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Guest post for comment: sex and evolution

The following (below the fold) has been sent to me by Tam Hunt for comment by our readers. Constructive comment, that is. Tam’s own blog is here.

Absent-Minded Science, Part V: Sex, Psyche and Evolution

“The sight of a feather in a peacock’s tail, whenever I gaze at it, makes me sick!” Charles Darwin

Most people now realize that sexual attraction is in the mind, even though we often forget this insight in practice. The growth of phone sex and online sex is testament to the ability of imagination to titillate as much or more than actual human contact. And the presence of pornography in all cultures throughout history is an ongoing reminder that people can be turned on by the strangest things and certainly don’t need a live human being for this purpose.

There is a much deeper principle at work here, however; one that is highly relevant to this series of essays on “absent-minded science” (which is what I call the modern habit in a number of different fields of expelling mind from legitimate scientific explanations). Sex is central to human existence and other animals. But its centrality extends far beyond the animal world. This is the key theme of this fifth installment of this series.

Why is sex so central to our lives? The facile answer is that it’s because we need sex to reproduce. But this is only partly true. Many species reproduce without sex, including some complex vertebrates like lizards and fish. So why do we have sex? No one really knows the answer to this question, but there are many theories. I won’t delve much into why our species reproduces sexually; rather, I’m going to delve into what sex is, as a general principle, and the role of sex in evolution.

Natural selection is the key agent in Darwinian evolution. Natural selection is the label we give to the idea that traits that confer some reproductive advantage will obviously spread. But Darwin didn’t stop there. His second major book focused in part on sexual selection, another agent of evolution. “Sexual selection” is the bridge between Darwin and Lamarck and sexual selection is Lamarckian through and through. This is not generally acknowledged by today’s biologists and it may in fact be a novel interpretation. (Darwin was a Lamarckian in many ways, but this is not commonly known).

Sexual selection is the term Darwin gave to the idea that certain traits appear to be detrimental to survival and/or foraging for food – such as the peacock’s tail. However, if such traits help an organism find more mates and have more offspring the trait may still spread because its benefits outweigh its disadvantages. Mate choice, primarily female choice because males are generally the aggressors in most sexually-reproducing species, is key to sexual selection.

Natural selection is supposed to be a general theory of evolution, which means that it should be applicable in all times and all places and tell us something about how and why populations and species evolve.

To be a general theory of evolution, however, it seems that a theory must possess at least the following features: 1) applicability in all times and places; 2) capability to make predictions that are testable; 3) falsifiability, which means that if predictions are tested and found to be false then the theory as a whole may eventually be rejected under the weight of sufficient counter-evidence.

Sexual selection is arguably a more general theory than natural selection. Historically, these two selective forces have been presented by biologists as parallel forces, but with natural selection as by far the more important force. In reality, of course, there is no “force” behind natural selection. It’s just physics and chemistry in action, so when we talk about natural selection as a force or an agent, it’s reification of a sort at work. Rather than being an actual force, natural selection is just a label for the collective forces of nature acting on organisms with various traits.

Sexual selection is different, however, because there really is supposed to be a selective agent (a force of a sort) at work, which may not be explained wholly through physical and chemical forces – if these forces ignore mind in nature. This goes back to Parts I through IV of this series of essays, however, because contemplating these ideas requires that we consider whether mind (and thus choices made by minds) can in fact be explained through current physical and chemical theories.

I argued earlier in this series that current physical theories cannot, in principle, explain mind because the constituents of matter are defined by modern physics as wholly mindless. We are thus left with a system of physics that excludes that which is most real to each of us – ourselves, our own minds, subjectivity itself – which surely should be included in an adequate theory of physics and, by extension, biology. I argued that this impasse requires the inclusion of mind, in a highly rudimentary form, in all forms of matter, a view known as panpsychism or panexperientialism. Panpsychism holds that as matter complexifies, the tiny bit of mind in each tiny piece of matter complexifies and eventually reaches our highly complex type of mind due to the highly complex matter that comprises our brains and bodies.

This begs the question: how did we, and other life forms like us, reach such a high level of complexity? How did we evolve? This is where evolutionary biology and the philosophy of mind intersect.

If we acknowledge that all matter has some degree of mind, no matter how small, we realize that choice must be inherent in all matter. This is the case because the essence of mind is the selection (choice) between alternatives made available through perception. One of today’s preeminent physicists, Freeman Dyson (Professor Emeritus at Princeton’s Institute for Advanced Study, the same institution where Einstein resided for a number of years before his death in 1955) makes this point explicit: “[T]he processes of human consciousness differ only in degree but not in kind from the processes of choice between quantum states which we call ‘chance’ when made by electrons.”[i]

Dyson is saying that what physicists normally interpret in electron behavior as pure chance – randomness – is better interpreted as choice. Choices can be fickle, so what seems to be random is in fact a result of unpredictable choices by these tiny entities. Thus, even electrons make choices – but very very simple choices compared to the infinity of choices possible to our advanced human consciousness. Choice at the level of the electron is apparently limited to how the electron will manifest and move in the next moment. Particles such as electrons are not static, timeless entities. Thinking of the fundamental constituents of reality as unchanging particles is the fallacy of “substantialism,” which Whitehead’s panpsychist “process philosophy,” attempts to correct.

If choice is inherent at the level of electrons, a universal principle of evolution is made apparent. I call this universal principle “generalized sexual selection.” The essence of sexual selection is choice – generally female choice, as Darwin described in his 1871 book, The Descent of Man. Darwin recognized that many traits, such as the peacock’s tail, could not be explained strictly through natural selection. Rather, Darwin argued that female choice resulted over many generations in pronounced features in males who compete vigorously for female attention.

To be entirely clear, the peacock’s tail is not considered adaptive because its weight and size make it harder for male peacocks to escape predators and to forage for food. But if its disadvantages are outweighed by increased mating opportunities for the male who carries the showy burden, it will continue as a trait in male peacocks.

Darwin’s division of natural selection and sexual selection into two distinct agents of evolution, which continues to this day in biology, is not, however, warranted when we think through the better interpretation of what’s really going on.

The simple structure of neo-Darwinian natural selection has just two parts: 1) random variation of traits results from random mutation of genes and through sexual recombination; 2) those traits that confer a survival and reproductive advantage will obviously increase and are thus “selected.” (Again, there is not really any “selection” going on, but the end result is “as if” there was some selection process).

What I call “generalized sexual selection” (GSS or “giss”), re-frames this argument as follows: 1) variation in traits comes about through random mutation and through male competition for mating opportunities and striving more generally for self-improvement, which can sometimes be incorporated into the germ line of the male[ii]; 2) female choice is the selective agent that leads to greater reproduction of those males with the most desirable traits to the females who choose them, who incorporate the male germ line into their own by mating with them. In other words, variation is not always random – it is sometimes directed, with increasing mating opportunities as a significant motivation, and the urge to survive and other urges surely at work also. Perhaps more importantly, selection is not blind, it is conscious at every level of nature through the choices made mostly by females.

I call this theory generalized sexual selection because it applies to situations that don’t involve sex in the traditional sense. Most species on our planet don’t reproduce sexually. Bacteria, for example, often reproduce asexually, as do protists. And even many vertebrates reproduce asexually, such as certain species of lizards and fish. However, bacteria are constantly exchanging genetic information, which is a rudimentary kind of sex, defined at this level as the mixing of genetic information from at least two entities. This type of sex is known as “horizontal gene transfer” because it occurs without simultaneous reproduction.

But here’s why GSS applies beyond traditional sexual reproduction. The terms “male” and “female” are not as clear-cut as we generally assume. And in GSS, “male” refers to any genetic donor and “female” to any genetic recipient – as Lynn Margulis and Dorion Sagan describe in their 1986 book, The Origins of Sex. Thus, a bacterium that gives some genetic material to another is a male and the recipient is a female. These roles can and do change on a regular basis, thus the “gender” of each bacterium changes regularly. What is important, then, is not gender, per se, but actions.

The principle extends even deeper, however, when we consider further the panpsychist notion of matter. If all matter has some degree of mind or subjectivity, then GSS applies to literally all matter, not just biological forms. This is the case because the most sophisticated panpsychist thinking, that of Alfred North Whitehead and his intellectual descendants, recognizes that each of the ultimate constituents of matter – what Whitehead calls “actual entities” – contains both “mental” and “physical” aspects. They are two sides of the same coin. Physical and mental aspects of each actual entity (the Whiteheadian “atom”) oscillate with each step forward in time.

The mental aspect of each actual entity is informed by the immediately prior physical aspects of all other actual entities available to it. Each actual entity, in its mental aspect, chooses what information to accept and rejects everything else. Thus, the mental aspect of each actual entity can be considered to be “female” insofar as it chooses what information from the universe around it to include in its objective manifestation – like the female bower bird accepting the attention of a hard-working showy male. When the actual entity becomes objective, it becomes “male” insofar as its manifestation now constitutes information for the next round of actual entities to consider in their mental/female aspect. More crudely put, the female aspect receives and the male aspect penetrates. But these aspects oscillate within each actual entity.

Wipe your brow as I wrap up this essay.

GSS is a powerful re-framing of evolution in a way that recognizes the unbroken continuum of the complexity of matter, which is experiential through and through. I won’t delve into further details about the testability and falsifiability of GSS here, but it is my view that GSS presents a more adequate theory of evolution than the prevailing adaptationist view of natural selection – which generally denies the role of mind and choice in evolution.

Who knew sex was so important?

My next installment in this series will explore the current view of natural selection as the key agent for evolution, and its problems, in more detail.

