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A Chess Move Approach to ‘Choices’ in a Mental Cosmos

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IDEAS AND PERSPECTIVES
AChessMoveApproachtoChoicesin a Mental Cosmos
Jonathan C. W. Edwards
1
Received: 17 May 2018 /Accepted: 26 March 2019
#The Author(s) 2019
It is a great pleasure to respond to Henry Stappsthoughtson
fundamental issues, equally where there are points of com-
plete agreement, and where we clearly disagree. Stappsviews
are so uncompromising and so clear that they form the perfect
basis for constructive dialogue.
My own view of fundamental physics is that it should, and
does, follow from the basic principles identified by Leibniz
(1714). Leibniz gets forgotten in the history of science because,
unlike Newton, he insisted on addressing deeper questions that
are not always easily approachable. And in this I see a similarity
with Stapp. Both argue that there are certain awkward questions
to which answers are imperative. Both lay out the a priori re-
quirements for a solution. One may disagree with some of the
conclusions they draw, but the frameworks remain robust.
The first issue is realism. Realism may have two meanings
relevant here. One is that there is something dynamic really
going on that we as subjects relate to: a denial of solipsism or
extreme idealism. That I think we can agree on. The other is
that individual instances of what is really going on can be
envisaged in something like familiar terms - perhaps as waves
or particles. This is where Leibniz and I would say no.
However we try to describe an indivisible quantum of action
it cannot be in terms of internal mechanisms envisageable in
familiar terms. That would imply that the action could be
divided into sub-actions and by definition, for a theory of
indivisible quanta, that cannot be right.
This is not quite shut up and calculate,however,because
there is no suggestion that, as Kant might have it, there is some
unknowable thing in itself hiding from our ken. We can form a
complete metaphysical account, but one that requires some
abandoning of intuitive ideas concerning things like space
and time. We should not be worried by that, because
empirical neuropsychology tells us that the familiar
appearances of space and time are merely coded signs our
brains use to tell themselves about distal events. Even
Newton (1687) recognises this in his first Scholium.
An insistence on dynamic indivisibility, with Leibniz,
and of course Bohr, means that processes 1 and 2must
somehow be made one. This leads to what I call a chess
movemodel of the quantum of action. Consider the uni-
verseasanelectronicchessboard,withnomaterial
pieces, just a field of values. In chess, there are 64 values
at any time, either null, or pawn value or queen value etc.
A move has initial conditions, perhaps including knight
value for Q3 and null value for QB5. A possible knights
move leads to a reversal of these values. Nothing can be, or
need be, said about any sub-events in between.
What then does the wave equation describe? As I under-
stand it, the wave equation does not describe any single actual
action Ap or Aq. It may look like a description of something
progressing in time but is actually a formula that gives look up
tables for the probabilities of all possible actions, An, arising
from a set of initial conditions. A description of an actual
action defined by initial and final conditions at points in
spacetime does not involve probabilities. It happened; p = 1.
As Leibniz points out, an actual action Ap entails both a be-
ginning and an end. Without both it is not yet that unique
action Ap, merely one of many possibilities with no actual
identity. So there is never an electron mode Ep or photon Pp
on its waymaybe here or maybe there. Ep is a mode whose
entire unique history is actual, making it that mode.
This approach resolves the worry about supraluminal cau-
sation within a single quantum of action, as in the form of
emission of two entangled photons (akin to a castlingmove).
Withinamodeofactionthatonlyactuallyexistsintotothere
is no internal before or after. The spacetime metric is direc-
tionless and nothing progresses. What we think of as tempo-
ral direction has nothing specifically to do with the time metric
within descriptions of actions. It is the direction of sequence in
which the actions connect. The bar on supraluminal influence
only applies to the relations between points of connection
between actions. Within an action causation is simply a matter
of realisation of the possibility of that action occurring in the
*Jonathan C. W. Edwards
JO.EDWARDS@UCL.AC.UK
1
University College London, London, UK
Activitas Nervosa Superior
https://doi.org/10.1007/s41470-019-00040-5
context of the total pattern of field values over what may be a
vast domain of spacetime.
