Neutral monism, in its simplest expression, is the view that the ultimate nature of reality is neutral with regard to whether the fundamental entities in the world are physical or mental. Now there are different ways by which one may interpret such an expression, I will be adopting the “neither view” which amounts to that the fundamental entities which compose reality are neither physical nor mental, but some third category of entities. I will use Russell’s characterization of neutral monism, as I think it puts us in the perfect position to ask the correct question about the underlying nature of reality given what has been discussed thus far in this dissertation, as Russell says:
“The stuff of which the world of our experience is composed is, in my belief, neither mind nor matter, but something more primitive than either. Both mind and matter seem to be composite, and the stuff of which they are compounded lies in a sense between the two, in a sense above them both, like a common ancestor.” (Russell, 1921, p. 2)
A good way of understanding the current work is an exploration of what this common ancestor is between mind and matter. It will come as no surprise to the reader that this common ancestor I will argue is information, and that IIT offers us, in the current time, the best tool set to approach this common ancestor in attempting to explain consciousness. Note, this is not to say that things do not present themselves as physical or mental, the fact such concepts are continually employed lends one to pragmatically adopt those concepts in describing some phenomenon. When I speak of the interaction of planetary objects interacting with one another in space it is perfectly adequate and appropriate to merely talk of such things in physical terms. Conversely when discussing my desire to reach for a beer
from the fridge it is perfectly adequate and appropriate to speak of this in terms of the mental state I occupy, the behavior that manifests as a result of such a desire, the inebriation that follows suit, and so on. I don’t think neutral monism is committed to such descriptions being meaningless, only that it is a mistake to take these as ontological categories that describe the nature of reality. Neither of these descriptions are monistic explanatorily either, they are composite to follow the wording of Russell, my understanding the relationship between planetary bodies or my desire for beer is composed of a number of different concepts and descriptions which are an interplay of what would be called mental or physical. The problem arises when one asks, “but which of these is more fundamental?” To which the only answer, must be in my opinion, neither! This essay is an attempt to motivate why neither of these categories should be considered as candidates to explain the underlying nature of the fundamental features of reality.
Given that my motivations for this work follow those of Russell’s its worth mentioning why I don’t consider the project from the recently resurgent program that has been taking place in the past few years, that is the Russellian Monism research program; especially since there has already been work done on the connection between Russellian Monism57 and IIT (Grasso, 2019; Mørch, 2019,
2018). Although I’m sympathetic to the project of Russellian monism, I think the ascription of the intrinsic or categorical nature of matter being phenomenal, as opposed to something less mysterious, is a hasty and uninformative move on the part of the Russellian Monist. The move strikes me as replacing one mystery with another. We don’t have an explanation of how or why phenomenal character results as a natural process and I find the ascription of phenomenal properties being the ground for all matter a rather uninformative and impractical move. One can take Russell’s discussion of the limits of physics ability to explain the intrinsic nature of matter and do as the modern Russellian monist does and posit phenomenal properties as the categorical nature of matter, though I think that runs into the same problems that Russell’s own neutral monism ran into in that it had no practical use (more about this in the next section). The limits of Russell’s own neutral monism will be discussed in the next section (§3) to motivate the need for a positive account of neutral monism that offers practical and explanatory use not only to the philosophical question of consciousness but the scientific one as well. The upshot I see of using information rather than the phenomenal as the categorical nature of matter, or rather the more fundamental common ancestor of mind and matter, is that we have a well-
57 Russellian monism is the view that physics stays silent on the intrinsic nature of matter following Russell’s (1927)
criticism about the limits of physics to explain the nature of mind and matter. Modern day Russellian monists take this as an opportunity to accommodate the phenomenal in our overall picture of matter by positing the intrinsic nature or categorical nature of matter as being the phenomenal. For a thorough defense of this position c.f. (Goff, 2017).
established mathematical framework to tackle information formally (that being communication theory and branches of probability theory) and a plethora of applications in the natural sciences.58 It’s a
concept that is already heavily utilized in discussing the mind and brain, both in philosophy and science, and thus has a natural home in our current project. There is, in my opinion, no ‘thing’ floating out in nature which we might call phenomenal distinct from more fundamental information-theoretic properties/processes/relationships.