they think consciousness is non physical in some sense. And now, is it three quarters or two thirds? I can't remember now? I think it's two thirds. Actually, no, yeah, it's tooth a little bit better for two thirds of duelists and 1/3, upon Saygus. So it's still very much a kind of minority position. But the last time they did this, you know, Pan psychism, wasn't even mentioned. So it's really become, it's the kind of the third, the third position. They'll be like, in Britain, we have we have two big parties, Labour and Conservatives. And then we've got the Liberal Democrats, the sort of a big third party so you're
Stephen Bradford Long 29:41 sort of you're the Green Party,
Philip Goff 29:43 or the Green Party. Just so it's but it's but it's on the table. It's one of the positions people now feel, you know, they have to consider they have to take seriously and you know, I mean, the trajectory is upwards and I mean, there's all sorts of things I can mention. Actually, I don't want to talk too much. But that one exciting thing, again, only an academic philosophy, but there's this guy, Michael Tye, you won't know if you're if you're not heavily in academic philosophy, but huge figure, a huge figure of materialism a very influential materialist, going back to the 80s, has just converted to a form of Pan psychism. And that's like, it's like, it's like Richard Dawkins becoming a Christian. And
Stephen Bradford Long 30:30 another big notable thing, or Sam Harris becoming a muslim or Yeah, or whatever,
Philip Goff 30:36 maybe a bit less extreme. Yeah. And just one more thing that I mean, the big annual philosophy conference in the UK, had a plenary session on Pan psychism for the first time last summer. So in all sorts of ways this is, you know, it's not like everyone believes that now, but no one agrees on anything of philosophy, but it's become on the table. You know, even to some extent among neuroscientists.
Stephen Bradford Long 31:03 It's on, it's part of the conversation now, and in a way that it wasn't. And so what? So you, you mentioned the one philosopher, who was like Dawkins converting to Christianity. What was his name again?
Philip Goff 31:16 Michael Tye, t-y-e.
Stephen Bradford Long 31:18 Okay. So Michael Thai, you don't need to speak for him, you know, on his behalf, but what what was it that that, you know, would convert him kind of a lifelong materialist to panpsychist? Position?
Philip Goff 31:34 Good question. And so I still haven't read his book, I need to get around to this. But I understand that the basic thing that's converted him is actually something I've been, I don't think this is too technical. It's something I've been thinking a lot about recently, which is the issue of whether consciousness can be vague in this kind of slightly technical philosophical sense, where something's vague if you can have borderline cases of it. So for example, being tall is vague, like, some people are definitely tall. Some people are definitely not tall, but then they're bored. I mean, I'm, I'm in the borderline cases, probably. I'm kind of neither definitely tall. No, definitely not. Baldness is another one that I'm entering into now. Like, you know, some people are definitely bald, if you've got no hair. Some people are definitely not bald, but I'm kind of my bald, I'm not bald is getting thin. Right. Now, here's a question. Could could could consciousness be like that? So a good way of framing it? Like, could there be some creature that's, let's say, snails for the sake of an example? Let's say, could it be that sales are in the borderline case, so then they're not conscious. They're not definitely conscious. They're not definitely non conscious. They're in borderline case. Now, I just think that makes no sense at all, you know, they might have very simple consciousness, but they either have experience or they don't, you know, can't, you know, even if they've just got a little bit of experience, either the lights are on, or they're not very good paper by the philosopher Eric streetscaping. On this recently, which you should get on extra tables. He defends with a view equals crazy ism, which is, whatever, whatever the solution to consciousness is, it's going to be crazy.
Stephen Bradford Long 33:25 I feel like okay, I feel like that is my position. I feel like, I feel like I have finally discovered my position on conscious.
