August 01, 2006

Consciousness & Causality

A Place for Consciousness: Probing the Deep Structure of the Natural World (Philosophy of Mind Series) by Gregg Rosenberg
THE book to read about consciousness and/or causation, April 28, 2005 Reviewer: John R. Gregg - See all my reviews Rosenberg spends the first part of his book arguing against the various flavors of reductive materialism and functionalism, and for a more or less Whiteheadian form of panpsychism. He goes on to make some claims about the kinds of properties we would expect of proto-consciousness at the lowest levels. He points out that panpsychism commonly has a distinctly ad hoc air about it, in that we have a high level phenomenon, consciousness, and we explain it by jamming in a new cog in the machine at the lowest possible levels of physics.
He counters this by claiming that there are independent reasons for positing a layer underneath physics, and we can make certain claims about what this layer would have to be like completely without reference to the question of consciousness (or proto-consciousness), and in the end the properties we demand of this sub-physics layer match up nicely with the properties we require of proto-consciousness. His layer underneath physics is causation. David Hume is the West's great philosopher of causation, and Rosenberg argues that Humean causation can not be the whole story, and that we should think about causation a bit more.
"Causation is a funny thing. We do not understand it." Rosenberg says that time and space are higher-level concepts than causation, and are derived from it. He quotes Brian Cantwell-Smith: "Distance is what there is no action at." And Rosenberg himself: "There is a causality condition on locality, not a locality condition on causality." He goes on to argue about the causal mesh, and the sorts of laws of physics which could be built out of different configurations of effective and receptive properties of objects, and what constitutes an object in the first place. Then he ties it all back to consciousness at the end.
If Rosenberg is right, he should get a Nobel prize. If he is wrong, his is still an Important Book, because it actually pounds a stake in the ground and lays out a theory, or at least a template of a future theory. No one else does this. Even in this fringey branch of philosophy, people are much too conservative, and Rosenberg has boldly gone where no one has gone before. But he has done so rigorously, level headedly, admitting where he is being speculative, but arguing why the circumstantial evidence supports his speculations. Home

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