Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Philosophical Multi-Tasking

It’s exciting to think that a new theory could have traction with regard to not just one, but several age-old philosophical problems. Sometimes the additional traction an idea gives you on multiple problems may itself seem like evidence that you are on the right track. Now, you still could be mistaken, of course. I recall David Chalmers, in his book The Conscious Mind, pointing out that just because consciousness is mysterious and quantum mechanics was mysterious, it certainly doesn’t follow that they are related problems.

Still, I will go ahead and speculate that a new metaphysical theory which revises our understanding of the natural world could provide a solution which performs such multi-tasking. The elements of this new metaphysics would include the naturalization of consciousness through adopting a panexperientialist perspective (the term panexperientialism, due to process philosopher David Ray Griffin, refers to the idea that first person experience is a fundamental and ubiquitous part of nature). It would also include a new model of causality which reveals the necessary role the attribute we know as phenomenal experience plays in the evolution of natural systems: here Gregg Rosenberg has done important work providing a detailed example of what this might look like.

I now present, with all due humility, an outline of the several outstanding problems which could be addressed if we construct a new metaphysics with these ingredients.

A. The mind/body problem: The theory will address how the “mysterious” aspect of consciousness fits into the natural world. First-person experience will be seen as a natural effect marking the work of a previously unacknowledged pole of causality which provides a binding and coordinating function in natural systems.

B. Causality and emergence: the new causal theory will replace traditional models which excluded the existence of subjects of experience. It will show how causality can work across multiple levels of nature, rather than assuming it happens only at the micro-level. The existence of a coordinating pole of causality (which is revealed to us through first-person experience) will resolve the question of how high-level features emerge in complex systems.

C. Knowledge: The nature of knowledge will be understood as arising from the direct acquaintance we have with nature given our existence as a system embedded in the causal network. Because we are a natural system within the world, truly objective knowledge (as if from a perspective standing outside the world) is not achievable and may not even be a coherent idea. At the same time, it will not be an “everything is relative” stance: this is because human perspectives are extremely homogeneous leading to inter-subjective agreement on most important facts.

D. The problem of time: Time will be better understood. It will be seen that time arises from causation at the level of an individual system (experienced by that system as subjective time) and is relative to that system.

E. And yes, the interpretation of quantum mechanics: The micro-level of causality is that of quantum interactions. The experiential pole of causality implements the theory’s measurement operation. These interactions happen ubiquitously in nature, given the presence of the experiential pole in all natural systems.

I think such a theory would likely reframe the free-will/determinism debate as well (since our concept of determinism depends on the traditional notion of causality), but I’ll stop here.

No comments: