4 thoughts on “Philip Goff Live!

  1. I’m so glad to have come across this podcast—it was great fun to listen to the two of you discuss things. As a string theorist with an interest in philosophical matters, I’m quite keen on understanding the implications of dualities for reductionism and questions of ontology. One thing worth noting is that the two different looking theories that are related by a duality ought to be thought of as providing different effective descriptions for the same underlying theory. At the quantum level (string theory is, as far as anyone can tell, a quantum theory) the underlying quantum states of the system are in fact the same, it’s just that how you describe them in a semi-classical approximation depends on which end of the duality you’re using.

    Incidentally, I think that dualities present a challenge to a Bohmian picture of quantum theory over-and-above the usual problems you run into when you try to apply the picture to relativistic quantum systems (i.e. quantum field theories). The Bohmian picture relies on having an essentially classical notion of space, but if there are two equivalent such pictures with radically different spaces (different sizes, topologies, etc…) then a Bohmian seems to have to commit to either one or the other being the real picture and to treat the duality as a sort-of neat trick that doesn’t have a connection to the underlying ontology. That seems unattractive to me.

  2. Great to see you both discuss again! Always gets me thinking.

    One part I was very interested in this time round was the point where Prof Brown brings up the issue of how it’s unclear to him how it makes sense that one could know the *metaphysical nature* of, say, pain without understanding the micro-experiential facts constituting it on a panpsychist view.

    I must say I appreciated the point in the sense that, if one claims to know what a specific statue is *metaphysically*, one should know the physical constitution of the statue — what it’s really made of, not just the higher level concept of a statue but the physical nature of *that particular statue*.

    I’m wondering, though, if what’s going on here is that there are higher level sparse properties at work. To say you’ve learned something metaphysical is roughly to say the property you grasped is sparse. The idea that there are higher level sparse properties is e.g. explored in context of infinite-complexity worlds, where there’s no alternative but to call some properties at various levels sparse, since each level necessitates the higher ones metaphysically, but none of them may be the bottom level in the actual world.

    It seems like, were the property of ‘being a statue’ a sparse property (it generally isn’t, of course, but it’s just a matter of analogy), since you could grasp, in a sense, the ‘being a statue’ part without grasping the constitution out of this and that fundamental physics property, this would be a case where you grasp what something metaphysically is, without grasping the parts. Perhaps another example would help clear this up — if the world were infinite-complexity, and we had a scientific description of the brain using modern particle physics, even if there are many levels down below this one to be discovered and far from grasped (string theory might e.g. be some bit further down), it would be reasonable to say we understood the metaphysical nature of the brain — otherwise, we presumably could never understand the metaphysical nature of anything (since we’d always be several levels short).
    On the other hand, there are ways of describing the brain that would *not* get at its metaphysical nature — they’d be both higher-level and non-metaphysical (traditionally, grasping that a statue is a statue or a violin is a violin without grasping its physical nature falls under this).

    I feel this may be what Prof Goff is getting at, because he is clear in other videos posted here that he thinks there may be a ‘more expansive property’ that you haven’t fully grasped that this macro property is a part of (maybe this more expansive one involves micro-experiences).

    I think this all still leaves the combination problem open to address the *details of precisely how* those micro-experiences build up the macro one, but I think the above might make it clearer in what meaningful sense one could understand the macro metaphysically without understanding the micro experiential component.
    I think that delicate type of transparency claim seems crucial to the Russelian, as the alternative of dualism where you transparently get pain, but nothing further like micro-experience underlies it… doesn’t let you say pain = C-fibers firing and may seem hard to reconcile with causal considerations…. and on the other hand, the Russelian also wants to distinguish him/herself from physicalists where there’s some sense in which you are grasping something metaphysical over and above functional/dispositional properties (the point about grasping a higher-level *sparse* property is essential here).

  3. I do not find myself sympathetic to panpyschism largely due to the combination problem. Soup is not made of soup molecules.

    When it comes to consciousness, I look upwards (so to speak), not downwards. I don’t think consciousness is found in the pieces, but in the assembly. For example, I view IIT as a (probably) necessary, but nowhere near sufficient, condition for consciousness.

    The idea that electrons “experience” is, I think, to conflate the phenomenal meaning with a more basic meaning — a rock wall outside “experiences” the weather. I suspect intent or attention is a key factor in the difference.

  4. I sort of noted a subtlety that was implicit to my earlier post but might deserve a bit of clarification: I was commenting on the issue of the statue/higher level sparse properties. I think it’s come to my attention that there are two ways sparse properties at higher levels (eg molecules rather than quarks) may come about. One is based on strong emergence: here, one only has a relation of contingent necessity between bottom and top levels, but not metaphysical necessity — this corresponds to Dr. Brown’s comment ‘A lot seems to hinge on the strong emergence’ or something.
    There’s another view where sparse properties at higher levels arise, namely one with infinite complexity worlds, where we can’t identify the truth conditions involved in instantiating some level with those involved in instantiating some ‘bottom level,’ since there IS no bottom — if our world were like that, we’d say perhaps that to instantiate pain is to instantiate pain — not something that can be given in ultimately basic terms, if there were lower and lower levels of consciousness going down.
    (And even in non-infinite worlds, there are theorists who seem to prefer sparse properties not be identified with the fundamental/lowest level ones.)

    The difference between these views is that I think in the infinite-complexity one, the bottom levels may non-contingently necessitate the top ones, i.e. there may indeed be metaphysically more fundamental levels, but we couldn’t say that the higher levels were simply not sparse.
    Whereas in the strong emergence case, the bottom levels may contingently necessitate the top ones by laws of nature alone, not involving any metaphysical supervenience. My sense is Dr. Goff is going for this last option. I’ve never fully understood the subtleties of why he opts out of constitutive Russelian monism, but at least it seems clear he does argue against it.

    Anyway, in either sort of view, the macro-experiential nature is the metaphysical nature, in a suitable sense. In the strong emergence case, perhaps the macro-experiential nature is also not less fundamental than the micro-experiential nature in a sense. In the somewhat weaker view of higher level sparse properties, the experiential nature is the metaphysical nature, only in the sense maybe we can’t sort of reductively provide more basic truth conditions, but there’s a sense in which the micro-experiential may metaphysically necessitate the macro-experiential.

    (Of course, when I call one of these views the ‘infinite complexity one,’ technically it’s just my way of talking, as of course one could have an infinite complexity world boasting strong emergence…but I just mean the type of higher level sparse properties that are minimally needed to handle the existence of infinitely many levels.)

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