Tam Hunt is a philosopher, lawyer and biologist. He lives in Santa Barbara and keeps a blog, Thought, Spirit, Politik at


[i] Dyson, 1979, Disturbing the Universe. A similar point is made by William Seager in his 1995 paper: “.” and Bohm and Hiley (1993, pp. 384-387).

[ii] There is, contrary to the popular view, abundant evidence that somatic changes acquired during an organism’s lifetime can sometimes be incorporated into the germ cells. See Lamarck’s Signature, by Robert Steele, et al., for a good introduction, as well as Jablonka and Lamb’s Evolution in Four Dimensions. The most recent work in this area seems to be from Laura Landweber’s lab at Princeton University:


  1. I’m not sure where random genetic drift fits into this general theory of evolution. Can you explain? Keep in mind that drift is by far the dominant mechanism of evolution (by frequency) so it has to be in there somewhere.

    How about species selection/sorting? Is it a form of generalized sexual selection?

    • Larry, genetic drift and other endogenous sources of variation are compatible with my approach as additional mechanisms of evolution. I mention in the article that I’m not suggesting that all evolution occurs through sexual selection. There is a continuing role for natural selection, genetic drift and other mechanisms (which I should make more explicit). It’s really a question of emphasis. Whereas adaptationists assert that all or nearly all change occurs through natural selection of adaptive traits, pluralists like Gould and Lewontin have long claimed that this approach is flawed. I’m expanding the pluralist approach by suggesting that natural selection and other mechanisms still play a role – just a lesser role than sexual selection in the expanded sense that I use this term. (My next article in this series will, however, attempt to show how natural selection is very hard to pin down in terms of what it really means.)

      Ditto for species selection – it’s a question of emphasis. My approach emphasizes sexual selection as the key agent of evolutionary change at the organismic level, but species selection will of course result from different rates of speciation and extinction that themselves result from, primarily, individual choices by organisms. I’m not suggesting that there is choice at the species level.

      Any further thoughts you have would be appreciated as I’m only beginning to develop this approach, which I’ll probably expand to a book length treatment at some point.

    • PS. Larry, there is a way in which genetic drift and other endogenous mechanisms can also be framed as sexual selection in the expanded sense I have used this term. This is the case because choice operates at many levels of structure in GSS. So if electrons exercise choice, do nucleotides? I’m not certain at this beginning stage of developing the GSS approach that framing genetic drift, etc., in this manner is particularly helpful, even if valid conceptually (given my assumptions). But there certainly is some merit in seeking a single approach to explaining evolution and natural selection is acknowledged by almost all biologists today as not being that single approach.

      To be clear: at one level of explanation, my approach expands upon the pluralist tradition by changing emphasis and suggesting that sexual selection should be re-prioritized as an agent of evolution. At another level of explanation, GSS can be framed as the all-encompassing agent of evolution, with names like genetic drift, etc. applied at higher levels of explanation.

  2. ckc (not kc) ckc (not kc)

    Not sure what effect it has on your presentation here, but if one is going for a general theory of evolution in the context of the sexual reproduction of the organisms involved, failure to include plants leaves a pretty big hole.

    • ckc, I’m thinking through the consequences of GSS in relation to plants and I’ll get back to you ASAP.

    • ckc, I’ve done a little research on sexual selection in plants and there is in fact a fair amount of scholarship in this area. A summary from a 1994 PNAS review article (Verne Grant): “Recently, a symposium was devoted to the question (refs. 10 and 11, p. S1), “Is there a unifying concept of sexual selection that applies to both plants and animals?” All the symposium participants (11-16) take an affirmative position on this question.”

      Grant discusses how Willson (1994) expands the definition of sexual selection to include every phase of the “reproductive sequence,” concluding that sexual selection plays a strong role in plant evolution.

      This is certainly not a consensus view, however, but it demonstrates that sexual selection can apply to plants through the same principles by which it applies to animals.

      And, of course, if we take the even more expanded notion of sexual selection that I advocate in my article, literally all matter evolves through sexual selection (though there is still very much the question of what are the units of selection? Are plants the correct units? They can be framed this way but I am not at this point willing to ascribe choice to plants, so I’ll have to think this through more).

      • John S. Wilkins John S. Wilkins

        If you expand definitions, you can of course be inclusive.

      • ckc (not kc) ckc (not kc)

        …from the abstract of Grant’s PNAS review
        Proponents of sexual selection in plants do not mention the subject of primary and secondary sexual characters, and they make no effort to establish the existence of secondary sexual characters in plants. The evidence they do present for sexual selection in plants consists of primary sexual characters and other reproductive traits that are products of selection modes other than sexual selection.

        Mating systems in plants and mating behaviour in animals are fascinating components of evolution, but it seems to me unprofitable to try to force a unifying concept (“mind”) on to the plants, where it doesn’t make sense.

  3. Why is sex so central to our lives?

    That’s because we are a social species, and sex has become part of the social glue that binds us together in cooperative societies.

    Natural selection is the key agent in Darwinian evolution.

    I disagree with that. NS is sometimes described as a filter. While a filter can shape what passes through it, the active element is in the pumping of things through the filter. I see biological reproduction as the pump.

    If we acknowledge that all matter has some degree of mind, no matter how small, we realize that choice must be inherent in all matter.

    I don’t acknowledge that. The chair that I am sitting on is made of matter. But I am made of processes. Most of the matter in my body will be gone in a few months, replaced by different matter. It is the processes that persist rather than the atoms. So to investigate mind, we have to investigate the behavior of processes. It seems to me that homeostatic processes are of particular importance, and it is in such processes that you should look for choice.

    • Neil, NS is framed by the large majority of biologists today as the key agent in evolution. Variation occurs randomly and NS acts as the filter, as you say, but there is no agent (in the mainstream view) behind variation alone. It’s random, as in non-directed (in the mainstream view). I am suggesting instead that a significant part of variation is in fact directed through competition between males for females and through female choice in selecting the most beautiful or otherwise attractive males.

      As for all matter having some degree of mind, check out my earlier essays in this series (parts I through IV), which John linked to in his brief intro to my piece. I make an extended argument for panpsychism in these essays. I acknowledge with my conditional “if” that assumptions are important. I am assuming with GSS the panpsychist view of mind. And, in an important way, sexual selection itself is strong support for panpsychism because female “choice” requires that we take free will and consciousness seriously. As Helena Cronin writes in her great review of sexual selection and altruism, The Ant and the Peacock (1991), sexual selection was generally ignored for almost a hundred years after Darwin’s Descent of Man (1871) because of the behaviorist trend to ignore mind in nature. Now that we are beginning to realize that the behaviorist and positivist approach to science was seriously off-base we now need to revisit our approach to evolution. And this is what I am attempting in my GSS approach.

  4. DiscoveredJoys DiscoveredJoys

    Helen Fisher argues that sexual matters in humans are driven by four hormone/neurotransmitter complexes.

    Sex drive (lust) is driven testosterone.
    Mate selection (romance) is driven by both the dopamine and serotonin complexes.
    Pair bonds (attachment) is driven by estrogen and oxytocin.

    Does the ‘mind’ drive these processes, or is the mind a consequence of these processes?

    She also argues that humans can be can be classified into four temperament types, depending on the relative strengths of these four complexes.

    I accept that we are biochemistry. I can demonstrate biochemistry. Changing people’s biochemistry changes their behaviour. I am biochemistry. Changing people’s biochemistry changes their behaviour.

    I don’t think I can demonstrate ‘mind’ as a separate thing or force.

    • DJ, Fisher’s approach is what I call “absent-minded science” because she is doing her best (as are many thinkers still) to expunge mind from nature. But mind is very much part of nature. How can we explain mind, subjectivity itself, with constituents that are defined as wholly objective? We can’t. It seems that there must be at least some iota of mind/subjectivity in the constituents, which complexifies as matter complexifies. Parts I through IV of this series delves into these issues in detail and Part IV addresses the prevailing “emergentist” view that mind simply emerges at some requisite level of biological complexity. Of course, there are physiological mechanisms for behavior and our minds more generally, but by framing mind and our behavior as PURELY neurotransmitters and electrochemical pathways we miss literally half of the universe: ourselves and our minds.

      • DiscoveredJoys DiscoveredJoys

        But here’s the problem (from your earlier sections):

        But here’s the problem: It is literally impossible for mind to spring forth from that which is wholly devoid of mind.

        That’s an assertion that I don’t think you have proven, or shown a way in which it might be falsified.

        I recommend that you read the books by Antonio Damasio. He presents evidence that consciousness (mind and self) is a biological process. Not everybody agrees with him. You may not. But 30 years of studying how the brain operates suggests that he is worth listening to.

        How can we explain mind, subjectivity itself, with constituents that are defined as wholly objective? We can’t yet.

      • DJ, I argue in Part IV of my series that we can’t in principle explain mind as an emergent property from that which is defined as wholly objective. This argument relies on a key distinction between weak emergence (liquidity, etc.) and radical emergence (postulated emergence of entirely new ontological categories like mind).

        I have read some of Damasio’s work and while I agree that his views should be granted prima facie credibility due to his long history, I disagree strongly with his views for the same reasons just outlined. It’s a category error to suggest that the subjective world can spring from that which is defined as wholly objective. I’ll elaborate more on this in my response to John Wilkins below. Also, he badly misreads Spinoza in his book, Looking for Spinoza. Spinoza was in fact a panpsychist and yet somehow Damasio manages to find support for his materialist views in Spinoza. Spinoza wrote: “Matter and soul are the outside and inside aspects, or attributes, of one and the same thing in itself …; that is to say, of ‘Nature, which is the same as God.’” (Spinoza’s Ethics, 1677). “One and the same” is the key phrase here. See Skrbina’s book Panpsychism in the West for more on Spinoza and panpsychism.

      • DiscoveredJoys DiscoveredJoys

        You still seem to be making an assertion based on a logical argument about levels of emergence. Logical arguments are fine for forming hypotheses, but they need to be tested against reality.

        If hypotheses can’t be tested then any other hypothesis is just as valid. I could speculate that quanta of mind is carried by ‘mindons’ interacting with the meat brain (or rocks or plants), rather than some field or energy. How could we distinguish between assertions, other than by testing or observing?

        And then there are contrary observations to be explained. Why does people’s behaviour change when their brain has been affected by drugs, or magnetic fields, or disease, or damage? If mind is so tightly coupled to its physical platform a more parsimonious hypothesis is that the mind and brain processes are identical. If so then arguments about levels of emergence need to be reviewed.

      • DJ, I would agree with your hypothesis the “mind and brain processes are identical,” but this does not contradict the panpsychist hypothesis. It is, instead, known as panpsychist (or panexperientialist) physicalism. (At a deeper level, I am a neutral monist, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves).

        But if we agree, at least as a good hypothesis, that mind and brain processes are identical, it requires that we include mind in our definition of matter. And this is what the emergentist/materialist position fails to do. Rather, this position, all too pervasive nowadays, asserts generally that mind simply emerges at a requisite level of biological complexity. But what about before that moment? Is matter wholly mindless until that very moment? Or is it a smooth continuum of complexity of mind that tracks exactly the smooth continuum of the complexity of matter? The latter is the position I’ve been arguing for in these essays. And if we agree that mind and matter are identical processes, we cannot, to be accurate, label any matter as wholly lacking in mind. Thus, panpsychism.

      • DJ, don’t hold my being a lawyer against me! I was a biologist first 🙂

        With respect to mind/brain identism, I’m not asserting that they’re parallel processes. I’m agreeing with you that mind and brain are identical processes. But we have to adjust what we mean by “brain” or “matter” to make this a valid statement. We must include in our definitions of brain and matter the internal aspect: mind. I use in other writings the term “menter” to express this dual aspect. Mind is the inside and matter is the outside. So matter is what other minds call my mind. So we my brain is for you “matter” and is for me “mind.” It’s all a matter of perspective. Also, these two aspects oscillate in each actual entity between mental and physical aspects in what Whitehead calls the “creative advance.” This is the laying down of reality in each moment and it goes to the very deep structure of the universe. All things (actual entities) are “drops of experience” that oscillate with each moment in time between their objective and subjective aspects. So this is a form of identism but it is crucial that we don’t forget the subjective aspect b/c if we do so we leave out exactly half of the universe: the inside to each outside.

    • DiscoveredJoys DiscoveredJoys

      Identical as in ‘one and the same’, not two parallel processes. Still, it’s your article. What tests do you envisage would discriminate between two identical processes and one single process?

      Assertion is not enough. Some philosophers make assertions without constraint. Some lawyers (ahem) believe that the elegance of the assertion wins the day. Scientists try to disprove their assertions (and so do other scientists).

  5. bob koepp bob koepp

    I’m inclined to view sexual selection as just one form among many that natural selection can take. One could just as well treat foraging behavior as fundamental — after all, mates are just another “resource” required for the survival of a lineage of sexually reproducing organisms.

    Also, since natural selection is, as noted by Dennett, substrate-neutral, it works just fine with mental traits that provide heritable variations, even if they are not “reducible” to configurations of matter. So, even though I’m inclined to some version of panpsychism myself, I don’t think we need to sort out such foundtional metaphysical issues as the ontological status of mental traits to get on with building evolutionary theory.

    • bob, sexual selection is generally framed as a parallel force to NS because it is explicitly agentic (at least as Darwin framed it), whereas NS is explicitly non-agentic. The difference, of course, is that in SS there are choices being made that directly impact evolution, such as a female bower bird choosing the most showy male and thus incorporating his genes into her offspring. In NS, as it is generally framed, there is no agent selecting the desired traits; it is only “as if” there were an agent through the natural differential reproduction that results from different traits being more or less helpful in different environments. And this is a major difference.

      So if we accept that SS is agentic we have already included mind in our evolutionary explanations. The question then becomes one of emphasis: is SS as important as Darwin thought it was or should we view it in a more Wallacean way (this interesting debate is discussed in depth in Cronin’s The Ant and the Peacock)? Or should we go further and make SS the overarching explanatory paradigm as I have suggested in GSS?

      The bottomline is that we can’t avoid mind in nature if we accept SS as agentic even just a little bit, as even Wallace did.

      • bob koepp bob koepp

        Tam –
        I think that most students of evolution accept mind as part of nature and believe that natural selection has played a role in the evolution of mental agency. Given the way NS “works,” it could only do this via the operation of agency, just as it could only influence the evolution of respiration via the respiring of organisms. In other words, even though NS isn’t an agent, the agency of organisms can play a role in NS. So the fact that sexual selection operates via choices isn’t much of a reason to treat it as an alternative to (rather than a variety of) NS.

      • John Harshman John Harshman

        “sexual selection is generally framed as a parallel force to NS because it is explicitly agentic (at least as Darwin framed it), whereas NS is explicitly non-agentic.”

        Not true at all. First, sexual selection, among biologists, is generally realized to be a particular sort of natural selection. Second, it doesn’t require a special agent any more or less than selection acting on any behavior would. To pick an example at random, consider selection exerted by cowbirds on their hosts. Some hosts react to cowbird eggs by building a new nest on top of the old, thus burying the parasite, or by simply ejecting the egg. Female cowbirds have been observed destroying the nests of birds that do this, thus exerting selection on the host population in a direction favorable to the cowbird.

      • bob, in this context it doesn’t really matter whether the units being “selected” by NS have mental elements or not. What matters in terms of comparing NS with SS is the degree to which agency plays a role in the selective process. Does selection just happen as a byproduct of entirely blind and unpurposeful events, as suggested by NS, or does it happen through choices made by agents? This is a very big difference and it is a large reason that SS continues today as a theory distinct from NS. JohnWilkins recently wrote a popular post on a new book that makes the point explicit that NS does not operate teleologically – that is, agentically. So this is a crucial difference between SS and NS and it highlights a major cognitive dissonance in evolutionary theory today. If SS is at all agentic, then it arguably can’t be part of NS under the mainstream framing of NS.

        Admittedly, many biologists do consider SS a subset of NS, but my point in raising these issues here is to demonstrate that this a mis-classification of theory. Cronin discusses the history of SS and NS and suggests in her book that SS should be considered a mechanism distinct from NS. And I haven’t found anything particularly authoritative since her 1991 book on this subject. Doesn’t mean she’s right, of course – I found a lot to disagree with in her book – but it is certainly a pertinent data point in this discussion.

      • John H., can you define for me Natural Selection and Sexual Selection? Humor me because I’d like to try and show you that they should be considered very distinct agents of evolution.

      • bob koepp bob koepp

        Tam –
        The non-teleological character of NS is _not_ generally understood to imply that agency, and the sort of teleology it involves, is inoperative at the level of entities that are subject to selective forces. What it does imply is that the process of selection itself is not directed to any goal, and so is not itself a teleological process. We need to be very clear about the distinction between “levels of description” here, or all sorts of absurdities arise.

        I know of no coherent explication of NS that would exclude choices made on the part of organisms (or even “choices” made at the level of societies) from being the driving forces in a selective process, _except_ for choices made with the effective intent to influence the relative frequency of specific traits in the population in question. The exceptional sort of choices are what we, following Darwin, call ‘artificial selection.’ The same sort of exception applies in cases like ‘mate choice’ — if the choice is made with the intention to propogate traits of the mate into future generations, then it’s a case of artificial rather than natural selection. But for organisms having no effective intentions regarding the propogation of traits, mate choice, though itslef an agentic/teleological process, is part and parcel of the operation of natural selection.

        The metaphysical questions about the ontological status of mental traits are a red herring, since the theory of natural selection implies neither materialism, idealism, dualism, nor even my favored version of neutral monism (the obvious TRUTH about matters ontological ;-).

      • John Harshman John Harshman

        Natural selection can most simply be defined as differential reproductive success causally correlated with genotype. Sexual selection is a bit harder to define, but we might make a stab as natural selection in which the relevant environmental factor for that differential reproductive success is the effect of conspecifics on mate choice. That would cover at least male-male competition, female-female competition, female choice, and male choice.

      • John H. you have defined NS as “differential reproductive success causally correlated with genotype” and I think most biologists would agree with this definition. But what does this really say? All it says, in essence, is “change happens.” It tells us exactly zero about why change happens or what type of differential reproductive success will result from different genotypes. To add these details we need to know a heckuva lot about the population at issue. So NS without these far more specific details is little more than a “metaphysical research program,” as Popper famously described it.

        We could also frame NS simply as a postulate that evolution happens through natural (that is, law-based) processes rather than supernatural (non-law-based) processes. But as a research program or as a postulate NS needs far more detail in each instance to be of any use in explaining or predicting evolutionary change.

        The same may be said about SS, because to make predictions or explanations that have any utility a lot would need to be known about the species and population at issue (the details of male-male competition and female choice, the two components of SS).

        However, the difference between NS and SS is that rather than acting simply as a postulate about natural causes behind evolution, SS is a postulate that organismic individual choices are a key force behind evolutionary change. So rather than a blind process that is explicitly non-teleological we have a process that is explicitly teleological in terms of what happens on the ground and how evolution is impacted – and how variation arises. This is a middle ground between the Old Man in the sky directing evolution and the random dice of NS (the random variation part being a key problem with NS). In other words, SS can help explain variation far better than the postulated randomness of NS.

        For these reasons, I think (along with Darwin, as made clearly in Descent of Man and OOS) that SS should be considered a force distinct from NS.

      • John Harshman John Harshman

        Tam, I can’t accept anything in your reply; I can’t even accept it as a reasonable reply. Specifically:

        You say the standard definition of “natural selection” means simply “things change”. That requires ignoring the part about “causally correlated with genotype”. Sure, in order to understand particular cases you have to know a lot about environment and genotypes. But so what? That’s the case with any definition. A definition isn’t a complete theory. If a chair is defined as “a thing made for one person to sit on”, you can’t claim the definition is inadequate because it doesn’t specify who is sitting, what color the chair is, and how many legs it has. That isn’t what definitions are for. Nor does natural selection reduce to “natural processes only”. There are in fact several evolutionary processes that aren’t selection, but are natural nonetheless. As for Popper, who cares what Popper said?

        I see you don’t discuss my definition of sexual selection, but substitute your own. But I already presented an example in which “choices” happen in areas other than sexual selection, though I’m not sure to what extent we can call any of the behaviors under discussion choices; many of them are stereotypical and hardwired. I must reject your distinction between non-teleological natural selection and teleological sexual selection. That distinction doesn’t exist. Almost all the organisms exercising “choice” don’t have a goal beyond the immediate one of satisfying an urge (if even that), and of course the urge itself is produced by natural selection, because those organisms that had the proper urge were more reproductively successful than those that lacked it.

        I’m afraid you’re engaged in magic thinking here, and name-dropping Darwin will not repair your argument.

      • John H., you write: “I must reject your distinction between non-teleological natural selection and teleological sexual selection. That distinction doesn’t exist. Almost all the organisms exercising “choice” don’t have a goal beyond the immediate one of satisfying an urge (if even that), and of course the urge itself is produced by natural selection, because those organisms that had the proper urge were more reproductively successful than those that lacked it.”

        This is self-contradictory. You acknowledge that sexual selection is an agent of evolution and that it works through organisms “satisfying an urge,” but you then deny that this amounts to a “goal.” What is satisfying an urge if not working toward a goal? This is all about choice, will, consciousness. And if you accept that organisms are agent in this manner at all, you must accept that sexual selection plays an agentic role in evolution, at every level at which organisms make choices. And if this is the case, it also contradicts your claim that the “urge itself is produced by natural selection.” How can you accept that sexual selection plays a role and then state categorically that the phenomena at issue are produced wholly by natural selection?

        As for natural selection more generally, you may benefit from reading some Popper, who you dismiss so cavalierly. I don’t agree with everything that Popper writes (he was very critical of panpsychism for example), but we dismiss this very influential philosopher of science at our peril.

      • John Harshman John Harshman

        This system discourages replies (on purpose?) because I can’t see the post I’m replying to as I type. Curious.

        But Tam, you claim I’m contradicting myself. I think, on the other hand, that you are playing with words, not reality. No, I don’t see satisfying an urge as working toward a goal. The latter, as I would define it, requires some sort of foresight: you do X because it will lead to Y. If you do X just because you feel like doing X, that’s not a goal, and the fact that an observer knows it will result in Y doesn’t change that. Many behaviors are hard-wired, and involve choice to the same degree that a rock chooses to fall if you drop it. To call that consciousness is to render the term meaningless.

        And yes, urges do arise through natural selection. Sexual selection is a form of natural selection, and so if sexual selection is the cause, so is natural selection. Nor do all such urges arise through sexual selection. You asked for my definitions of both natural selection and sexual selection, then you rejected them. But I find your counter-definitions largely vacuous, and to the degree they have content, in contradiction to the standard definitions.

        • John S. Wilkins John S. Wilkins

          Tam’s post got caught in the spam trap because of the long URL. You would have seen it as an email, perhaps.

      • John Harshman John Harshman

        I haven’t seen any email. There’s a post I’m missing?

      • John S. Wilkins John S. Wilkins

        My mistake. Tam had a response held up in the spam trap, and I thought you referred to that.

      • John H., let’s focus on one aspect of your reply b/c it highlights a pervasive problem in biology and philosophy more generally (the Sorites – when does a heap become a heap?): when does an urge become a goal? Where is the line? And why is the line where you think it is?

      • John Harshman John Harshman

        I’m going to suggest that an urge becomes a goal when the individual performing the behavior is aware of the end result, and performs the behavior intending to produce that result. But I have no idea what that is supposed to have to do with sexual selection.

      • John H., taking your distinction between a goal and an urge, let me ask you: is a chicken pecking at a grain on the ground in order to eat it following an urge or a goal? And where does the ability to have a goal emerge phylogenetically?

      • John Harshman John Harshman

        It might be a goal; hard to tell. It’s an open question where goals emerge, and I presume they emerge gradually. I would like to know how all your various questions relate to anything we may be discussing. Do you have a goal?

      • John H., I do indeed have a goal and you have met it with your response: I agree that there is no line between an urge and a goal. And this is the solution to this particular Sorites and to the problem of consciousness and choice with respect to sexual selection. Choice/urges/goals are there in rudimentary form from the beginning and they simply complexify as the associated organism complexifies.

        This is the basis for my Generalized Sexual Selection approach. Choice doesn’t require complex consciousness at all – rudimentary consciousness will do, and in fact rudimentary consciousness is largely synonymous with choice at the most basic level. In the Whiteheadian version of panpsychism, choice is the sine qua non of actuality, and all matter is associated with the ability to make some kind of choice – a la the electron that Dyson refers to exerting choice.

        So urges don’t “arise through natural selection,” as you assert: they are very likely there from the beginning. What we call life is a more complex form of organic matter that has reached a far more complex ability to exert choice than the large majority of matter in the universe. Life and consciousness are both continuums.

      • John Harshman John Harshman

        None of your conclusions follow from your premises. Just because it’s hard to draw a firm line between urges and goals doesn’t mean that goals are present everywhere. We may not be able to distinguish blue from green where they shade into each other, but we can certainly say that forest green is not blue, not even blue in rudimentary form.
        Similarly, there is no evidence for the existence of what you call “rudimentary consciousness”, if evidence is even relevant to the concept.
        To call anything electrons do “choice” is to destroy the meaning of a perfectly good word.
        And yes, urges do arise through natural selection. The urge to pick a male with fancy blue-eyed feathers evolved in peacocks (and peahens), not in the first particles of the universe. Those particles had no urges at all, much less an interest in feathers. I’m afraid I find your claims to be sense-free.
        Life and consciousness may be continua, but that only means the boundaries are fuzzy. A rock isn’t alive, even though we can argue about viruses. A petunia isn’t conscious, even though we can argue about dogs. Try something else.

  6. Very interesting take on the sex issue. Well worth the read!

  7. John Harshman John Harshman

    As a hidebound biologist, my major initial response is “Urk”. Do you owe this person a big favor? To me, this looks like a serious Deepak Chopra moment. Electrons making choices? Males striving for perfection and transmitting their success in the germ line?

    In biology, sexual selection is generally seen as a variety of natural selection, in which conspecifics and their genotypes (and any socially transmitted preferences there may be) are just another part of the environment. This piece gives me no reason to change that view.

    I will agree that the author’s presentation sounds very Lamarckian, what with all the striving and all. I just see no reason to believe that any of this actually happens in nature, where we see genotypes with greater reproductive success increasing in frequency, with no diffuse ideas of striving. Males compete with other males in ways that increase their reproductive success, because those genotypes that caused success in such competitions increase in frequency. Males have characteristics that attract females because genotypes that have such characteristics increase in frequency. Females prefer males with particular characteristics because genotypes that cause those preferences increase in frequency.

    There may be learned aspects to choice, and there might be Baldwin effects here and there, but none of that seems very Lamarckian to me. In conclusion, pfaugh.

    • John S. Wilkins John S. Wilkins

      Address the responses to Tam. I am not endorsing the content; but he has been a good commentator and wanted responses from you lot.

      • John Harshman John Harshman

        Oddly enough, Tam doesn’t seem interested in responding to me. Sniff.

  8. John S. Wilkins John S. Wilkins

    Okay, now I have read the essay (rather than reformatting it and getting the Word tags out of it), my comments follow John’s.

    There is no logical necessity for panpsychism, which strikes me as projection from semantic properties to the world’s, a classic philosophical error of confusing words for the world. Mind can arise from non-mind if mind is, in effect, the vector sum of physical properties of a suitably arranged system. So at the very beginning I find your premises mistaken.

    Secondly, sex is independent of sexual behaviours. Plants, which have sex and engage in “strategies” for pollination and so forth, have no volition. The very idea that evolving things have strategies is a metaphor, and one that leads to all kinds of errors.

    Sexual selection is not different in kind from natural selection: instead it is a subset of it, in my view. It is natural selection when the mating behaviours of one gender or the other (or both) deform the fitness landscape. Since ecological fitness landscapes are deformed by the behaviour (volitional or not) of other species all the time, this is not sui generis.

    Finally, sex itself is just a form of gene sharing, which is done at some rate and frequency by all living things. And the “function” of gene sharing is to provide some extra variation. But that function exists solely in the way we characterise it, after the fact.

    • John, I’ll address your first point first. What does “the vector sum of physical properties of a suitably arranged system” mean?

      More generally, if we’re getting down to the nitty gritty of the mind/matter problem we need to define things. What is mind and what is matter? There terms are generally synonymous with the broader terms “subjectivity” and “objectivity.” But what is subjectivity and what is objectivity?

