The Study of Consciousness, Accusations of Pseudoscience, and Bad Publicity


Earlier this week, a letter signed by over 100 researchers, including several philosophers, was published online, calling a popular theory of consciousness, integrated information theory (IIT), “pseudoscience.”

Others, including some who themselves have criticized IIT, have called the letter “so bad” and “unsupported by good reasoning.”

On both sides of the dispute are concerns about the reception of ideas beyond those researching them. The authors of the letter are concerned about the damaging effects that taking IIT seriously might have on certain clinical and ethical issues, while the critics of the letter are concerned about the damaging effects that accusations of pseudoscience might have on the whole field of consciousness studies.

The letter, published at PsyArXiv, is a response to publicity about IIT following the recent resolution of a bet made in 1998 between David Chalmers and Christof Koch. The bet was over whether, within the next 25 years, someone would discover a specific signature of consciousness in the brain, with Koch betting yes and Chalmers betting no. Chalmers was recently declared the winner of the bet, based on recent testing of two theories of consciousness, global network workspace theory (GNWT) and IIT.

The letter’s primary authors are a group of scientists, but the signatories include several philosophers, including Peter Carruthers, Patricia Churchland, Sam Cumming, Felipe De Brigard, Daniel Dennett, Keith Frankish, Adina Roskies, Barry Smith, and others.

The letter writers take issue with the reported status of IIT as a leading theory of consciousness:

The experiments seem very skillfully executed by a large group of trainees across different labs. However, by design the studies only tested some idiosyncratic predictions made by certain theorists, which are not really logically related to the core ideas of IIT, as one  of the authors himself also acknowledges. The findings therefore do not support the claims that the theory itself was actually meaningfully tested, or that it holds a ‘dominant’, ‘well-established’, or ‘leading’ status. [citations omitted throughout]

They then go on to label it as pseudoscience:

IIT is an ambitious theory, but some scientists have labeled it as pseudoscience. According to IIT, an inactive grid of connected logic gates that are not performing any useful computation can be conscious—possibly even more so than humans; organoids created out of petri-dishes, as well as human fetuses at very early stages of development, are likely conscious according to the theory; on some interpretations, even plants may be conscious. These claims have been widely considered untestable, unscientific, ‘magicalist’, or a ‘departure from science as we know it’. Given its panpsychist commitments, until the theory as a whole—not just some hand-picked auxiliary components trivially shared by many others or already known to be true—is empirically testable, we feel that the pseudoscience label should indeed apply…

Our consensus is not that IIT and its variants decidedly lack intellectual merit. But with so much at stake, it is essential to provide a fair and truthful perspective on the status of the theory. As researchers, we have a duty to protect the public from scientific misinformation. 

They are also concerned about the impact of the view on other issues, including “clinical practice concerning coma patients,… current debates on AI sentience and its regulation,… stem cell research, animal and organoid testing, and abortion.”

In response, neuroscientist Erik Hoel writes at his site, The Intrinsic Perspective:

I am not a fan of this letter. Everyone who signed it acted irresponsibly. Why? There’s an issue beyond its specific content. I’ve been saying for years that as a fledging science consciousness research should worry about hanging out too much dirty laundry. If too much is hung out, then petty infighting can destroy an already fragile field. My greatest fear is that we get another “consciousness winter” wherein just talking about consciousness is considered pseudoscientific bunk. This was the state of affairs throughout most of the 20th century, and it set neuroscience back decades.

Hoel goes through the popular press coverage of the study cited in the letter to argue that those articles do not exaggerate the empirical support for IIT, and thus that there is no “scientific misinformation” to protect the public from. The articles don’t even call IIT “dominant” or “well-established,” he says. “It’s like it comes from some alternative reality in which IIT is taken as gospel, all the media celebrate it instead of presenting it along with other theories, and all its specific problems.”