As Feynman (1966) points out, things get more subtle
when it becomes clear that the distinction between possibility
and actuality may not be black and white. There are compli-
cations here but I think Leibniz can show us how to navigate.
Perhaps the secret is to see everything, as Stapp proposes, in
mental terms. All that exist are actions and these, for Leibniz,
are by definition also perceptions from points of view. Events
are actual just to the extent that they entail relations of percep-
tion, or in dynamic terms, relations with other actions through
informing influence (not unreasonably cast as progression in
harmony). For an action to occur, it is not necessary for any
human being to perceive it directly but there must be at least
one other action with which the first action connects and in
that sense is perceived.
What emerges from this is the idea that, rather than having
a block universe, we have a universe consisting of miniblock
actions, with a directionless spacetime metric, connected in
sequence. Such miniblocks have been called various things
including causal diamonds(Savitt, 2002). I like the idea of
spacetime sequinsjoined by directional hook-and-eye con-
nections to form the fabric of the universe. I believe this is
very consistent with Stapps own view of stepwise moves
forward on an advancing quantum front.
The advancingnature of this front can be challenged on the
basis that if we assume all connecting points of each sequin are
co-defined we get an infinite regress of actuality fixed into eter-
nity. I think, however, that this relates to a different metaphysical
question that does not affect the validity of what has been said so
far and may in fact raise spurious ideas about passageof time.
Leibniz handles this with some skill. He points out that whatever
the future is going to be it is definitely going to be that future. But
that does not imply no range of possibilities for each connection.
There are, in some rather counterintuitive sense, choices,per-
haps atemporal choices, but choices all the same. The interesting
question is choices for whom?
I used to consider myself an atheist. However, some years
ago I realised that, perhaps surprisingly, those with a commit-
ment to some form of cosmic mentality, including both Stapp
and Leibniz, often seem to push harder on the awkward ques-
tions that underlie physical dynamics than atheist colleagues
in biology and physics. I came to realise that recognition of the
existence of Cosmic Mindor a Necessary Being,rather
than introducing unparsimonious duality, makes it simpler to
take logical imperatives to their proper conclusions. I think
that a Leibnizian concept of a totality of sufficient reasons
or necessary infinite beingcannot, and should not, be
avoided. Moreover, that necessary being must, if anything
does, entail mentality.
So, to be more specific, there seem to be two awkward and
interconnected questions about choicesin world dynamics.
The first is what exactly is meant by choice in this context.
The second is whether these are the choices of dynamic indi-
viduals or the choices of a universal cosmic mind.
The idea of choice being involved in fundamental
(quantum) dynamics is associated with Bohrs concept of
the observers role in choosing what measurement to make.
Although I may be wrong, I find it hard to relate choice in this
folk-psychological sense with the emergence of a particular
actual mode of action from a repertoire of possibilities. In this,
it seems that I differ from Stapp. The traditional concept of
choice is associated with a sense of motivation, which in turn
normally implies reason. Certainly, the cherished notion of
free will is associated with the idea that the individual can
follow their own motivations and reasons, rather than be a
slave to external forces. But, as Leibniz points out, the choices
associated with particular modes of action being actual lie
within the spectrum of possibility that sufficient reasons leave
open. Reason is that part of the story that is not optional.
As has been pointed out by others, for free will, or choice,
in the popular sense, to be of any value, it should be determi-
nate rather than stochastic. The choices associated with certain
actions becoming actual, in contrast, appear to be more truly
freein the sense of being beyond the scope of necessity,
being truly optional in a dynamic sense. This is not choice in
the folk-psychological sense but it is a real actualisation of
options that has to be recognised, alongside sufficient reason,
to account for world dynamics.
