Beijing time on January 17 news, according tomedia reports, where does consciousness come from? This may seem like a simple question, but it is one of the most challenging in science. The philosopher Philip Goff, in his new book, Galileo’s Fallacy: The Foundation of a New Science of Consciousness, ponders a radical view: What does it mean if consciousness is not a special thing the brain does, but a characteristic inherent in all matter?
This theory is known as panpsychism. In his new book, Goff combs the history of the theory for readers, answers common objections and explains why he thinks panotheism represents the best way forward. In a recent interview with Scientific American, he answered questions.
Can you explain in simple terms what a general theory is?
According to our standard view of things, consciousness exists only in the brains of highly evolved organisms, so consciousness exists only in a small part of the universe and only in recent history. On the contrary, according to universalism, consciousness is everywhere in the universe and is a fundamental feature of the universe. This does not mean that everything is conscious. The basic principle of the theory is that the basic components of reality (possibly electrons and quarks) have an incredibly simple form of experience, while very complex experiences in the human or animal brain are somehow derived from the experience of the most basic components of the brain.
It may be important to clarify what I call “consciousness” because the word is actually vague. Some people use consciousness to represent something very complex, such as self-awareness, or to reflect on their ability to exist. We may not want to give this power to many non-human animals, let alone elementary particles. But when I use the word “consciousness,” I just mean experience: happiness, pain, visual or auditory experience, and so on.
Humans have a very rich and complex experience, there are fewer horses and fewer mice. As we turn to simpler life forms, we find more and more simple forms of experience. Perhaps, at some point, as if the lights went out, consciousness would disappear. But at the very least, we can assume that this continuous experience of consciousness continues to fade, but not completely disappear, and continues to extend to inorganics, while elementary particles have a form of experience as simple as it can be imagined to reflect their incredibly simple nature. This is the pan-hearter’s point of view.
You write that you came up with this idea to solve a problem in the study of consciousness. What’s the problem?
Although there has been much progress in the scientific understanding of the brain, we don’t even have a clue to how complex electrochemical signals form colors, sounds, smells, and tastes in the inner subjective world. And each of us has a very unique situation. There is a great mystery in understanding how our internal perceptions fit with external scientific interpretation.
Although more and more people are recognizing this problem, many people believe that we only need to continue to use the standard method of studying the brain, and eventually solve the problem. But in my new book, I think the problem of consciousness stems from the way we designed science at the beginning of the scientific revolution.
When Galileo announced that mathematics would become the language of new science, new science began to have pure quantitative vocabulary, a pivotal moment in the scientific revolution. But Galileo also realized that you cannot use these terms to describe consciousness, because consciousness is essentially a phenomenon of a nature. Think of the red experience, or the aroma of flowers, or the taste of mint. You can’t describe these properties in purely physical science quantitative terms. Thus, Galileo decided that we must put consciousness outside the realm of science;
This is really important because although the problem of consciousness has been taken seriously, most people still believe that traditional scientific methods can solve it. They think so because they see the great success of physical science in explaining the growing problems in the universe. They concluded that we should have confidence that one day only physical science can explain consciousness. However, I think this reaction stems from a misunderstanding of the history of science. Yes, physical science has been incredibly successful, but it’s just because it’s designed to exclude consciousness from the start. If Galileo had gone through the present and heard the problem of explaining consciousness in physical science, he would have said, “Of course, you can’t do that.” I designed physical science to study quantity, not nature. “
How can generalism allow you to deal with this problem in a different way?
The starting point of the pan-heartists is that physical science doesn’t actually tell us what matter is. That sounds strange. From physics textbooks, you seem to have learned all sorts of incredible theories about space, time, and matter. However, philosophers of science have realized that, despite the richness of physical science, it is limited to telling us about the behavior of matter and its effects. Physics, for example, tells us that matter has mass and charge. These properties are defined entirely by behavior, such as attraction, repulsion, or impedance of acceleration. Physics can never tell us what philosophers call the essence of matter: what is matter? What exactly is it?
So there’s a huge loophole in our scientific story. The pan-hearter’s suggestion is to fill this loophole with consciousness. For pan-heartists, consciousness is the inherent essence of matter. From this point of view, there is only matter, no supernatural or spiritual things. However, matter can be described from two angles. Physical science describes the behavior of matter from the “outside”. And what “comes from within” – that is, in the essence of matter – is made up of consciousness.
This provides us with a beautiful, simple, elegant way to integrate consciousness into our scientific worldview, combining our understanding of ourselves from the inside with the understanding of matter from the outside.
What are the most common objections you hear? How do you respond?
Of course, the most common sentence is “This is crazy!” “。 But many of our best scientific theories run counter to common sense. For example, Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity, “When you travel very fast, time slows down” or Charles Darwin’s evolutionary theory, “Our ancestors were apes.” At the end of the day, you should judge a point of view by its explanatory power, not by its cultural connection. The theory of universalism provides us with a way to solve the mystery of consciousness, so that we can avoid the deep-seated problems faced by traditional interpretation.
Can you foresee what it is like when the theory of universalism can be tested?
At the heart of consciousness science there is a profound problem: consciousness is unobservable. You can’t judge whether an electron is conscious by looking at it. Nor can you enter a person’s brain to see how they feel and experience. We know that consciousness does not exist through observation and experimentation, but because of consciousness. The only way we can understand other people’s consciousness is to ask them: I can’t directly perceive your experience, but I can ask how you feel. If I were a neuroscientist, I could scan your brain and see which brain regions were lit up when you told me how you felt and experienced. In this way, scientists can link certain brain activity to certain experiences. We now know brain activity associated with hunger, visual experience, happiness, pain, anxiety, and so on.
This is very important information, but it is not a theory of consciousness in itself, because what we ultimately want from the science of consciousness is an explanation of these correlations. For example, why is some activity in the hypothalamus associated with hunger? Why is this so? Strictly speaking, once you start answering this question, you go beyond the test because consciousness is unobservable. We have to turn to philosophy.
The moral of the story is that we need science and philosophy to get consciousness theory. Science tells us the link between brain activity and personal experience. Then we must find the best philosophical theory to explain these correlations. In my opinion, the only theory that can stand up to scrutiny is the theory of universalism.
How are you interested in this topic?
When I studied philosophy, we were taught that there were only two ways to explain consciousness: either to think that consciousness could be interpreted in traditional scientific terms, or to think that consciousness was a magical and mysterious thing that science could never understand. I began to feel that neither view was hopeless. I think we can hope that one day there will be a science of consciousness, but only if we need to rethink what science is. The theory of universalism provides us with a new way. (Any day)