Philip Goff 33:35 But, um, yeah, so I think so I think, Michael Ty's really on board with that he do things it doesn't make sense for consciousness to be vague. And and this makes a big problem. Now, if we think about, if you're not a pan psychist, when you start to think about the emergence of consciousness, either in evolutionary history, or just waking up, or like a fetus, an embryo becoming a fetus. So if you think consciousness can't be vague, you know, something's either definitely conscious or not, then there's gonna have to be an utterly sharp cutoff point, right? Where something becomes conscious, like, you know, with let's imagine the embryo, you know, presumably, let's say an embryo isn't conscious. So it's becoming a fetus, there's going to be some utterly sharp cutoff point when like, an atom moves a tiny bit. And that just seems really implausible. Because, I mean, in general, this you don't have this problem because most things are vague. Like there's no exact point where someone gets old, you know, big, it's vague, it's they enter a borderline case. But if consciousness can't be vague, like that, then there's going to be some utterly sharp cutoff point. And, and that's, that seems really implausible. So it becomes more plausible to think what it's just there all along and in some form, and in evolutionary history, it becomes more complex natural selection. molded into more complex forms. In fact, soon after Darwin, many, many philosophers and psychologists saw the connection to a pan psychist worldview to Darwinism you know, if you're a pan psychist You just think there were simple forms of consciousness and through evolution, they became more more complex forms of consciousness. So it's that kind of that it's those kinds of considerations that are motivating Michael tie does that kind of make sense? That
Stephen Bradford Long 35:27 does make sense. And you know, I find myself having like these exact same thoughts. When I watch my tarantula, I have a pet tarantula named Gertrude and she's Gertrude, the tarantula. She's mostly like a fluffy, cantankerous paperweight. But, um, but this might be because I am. I am Anthropos more phising her some, so I always have to be careful of that. But it seems like there is definitely something there like there's definitely Yeah, there's definitely a spark of something. She She kind of has her own personality. She kind of has her. She She responds, she reacts she has she Some days she likes to be petted. Other days, she doesn't. And so she has like weird moods, some some days, she prefers to hide other days, she's out and about, like, there's something there. But it's but it's a ganglia. Her brain isn't a brain, it's a ganglia. It's just this random collection of nerves. And so it's. So I find myself asking, Okay, at what point like, does an arachnid have consciousness? And what life forms beneath arachnids have caught? and at what level of complexity does consciousness turn on? Like, do plants have consciousness? How do I know? Like, at what point does it turn on? Or off? Is? It so I find myself asking like the same questions?
Philip Goff 36:55 Yeah, I mean, and it's certainly not the case that everyone is upon Saygus now, but the trajectory, I think, of scientists and philosophers is definitely to attribute in consciousness to more things. You know, it used to be the consensus that fish were not conscious that birds were not conscious, that babies were not conscious, you know, which is why often,
Stephen Bradford Long 37:18 or dogs, cats and dogs, like Yeah, like, it used to be, like I read, I forget where I read this. But frequently, you know, horrible, horrible, horrible things were done to animals, because it was assumed that they were just kind of automatons. They were, there was not a an inner conscious experience. And, and so that justified horrific things being done to animals. And it kind of, you know, goes back to the point of what you were saying earlier, in the episode, were looking at the creature itself, you cannot determine whether there is or is not consciousness. And in previous ages, people have looked at super intelligent creatures like cats and dogs and whatnot, and decided there was no conscious experience there.
Philip Goff 38:07 Absolutely. I mean, certainly, Rene Descartes thought that animals were just mere mechanisms. But he was partly it might, it might make a difference, you know, the kind of technology you have at the time, you know, Descartes, when they can't live, they just started getting these very basic automatons. I think, were they run by water or something? And he I can't remember the details.