To whom or what would this sort of choice belong? An
attractive account might be that these must be the choices of
the cosmic mind or necessary being since this is where the
ultimate explanation for everything lies. Yet Leibniz argues
differently. The necessary being provides all sufficient reasons
but these choices are specifically outside reason. This gives rise
to the Christian position that these dynamic choices belong to
individual souls, which for Leibniz are the highest form of
modes of action. What highlights the counterintuitive nature
of these choices is that a soul, or mode of action, chooses its
own actuality. Since it does not even exist prior to actualisation
this is clearly not a choice in anything like the popular sense,
but that has already been conceded. Perhaps the concept of
ownership of choices of this sort is just inappropriate. I find this
very hard to resolve.
An extension of this argument about the role of a necessary
being or cosmic mind seems worth raising. Leibniz claims that
perceiving souls are imperfect because they are finite in terms
of being limited to one point of view. The necessary being is not
limited in this way and is as a result infinite and, as such,
perfect. That might imply that the necessary being also per-
ceives, or knows, but from the totality of points of view.
However, Leibniz also makes the point that the necessary being
is not located in space and time but beyond location. Its nature
is in the form of capabilities or powers. Like familiar reasons,
these transcend location. The reason why coal burns is not
located anywhere. Rather than attributing world dynamics to
Act Nerv Super
Godsactions, as Malebranche did, or His perception or
knowledge, Leibniz suggests talking in terms of understand-
ing, again a form of power without location. This to me is an
important distinction that separates what we might call cosmic
mind from mind in the popular sense. I do not think we should
expect cosmic mind to perceive or to know because these are
inherently limited dynamic concepts anchored in location.
Equally, I think it is mistake to talk of cosmic consciousness,
since consciousness is a form of knowing that is again implic-
itly limited and located. Nevertheless, I see this as quite com-
patible with the notion that the origin of our reality is primarily
mental, in the sense of giving rise to mental relations. The
physicalis the way other mentality is causally reflected within
each individual mental unit (or monad).
Taking fundamental dynamics in these sorts of terms my
view is that Leibnizs conception of a world composed of indi-
vidual dynamic units, each interacting with the whole according
to the totality of sufficient reasons presages modern fundamen-
tal physics in a very comprehensive way. Moreover, he pro-
vides a rationale for why at first quantum theory appears so
counterintuitive. A fundamental explanation in terms of dynam-
ic indivisibles has to be quite unlike an account of the dynamics
of material aggregates for simple logical reasons. An account of
the rules of chess moves is never going to look like an account
of lifting chess pieces.
It is often said that the two great remaining puzzles in science
are the nature of fundamental dynamics and the nature of mind. I
am in agreement with Stapp in suggesting that these two ques-
tions may be essentially one and the same. Nature is fundamen-
tally mental. That simple analysis, however, leaves a reasonable
amount of detail to fill in! My suspicion is that on the physics
side the really big paradigm shifts have been completed. I per-
sonally doubt that string theory or other similar mathematical re-
workings will prove crucial. Quantum field theory works re-
markably well and, for a Leibnizian, is metaphysically very sat-
isfactory! On the other hand, as a biologist, I am very aware that
bringing together fundamental physics and mind within the hu-
man brain, as we should expect to be able to do, is going to need
some significant paradigm shifts.
There is no space here to explore the role of indivisible
dynamic modes in human perception and consciousness in
detail. However, I think there is reason to be optimistic that
recent condensed matter physics may provide indivisible
modes of action that can make sense of qualitative experi-
ence. The observations of Bandyopadhyaysgroup(Sahu
et al. 2013) on long-range modes in cytoskeleton elements
are particularly encouraging. What I think may be more
relevant to Stapps proposals is a broader discussion of
the options for the nature and role of a human subject
in the dynamics. If a choiceis to be made and made by
an individual subject, what exactly is that subject, in dy-
namic terms? Surely, a human subject, to be efficacious,
must be some form of dynamic unit, and to perceive, it
must, as both Descartes and Leibniz claim, be indivisible
in its relation to the world.