More substantively, he argues that while IIT may imply some counterintuitive possibilities, it is not suitably characterized as making untestable or unscientific claims:

Cerebral organoids are bits of cloned human brains grown in petri dishes—saying they might have consciousness is not wild at all! In fact, regulatory agencies have strongly considered the possibility. The idea that plants might be conscious is not popular, but it is definitely not untestable, unscientific, or “magicalist” (not a word). The idea that early-stage fetuses might have some sort of stream of consciousness is imaginable to, well, a lot of people frankly, and thus all the political debate.

The only example that might be truly counterintuitive is the “inactive grid of connected logic gates” being conscious. But it’s worth noting that IIT does not claim such a grid of logic gates would have an interesting consciousness—it would be more like an abstract bare spatial awareness and nothing else. And the particulars depend on the example and the version of IIT.

In a comment about the dispute on X (Twitter), David Chalmers writes:

IIT has many problems, but “pseudoscience” is like dropping a nuclear bomb over a regional dispute. it’s disproportionate, unsupported by good reasoning, and does vast collateral damage to the field far beyond IIT. as in vietnam: “we had to destroy the field in order to save it.”

(Field is “consciousness studies” he clarifies.)

He also says, echoing concerns of others about the effects of such accusations on funding for the field: “from the perspective of a policy maker: when you say ‘IIT is pseudoscience’ loud enough, many people hear/infer ‘consciousness research is pseudoscience’.”

And then, of course, there’s this remaining problem.

 

 

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Drew Cavallo
Drew Cavallo
9 months ago

It seems that the claim is that the theory is commited to the claim the a collection of specific things have conciousness. How exactly is this a commitment to pansychism? The only use I see here in the term is attempting to make the theory sound more ridiculous and committed to more that it is.

Garret Merriam
Garret Merriam
Reply to  Drew Cavallo
9 months ago

For the record, Giulio Tonoi, founder and major champion of IIT explicitly says IIT entails panpsychism. The idea is something like ‘consciousness’ is simply a measure of integrated information; human brains have very high degrees of integrated information, but all matter has some degree of integrated information.

Drew Cavallo
Drew Cavallo
Reply to  Garret Merriam
9 months ago

Ah, I see. Thank you for the information.

Garret Merriam
Garret Merriam
9 months ago

It seems to me that Hoel’s concern about the fragility of the field are completely backwards. Assuming the substance of the criticism is correct (something I’m agnostic about) then consciousness researchers ought to call out the poorly articulated theories, especially if they catch fire in the popular imagination. Failing to ‘police their own’ will make the field as a whole far less trustworthy. Science as a social institution earns trust precisely because it is so ruthlessly self-critical. (If the charges of pseudoscience are unfair, however, that’s a different story.)

Hermias
Hermias
9 months ago

Science is pseudometaphysics. Please let’s all try to get this published in the Daily Mail.

Garrett Mindt
Garrett Mindt
9 months ago

The science of consciousness is such an interesting sphere to ask questions not only about the nature of consciousness but to also to reflect on what science is. Although there have been a lot of insights from a lot of different theories, I’m not sure I would consider any of them “the theory of consciousness”. I think it’s unhealthy to throw this kind of stuff around, when, newsflash, they’re probably all wrong but wrong for incredibly interesting reasons. Not everything about all the major theories is probably right, nor wrong. And I feel like that’s actually healthy for the field. Or we can resort to calling interlocutors “pseudo-x”. I hope this kind of thing doesn’t get normalized, would much rather there be discussions in the philosophy and science of consciousness rather than accusations.

Marc Champagne
9 months ago

This letter of denunciation with signatories is like the Hypatia-Tuvel debacle… Call me old fashioned, but why can’t we debate ideas IN JOURNALS, like we are trained (and paid) to do?

dmf
dmf
Reply to  Marc Champagne
9 months ago

the journals locked behind paywalls, and who is getting paid to be in journals?

Meme
Meme
9 months ago

It is becoming clear that with all the brain and consciousness theories out there, the proof will be in the pudding—especially if the pudding turns out to be conscious.

Dan Jacob
Dan Jacob
9 months ago

How is it possible to talk about consciousness when there isn’t a clear or scientific definition of it? The best that’s been said is “there’s something it is like to be a bat.”
I applaud Neil deGrasse Tyson for his remark in a discussion that went something like “Maybe there’s no such thing as consciousness.” and received a lot of sneers.

