Monday, May 30, 2011

Pan-Psychism: Absurd On the Face of It. Yet How is it Any More Absurd Than its Alternative?

Pan-Psychism is the view that nature, out there in the world and away from one's own mind, is conscious on some fundamental level. On this view apples, humans, blades of grass, and rocks might be said to be similar in at least one regard-- they are all conscious. This is not to say that a rock has the same consciousness as a blade of grass or a human being, but nonetheless there is some kind of consciousness present in them all.

To many, Pan-Psychism is absurd on the face of it. It does not seem reasonable to assume that a rock is conscious. It is reasonable to assume that other humans are conscious because the person making this very judgment in the first place would be human and see a likeness between other human beings and her or himself. There is little that is similar between a human being and a rock. In fact, one glaring similarity is that a dead, unconscious person behaves an awful lot like a rock. Therefore, inductively, rocks are like dead people. They are without consciousness. There is nothing necessarily problematic about considering that a rock might really be conscious in some limited way, but doing so is unnecessarily fanciful on the part of the asserter, as in order to do so one has to move away from any experience of the matter and into pure speculation.

This would be the conclusion to reasonably draw were there not profound problems with the alternative to Pan-Psychism. I say alternative in the singular because I know of no other alternatives that can come close to working out, or fitting with experience and science as we know it. If there are other alternatives, they need to be brought to my attention.

The alternative is that, simply put, there is conscious matter and there is unconscious matter. Within this framework, it furthermore turns out in light of chemistry that the the same basic components that assemble together to make up conscious matter also make up unconscious matter. The same elements and chemical reactions present within conscious matter can also take place, on a piece by piece basis, as unconscious matter. In otherwords, there is no chemical (no life-only chemical) that is only present in a living person and never present in a dead person or in the "unconscious" world.

Therefore, it is the unconscious bits, elements, atoms, or chemical reactions (or some combination of any or all of them) that give rise to consciousness. The details have yet to be worked out, but this does not matter. The basic ontology looks like this: there is an x such that x is unconscious and there is a y such that y is unconscious and there is an x+y, which are those very same unconscious separate components, x and y, such that x+y is conscious. A conscious state emerges when x and y come together. Separately, x and y are unconscious.

On this view there is an entity that poofs into and out of existence, namely consciousness. Whence does it come? Is there a spring of consciousness that the unconscious world connects with and, at times, invokes? Is there no spring of consciousness so that consciousness springs from nothing? Does nothing spring something? Does something blot out to nothing once more, when the y motions itself one monad more to the left of x? Does it return when the y scoots one monad back to the right?

There is one further issue that calls to be addressed--who gets to experience this conscious state? If x+y is an excruciating pain, then does x feel the pain? Does y? Do both of them feel pain as one singular perspective that sort of hovers above the two? Do none of them feel pain and a perspective, like consciousness to begin with, is invoked as if from out of an aether?

On the face of it, unconsciousness matter becoming conscious matter is something that were are used to hearing. It does not seem absurd in our culture. It is only in investigating further its implications that reveals that the position poses steep problems. Pan-psychism, on the otherhand, faces no such problems.

Friday, March 18, 2011

On Tying Together Activities

"How any given tone is understood, then, has at least as much to do with what people make of it as with the physical properties of sound itself" (World Music Traditions and Transformations, Michael B. Bakan 3)

How to account for this? How can the same arrangement of notes mean completely different things between two people?

A person is a holism of activity, meaning that multiple aspects of the world and the organizing of that world occur simultaneously. Music itself is an activity of listening and of anticipating movements in sound.

If there is a sudden car crash nearby, it is always made somewhat amusing if the car crash happens to take on the rythm, beat, and timbre of a known and popular dance or pop song, just out of the sheer coincidence of it. As the crash occurs, anyone attuned to the song will anticipate the progression of the song as soon as the sounds are noticed moving that direction. Of course, a person who has not built up the anticipatory structure will just hear a series of clanks and bangs.

But, for the central question here, what makes music become attached to other activities, such as the same music that is in a religious ritual happens to be played, in a nother culture, during a T.V. advertisement of burgers and fries? Despite being the same sounds in both cases, what is it that makes the sounds takes on two distinct meanings in two different cultures?

As persons are a holism of activities, the learning of a song (the activity of listening) and the learning of a central religious ceremony (the activity of walking and dressing a certain way) will occur simultaneously--the disposition to anticipate a certain progression of sounds and to walk and dress in a particular way is the same disposition. Neurologically (to not resist becomming outdated (years ago I should have said 'genetically')), the structure in the brain that is built for the song will be tied to and built with the structure of the rest of the activity involved in the religious ritual. The notes anticipate not just a further succession of notes (which is itself a disposition) but all the other dispositions tied in with anticipating those notes, religious or siitting on the couch craving burgers. It's even clear that what ties all activities together is itself one, holistic disposition.