CURRENT READING – THE BIG PICTURE (seventh continuation)

Carroll continues the physicalist argument into consciousness which he argues is more reasonably explained within the Core Theory than outside it. He compares the working of the human brain to a computer deploying dual process theory for mentation where System 1 is the subconscious and System 2 is the conscious, a concept he sees hinted at in Plato’s three-part personality.  The hallmark of consciousness is the ‘inner mental experience’ which he believes evolved to accommodate the land-based animal’s need to plan. Nonetheless thought in the brain simply corresponds to charged particles hopping between neurons which make up a network structure or connectome. This structure is hierarchal and in the words of the mathematician a “small world network.”

Carroll admits it is not clear that if we mapped all the neurons of brain we would have a ‘mind,’ but he scoffs at the idea of the brain as similar to a radio receiver of a non-material soul or mind as damage to the brain can result in remarkable changes in personality. As an example he refers to the Capgras delusion where a person with a particular type of brain injury recognizes other people but no longer experiences their previous emotional connection to them.

From there he expands on the problem of understanding consciousness by discussing the Turing Test, the Chinese Room, and solipsism. He concludes the poetic naturalist does not see consciousness as “a fundamental kind of stuff…like searching for the virus that causes a known disease… the concepts of ‘consciousness’ and ‘understanding’ are ones that we invent in order to give ourselves more useful and efficient descriptions of the world.”19  Nonetheless he addresses the Hard Problem – that is explaining qualia or our subjective experiences of the world such as the color red.  He takes on the classic knowledge argument of a scientist who knows everything about the meaning of a word such as red but has never seen something red and then goes on to experience it where some philosophers argue the experience itself adds new information for the scientist. Carroll thinks this takes nothing from the physicalist position as different synapses are involved in the two apprehensions of the color red (knowledge and vision).

I will bypass his discussion of the zombies argument and of quantum consciousness, but would like tto examine his discussion of panpsychism. He considers whether mental states might be another degree of freedom like charge or spin? Carroll thinks this is contradicted by the known science of Core Theory where the number of degrees of freedom are already known for elementary particles. However if we assume such mental states have no effect on the physics of particles, then the world is already fully described without them. Moreover a Bayesian analysis makes panpsychism untenable as “consciousness seems to be an intrinsically collective phenomenon.” 20

(eighth continuation next post)


19Carroll, Sean, The Big Picture. Penguin Random House, LLC, New York, NY, 2016. ISBN 978-052595- 482-8, page 343.

20Ibid., page 365.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.