Rollo Burgess
Rollo Burgess
Reply to  Dan Jacob
9 months ago

That we can talk about it, and everyone not being deliberately faux-ignorant knows what we mean, even though we don’t have a clear definition of it (never mind a ‘scientific definition’*) maybe indicates a problem with the project of supplying non-circular definitions of words.

* & good luck defining ‘scientific definition’

Neil Levy
Neil Levy
9 months ago

Several years ago, Deepak Chopra was on the program at the annual conference of the Association for the Scientific Study of Consciousness. Some of the same people now denouncing the letter were fine with that. I suspect the hyperbolic reaction to an admittedly hyperbolic letter has more to do with taking sides on first-order issues than with worries about the science of consciousness.

Clarifying
Clarifying
Reply to  Neil Levy
9 months ago

Just to clarify, Deepak Chopra has been as recently as last year at *Tucson* Towards A Science of Consciousness conference. (Along with many other charlatans). In contrast, the Association for the Scientific Study (ASSC) actually spun off Tucson precisely to avoid all the wacko pseudoscience and it has remained the top scientific and philosophical venue for consciousness studies for the last 25 years. I’d venture to say that literally none of the people who signed the letter are fine with Chopra and others like him being invited to scientific conferences. The signatories themselves probably have never been or haven’t been in almost two decades to the Tucson one.

Daniel Greco
Reply to  Clarifying
9 months ago

I think you misread Neil’s post. He said many of the people *denouncing* the letter were fine with Chopra. It looks to me like you two agree.

Neil Levy
Neil Levy
Reply to  Daniel Greco
9 months ago

Thanks Daniel. The comment is right that I confused the Tuscon conference with the ASSC, but otherwise we’re in agreement.

It should be pointed out that some of the people who are worried about the letter were also unhappy about Chopra.

Whit Blauvelt
Whit Blauvelt
Reply to  Clarifying
9 months ago

Tononi was first brought to the Tucson conferences and championed by Koch, who like Chalmers has been involved in most of them. Koch (probably the leading neuroscientist in the field of consciousness) strongly objected (I heard second-hand) when Chopra showed up in Tucson, also on “pseudoscience” grounds. Koch has been openly entertaining panpsychism in recent years. Chopra is friends with Hameroff, who is now head of the Tucson center, as well as co-author with Sir Roger Penrose of the ORCH-OR theory of quantum-based consciousness. Penrose, in turn, is one of those physicists who rejects string theory as being in principle untestable, thus pseudoscience, in parallel to the argument this letter makes claiming IIT is likewise.

Koch, by the way, claimed at the most recent Tucson conference that based on the lack of neuronal interconnections, there’s no possibility of consciousness in a fetus prior to about 6 or 7 months — and that beyond that there’s heavy sedation until first breath.

Partha Mitra
Partha Mitra
9 months ago

It’s one thing to discuss the number of angels dancing on the head of a pin, and yet another to propose a precise mathematical formula for the number of angels on the head of a pin. Along the same vein, it is one thing to hold and debate a panpsychic worldview, and yet another to propose a quantitative mathematical measure of the degree of consciousness of any object.

Leaving aside the observation of unfalsifiability (there is no independent quantitative measurement of the degree of consciousness to test such a “theory” against, and perhaps that is never possible due to the subjective, first person nature of the very real phenomena involved, apart from subjective verbal reports which are hardly quantitative), this does seem to fall into a special category of pseudotheories that requires calling out.

It’s not unique, there are other such pseudomathematical theories even within the field of brain imaging. Pseudomathematical theories seem to deserve their own bucket beyond informally stated “theories” with murky edges that may still have scientific intent. Sprinkling mathematics (for the record – not that complicated mathematics, but enough to mystify the bystander) to legitimize an otherwise dubious idea raises questions about intent.

The elephant in the room is perhaps not the “theory” itself – uncomfortably similar “theories” abound in different fields as John points out – but the halo of sanctification provided by science journalism on the topic. Without the megaphone of the distribution channels, this would be a non-debate.

