By Hilan Bensusan
I've been thinking about Gallen Strawson's points about physicalism and panpsychism.
His 2006 piece, "Why physicalism entails panpsychism" brings in Eddington (and also Russell and to some extent Carnap and Feigl) to his side of the argument. In a footnote (21), he finds in Smart's work the beginning of an outdescartesing Descartes movement that made physicalism go astray and panpsychism an alien idea. The idea is that if the brain (or the nervous system) is capable of experience, either there is something non-physical about it that distinguishes it from the rug under my feet or the capacity to experience is physical. This is because the idea of emergence of the capacity to experience is hard to explain, there is a left-over of mystery that makes Strawson utterly unsatisfied. It is as unlikely as (or actually even more bizarre than) the idea that space itself can emerge from non-spatial entities. Now, the physics we have only measure some dimensions of both my brain and the rug under my feet. In favor of the capacity of my brain for experience lies my own experience. I could then go on in a speculative leap - as the physics we have (or will ever attain) doesn't prevent the rug itself to experience. Strawson cites Eddington: "It seems rather silly to prefer to attach [the physical] to something of a so called 'concrete' nature inconsistent with thought, and then to wonder where the thought comes from". The measurements of physics are just silent about thought or experience, both in the brain and in the rug. Why would we be (convinced by the followers of Smart to be) speculatively inconsistent and ascribe experience and thought to one but not to the other? This is what Strawson finds incredible and crazy - we could suspend judgment about the rug to be to the safe side, but why would we assume it has nothing similar to the brain that thinks and experience? It seems to Strawson that this is untenable - at least for physicalists who don't want to appeal to something non-physical to account for experience.
I guess Strawson's Eddingnton-driven direction is very close to Whitehead's. And, indeed, much of the point he does about experience - a Whiteheadian point, indeed - could be extended to agency. If agency is physical (and not something supernatural that is added to constitute, say, the laws of nature), it either is present in some physical items or in all. If we say some physical items are agency-free, we will have to explain the difference - emergence seems to be about the only alternative to do that. But it is equally implausible to imagine that agency-free components will get together and bring about agency. (I tend to understand agency as the capacity to genuinely start something, and it is not easy to understand arise from a aggregate of non-starting components from a straight physicalist point of view.) It seems more plausible to posit agency everywhere, as a physical dimension that is not measured by (current) physics. And clearly, it seems to me that the distinction between starters and followers is fundamental - at least if we think in terms of arché, commencement-and-command - and the only way it can fail to exist is if there is nothing that is purely a follower in the world.
In any case, it seems like Strawson clearly enlists himself in the panpsychist turn cause. Further, he suggests that it is only under the influence of Smart and his followers that philosophy has experienced an interlude where panpsychism was unimaginable.