Stephen Bradford Long 38:28 I read the clock too. Yeah,
Philip Goff 38:31 yeah, you see these things? So I mean, you can imagine Descartes thinking, that's pretty impressive what you can do with just a mechanism. So maybe animals are like that. And but then, you know, now we have computers and you think Jesus Christ, you know, what they can do? And just with kind of as a mere mechanism, so you think, oh, maybe that's what's, that's what's going on as with those as well. Decart you know, Descartes thought a mechanism could never have language could never sort of respond in a meaningful way. Because he thought language was essentially creative and involved, responding in new ways to new contexts. So he thought that a mechanism could never achieve that. But, you know, as you start to look at AI, and yeah, I mean, it's, as I say, you know, in the case of human beings, we can make some progress, identifying what is required for consciousness, although, like, I mean, even there actually, there's, there's not really any consensus, there's this huge debate over whether consciousness is in the front of the brain or in the back of the brain. And I mean, this partly depends on some people think there's a dispute among scientists on whether you could have experiences that you don't notice. Right? Yes, right. So so like TV, you know, like the clothes on your body now the feel of your clothes on yet now I've mentioned that you sort of attending to it and you But before I mentioned that, where you were work, were you aware of the clouds on your body. So some, some philosophers and scientists want to say, you know, you, it doesn't make you if you weren't aware of it, you didn't experience it. It's only when you actually attend to it, that you experience it. But other other philosophers want to say, yeah, you before I mentioned that you you experienced the feel of the clothes on your body, it's just that you didn't notice it, you weren't aware that you were experiencing it. And, and which way you go on that, you're going to end up with really different predictions for your neuroscientific theory. And so if you know, if you think there's a close connection between what we call attention, like attending to a mental state, and experience, then you're going to think it's, it's located in the front of the brain where you've got things like working memory, and so on. Whereas those who think, no, you can have all sorts of experiences you're not aware of, they tend to think it's at the back of the brain. And so I mean, even in the human case, it's just a bloody mess. As soon as, as we get to creatures, more distant from human beings. It just, it looks really hard to settle the matter. And it's a mess, but But you know, I just think we've just got to do the best we can and have our best guess, at what the facts are here.
Stephen Bradford Long 41:27 So you mentioned that there was a journal that published several responses to your book. If you were to Iron Man, the arguments against pan psychism, what would that position be,
Philip Goff 41:48 you have to subscribe to the journal to get the papers, but a lot of the authors have put them online. And I've got a blog post with links to all to all too many of the papers. And so Sean Carroll's is freely available online, and then my response. So I've got a paper responding to all the papers. So then there's my response. And then Sean Carroll came on to my podcast mind chat, quick plug there, which I run with someone who's got the polar opposite opinion to me unconsciousness and other philosophy professor, Keith Frankish, he doesn't believe consciousness exists. So the question has
Stephen Bradford Long 42:24 come on the show. Yeah, you should do.
Philip Goff 42:27 So I think consciousness is everywhere. He thinks it's nowhere. So we both agree that you can't explain consciousness in conventional scientific terms. So I draw up from that, you know, we need to rethink science. He draws in that it doesn't exist. It's like magic or fairy dust or something. Anyway, I'm digressing. So we had Sean Carroll on we had a three hour debate about this. And, and then he wrote a blog post, and then we've been arguing on Twitter, and I think we're gonna get him back on but but basically, that basically, the argument is, there's numerous aspects of this, but one part of it is, how much how much does physics constrain our theory of consciousness? So Sean thinks, you know, we already really have a pretty strong understanding of the physics in our bodies and brains. So it's, it's well known, and I referred to earlier that there's physics is not complete, because our best theory of big things general relativity doesn't work doesn't fit together with our best theory of little things. But actually, the areas where they clash, only turn up really in very strict in on you in extreme circumstances, like when you're about to fall in a black hole or something. In the ordinary terrestrial circumstances of the Earth, actually, we can bring those theories together. So Sean Carroll thinks we know we know the physics in our bodies and brains when he calls the core theory. And so if, if consciousness, were playing a fundamental feature in the physical world, then that would mess up our physics, right? Because we'd have to take that into account. And so there must be something wrong with my theory. Correct. So So you think, you know, we should start with what we do understand, like the physics of our bodies and brains, and fit consciousness in somehow around that, rather than what I do, which is the other way around. So I mean, I mean, partly, I just still think he doesn't quite get how this how the pan psychist view works. So it's not that, as we've already touched on, it's not that