Eric Kaplan
9 months ago

if you ask for money saying something you are doing is science it is only fair to be called out on it. live by the sword…

Whit Blauvelt
Whit Blauvelt
9 months ago

Dennett being involved is funny, considering the alternative title of his biggest book in the field, “Consciousness Explained Away.” It’s little exaggeration. He claims consciousness is but a part of obsolete folk psychology.

David Wallace
Reply to  Whit Blauvelt
9 months ago

“ He claims consciousness is but a part of obsolete folk psychology.”

He claims no such thing. This is straightforwardly false. “Consciousness Explained” explicitly advances a positive theory of consciousness (the ‘multiple drafts model’). I assume you don’t like it, but that’s no reason to just make things up about the book.

Kelvin McQueen
Reply to  David Wallace
9 months ago

Fair point, though I think Whit’s statement may be accurate if ‘consciousness’ explicitly means ‘phenomenal consciousness’, which is what IIT aims to quantify.
https://philpapers.org/rec/DENIAT-3

David Wallace
David Wallace
Reply to  Kelvin McQueen
9 months ago

I think it would be more accurate to say that Dennett thinks phenomenal consciousness is a perfectly real thing that we can report on verbally and study by the method of heterophemonenology, but that people get misled by faulty metaphysics into believing wrong theories about it, e.g. that it’s compatible with the existence of zombies or inverted qualia. (Dennett is relatively sympathetic to Husserl, as I recall.)

But I think that’s largely a terminological rather than a substantive dispute. If you want to say that phenomenological consciousness is *by definition* that aspect of consciousness that’s zombies don’t have, then sure, Dennett thinks *that’s* a confused and unscientific notion and that there’s no such thing. (And so, for Dennett, a supposed ‘science’ that tries to study it is problematic – hence his signature, I assume.)

Kelvin McQueen
Reply to  David Wallace
9 months ago

I understand where you’re coming from but I don’t see how to reconcile that with what Dennett actually says. In particular, in sec 1.2 of his paper, Frankish says:

“Illusionism makes a very strong claim: it claims that phenomenal consciousness is illusory; experiences do not really have qualitative, ‘what-it’s-like’ properties, whether physical or non-physical.”

And then, of course, Dennett says, “illusionism as articulated by Frankish should be considered the front runner”.

As to why Dennett signed the letter, I don’t think any defense can be made – he has just made a mistake. IIT certainly does not define consciousness in the way that you suggest. Either way, it’s fine to deny a phenomenon other scientists aim to model. But jumping from that to a “pseudo-science” charge would be like an Everettian stating that collapse and pilot-wave theories are pseudo-sciences simply because one does not believe in collapses or hidden variables.

Meme
Meme
Reply to  Whit Blauvelt
9 months ago

Why does everyone always bring up the “Consciousness Explained Away” quip whenever Dennett’s book comes up? We get it, it’s mildly clever wordplay. It’s also boring and cliche and overused. And superficial. And wrong.

Last edited 9 months ago by Meme
Brian Garvey
Brian Garvey
Reply to  Meme
9 months ago

Agreed. Saying that Dennett denies consciousness is like saying compatibilists deny free will

David Wallace
David Wallace
Reply to  Brian Garvey
9 months ago

This is a very nice and helpful analogy.

cd brown
9 months ago

So people like Patricia Churchland, Daniel Dennett, and Keith Frankish, who are all notably deflationary or eliminativist about consciousness (Carruthers may be in this category as well to some extent) are opposed to some theory of consciousness which ends up entailing that surprisingly many beings/systems are conscious. Their opposition comes as no surprise to me, given that they think no one is really phenomenally conscious (in the sense that philosophers mean, anyway). I think perhaps they should lay their cards on the table, and say more explicitly that ALL theories of phenomenal consciousness which claim scientific status are ultimately pseudoscience. (this allows that there may properly scientific theories of non-phenomenal consciousness, e.g. access consciousness)

WhatItsLike
Reply to  cd brown
9 months ago

“they think no one is really phenomenally conscious (in the sense that philosophers mean, anyway).”

