Part 3 of 6 from the Philosophy of Consciousness: Chalmers (2003 – Consciousness and its place in nature) identifies six classes which he says, categorise “the most important views on the metaphysics of consciousness”. Critically, in this classification his assumption is that the phenomenal domain of ‘experience’ is consciousness – i.e. the concept of ‘the phenomenal’ encapsulates consciousness. Of the six classes, the first three are types of philosophical materialism that view consciousness as a physical process that requires no extension of mankind’s understanding of what comprises physics, i.e. no expansion of a physical ontology:
- 1. Type A philosophical materialism – There is no epistemic gap between physical and phenomenal truths; or at least, any apparent epistemic gap is easily closed (e.g. Dennett, 1991 – Consciousness Explained; Dretske, 1995 – Naturalizing the Mind; Harman, 1990 – The intrinsic quality of experience; Lewis, 1988 – What experience teaches; Rey, 1995 – Conscious Experience; Ryle, 1949 – The Concept of Mind);
- 2. Type B materialism – There is an epistemic gap between the physical and phenomenal domains, but there is no ontological gap, a gap that exists between a knowable and an unknowable alternative reality (e.g. Block, N. & Stalnaker, R, 1999 – Conceptual analysis, dualism, and the explanatory gap; Hill, 1997 – Imaginability, conceivability, possibility, and the mind-body problem; Levine, 1993 – Materialism and qualia: The explanatory gap; Loar, 1990/1997 – Phenomenal states; Lycan, 1996 – Consciousness and Experience; Papineau, 1993 – Physicalism, consciousness, and the antipathetic fallacy; Perry 2001 – Knowledge, Possibility, and Consciousness; The, 1995 – Ten Problems of Consciousness); and
- 3. Type C materialism – There is a deep epistemic gap between the physical and phenomenal domains, but it is closable in principle (whose sympathisers are e.g. Churchland 1997 – The hornswoggle problem; McGinn, 1989 – Can we solve the mind-body problem?; Nagel, 1974 – What is it like to be a bat?).
Three of the six classes regard consciousness as involving some ‘thing’, irreducible in nature and requiring expansion or reconception of a physical ontology:
- 4. Type D dualism or interactionism – Phenomenal properties play a causal role in affecting the physical world such that physical states cause phenomenal states, and phenomenal states cause physical states. (e.g. Foster 1991 – The Immaterial Self; Hodgson, 1991 – The Mind Matters; Popper & Eccles, 1977 – The Self and Its Brain; Sellars, 1990/1981 – Is consciousness physical?; Stapp, 1993 – Mind, Matter, and Quantum Mechanics; Swinburne, 1986 – The Evolution of the Soul);
- 5. Type E dualism or epiphenomenalism – Phenomenal properties are ontologically distinct from physical properties. Phenomenal properties have no effect on the physical. (e.g. Campbell 1970 – Body and Mind; Huxley, 1874 – On the hypothesis that animals are automata, and its history; Jackson, 1982 – Epiphenomenal qualia; Robinson, 1988 – Brains and People); and
- 6. Type F monism – Consciousness is constituted by the intrinsic properties of fundamental physical entities (e.g. Chalmers 1996 – The Conscious Mind; Feigl, 1958/1967 – The `mental’ and the `physical’; Griffin, 1998 – Unsnarling the World-Knot; Lockwood, 1989 – Mind, Brain, and the Quantum; Maxwell, 1979 – Rigid designators and mind-brain identity; Russell, 1927 – The Analysis of Matter; Stoljar, 2001 – Two conceptions of the physical; Strawson, 2000 – Realistic materialist monism)
The issue with philosophical materialism
Currently, understandings in physics indicate there are ‘four fundamental forces’; gravitation, electromagnetism, strong nuclear, and weak nuclear. They are considered fundamental because they appear not to be reducible to a more basic or fundamental level.
Consider the following:
- i) Alternative A: The four fundamental forces exist or pre-existed in some manner outside or beyond the known physical universe.
- ii) Alternative B: The four fundamental forces do not or did not exist in some manner outside or beyond the known physical universe, but alternatively, emerged and evolved from physical processes following the Big Bang 13.7 billion years ago.
Philosophical materialism has a problem with both alternatives. Alternative A opens a physical gateway into a realm of the non-physical. That is to say, it demands a material link between the universe before it physically existed or beyond what is known to be physical in the universe as it exists now. Alternative B is also a problem for philosophical materialism because it makes room for the possibility that, if the four fundamental forces were created in the melting pot of the early universe, then there is a possibility that new types of force could or might have come into existence at later stages in the evolution of the universe. In other words, the universe could, under certain conditions, evolve a fifth fundamental force or a new emergent force.
Can the philosophical materialism refuted either of these alternative problems or
is the materialist forced to consider the option that, for example, a ‘psychophysical entity’, is quite possible.
It seems to me highly likely that the fundamental forces/interactions are emergent properties or characteristics as of alternative B. Consequently, it is entirely consistent for a materialist to be sympathetic to the idea of an emergent psychophysical property or characteristic, be that unexplained condition fundamental in nature or ultimately reductive.
On the measurability of a psychophysical entity
How can science determine the existence of such a psychophysical entity?
Some might say,
“I know of it, because I am me – I am experiencing it as I act on the world. It presents as a subjective property of me.”
But this is not helpful to those who need convincing.
To examine further, we must ask ourselves what we know:
By definition, as an emergent property, a possible psychophysical entity would be generated by physical processes – So for example, if it is a ripple of effect in time, how does the ripple interact, in turn, with known physical forces?
Surely, the very words that you read on the page or screen now, are part of the ripple of my consciousness. A ripple that influences your consciousness too. They connect like a bridge in the spoken and written word. There is an interaction, or an exchange with the physical in the acts we consider and enact. And like all physical interactions, there is an imperfect exchange which one can muse, is responsible for the generation of lateral thoughts, heat, and movement.
Is this argument evidence enough for a possible ‘psychophysical emergent property’ known as consciousness?
Reference article as:
Pharaoh, M.C. (2013) How does the Materialist fall at the ‘Consciousness as a Psychophysical Property’ Fence? Philosophy of Consciousness Part 3 Retrieved online: http://mind-phronesis.co.uk/Philosophy-Consciousness-Parts-1-to-6.pdf