Tuesday, March 31, 2020

A Panpsychist Surprise Ending

While I have been catching up on some reading relating to panpsychism lately (see recent posts here and here), I had turned back to thinking about another topic, the philosophy of quantum theory, when following up on some references led me to a surprise endorsement of panpsychism.

Specifically, I have long been interested in relational quantum mechanics (RQM), an interpretation first introduced by Carlo Rovelli in the 1990’s (good SEP article here).  I now suspect it is the interpretation that best fits with the theory of causation I am attracted to for independent reasons – but I will talk about that another time.  A philosopher whose views I find interesting and compatible with my own approach to thinking about quantum theory is Mauro Dorato.  He has a fine article discussing some of the philosophical issues raised by RQM (pre-print here; note there are some differences from the final article).1

Dorato, when discussing briefly the general stance that relations might be a fundamental metaphysical category, referenced a paper I had not read (though I imagine it is familiar to many who are interested in structuralism): “The Mathematical Structure of the World: The World as Graph,” published in 1997 (link) by Randall R. Dipert.2   Dipert, who passed away just last year (see here), was a scholar focused on a number of areas, including the thought of C.S. Peirce. The paper offers reasons to take (symmetric) relations forming (asymmetric) graphs as metaphysical bedrock (not expressed via logic or set theory, but as fundamental components in and of themselves).  In any case, while it is a wide-ranging and fascinating paper, I was surprised by the turn taken in the last paragraph:
There might at first seem to be no place in these cold graphs for minds, consciousness, and other mental phenomena unless, that is, everything is mental. Although within the dialectic of this essay it is wild and possibly irresponsible speculation, we should perhaps consider seriously the possibility that something like the pan-psychism of Spinoza, Leibniz, or Peirce is true, and that vertices are pure feelings (Peircean "firstnesses"), constituting a distinct thought or object only when connected to other such entities (358).
I take it Peirce was a panpsychist of sorts (see here), and evidently Dipert was as well.

1. Dorato, Mauro. 2016. Rovelli’s Relational Quantum Mechanics, Anti-Monism, and Quantum Becoming. In The Metaphysics of Relations, ed. Anna Marmodoro and David Yates. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
 2. Dipert, Randall R. 1997. The Mathematical Structure of the World: The World as Graph. The Journal of Philosophy, (94) 7, pp. 329-358


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