That doesn’t seem quite right to me. What they actually argue — being at least somewhat charitable — is that phenomenal consciousness, in more or less the “what-is-it-like” sense we all mean, can be reductively explained in terms of lower-level cognitive, intentional, computational or functional phenomena. I don’t agree with this, but at least one or two of the folks you mentioned has actually advanced a theory of precisely phenomenal consciousness; it was the explanandum.

So their opposition here is probably not motivated by doubts about phenomenal consciousness. Rather, if any bias is driving them, it’s the internationalization of the standards they believe their own reductive theories upheld, seeing now that another theory, in their view, hasn’t met them. They worked hard to reduce phenomenal consciousness (they think), and don’t want to share that status with an account that seeks the same credit on the cheap.

cd brown
Reply to  WhatItsLike
9 months ago

You say “their opposition here is probably not motivated by doubts about phenomenal consciousness.” I suspected that there would be some response like this to my comment. I’m afraid that this strikes me as straightforwardly false. There are plenty of physicalist philosophers of mind who try to give accounts of phenomenal consciousness in neural or functional or (as in IIT) informational terms. For instance, Tye’s representationalism, Block’s fragile short-term memory account, Crick and Koch’s neurobiological account, Prinz’s attended intermediate-level representations account, various global workspace theories, etc. The philosophers of mind who signed this letter—and especially Dennett and Frankish—are not reductionists of this sort (though I admit that Carruthers and Churchland are boundary cases).

Allow me to provide some quotes from some of their recent publications to substantiate.

From Frankish’s 2016 ‘Illusionism as a theory of consciousness’: “Theories of consciousness typically address the hard problem. They accept that phenomenal consciousness is real and aim to explain how it comes to exist. There is, however, another approach, which holds that phenomenal consciousness is an illusion and aims to explain why it seems to exist.”

He mentions Dennett on the same page: “Although it has powerful defenders—pre-eminently Daniel Dennett—illusionism remains a minority position, and it is often dismissed out of hand as failing to ‘take consciousness seriously’ (Chalmers, 1996). The aim of this article is to present the case for illusionism.”

And here is a quote from Dennett’s 2016 ‘Illusionism as the obvious default theory of consciousness’: “Keith Frankish’s superb survey of the varieties of illusionism provokes in me some reflections on what philosophy can offer to (cognitive) science, and why it so often manages instead to ensnarl itself in an internecine battle over details in ill-motivated ‘theories’ that, even if true, would be trivial and provide no substantial enlightenment on any topic, and no help at all to the baffled scientist. […] Illusionism, I am saying, should not be seen as a lame attempt to deny the obvious, but as the leading contender, the default view that should be assumed true until proven otherwise. (I grant that my whimsical title, ‘Quining Qualia’, lent unintended support to the perception that illusionism is a desperate and incredible dodge, and for that little joke I now repent.) From this perspective, we can see that philosophers of mind who are not illusionists are prematurely encouraging scientists to worry about the wrong questions, artefactual problems like those that would arise for any scientists trying to uncover the details of the quantum-entanglement theory of teleporting the beautiful assistant from one trunk to another or trying to reconcile the actual presence of the ten of diamonds in their pocket where they put it with its manifest presence on the table. It is a remote possibility that we will have to fall back on quantum physics or multiple universes to account for some mind-boggling bit of magic, but first, let’s try the conservative route.”

For further clarification, let me stress that the “conservative route” referred in the above passage denies that phenomenal consciousness exists. This is unambiguously a central feature of illusionism, and this passage (and paper as a whole) makes it clear that this is the route that Dennett prefers, and that alternative theories which take phenomenal consciousness seriously are theories which are of no scientific merit.