In terms of detailed application of basic principles, however, I
part company with Leibniz (1765) here and side with his sparring
partner in the New Essays on Human Understanding: John
Locke. Locke held that there was no enduring human soul be-
yond a narrative train held together by the mechanism of mem-
ory. For Locke, there was no need to find a fundamental indivis-
ible dynamic unit that existed throughout a human lifetime, or
indeed beyond into eternity. Lockes approach is much easier to
marry with a modern physics in which indivisible dynamic
modes are considered evanescent. Leibniz claimed that a human
soul existed for all time. As Russell said, it is hard to see how
such an enduring actioncould be indivisible, particularly when
Leibniz himself appears to divide its history into a sequence of
petite perceptions. Whitehead seems to provide a useful alter-
native in making the fundamental dynamic unit a transient oc-
casion of experience. But then he wants to combine occasions
into a nexus that is an enduring subject. Leibnizsdenialofsuch
combination is one of the strengths of his position.
Leibniz does of course claim a multiplicity of monadic souls
(i.e. indivisible actions) within a human being. For him, each cell
has its dominant mode of action, and each organ. But he insists
that there is one dominant enduring rational soul. Modern
neuroscience casts doubt on that. Within a human brain, it is
implausible that there should be single dominant mode of
action of the sort Descartes seated in the pineal. And
Anscombe (1975) pointed out that we have no justification for
assuming that there is a single Iwithin a brain either over time
or at a point in time. Ironically, within materialist mainstream
neuroscience, the prevailing view is still of a single continuous
ownerof conscious experience, despite the denial of any unique
event of dynamic integrationa position that seems less coher-
ent than Descartes.
If we accept Lockes argument that memory can account for a
sense of an enduring self when no temporally enduring indivis-
ible unit exists, then a multiplicity of consciousdynamic units
both over time and at a point in time seems to be most consistent
with neuroscience. The fact that each person only reports one
particular type of experience at a time is consistent with there
being only one pattern of external events to form the referent
content of all internal experiences. Consonance is ensured by a
common input from sense organs. Moreover, it is presumably
merely a matter of wiring to ensure that verbal reports always
reflect the content of experience for certain very specific modes
of action associated with computational events within the brain at
a particular level. Computers are readily programmed to report
the data content of very specific sub components. Panpsychism
was never the bogeyman.
This discussion only scratches the surface of unanswered
questions in brain dynamics but I think issues of this sort will
need resolving before we can make substantive progress in un-
derstanding our mentality. If dynamic choicesoccur in brains,
Act Nerv Super
in association with actualisation of certain actions, as it seems
they must, then these choices look to be far removed from the
folk-psychological sense of the term. Observation of outside
events, including those in physics experiments, will involve vast
numbers of indivisible actions becoming actualised and as yet we
do not have much idea which ones have the mentality we think
of as that of a human subject. These events occur within a cosmic
framework that we have every reason to consider mentalbut,
not being tied to location in spacetime, the source of mentality
must remain ineffable.
The job in hand is to try to bring all these considerations from
different disciplines together in order to get a true understanding
of the relation of human subjects to their world. That interdisci-
plinary effort may have been relegated to low priority for much
of the twentieth century. However, the motivation to address the
task may now be re-emerging, in good part thanks to individuals
like Henry Stapp never taking their eye off the ball.
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In the literature on time in the twentieth century stemming from J. M. E. McTaggart's famous argument for the unreality of time, two gems stand out. The first is C. D. Broad's patient dissection of McTaggart's argument in the chapter ‘Ostensible Temporality’ in his Examination of McTaggart's Philosophy . Broad carefully, and to my mind persuasively, uncovers the root errors in McTaggart's argument. In addition he tentatively proposes that the features of time that he calls its transitory aspect can be explained in terms of a dynamic aspect of time that he calls Absolute Becoming.