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The Combination Problem

I’m now faced with the problem of how a collection of minds, each mind being associated with an object within a cohesive system of objects, can combine to yield a single over-arching mind that is associated with the system as a whole - e.g. cells combine to yield an organism, so how do the minds of the cells combine to yield the mind of the organism? This objection is known as the “combination problem” and was first raised by William James as “the mind dust problem”. The reductionist paradigm presupposes that the components of a compound system are ontologically distinct entities bound together into a cohesive framework by means of “the forces of nature” (gravitational, electromagnetic, and the weak and strong nuclear forces). However, the idea of mutual immanence entailed by panexperientialism implicates an underlying wholeness by virtue of parts appearing within each other in a kind of global network that will be referred to as the “all-in-all”, and this idea suggests how this problem might be resolved. Any compound system, or cohesive collection of objects, will entail that each member of that collection plays a strong role within the minds associated with each of the other members of that collection. The strength of coupling between objects comprising a compound system would vary between different kinds of compound system. There is a sense in which the molecules in a bacterium cell might be considered strongly coupled and the molecules in a grain of sand weakly coupled, and this would be reflected in the strengths of the roles played by other members of a system within the mind of each member of that system. Thus the mind associated with the bacterium cell (regarded as a collection of interacting molecules) would be relatively well defined in comparison with the mind associated with the grain of sand, the latter being perhaps too nebulous to warrant serious consideration as a distinct mind. Systems that are too nebulous to warrant serious consideration in terms of an over-arching mind will be referred to as aggregates.

This presents us with a set of connected “hierarchies of minds” where each hierarchy can be envisaged as a pyramid having its most simple constituents at its base and a single over-arching mind (associated with the compound object) at its apex, and (in contrast to the reductionist view) no member of the hierarchy being any more “fundamental” than any other. So panexperientialism introduces a holism that counterbalances the reductionist view, and the components of any compound system would already be connected by virtue of that holism. (It is interesting to note that this may also suggest a solution to the “binding problem” in neuroscience, possibly considered problematic only because of the reductionist paradigm that is so dominant in human thinking.) A common argument arraigned against panexperientialism is that it would assign minds to entities such as tables and chairs, but it should be clear that this is an incoherent objection since such entities would best be considered as aggregates rather than cohesive compound systems, and therefore too weakly coupled to be associated with distinct minds. 

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