I admit that it is a bit harder to make this case for Patricia Churchland, since she has explicitly rejected illusionism (from a 2022 twitter post: “Illusionism may be Dennett’s view, but it is not that or me or Paul.”) However, her stance on the shortcomings of “folk” psychology as it applies to intentional states are well known, and it is not hard to see how this stance would apply to phenomenal consciousness. When she says things like “I think consciousness is as real as can be… I lose it at night when I go to sleep and regain it again every morning”, this strikes me as talking about creature consciousness (wakefulness) as opposed to the phenomenal consciousness as discussed by most philosophers (since, after all, it seems that you remain phenomenally conscious during periods of dreaming). I suppose that Churchland probably falls in the “deflationary” rather than “eliminativist” category. Regardless, I believe that my point from the above post is generally accurate even if it primarily to just Dennett and Frankish.

And here’s a quote from Carruthers’ 2019 book ‘Human and Animal Minds’: “Contrasting with qualia realism is qualia irrealism. The latter comes in a number of different forms, some of which will be explored in due course. But all seek to identify phenomenal consciousness with some natural (physical or physically realized) property. On the view I will ultimately defend, phenomenal consciousness is said to be nothing other than access-conscious nonconceptual content. […] It is worth noting that qualia irrealism is a close relative of what Frankish (2016) calls “illusionism” about consciousness. Both are defined by their outright rejection of qualia-properties. I prefer the term “qualia irrealism,” however, because illusions generally arise spontaneously, and don’t depend on reflective forms of thinking or reasoning. For instance, perceptual illusions are mostly universal among humans, and occur whenever the stimuli are correctly constructed and presented to people. Likewise, cognitive illusions of the sort investigated by Tversky & Kahneman (1983), Stanovich (2009), and others occur as soon as the question is asked: one has a strong (but incorrect) intuition as to the correct answer. The temptation to believe in qualia, however, is quite different. It depends on distinctive forms of reflective thinking, and on carefully constructed philosophical examples. Indeed, one generally has to do quite a bit of work to get people to see the problem of consciousness (even given the head-start provided by most people’s tacit Cartesian dualism). Belief in qualia doesn’t result from an illusion, but from philosophical argument.”

Here Carruthers is being careful, but nonetheless explicitly denies that phenomenal consciousness (which would involve “qualia”) exists, while allowing that other forms of consciousness exist.

WhatItsLike
Reply to  cd brown
9 months ago

Thanks for the thorough response. About Frankish, at least, you’ve convinced me, and I suppose Dennett, although he’s waffled on this in the past, however much he may have inspired the “illusionist” camp you’re referencing. Not Churchland, though: she may be a militant reductionist, but she still often thinks she’s targeted the real thing. That throaway line about sleeping and waking shouldn’t be taken too seriously, I think; she’s prone to off-the-cuff remarks like that (e.g. that cringe-worthy analogy about pregnancy she can’t help herself using whenever the Knowledge Argument comes up). Could easily have forgotten or neglected that we experience our dreams.

Carruthers does seem to have slid into to the position you’re suggesting, as in the quotes you cite, but as you note he’s hedging. And, more importantly, this is a very late position of his, after almost a full career as a Type B materialist (like Tye) with a particular theory of phenomenal consciousness — as we know it — since at least 2000, involving higher-order analog-style representations and phenomenal concepts. Even if he’s suddenly changed with the animal book, I highly doubt he’d consider the bulk of his earlier work, including his book ‘Phenomenal Consciousness’ and the theory it involves, to be “pseudo-science.”

Noah
Noah
Reply to  cd brown
9 months ago

I am also surprised to see Frankish on this list considering that Frankish has hosted Christof Koch on his podcast, mind chat, to explain IIT in the context of a series of episodes on the science of consciousness. Perhaps you are right that he views all of these theories as pseudoscience, but then: (a) it is odd to sign a letter that specifically singles out one theory as problematic; and (b) I would be a bit miffed if I were a consciousness scientist to come on a podcast only to find out that one of the hosts says that you are doing pseudoscience.