      If we agree that mind and matter are distinct things, it seems we must agree that they are VERY different things: the inside and outside. Mind is my “I-ness.” The objective world of matter is for me the ostensibly solid world presented to my senses. So mind is what is “in here” and matter (and energy of course) is what is “out there.”

      So if we take the standard emergence argument as something like: mind emerges from matter at the required level of complexity, we are in other words asserting that what we have defined explicitly as not-mind produces mind. Not-mind becomes the substrate of mind.

      How can this be? It is akin to saying that A is not-A, a violation of the law of non-contradiction.

      Now, I have assumed a lot about your views, because they are fairly standard nowadays among materialists, so please let me know if these thoughts track your views or not at all.

      • John S. Wilkins John S. Wilkins

        I mean this like I would mean that the nature of car driving is the vector sum of all the properties of the parts and roads and driver. “Mind” is a name we give to the dynamics of certain physical systems. Subjectivity is basically just a perspective of an observer system. If you define “mind” the way you have, of course you cannot reduce it to physical properties; you defined that option out of contention. But I think there is no need other than our semantics and penchant for projection to do that, and they are not a good foundation for metaphysics.

      • John, this is a key point and explains a lot about why our views are so divergent in this area. Do you really view your own mind as simply the “dynamics” of your own body and brain, in a purely physical sense? Your mind is akin to the dynamics of a car?

        This goes to the issue of zombies. Under your view, you could be a zombie and no one (not even you b/c you would have no inner light) would know any better. Zombies are metaphysical playthings that look and act like real people but have no mental life. Are you a zombie?

        I for one know, with greater certainty than anything I know (literally), that there is an “I” here, in me, that can’t be explained by appealing purely to objective physical descriptions of my brain. This is the crux of the matter. To explain mind, half of the universe, we must include mind somewhere in our physical descriptions.

        Here’s what I wrote in Part II of my series on this issue:

        Strangely, modern science is dominated by the idea that to be scientific means to remove consciousness from our explanations, in order to be “objective.” This was, of course, the rationale behind behaviorism, a now-dead theory of psychology that took this trend to a perverse extreme. Behaviorists like John B. Watson and B.F. Skinner scrupulously avoided any discussion of what their subjects thought, intended, or wanted and focused, instead, entirely on behavior. They thought that because thoughts in other peoples’ heads, or in animals’, are impossible to know with certainty, we should simply ignore them in our theories. We can only be truly scientific, they asserted, if we focus solely on what can be directly observed and measured: behavior.

        This point of view is known most generally as “positivism,” which asserts that only those things we can measure directly should be part of our theories in science. Positivism has held sway in various branches of science to varying degrees over the last couple of centuries. Einstein was in his early career strongly inspired by Ernst Mach’s version of positivism, creating his special theory of relativity in 1905 partly as a response to this philosophy (and thus expelling the luminiferous ether from physics as “superfluous”). But Einstein learned better, rejecting positivism by the middle of his career as inadequate. A great passage from Walter Isaacson’s biography of Einstein is very telling:

        “We cannot observe electron orbits inside the atom,” Heisenberg said [to Einstein]. “A good theory must be based on directly observable magnitudes.”

        “But you don’t seriously believe,” Einstein protested, “that none but observable magnitudes must go into a physical theory?”

        “Isn’t that precisely what you have done with relativity?” Heisenberg asked with some surprise.

        “Possibly I did use this kind of reasoning,” Einstein admitted, “but it is nonsense all the same.”

        In other words, Einstein’s approach had evolved.

        Einstein had a similar conversation with his friend in Prague, Philipp Frank. “A new fashion has arisen in physics,” Einstein complained, which declares that certain things cannot be observed and therefore should not be ascribed reality.

        “But the fashion you speak of,” Frank protested, “was invented by you in 1905!”

        Replied Einstein: “A good joke should not be repeated too often.”

        • John S. Wilkins John S. Wilkins

          Reread my post. Zombies have a mental life, they feel pain and they are aware. They just lack specially mental properties, since these do not exist. There are no “seemings”, no “what-it-is-like”s. The only thing that exists are physical objects doing things we call “mental”. I am a zombie, and so are you.

          There is an “I” (although nothing remotely like a Cartesian unity) – but that “I” is the sum of the processes that generate it, neurophysiological and social. Semantic constructs like “I” name these processes, but because we are, as Wittgenstein put it, bewitched by our language, we think the names denote something that is uniquely real, not composite. Elsewhere I call this the Ontological Fallacy; the idea that a name has to have something only it denotes.

          “Mind” is a process of suitably elaborate physical systems. The rest of your argument collapses with that.

      • John, you seem to fall into the Dennett and Hofstadter camp of eliminativists on this issue in that you’re arguing, as Dennett has done for many years, that once we explain the processes of the brain there is nothing left to explain about mind. But this denies what is most real to all of us, our subjectivity, which you dismiss as semantics. How can we have semantics without mind? We can’t and we can’t have mind in a world defined as consisting of entities that are wholly objective.

        In a non-trivial way eliminativism shades into panpsychism, in that your position is arguably “crypto-panpsychist.” The same essay I just linked to “outs” Dennett as a crypto-panpsychist (I’m being tongue in cheek here but it’s a valid point). Here’s the key passage:

        The tension in Dennett’s position is that by acknowledging (necessarily, it would seem) the reality of conscious experience, Dennett can’t also argue that purely externalist objective explanations of consciousness say all that can be said about conscious experience. Rather, if conscious experience is real, it is surely different than simply describing – in as much detail as one likes – the electrochemical processes of a human brain. No matter how much detail we provide about electrochemical processes, such descriptions will never say anything at all about the quality of the subjective experience. This is the whole point of accepting an epistemological dualism between the “inside” and “outside” of things.

        Materialism, under this line of reasoning, reduces to what I label “crypto-panpsychism.” This is the case because if we accept that subjectivity is the most real thing we know, and that it springs from matter, then we can come to the view that all matter has some degree of mind or subjectivity – panpsychism under a different name.

        So let me ask you, John, if I were to be able to describe your brain in as minute detail as I wanted to, and I did so, would I know anything at all about your subjective experience, your qualia?

        • John S. Wilkins John S. Wilkins

          Yes, I am an eliminativist (does it really matter that Dennett or Hofstadter came up with it?). And my essay on the digital camera is a response to the subjectivity point.

          As to how we can have semantics without mind, it instead seems to me that semantics is itself a construct, not of mind, but of communities of language users in an environment with which they interact. Your constant assertion that mind is irreducible or primary is a case of putting (forgive me) Descartes before the horse. Organisms interact with their world and this gives them the basics of semantics. If an organism like ourselves interacts and evolves symbolic communication, semantics follows.

          You ask, “if I were to be able to describe your brain in as minute detail as I wanted to, and I did so, would I know anything at all about your subjective experience, your qualia?” The answer to that is in my essay on the camera. There are no qualia, but you would fully understand my subjectivity if you had the proper description and could process it the right way. Merely asserting that mind is irreducible to physical things, or relying upon (semantic) intuitions, is not an argument.

      • John, before I respond further (and actually read your essay on objectivity), can you define “physical” and “mental” for me?

    • John W., I take it back: you’re not a Dennettian. I just read your “what it is like to be a camera” entry. You go way further than even Dennett dares to tread. He denies “only” the reality of qualia and you deny the existence of consciousness itself!

      Interestingly, the name you give to your position, Perspectivism, reveals the inadequacy of the position. In a world of only objective things (by standard definitions of objective), there are no perspectives at all. Thus no perspectivism. This is what Nagel means by the “view from nowhere,” which he recognizes as a trick of our advanced level of consciousness, but not a real possibility because all thought, all existence, requires a perspective, subjectivity. There is no objectivity without subjectivity and vice versa, as Schopenhauer argued convincingly in his The World as Will and Representation 200 years ago.

      The key mistake in your reasoning is in this passage from your blog entry: “What is it like to see my living room from that corner? See file johnwilkinsloungroom.cad using camera 6 and full resolution rendering. If I read that file, of course I do not “experience” the perspective, but if I process it in the right way, then I do. What it is like to be my camera in my living room is exactly, and without remainder, specified in that formal description, and the gap between my reading the file and the “experience” is one solely of processing technique and bandwidth.”

      Yes, it is all a matter of degree, but “processing” itself is experience, consciousness, qualia. I advocate a “single aspect” to information: information is consciousness. The question is at what level or organization do the qualia inhere? Based on my framework (described in a lengthy article forthcoming in the Journal of Consciosness Studies later this year), there is probably no consciousness in the camera qua camera. But there is consciousness in the constituents of the camera, perhaps even in each photo cell. My position is similar to Tononi’s “integrated information” theory of consciousness, in which consciousness is integrated information is consciousness. While Tononi keeps his distance from the panpsychist implications of his theory (for now), I embrace these implications b/c they necessarily follow.

      Here’s Tononi’s “manifesto”:–F-9Bsm4XZE7NBqw6UMjPJvQ&sig2=lA9Ejrd_EOiQ_On1U8Ldqg&cad=rja.

      If you get back to me with your definitions of “physical” and “mental,” I’ll add some more color on why I think it’s a big mistake to attempt to explain the mental entirely in terms of the physical.

      • John S. Wilkins John S. Wilkins

        Okay. Let’s take this one-at-a-time.

        No, I am not a “Dennettian”. My views are my views, and inasmuch as I have been influenced by him, I have processed and added and trimmed as I see fit. I am a Wilkinsian, which is an uncomfortable position to hold, at times.

        I do not deny the existence of consciousness. I deny that those, like you, who make irreducible qualia and subjectivity the defining property of consciousness, are correct. You cannot just define the property into existence and then criticise me for not accepting your definition. That is a petitio.

        However, I do not think consciousness is a unitary property or state or substance. It is a name we give to physical systems that behave in a particular manner, in a particular context: it is a prototype term based on some idealised human exemplar like Socrates or Husserl.

        “Physical”, by the way, is whatever is describable fully by the ideal equations of an ideal physics. Our present physics is a damned good approximation, in my view. “Mental” is a term that is merely semantic; no actual property underlies it. What we call “consciousness” is the consensus output of many subsystems, in a social context. That’s it.

        Now, I cannot demonstrate this view, but it is licensed by neurophysiology and cognitive psychology, and it explains how psychological constructs work when elaborated. It is not up to me to show that it is true, but for you, who are making the much broader claim, to show that it is not, and you won’t achieve this by definition and stipulation. We are slaves to our language, but we need not be.

        Information is a similar sort of term: it merely indicates what is counted, out of what James called the blooming buzzing confusion of the world, as significant. It is, in short, a fact about us, not the world. We privilege our significations as if they determine or circumscribe reality, but unless you are a complete Idealist, they are insignificant in the larger scheme of things. It is purely anthropomorphism to think that what is true in our heads must be basic properties of the universe, and it is an error that you have fallen into, hook, line and sinker.

        There is a common philosophical moral failing, that people like Descartes, Nozick, the early Wittgenstein and others fall prey to: taking some set of premises as universal truths and then following the implications rigidly no matter where they go. That Schopenhauer could not see that the world was not really based on Will (and only the human aspect of it could have been anyway), or that postmodernists cannot see that how we construct our conceptual world is not going to set up the real world, indicates this rigid premise-following, and you do too. “Consciousness” in the traditional Cartesian sense is incoherent, and ascribing it to the world even more so.

      • John W., I certainly agree with you that we are “slaves to language.” Our task, then, in theory creation is to generate the most plausible theories (necessarily comprised of language) that paint as accurate a picture of empirical data as is possible. Parsimony and elegance are guideposts along the way to theory creation.

        You write: ““Physical”, by the way, is whatever is describable fully by the ideal equations of an ideal physics. Our present physics is a damned good approximation, in my view. “Mental” is a term that is merely semantic; no actual property underlies it. What we call “consciousness” is the consensus output of many subsystems, in a social context. That’s it.”

        But if “mental” is merely “semantic,” can you define semantic? I think you’ll find you can’t define semantic without assuming the reality of mental phenomena b/c “semantic” refers to meaning, which requires a subjective entity to experience meaning. Thus we are back to the materialist problem of including exactly half of the universe and excluding the rather important part in which meaning inheres. I am not suggesting any kind of Cartesian dualism; rather, I am suggesting a kind of dual aspectism in which matter and mental are two aspects of the same underlying thing. In Whiteheadian dual aspectism, subject and object oscillate in each moment and what is mental for a particular actual entity at a particular moment in time becomes an object for all other actual entities in the next moment in time.

        And if you, like Dennett, accept the reality of conscious experience, how do you get a complete worldview by appealing to objects that are defined as wholly non-conscious? How do you get a perspective from a universe that you have defined as purely non-perspectival?

        You write: “It is purely anthropomorphism to think that what is true in our heads must be basic properties of the universe, and it is an error that you have fallen into, hook, line and sinker.”

        My position is not anthropomorphism as much as it is a legitimate “psychomorphism,” because we realize that mind must indeed be part of the very fabric of reality if we are to explain our very existence as human beings. We are here. We have minds – or, to be accurate, we are mind. What we call matter and mind are two aspects of the same thing – the outside and inside of matter, respectively. We are part of nature. Ergo, mind is ubiquitous, part and parcel of the unbroken fabric of reality. And to ignore this is to misunderstand nature and ourselves.

        Similarly, with respect to Schopenhauer, I highly recommend you read his book if you haven’t already (or haven’t in a long time). His claim that will is the fundament of the universe is literal, going far beyond human experience. You may of course disagree with him but he presents some powerful arguments along the way.

      • John S. Wilkins John S. Wilkins

        But if “mental” is merely “semantic,” can you define semantic? I think you’ll find you can’t define semantic without assuming the reality of mental phenomena b/c “semantic” refers to meaning, which requires a subjective entity to experience meaning.

        Again you define something into existence. Since Millikan’s book, we have had a perfectly good (although sometimes overextended) account of semantics as adaptive symbolic practices, one that is, in any case, consonant with Wittgenstein’s much earlier view. You cannot merely define your explanandum in ways that presuppose your explanans. It is question begging. If we can give non-mental accounts of semantics, or at any rate accounts of mental semantics that is purely physicalist, then your argument fails to get traction at all, and this is the case.

        Tam, I think unless you can see how you are begging questions here, we have no point in arguing. I’ll end this with an anecdote.

        In the 1950s, Julian Huxley proposed that there had to be a class of organisms that were what he called Psychozoa: a kingdom we and only we were part of. It never occurred to him that, (i) all our psychological properties exist in lesser forms in our relatives, and that (ii) this is a classic case of massive hubris, thinking that humans define the universe. Human cognition and language is a kind of physical process that evolved from non-linguistic and non-cognitive objects. It did so gradually, and at some point it became so obvious we thought there had to be a massive gap between us and the rest of the living world, when all research shows that we are just one species among many, and our abilities are better in some ways and worse in others than other species.

        Your insistence that humanity defines the universe is the starting point for your panpsychism, and it is most definitely a form of anthropomorphism. All this guff about subjectivity and so on is just language games. Nobody can say exactly what they mean by subjectivity terms. But it is somehow supposed to trump all our physical knowledge? Give me a break.

        So far you have tried several rhetorical tricks. One is to accuse me of denying consciousness, when I clearly said that I explained consciousness as an illformed term for things that arise from physical and non-conscious systems. Another is to deny that I accounted for subjectivity, when I linked to a post that gave such an argument. You at least backed down on that one. But the main one is to define yourself to victory. It’s not impressive and is fooling nobody but you.

  9. John Harshman John Harshman

    I will also question the definitions of “male” and “female” used here. That may be the definition used (metaphorically, I think) in prokaryotes. But in most eukaryotes, there’s no such thing as genome donors and genome accepters. Two haploid genomes get combined into one diploid genome, usually in a new individual. Females are defined as producers of large gametes, usually non-motile, while males are defined as producers of small gametes, usually motile. If gametes are the same size, as is sometimes the case, there are no males or females. Female gametes are large because they generally provide most of the non-genetic resources to the zygote. From this can follow a great deal in terms of parental investment strategies. But remember that in many species, one individual can produce both sorts of gametes.

    • ckc (not kc) ckc (not kc)

      …in MOST flowering plant species one individual WILL produce both sorts of gametes

      • ckc (not kc) ckc (not kc)

        “most” being roughly 85% of the 250,000-400,000 angiosperm species

  10. Matt S Matt S

    Sexual Selection is a subset of Natural Selection. Consider NS as defined as simply “differential reproductive success due to characteristics affected/determined by genetics”. It does not matter why you get the differential success, it could be because you got a better meal because you were faster, it could be because you got lucky because your mate likes your deep brown eyes. What matters for NS, for evolution, is that there was a genetic (that is, passable to the next generation) component.

    As for your claims about mind, consider pressure. It makes absolute sense to discuss the pressure of some collection of atoms, but a single atom does not have a pressure. It is very common actually for collections of things to have properties that the members don’t and visa versa. A populace can have an election, but an individual votes: different processes with different properties. That certainly collections of matter might have a property we call mind and others not have that property is not unreasonable and neither means that the individual atoms have mind.

  11. Sam C Sam C

    This is woo!

    As Matt S points out, sexual selection is part of Natural Selection (NS).

    Tam says that sexual selection is Lamarckian through and through – that’s completely incorrect. Tam’s description of selection reminds me of the appalling Rupert Sheldrake whose first book drivelled on about how NS couldn’t explain why ostrich chicks hatched with pre-formed calluses on their knees even though they wouldn’t benefit from those calluses until later. Or does Tam agree with that? (in which case, it’s an “F” on Evolution 101!)

    Tam says that his Generalised Sexual Selection (GSS) does not necessarily include sex, so let’s drop the middle word and just call it Generalised Selection (GS, perhaps pronounced “gas” to distinguish it from “giss”?) . Assuming that he’s excluding Artificial Selection (AS), that is, selective breeding of plants and animals by humans, then GS is simply a redefinition of NS plus added woo.

    I cannot agree that sexual selection is special because females choose their mates (presumably Tam is thinking about peacocks and similar gaudy birds). Firstly and pedantically, it’s not females that always choose mates, and Joan Roughgarden has some interesting thoughts on male displays possibly being about impressing other males, not the females (why do guys buy Ferraris? as chick magnets or for social status in the male hierarchy?). But ordinary NS uses the same choices: animals will prefer different sorts of prey, accepting some and rejecting others, which leads (amongst other things) to mimicry. The fact that nature’s organisms are sentient and have cognition does not mean they are not part of NS.

    Tam also says there is no selection in NS. I think he means that there is nobody (or no mind) doing the selecting. That’s partly the point: the term NS was coined in contra-distinction to AS; it is nature that decides which organisms reproduce rather than the artifice of the human breeder. NS is not a theory of mind, or of non-mind. It’s a theory of agency; that nature is the agent, not humans. And agency does not imply mindfulness.

    I agree with Tam that physics/biology can’t really explain the mind well. I find they seem to explain decently well why other people and animals are sentient and react as they do, but they don’t really explain how this particular bundle of cells has a me-ness that other bundles of cells don’t.

    But to go from that to arguing panpsychicism is ridiculous. It’s an argument from ignorance: I/we don’t understand, therefore panpsychicism. A “mind of the gaps” instead of a “god of the gaps”.