consciousness is this extra thing that we need to plug into our physics. The idea is consciousness underlies physics. Here's another analogy to put the point. If you think of like software and hardware, right, if you think you know, suppose you understand the software of your computer, and then you understand this, this mechanism, this hardware underneath it. That's not like some new thing, that's what underlies the software, it's the the hardware that makes Microsoft Word run. So for the pan psychist, if you think of physics is like the software, it's like the program, and consciousness is the hardware that underlies it. Physics is just this abstract mathematical program. And physics kind of runs the show. So that's one, that's me. But also, also, I just think, I just think we don't know enough about the brain yet to know whether there are new causal forces that arrives in living brains that are not apparent to physicists, because physicists deal with, you know, their experiments are in quite specific circumstances, we really don't know very much about the causal dynamics of a living brain. We, the great book by Matthew Cobb, the neuroscientists, the idea of the brain, which is wonderful, I recommend it to everyone. It's a wonderful intellectual history of our scientific understanding of the brain, going back to when we thought the mind was in the heart. But basically, you know, we know we know a lot about the basic chemistry of the brain, how neurons fire, calcium chambers, action potentials, we know a lot about large scale functions. So like the top and the bottom, what we're almost clueless on, is how the large scale functions of the brain are realized at the cellular level, how the brain bloody works. And I think we need to know a lot more about that. So before we knew whether everything's reducible to underlying chemistry, or physics,
Stephen Bradford Long 46:39 so it's like we we can point to correspondences. Maybe that's the wrong word. But it's like what we can, what we can point out is, okay, we know that this part of the brain or this function happens when this experience happens in consciousness. But we can't explain why is that what I'm hearing? Yeah,
Philip Goff 47:02 okay. Yeah, that's part of it. And, and also, just, I suppose, Shawn is thinking like physics works in building rockets. It works in all this technology. And so we should assume it's basically the same in living bodies and brains, even if we haven't investigated to prove that. Hey, I mean, here's an idea thought of the other day that hadn't said to anyone, actually, I suppose it's like, all the swans, we've seen a white. But we've never been to Australia. But it's reasonable to suppose like, we've seen a lot of swans in a lot of places, probably they're all going to be white. But if we haven't actually been to Australia, is it Australia where they have black swans?
Stephen Bradford Long 47:42 I don't know. Let's say Australia has all kinds of crazy shit they would. And not only are they Black Swans, they're probably like, you know, velociraptors that can? Black velociraptors swans that can kill us.
Philip Goff 47:57 Yeah, so so we should still be slightly agnostic as to whether because we haven't been to Australia, maybe the swans there aren't white. I kind of feel the same about that. I think. You know, physics works in a lot of places. And it's the same. So yeah, okay, and kind of think there's some, it's some probability, it's going to be the same in living brains. But we haven't really, we don't really know enough about the living brains to learn about living brains to know whether that's the case, I'm not saying whether something spooky or spiritual pops up. But whether there are causal dynamics in the brain that are not totally reducible to underlying chemistry and physics. And there are people are investigating this. I mean, there's a scientist Martin Picard at Columbia University has the psycho biology lab. And he's studying mitochondria in the brain. And under the working hypothesis that these are not their behavior is actually to be understood as social networks, and is not reducible to underlying chemistry or physics. So that would, if that turns out to be true. You see what I mean? Yeah, I'm explaining this a bit clearer as I go along, then Sean Carroll will be wrong, Sean Carroll is bet is everything is reducible to underlying chemistry or physics? If Martin Picard is right, and there are these underlying irreducible social networks of the mitochondria in the brain that are not reducible to underlying chemistry and physics, then that bet is proved false. And I just think we need to be more agnostic, because the brain is still massively, massively unknown. We know people get excited by brain scans. But every pixel on a brain scan corresponds to 5.5 million neurons. It's very low.
Stephen Bradford Long 49:43 It's like looking at it's like trying to determine geopolitics by looking at, at Earth from space, like from, from the moon. That's, that's what brain scans are like. Like. They're incredibly helpful. They're very, very important, but they're so low resolution that it's basically like trying to understand, you know, the interactions between America and the UK by watching the planet Earth from Jupiter. Like it. It doesn't work very well. Yeah.
Philip Goff 50:19 And a lot of neuroscientists think that a lot of neuroscientists refer to people who neuroscientists use too many brain scans or snake oil salesmen that vary. I mean, that's, that's not fair. You know, there is, there's a lot of important stuff, but you know, you know, I guess it's, I guess it's the thing the media jump on today, oh, my God, we've identified the bit of the brain, you know, just classical music. Well, yeah.
