Consciousness, Free Will and Scientific Objectivity in Perspective-Based Reasoning

Link post

I have been avoiding this subject since it is too metaphysical for my taste. My interest was in specific problems such as anthropic paradoxes. However, my solution to them does have clear dispositions on these topics. So I will lay it out here.

Fundamental Perspectives

I argued that our rationality is not able to think about things as they are, by themselves. Instead, we would inevitably take a certain perspective or viewpoint when reasoning. Each of us has a natural perspective due to first-person subjective experiences. “I am this particular person, living in this particular time ” is inherently clear to each. It is the primary fact that has none, nor needs any, logical explanation.

Though we cannot think without a perspective, we are capable of putting ourselves into others’ shoes. In another word, we can imagine thinking from different perspectives. All viewpoints are parallel to each other, none is inherently logically superior.

But people often regard a god’s eye view as something else, something that transcends the limit of perspectives. It’s treated as absolute thinking, a fundamental conception that objective reasoning ought to be conducted from. Why we have this intuition would be discussed later. I think anthropic paradoxes are caused by it: trying to conduct the argument from a god’s eye view yet unavoidably also use “I” or “now” from the first-person perspective.

Consciousness and Free Will

The above has some metaphysical commitments attached. Consciousness, though a rather mysterious concept, is undeniably a first-person experience. E.g. from my perspective I only know that I am conscious, whether others are conscious like I do or just some mindless NPCs can never be verified. It is also instantiated by subjective experience so it is irreducible just like perspectives.

Perspective-based reasoning presupposes free will. For thinking from someone’s perspective to be meaningful at all it is a necessary presumption. It should be noted like consciousness, free will is also a first-person concept. Meaning when thinking from a particular perspective, the only consciousness and free will in reasoning would be that of the self. Someone/​something else’s consciousness is only presupposed when reasoning from their perspective (still due to the self).

Scientific Objectivity

Since we are not able to reason about things by themselves as they are, scientific objectivity cannot be regarded as faithfulness to the fundamental fact, nor as an objective description of the world from a god’s eye view. Instead, objectivity means something can be inter-perspectively verified.

A statement or theory is objective if it holds true for multiple perspectives. The more unrestrictive it is, the more objective it is. From any given perspective, a statement is tested by the interaction between the self and the environment. We can also imagine testing it from others’ perspectives by observing their interactions with their respective environments.

E.g. “The Moon exists” is quite an objective statement. Because from my perspective, I experience actions upon me that are caused by part of the environment which can be described as the Moon (e.g. I can see it). Also because, from the perspective of many other things such as other people, trees, rocks, our planet Earth, etc, by examining the interactions between itself and the environment, Moon’s existence can also be verified. This is different from the ordinary conception that “The Moon exists” is objective because it describes a basic fact of the world.

Some Implications

The first implication is the role of “observer” is inherent in science. Observer does not mean human, it can be any physical thing that we want to take its perspective when conducting an analysis. Theories and statements are tested base on its’ interactions with the environment. The observer, i.e. the “self” from the given perspective, is not within the scope of scientific studies. So it naturally favors some types of quantum interpretations.

The above also hints at how subjective experience, consciousness, and free will shall be viewed with the frameworks of science. Because subjective experience only pertains to the first person, it cannot be explained by physical reductionism. Consequently, consciousness and free will are also primitives in terms of science.

The God’s Eye View

The problem of the god’s eye view is not because it is imaginary. There is nothing logically wrong with imagining something and assuming its perspective. The problem lies in the fact that it can analyze the environment without needing any interaction. From this view, the whole world is describable even though there is no interaction with the self. So imagining the self feels unnecessary altogether, things can be analyzed just as they are. In a sense, it is supernaturally omniscient.

But this view-from-nowhere type of thinking is not without its merits. If we are only interested in things locally on a macroscopic scale, then interactions between objects and the self are so numerous they are effectively constant. It remains true for any choice of perspectives (think about the Moon above). Within this scope, the god’s eye view analysis won’t cause any problem. And it saves the trouble of paying attention to the numerous interactions from a specific perspective. Maybe our natural tendency of treating the god’s eye view as objective reasoning is because of this. In our daily life, it works and it saves energy.

Determinism Solipsism and Panpsychism

Whether the world is deterministic has been debated for centuries which ties to the question of whether free will exists. However, rejecting the god’s eye view means science could never confirm determinism in the first place. Scientific theories would always be applied from a given perspective, its scope of explanation never includes the entire world. At the perspective’s center, the observer is not covered. The self shall be understood in terms of subjective experience and consciousness. This view is property dualistic.

Some may think this view is solipsistic. This is not the case. It merely states from any given perspective, the self is primitive and special. It does not assume anything is inherently more important than others nor only the self exists. The perspective of a pencil is just as logically sound as my natural first-person perspective.

And finally, this view is compatible with some version of panpsychism. When reasoning from the viewpoint of someone/​something else, they are considered to be logically equivalent to myself in my natural first-person perspective. Effectively assuming it has its own subjectivity and consciousness. However, this does not mean all subjectivity and consciousness feels similar. That could never be confirmed due to their irreducible nature.