    What Tam seems to be saying is: some events happen quasi-randomly or at least unpredictably, therefore some mind must be making the choices. And that mind is everywhere. And that mind is the Generalised Sexual Selector. It is an Argument from First Causes in a cloak of woo.

    Science relies on evidence from the material world. This is not science, this is not philosophy, it is simple speculation. Do the science, find some evidence, then develop the hypothesis.

    • Sam C, I don’t argue that panpsychism follows necessarily because materialism fails. In other work (see the other parts of my series or email me for my longer paper on these topics) I explain how materialism, dualism and idealism fail to provide convincing explanations. Thus panpsychism is left as the most plausible explanation.

      • Sam C Sam C

        Thus panpsychism is left as the most plausible explanation.

        Bleugh. An argument from ignorance suitable for proving the existence of the Tooth Fairy. (And no thanks, I’m not interested in reading arguments about nonsense like idealism or dualism. )

        I don’t say materialism is The Truth and the only way forward; like any scientist, I am sure there are many phenomena in this universe that I not only don’t understand but that I barely can conceive of. But I reject any argument that my acknowledged ignorance means I should accept anybody else’s woo. Right here, right now, I can’t describe how magnets work but that’s not going to make me accept the Book of Mormon as true!

        Your panpsychism has a real whiff of the Intelligent Designer. And like arguments for ID, you justify your proposal by arguments based on a misunderstanding and/or misinterpretation of the basic science.

        Modern science works from the natural, material world and has always found this sufficient to explain everything observed, with the caveat that clearly we don’t understand everything now; knowledge at the bleeding edges is provisional, we know that we are not omniscient.

        As soon as you introduce supernatural, non-material forces, it is up to you to demonstrate how these forces work and why they are necessary to explain the natural, material world.

        A flurry of hand-waving which boils down to “well, I don’t really understand the biology, but it looks a good argument to me” is not adequate.

        You do not prove anything in science purely by argument, you need evidence. If panpsychism is a hypothesis of science, it fails completely on the basic of your analysis. If it’s a hypothesis of philosophy, I’m not the one to comment, but it doesn’t seem good philosophy to me if it’s justified simply by knocking down a row of uninteresting straw men.

      • Sam, check again: I’ve said nothing about supernatural forces. Rather, my entire effort is aimed at naturalizing what is most real to each of us: our own mind. And this effort at naturalization leads to some interesting insights about evolution, which I have detailed here.

  12. ckc (not kc) ckc (not kc)

    …just as an additional teaser thought – how would you deal with the (many) situations in flowering plants where the female and male (be they the same individual or different) are making their “choices” via sentient third parties (ants, bees, butterflies, birds, bats)? If the plants and their pollinators all have “mind” in their “matter”, the party gets pretty complicated (as, of course, mating systems in plants are wont to do).

    • ckc (not kc) ckc (not kc)

      …and the pollinators are, as often as not, both picking up pollen (to act as the donor) and delivering it from other plants. Are they male or female (stand-ins) in this instance?

    • ckc, it’s all about levels of choice. Each entity makes its own choices and we thus craft our GSS arguments around different levels of choice as appropriate. Ants, bees, etc., make their own choices. We can argue (I think metaphorically only) that plants make “choices” also, by way of explanation. I don’t at this time, however, think that plants have the requisite connectivity to have a unitary consciousness. Rather, it’s far more likely that the constituents of plants (cells are probably the appropriate level for unitary consciousness in this case) have their unitary consciousness and decide to work together cooperatively, akin to an ant colony, which Wilson describes as a “super-organism.”

      I’m writing a paper on these issues now that will suggest a detailed research agenda to establish what results in unitary consciousness and what is a “mere aggregate.”

      • ckc (not kc) ckc (not kc)

        …well, I’ll just pick a few little bits out of what I find a very confusing explanation. Leaving aside the pollinators (my bad for introducing the complication), are you saying that the “entity” in flowering plants that makes its “choice” (mating choice, since we’re talking about sexual selection, no?) out of a “unitary consciousness” is some subset of the whole organism (a concept admittedly difficult to circumscribe in some plants) – a cell is your suggested subset? – which works together cooperatively (with other cells?, same tissue?, same organ?) to make a plant like a peacock/peahen? While plants have an underappreciated capacity to sense their environments, and coordinate their “body”, I still don’t understand how, short of major twisting of the term, one can say that sexual selection in the traditional sense (mate choice based on [assessment of] secondary sexual characteristics?) is a factor in their evolution. And if it doesn’t apply to plants, it may be an important factor in (animal) evolution, but no more than that.

        (Mating systems in plants are plenty complex and interesting enough *without* sexual selection!)

      • ckc, keep in mind that are two generally recognized aspects to sexual selection: 1) male-male competition for females; 2) female choice of males. In the case of plants, there are many cases of competition, pollen tube competition, for example, that allow one to make a good argument for this type of sexual selection being present in plants. The Willson paper I mentioned previously makes this case. However, the more interesting type of sexual selection (and the key point of my article) relates to female choice of mates, and I agree with you that there seems to be little good evidence that plants manifest choice in this regard. Rather, what I suggested in my last comment was that to make any discussion of choice productive in this context we will probably have to confine our analysis to the cellular level, rather than the whole plant level, because we can make a more coherent case for a very rudimentary unitary consciousness at the plant cell level than we can at the whole plant level. And in this case the cellular explanation would have to be further confined to plant germ cells. With this limited scope it doesn’t seem that framing plant evolution as a result of female choice adds a great deal of explanatory power. Grant argued in his 1994 paper that sexual selection shouldn’t be considered applicable to plants at all because it hasn’t been demonstrated that plants have secondary sexual characteristics, which Grant insists must be present for sexual selection to be invoked. I see no good rationale, however, for being this dogmatic because even Grant agrees that there is no bright line between primary and secondary sexual characteristics. Others feel different, however, including Willson and in a more recent paper Skogmyr and Lankinen:

      • ckc (not kc) ckc (not kc)

        …well, the Skogmyr and Lankinen paper is reasonable summary of what I would consider some elements of the non-random mating that are common in plants. They specifically rule out cognitive choice, and I must admit I see no added explanatory value in invoking rudimentary unitary consciousness at the level of plant germ cells to explain the processes they’re discussing.

  13. PK PK

    “I won’t delve into further details about the testability and falsifiability of GSS here.” Why not, since these go to the heart of whether you have a scientific theory or just a collection of arguable metaphysical preferences that you tend to present as if they were logical necessities? In particular, I’ve pointed out elsewhere your error in thinking that the law of non-contradiction rules out “mind emerges from nonmind.” This would be the case if the word “is” is always and everywhere equivalent to “emerges from.” It isn’t.

    • PK, I’ve got leave testability and falsifiability for later discussion because I haven’t thought through those issues yet.

      As for the law of non-contradiction, note the word “akin” in my comment in this thread. And also note that I have in my more complete discussion in Part IV of this series accepted that “implausibility” is a better word than “impossibility” because at this level of abstraction who is to say what is truly possible or not?

  14. PK PK

    I also know from previous discussion that you believe conscious simple subjects emerged from chaos at the beginning of the universe and that sometimes simple subjects “resonate” in such a way as to lead to complex subjects (e.g., humans) and sometimes don’t (e.g., rocks). On your view, emergences like these (conscious subjects from chaos; complex subjects from simple ones) are logical impossibilities, so it’s curious to see you still using the law of non-contradiction to disqualify views contrary to yours when, if it really was applicable in the sense you claim, it would disqualify yours as well.

    • PK, as I explained in great detail in my comments to you in Part IV of this series, it’s all about parsimony and avoiding philosophical profligacy. We can accept that it’s implausible for ontological Category B to emerge from Category A many times in the history of the universe but also accept that to have anything at all there had to have been emergence of Category A from Category Omega at the beginning of the ontological chain of being. Far better for the plausibility of our explanations for this type of miracle to occur just once rather than many many times.

  15. PK PK

    And as I’ve replied previously: The principle of parsimony might satisfy the aesthetic instincts of philosophers engaged in spinning and arguing about theories, but it isn’t a logical or causal factor constraining the operation of natural processes. Second, the emergence of matter/energy along with the initial conditions and laws governing the universe that would eventually lead to consciousness is something that needs to have occurred only once. The emergence of consciousness in specific creatures at specific times would be multiple instantiations of that one initial occurrence. It would, to use your word, require only one “miracle.” I assume you would make the same argument for only one “miracle”–the emergence of conscious simple subjects from chaos along with the laws governing their behavior– to account for the emergence multiple times of “complex subjects” from “resonances” of simple subjects.

  16. PK PK

    Actually, it’s erroneous to say that in your scheme consciousness emerges only once. Whereas in the traditional view, consciousness came into existence in one particular genealogically related subclass of entities that make up the universe, in your view, consciousness emerged many, many times: each time that one of the “simple subjects” that constitute the universe popped into actual existence out of chaos. It’s difficult to see why your explanation is supposed to be more parsimonious.

    • PK, it’s a single case of emergence insofar as it is a type of emergence. Yes, in my ontology simple subjects (the basic constituents of the universe) emerge readily from the neutral substrate, with an accompanying maximally simple consciousness. But even though this happens an infinite number of times, it is only one type of radical emergence. We can frame the argument similarly for the emergentist materialist view that you advocate IF you acknowledge that what you describe as “potential consciousness” is not something different in kind from consciousness. Rather, it’s just rudimentary consciousness and it scales as matter scales in complexity. Otherwise, you’re back to explaining why actual consciousness, as opposed to “potential consciousness,” emerges at time t instead of time t + 1 or time t – 1. The argument from continuity (nature abhors sharp breaks) weighs heavily against this latter explanation.

