Let me go through my full chain of reasoning here, before I draw my
So the world that I perceive seems pretty orderly. When I drive to
work, it's always where I expect it to be. The people are always the
same. I pick up where I left off on the previous day, and life
generally proceeds in an orderly and predictable way. Even when
something unexpected happens, I can generally trace back along a chain
of cause and effect and determine why it happened, and understand both
why I didn't expect it and why I probably could have.
In my experience thus far, there have been no "Alice in Wonderland"
style white rabbits that suddenly appear in a totally inexplicable
way, make a few cryptic remarks while checking their pocket watch, and
then scurry off.
Why do I never see such white rabbits?
Well, at first glance, something like physicalism seems like the
obvious choice to explain my reality's perceived order - to explain
both what I experience AND what I *don't* experience. The world is
reducible to fundamental particles (waves, strings, whatever) which
have certain properties (mass, velocity, spin, charge, etc) that
determine how they interact, and it all adds up to what I see.
In this view, what I see is ultimately determined by the starting
conditions of the universe, plus the physical laws that govern the
interaction of the fundamental elements of the universe, applied over
how-many-ever billions of years. While no explanation is given for
the initial conditions, or why the fundamental laws of physics are
what they are, if you get past that then from a cause-and-effect stand
point physicalism offers a pretty solid explanation for why my world
is orderly and predictable, and why I don't see white rabbits.
And in the form of functionalism/computationalism + evolution it even
offers a pretty good foundation for explaining the existence and
mechanism of human behavior and ability.
But physicalism has a major drawback: It doesn't obviously explain
the experience of consciousness that goes with human behavior and
ability. Particles, waves, mass, spin, velocity...no matter how you
add them up, there doesn't seem to be any way to get conscious
Which is a problem, since consciousness is the portal through which we
access everything else. My conscious experience is what I know. I
"know" of other things only when they force themselves (or are forced)
into my conscious awareness.
So, physicalism does explain why we see, what we see, and why we don't
see white rabbits. But it doesn't seem to explain the conscious
experience OF seeing what we see.
Further, by positing an independently existing and well ordered
external universe to explain our orderly perceptions, we have just
pushed the question back one level. The new questions are, why does
this external universe exist and why is it so orderly? BUT, this
initially seems justified by the fact that physicalism explains how it
is possible for us to make correct predictions.
BUT, actually it explains nothing.
Nothing has been explained because we are PART of the system that we
are trying to explain by appealing to physicalism. If the order and
predictability of our experiences are due to the initial conditions of
the universe and the laws of physics, then we inhabit a universe whose
entire future, including our existence and all of our activities and
experiences, is fixed. Frozen in place by unbreakable causal
Effectively (and maybe actually), the entire future of the universe
can be seen as existing simultaneously with its beginning. We could
just as well say that the entire past, present, and future came into
being at one instant, and we are just experiencing our portion of it
But there is no "explanation" here. This "block universe" just IS.
It just exists. It came into being for no reason, for no purpose,
with no meaning. It exists in the form that it does, and there is no
answer to the question "why?". We are part of that universe, existing
entirely within it and contained by it. Therefore we also just
exist. For no reason, for no purpose, with no meaning, our future
history also frozen in place by causal chains. What is true for the
universe as a whole is true for it's contents.
Any explanation we derive is purely local to our particular
viewpoint. In reality there is no explanation. Explanations are as
subjective as experience. Of course this doesn't mean that I get to
pick my preferred explanations, BUT I don't get to pick my experiences
To try an make what I'm saying more clear: let's imagine a real
block. Say, a block of speckled granite. Now let's consider two
adjacent specks of white and gray. Why are they adjacent? What
caused them to be adjacent? Well, if we consider this block of
granite within the context of our universe, then we can say that there
is a reason in that context as to why they are adjacent. There is an
explanation, which has to do with the laws of physics and the
contingent details of the geologic history of the area where this
block of granite was formed (which is in turn derived from the
contingent details of the initial state of our entire universe).
BUT if we take this block of granite to be something that just exists,
uncaused and unique, like our universe, then there can be no
explanation. The two specks are just adjacent. That's it. No
further explanation is possible. The block of granite just exists as
it is and that's the way it is. We CAN say something like, "there's a
vein of white and a vein of gray in this block, and those two specks
exist at the boundary of the veins and so they are adjacent", BUT
while this sounds like an explanation, it really is just a statement
of observed fact. It doesn't "explain" anything. And even this
observation is made from "outside" the block, an option not available
with our universe.
If some sort of conscious intelligence exists within speck patterns of
the 2-D slices of the granite block (2-D because we've lost a
dimension on our example...the third spatial dimension of the block
will be time for these speck-beings), then who knows whether they will
even be conscious of being made from specs of granite and of existing
within this granite block with it's grey and white veins. Maybe the
speck-patterns that they are formed from will be such that their
experience is of living in a 3+1 dimensional world such as ours. But
regardless, there can be no explanation as to why their experiences
are what they are. Their experiences will be as uncaused as the
existence of the block whose speckled nature gives rise to those
So physicalism in fact offers no advantage over just asserting that
our conscious experience just exists. Why are my perceptions orderly
and why are my predictions about what will happen next usually
correct? Because that's just the way it is...and this is true whether
you posit an external universe or just conclude that conscious
experience exists uncaused.
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