Brian Garvey
Brian Garvey
9 months ago

What the letter itself says is perceptibly milder than its heading, and the description above, and the way the letter’s been reported in lots of other places online. The letter does not say IIP is a pseudoscience. It only says “some scientists” think it’s a pseudoscience, and it says that it may have merit. It may be that the authors are just concerned about it being reported in the media as science, rather than thinking that it really deserves the opprobrium of being tacitly compared to astrology, homeopathy etc. And for all the letter says, the authors would be perfectly happy for IIP to be presented to the public as a piece of tentative speculation or a philosophical theory. I would hope they would be, anyway.

A bit ironic, really, that a letter complaining about media sensationalism and misleading labelling should have been so sensationally and misleadingly labelled.

Brian Garvey
Brian Garvey
Reply to  Justin Weinberg
9 months ago

Ah, OK, I had missed that bit, and I apologise.

However, even there they say “until the theory as a whole—not just some hand-picked auxiliary components trivially shared by many others or already known to be true—is empirically testable”. So they do seem to allow that some version of it could be genuinely scientifc, and thereby qualify somewhat the claim that it’s a pseudoscience.

It’s really the extreme harshness of the word ‘pseudoscience’ that I think is the problem. (And, FWIW, I agree with you, Justin, when you imply at the end that the demarcation problem is a rather intractable one.)

Anyway, no hard feelings I hope.

David Wallace
David Wallace
9 months ago

Whether it’s responsible to call IIT pseudoscience can’t be decided without deciding whether it *is* pseudoscience. IIT is getting quite a lot of attention (I hear about it all the time even though I don’t work in directly-related areas). If it’s unscientific, that’s a real problem, and serious people should say so and get other people to stop paying attention to it. If it’s not unscientific, of course it’s wrong to say that it’s unscientific, and serious people shouldn’t say that. (And of course no-one should criticize another’s work without being sure of their facts.)

Physics had a similar controversy a few years ago, when Lee Smolin and Peter Woit published commercially successful trade books arguing that string theory was either unscientific or at least really problematic as science. String theorists were infuriated, partly because they thought this would be bad publicity, hurt funding, etc. I’m 100% (well, 95%) on the side of the string theorists on the substantive matter (I think string theory is scientifically fine, and there’s a lot of detail I’d criticize in Smolin and Woit’s arguments) but I did, and do, think that the criticism was fair game if its authors actually thought it was true and had done their homework.

Bottom line: I don’t think there’s much to discuss as to the appropriateness of the letter that doesn’t just come down to whether its statements and arguments are correct.

I don't sign letters
I don't sign letters
Reply to  David Wallace
9 months ago

I was invited to sign this letter and didn’t in part b/c everything (mutatis mutandis) it says about IIT is true of String Theory as well. (I’m not on the side of ST, but the point is, those things def. don’t make you pseudoscience.)

Peter Grindrod
Peter Grindrod
9 months ago

We need to be far more critical of a theory which does not predict anything that we cab test and is based on quatitities that are simply not measurable for cotex -like complex systems.

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/371864350_Wishful_Thinking_About_Consciousness

Dan Pallies
9 months ago

IIT purports to be a scientific theory, so it should not be insulated from the charge of pseudoscience. I just don’t understand why the authors level that charge while doing so little to try to substantiate it.

They say that “some scientists” have labeled IIT as pseudoscience. But that alone carries almost no evidential weight — there are lots of bizarre and false claims to which “some scientists” would assent. If *these particular* scientists have good reasons to label IIT as pseudoscience, why not give those reasons?

They suggest that IIT attributes consciousness too widely. If they are right, then IIT is false. But that would hardly suggest that it is pseudoscience.

They say “the theory as a whole” is not empirically testable. *That* sounds like the sort of thing that is at least relevant to the question of whether or not IIT is pseudoscience. But the authors do not defend this claim, and perhaps more importantly, they do not so much as suggest that IIT is *unique* in this respect. Are other theories of consciousness testable, or “more testable” than IIT?

I’m surprised by some of the philosophers who signed their name to this letter. I can’t imagine that they were perfectly happy with it in its present form. So I’m sure that in some cases, they would have liked to have made edits to the letter before signing it. But given that they evidently did not have that opportunity, I think that they made the wrong call, and it would have been better to refrain from signing it.

Last edited 9 months ago by Dan Pallies