  17. PK PK

    You have mentioned elsewhere the emergence of complex, unitary subjects from simple subjects as something that occurs when “resonance” conditions among those simple subjects are appropriately met. Clearly, this must occur at a given time t instead of at time t – 1 (when those conditions have not been met) or at time t + 1 (after those conditions have already been met). So the emergence of complex, unitary subjects occurs at time t and not t – 1 or t +1. If I’m to be criticized for saying that some radical change occurs at time t that does not occur before or after, then your explanation is subject to the same criticism. Of course, that would depend on your having empirical evidence that nature abhors sharp breaks, beyond its being one of your metaphysical assumptions.

    If you can claim that your many radical emergences of consciousness are only of “one type” and therefore should not be considered multiple miracles—the word you use elsewhere to characterize sharp ontological breaks–I don’t see why you deny the same privilege to my view that all emergences of conscious from nonconscious matter are of one type.

    However, in fact, by definition, there is no general naturalistic law of which miracles are individual manifestations. The emergence at the origin of the universe of each consciousness-expressing simple subject from chaos is a fresh miracle.

    The rhetorical arm wrestling over definitions and assertions of what most plausibly can or cannot occur seems to have come down to something akin to angelology, only now, not “How many angels can dance on the head of a pin,” but whether your infinity of self-acknowledged miracles is more plausible than my large number of what you call miracles.

    • Not so fast PK. I’ll certainly agree with you that at this level of discussion it’s difficult to pin much down because we are so far divorced from normal experience. And I’ll also suggest that there is no wrong or right answer at this level. We are, after all, discussing the origin of the universe and of consciousness itself!

      However, as I’ve mentioned to you before I do have a plausible explanation of how complex subjects spring from simple subjects. Moreover, I don’t categorize this as the type of “miracle” of emergence that the emergentist materialist view of mind supports because I am suggesting with my explanation a way in which like springs from like (“more complex Category springing forth from less complex Category A), not Category B springing from diametrically opposed Category A.

      My proposed explanation of how complex subjects spring forth from simple subjects (and other complex subjects as many hierarchical/holarchical levels of complexity are transcended) relies on viewing time as quantized, rather than continuous. So just as matter is quantized in today’s quantum theory, I posit that time is also quantized, a view that is catching on in physics circles also. Subjectivity and objectivity oscillate in each actual entity as each time quantum advances.

      But you and I have discussed this previously and I don’t want to wear out my welcome at John’s blog by going into too much detail here.

      • Sam C Sam C

        With so much Quantum, this must be mighty powerful woo!

  18. John W., we are indeed speaking past each other. Let me give this one last shot and if this doesn’t work we’ll just agree to disagree and that’s fine.

    There are no “tricks” here. There are no questions being begged. There is nothing being defined into existence. I’m simply trying, as people have done for millennia, to explain the world we experience in a way that makes sense and doesn’t ignore what we know – the only thing we know.

    John, literally all you know is your experience, the world of phenomena in your head. This is what I mean by consciousness, subjectivity, etc. There is no question begging. There is the sim,ple fact of experience. You know nothing other than your experience. And me too. This is all we know. Literally.

    So when you try to define your experiential world purely in “physical” terms, you’re simply giving a name to the world of phenomena that seems to you to be “out there” as opposed to “in here,” in your head. But it’s all in your head. It’s all mental. But this is just another word.

    What we’re trying to get at in discussing “mental” and “physical” is how each of us, as a center of experience, exists in relation to the rest of our universe that seems in a very convincing way to be separate from the center of experience that comprises each of us. When you talk about “physical” as being the world described by physics, this is just another way of saying that you are agreeing with the various empirical regularities observed by physicists and agreeing to use their vocabulary to explain your phenomenal/experiential world.

    I am not saying that there is no objective world separate from your (or my) experience. I am a “scientific realist” in that I believe we can infer much about the world separate from our own experience based on our own experience. But we can never know the “thing in itself,” as Kant and other philosophers have pointed out correctly.

    You unjustifiably accuse me of anthropomorphism because it seems you haven’t come to accept that literally all we know is experience. If all we know is experience, this becomes, then, the sine qua non of all explanations because everything else flows from that personal experience. So, again, my approach is not anthropomorphism but a legitimate psychomorphism that accepts that our only evidence for the inferred universe separate from our own individual subjectivity is through and through subjective/experiential. So any explanation/theory of the universe that ignores this fundamental subjectivity is going to fall flat.

    As Russell and many others have pointed out, physics examines the relations of things only – not what things are actually are. And because physics examines the relations of things, not their insides, it cannot by definition explain consciousness unless we adjust the definitions and approaches used in physics. This is why my forthcoming paper, Kicking the Psychophysical Laws Into Gear, attempts to do.

    In the last analysis, however, our approaches are more similar than they are different. I agree entirely with you that we are part of the unbroken continuum of nature – this is in fact a major argument (the argument from continuity) for panpsychism! We are conscious, we have clearly evolved from simpler ancestors, nature abhors sharp breaks, ergo: consciousness very likely itself exists in some form (maximally rudimentary in most cases) throughout the universe. If you acknowledge the reality of consciousness, add your perspectivism approach on top, you have panpsychism by a different name – what I have referred to previously as crypto-panpsychism.

    I urge you to read Part II of my series where I address these issues in more detail:

  19. PK PK

    A few final comments.

    Every event in the universe occurs when it does and not before, including everything you claim happened. When you keep challenging me to explain why consciousness emerged when it did and not before, you’re simply repeating your commitment to the view that no prior conditions can lead to this emergence. Since this is the entire basis of the argument, and we’ve gone around on it many times already, there’s no point in bringing it up each time as though it were a fresh issue.

    Your claim that the most fundamental units of matter/energy are so like humans that the transition from the former to the latter is a merely a quantitative change seems less a plausible assumption of your theory than a reductio ad absurdam suggesting why it shouldn’t be considered plausible at all. On the other hand, I realize that your explanation in terms of chronons and resonances seems reasonable to you.

    You say that nature abhors sharp breaks, yet you offer no empirical evidence that this is the case. In fact, you speak of both matter and time as being quantized rather than continuous. So apparently nature doesn’t abhor sharp breaks after all.

    Finally, to repeat: If you can claim that your many radical emergences of consciousness are only of “one type” and therefore should not be considered multiple miracles, I don’t see why you deny the same privilege to my view that all emergences of conscious from nonconscious matter are of one type and therefore should not be considered multiple miracles.

    However, in fact, by definition, there is no general naturalistic law of which miracles are individual manifestations. The emergence at the origin of the universe of each consciousness-expressing simple subject from chaos is a new miracle, even if all of these miracles are of the same type.

    So we’re reduced to arguing whether your infinity of what you acknowledge are miracles is more plausible than my large number of what you call miracles.

  20. MarkD MarkD

    Tam, I just encountered your discussion and wanted to add a few late-comers notes:

    (1) Is panpsychism necessary to explain sexual selection? There are a range of theories that position SS as a possible (and even highly likely) outcome of NS. Coping with rapidly changing threat topographies is one such theory (Red Queen and all that). But another compelling model is “genetic defect expurgation” where deleterious mutations can be purged through exposure in heterozygous chromosomal structures (see Atmar, On the Role of Males).

    (2) You seem to be looking for a telonomy (as opposed to teleology). The notion that purpose-like behavior can be self-organized doesn’t strike me as requiring panpsychism. It can, instead, be simply a consequence of an “informational physics” where adaptive algorithms are inevitable. Self-awareness and the traits we ascribe to consciousness are adaptive algorithms of a unique form that transcends phylogeny and ontogeny and leads to noogeny (though I don’t want to evoke Teilhard de Chardin in this context).

    (3) The specific indicators of consciousness in your panpsychism lead us towards some kind of Emperor’s New Mind arguments that have not been productive, instructive, or blockers to progress in AI.

  21. Hi MarkD,

    1) I agree with you that SS can be invoked without panpsychism – indeed, Darwin himself was no panpsychist to my knowledge. Rather, panpsychism is strong support for the “generalized sexual selection” I advocate in this essay. And when we realize that life is a continuum with no definite starting point, and that sexual selection relies on (primarily female) choice, we find also strong support the other way, from SS to panpsychism.

    2) “Purpose-like” is not purposeful. The problem, of course, is distinguishing the two. We can never actually know whether anything (literally) other than ourselves is purposeful/conscious/experiential, but we can infer such based on evidence. The lines of reasoning I’ve sketched in this and other essays have compelled me to the view that all constituents of our universe are fundamentally purposeful – indeed, this is the sine qua non of existence itself when we think deeply (Schopenhauer, etc.).

    3) There are some parallels between the version of panpsychism I advocate and Penrose’s ideas, though I confess I have never quite understood his non-computability argument (perhaps I should go back now and review it again…). In particular, his Orch OR model, with Hameroff, is intriguing and perhaps could be called quasi-panpsychist. However, a major problem with their model is that they continue to rely on non-Bohmian interpretations of QM. I believe their model would be improved considerably through a Bohmian interpretation. Bohm was himself influenced by Whitehead and was a panpsychist (even electrons display purposeful behavior). It’s important to note, however, that my version of panpyschism is in now way mysterian. I have proposed in other work a quantitative model for consciousness (consciousness is the product of perceptual bandwidth and internal connectivity, with the boundaries of such analysis the key empirical question to be worked out) that makes the panpsychist vs. materialist debate far more tractable. My framework could be used in the future to determine if there is in fact a conscious entity in any given AI – or just an interesting simulation of consciousness.

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