Stephen Bradford Long 50:45 Are you? Are you familiar with the work of Jaron Lanier, he don't think so. So he is one of my favorite writers. And he, he is like the grandfather of augmented reality and virtual reality. And he writes a lot about computer science. And he's, he was one of the scientists in charge of internet 2.0, which was, you know, bringing the internet out of the university system and to the public. But he's ultimately kind of a philosopher, and I'm going to totally botch his argument here. But he has a book called you are not a gadget. And I think that the basic idea is, we tend to see him, you know, we tend to reduce human beings to gadgets, because that we see humanity through the lens of our prevailing technology. And so you know, we use and and so when I hear arguments, like, when I when I hear arguments, like what Sean Carroll puts forth, who, let me just clarify is probably like, a million times smarter than me. So like, the man is a fucking genius. I actually tried to get him on the podcast, and he sent me like a very polite emails declining, but everyone needs to go listen to his MindScape podcast and read his books on quantum physics. The man is including the episodes,
Philip Goff 52:21 Hotmail Yes, that's
Stephen Bradford Long 52:23 how I discovered you. By the way. That's, that's because I listened to that fight that you had with Sean Carroll on his podcast, but
Philip Goff 52:29 it goes, I'm sorry,
Stephen Bradford Long 52:31 I interrupted you. No, you're good. I sometimes wonder if when we take a mechanistic approach to consciousness, and the brain, that we are actually imposing the pre dominant technology onto ourselves. And so you know, you look through history, and it's like, well, we used to be, we used to describe our ourselves in the unit. Now, it isn't just ourselves. It's also the universe. You know, we like back when the clock was invented, we suddenly there was the clockwork universe, suddenly there was the great clockmaker being God, or the great watchmaker being God. And then suddenly, there was, you know, we were clockwork and, and biological processes working as clockwork, and, and so on, and so forth. Right. And so it's like, we tend to see, not just ourselves, but all of reality through the predominant technology. And so it's almost like inverse anthropomorphizing or something where, and I just sometimes I don't know, I, I don't know what consciousness is. I am. I'm an atheist, I don't believe in God, I, you know, to quote the fifth tenet of the Satanic Temple, one should, let's see here, we should do our best never to distort scientific facts to fit our beliefs. But I sometimes wonder if we, that of consciousness is actually more mysterious, and that it actually might be something completely other than a computer. Why are we so confident? Why are we so confident that the brain is a computer? Why are we so confident that the mind is a computer and that to me is a like a proposition? That is just kind of assumed. And and that it is not at all clear to me, that consciousness is basically like, an operating system or a computer program. That is, you know, that that to me is that to me is just an assumption, kind of carrying on this grand legacy of imposing our latest technology on to our experience when the fact is, we might it might be something completely different than that, you know, does that make sense?
Philip Goff 54:56 Absolutely. And I think certainly with the computer The case I think neuroscientists are already on the whole seeing the failings of the mind is a computer model. And yeah, I mean, I, I mean, I think this, I think in connection to freewill as well, I think. I mean, I either one of my controversial views is I'm more agnostic, but somewhat open to the reality of free will and free will, in the strong sense of what philosophers call libertarian free will that some of our decisions are uncaused. We
Stephen Bradford Long 55:31 should talk about that sometime. Because I'm, I'm the opposite. I think I geared towards there being no free will.
Philip Goff 55:38 That'd be good to discuss. Yeah, but I mean, so one thing I am somewhat agnostic, we've got to be more agnostic than with consciousness, because it could turn out to be an illusion in a way that it's hard to make sense of the feeling of pain being an illusion or something. But I am actually, and we might want to argue about the achievements for the reasons because we say we really don't know enough about the brain to be able to rule it out. And yet, so many people are just totally convinced that science has ruled it out. And I think that's part of a sort of Zeitgeist, a sort of feel about how science is supposed to look, based perhaps on analogies with technology rather than something. We've got experiments to back up. Well, we had the neuroscientist Andy Yossef on our podcast after his recent book, being huge, a great book, but, you know, I mean, I challenged him on freewill. I said, you know, your chapter, you quickly reject strong libertarian free will, you know, you call it spooky, but, you know, what is the argument? And, and it was just sort of, oh, it's spooky. You really believe in that? Oh, it's magic. It's but and, you know, okay, look, I'm not I'm you know, maybe it's not there, maybe, but I think we need to be clear on you know, what exactly is the reason to doubt this thing? And so, yeah, I mean, even if there are Yeah.
Stephen Bradford Long 57:02 Anyway, no, that's, it's fascinating. And, and obviously, we have so much more to talk about, and I'd love to have you on again, hopefully, hopefully, you know, without a two year break in between episodes, I would love to have you back on soonish rather than later.
Philip Goff 57:20 Oh, well, I'm I'm I'm just I'm just this week, just yesterday started a new book, which I'm hoping to get a draft up by use. I've got a precious week. Precious time off teaching to write. So so maybe we can talk about what's What's the book about the purpose of existence?
Stephen Bradford Long 57:38 Wow, go going big. Well, I can't wait to read it. And yeah, we should be
Philip Goff 57:46 thinking about your thinking that basically that God doesn't exist, but there is a purpose to the universe. Are you a middle way between God and atheism? Sorry, God, yeah. Are
Stephen Bradford Long 57:57 you? Are you a non theist or atheist or agnostic?
Philip Goff 58:00 I don't fit nicely into this dichotomy. So I'm definitely an atheist about the traditional Omni God, because of the problem of evil and suffering, I don't think it's plausible and all powerful loving God would would create a universe like this with, you know, creators through the horrific process of natural selection and so on. But I don't take the the standard atheists view that we're in a totally meaningless universe, I do think there's, there's pretty good, pretty good evidence to take seriously the possibility that there is some kind of purpose some kind of directionality in the universe. So and, you know, it's just kind of hugely under explored, you know, we get stuck in these dichotomies of sort of Soviet communism or US capitalism. Which to me, you aren't, you know, you were Dawkins atheist, or do you think the Pope's right, you know, and I've just, I've just always found neither option, you know, I think there's, there's problems with, with both options. So I want to really just really, and, you know, actually, we do think of a middle way, but we think of it as fluffy thinking and, you know, New Age sort of not ready and that you know, I just want to do a really serious rigorous you know, exploration of a middle ground option between traditional garden meaningless universe and yeah,
Stephen Bradford Long 59:25 I'm right there with you. I that's that's kind of how I win people. I describe myself as a non theist. And I like that word because it it has more of a religious connotation to it. And it's, it's not as hard as atheist culturally and it anyway, we don't need to go down that road, but because we need to wrap this up, but for people who are interested in following your work, listening to your podcast, reading your book, breaking into your classes at Durham, and listening in, where can they do that? Where can they find find you online.
Philip Goff 1:00:01 Yeah, come along. Yeah Philip Goff philosophy My website is that done what
Stephen Bradford Long 1:00:08 Is that .com? PhilipGoff.com
Philip Goff 1:00:11 it is geo Foxtrot foxtrot. And yeah I do have a blog on there I've got the most horrible horribly titled blogs but so anyway, it's linked to from my website and Twitter, Phillip underscore golf spend too much time arguing on Twitter. What else mind chat? Mind chat is the podcast and yeah, lots of lots of videos and popular articles and stuff and website. Yeah, I tried to write every academic article I tried to write a popular version of it and I need to get back to the academic work actually, I'm sort of getting too taken up by them. I want to it's nice to write stuff that people actually read so I should probably if I want to get promoted at some point I'd probably get back to writing some academic papers got
Stephen Bradford Long 1:00:59 amazing. All right, well, this has been great and you're welcome back anytime.
Philip Goff 1:01:05 Thank you very much Steve. But it's been really nice chatting I love your deco This isn't this is just audio.
Stephen Bradford Long 1:01:10 Oh yes. This is just audio Yeah, my decor This is my this is my office I have my satanic altar right there behind me. With taro I have like a cold akute from all all over this room.
Philip Goff 1:01:24 Yeah, we need we need to talk about religious fictionalist Yes, I still want to do that sort of so I'm a kind of church going person who doesn't kind of take it literally and but you know, my wife doesn't go with me. And but we actually from following from your podcast. I didn't didn't I know if I mentioned this. I watched the Netflix documentary on on the Satanic Temple. And we were both thinking, Oh, this is this could be a religion we could both go to.
Stephen Bradford Long 1:01:52 All right, well, it is great talking to you. And that is it. For this show. The theme song is wild by eleventy seven. You can find it on iTunes, Spotify, or wherever you listen to music. This show is written, produced and edited by me Steven Bradford long and it is a production of rock candy recordings. As always, Hail Satan. And thanks for listening