The Teleological Solution

At the end of Chapter 4 of Mind and Cosmos, Thomas Nagel finally turns to his candidate for best solution to the problem of consciousness:

I am drawn to a fourth alternative, natural teleology, or teleological bias, as an account of the existence of the biological possibilities on which natural selection can operate. I believe that teleology is a naturalistic alternative that is distinct from all three of the other candidate explanations: chance, creationism, and directionless physical law. . . . Teleology means that in addition to physical law of the familiar kind, there are other laws of nature that are “biased toward the marvelous.”

A teleological bias in physical law means that the laws governing all fundamental interaction would tend to produce outcomes that favor life and consciousness.  But, according to Nagel, such a bias could not be expressible in reducible physical law:

The idea of teleology as part of the natural order flies in the teeth of the authoritative form of explanation that has defined science since the revolution of the seventeenth century. Teleology would mean that some natural laws, unlike all the basic scientific laws discovered so far, are temporally historical in their operation. The laws of physics are all equations specifying universal relations that hold at every time and place among mathematically specifiable quantities like force, mass, charge, distance, and velocity. In a nonteleological system the explanation of any temporally extended process has to consist in the explanation, by reference to those laws, of how each state of the universe evolved from its immediate predecessor. Teleology, by contrast, would admit irreducible principles governing temporally extended development.

The challenge for any teleological based theory is whether such time-dependent changes in physical law can be experimentally detected.  If such goal-based bias cannot be detected in physical law, then teleology is essentially a faith-based system.  Experiments to detect time-dependent changes in physical law have so far come up empty.  So, the effect is very small if it exists at all.

I also think there must be some time-dependent effects in physical law, otherwise how could order producing organisms be created in a universe where unguided physical law seems to favor an increase in disorder.  Of course, Nagel believes such effects are attributable to “naturalistic” effects and I think they are attributable to an ordering power at work in the universe.  The difference is that an ordering power could be interpreted as evidence for God and a naturalistic approach would favor a non-theistic interpretation.  The advantage of Nagel’s interpretation is that atheists can embrace the evidence for an order producing power without directly naming it or considering it evidence for God.

The main weakness in the current atheist argument is the denial of an active ordering power in the universe.  This position flies in the face of common sense and puts atheism on the defensive, relying on arguments based on the problems with religious institutions.  This may seem like a strange thing for a believer in God to say, but atheists need a strong metaphysical argument for the naturalistic position so that faith-based institutions will take seriously their arguments about the failings of religion.  Nagel provides that metaphysical basis and atheists would do well to pay attention to him.

However, others have criticized Mind and Cosmos because Nagel fails to garner support from science for his position.  (See, for example, https://chronicle.com/article/Where-Thomas-Nagel-Went-Wrong/139129/.)  Such support does indeed exist and Nagel’s failure to include references to the science means that his argument is weakened.  In fact, even Nagel’s summary of the book in the New York Times seems to step back from the teleological argument because he does not mention it: http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/08/18/the-core-of-mind-and-cosmos/?smid=pl-share.

And then there is the charge that Nagel has been too soft on the theistic option.  I don’t find him soft on theism so much as failing to put forth the standard arguments against religion.  The arguments against religion consist almost entirely on the problems that religion can cause among its adherents plus the incomprehensibility of religion from the point of view of non-theists.  But arguments against religion are not arguments against theism so I find this criticism out of place.

Of course, Nagel does admit that his teleological explanation does not definitively rule out a theistic interpretation.  But he correctly points out that theism seems like an unnecessary complication if the naturalistic explanation is sufficient.  This is where I think the argument between believers and atheists should be:  to what extent is the naturalistic explanation sufficient to account for human subjective experience?  I think that a naturalistic teleology in particular and atheism in general will fall short of satisfying the deep human yearning for spiritual truths.

That is probably the real reason that Nagel’s atheistic critics do not like his book.  A proper debate on the merits of the atheist position looks very weak unless some sort of ordering power is conceded.  But conceding an ordering power seems to be conceding too much because it can be mistaken for evidence of divinity.  However, Nagel maintains that atheism is a viable alternative if one views the ordering power as a natural teleology that is not subject to divine control.  In this position he does not waver.

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Consciousness and Dualism (Part 3)

Late in chapter 3 of Mind and Cosmos, Nagel introduces one of the candidates for a likely solution to the problem of Cartesian dualism.  This approach can be called monism or panpsychism.  Panpsychism is the view that matter and mind are two different manifestations of a single unnamed substance.  Nagel thinks this path offers one possible framework for an eventual solution:

“Everything, living or not, is constituted from elements having a nature that is both physical and nonphysical— that is, capable of combining into mental wholes. So this reductive account can also be described as a form of panpsychism: all the elements of the physical world are also mental.”

“A comprehensively reductive conception is favored by the belief that the propensity for the development of organisms with a subjective point of view must have been there from the beginning, just as the propensity for the formation of atoms, molecules, galaxies, and organic compounds must have been there from the beginning, in consequence of the already existing properties of the fundamental particles. If we imagine an explanation taking the form of an enlarged version of the natural order, with complex local phenomena formed by composition from universally available basic elements, it will depend on some kind of monism or panpsychism, rather than laws of psychophysical emergence that come into operation only late in the game.”

However, there is a serious problem.  We have no idea how elementary particles could possess subjectivity which Nagel calls the “proto-mental” attribute.  Such an understanding would be necessary in order to build a framework for explaining how individual particles could come together and form conscious organisms.  The best candidate for such an explanation is quantum physics, but our understanding of quantum physics today is limited to its computational aspects.  If those aspects are real, then computation only supplies part of the solution.  And you would need to assume that consciousness is partly the result of computation.

There are some philosophical positions that hold that consciousness is all computation (Dennett, Kurzweil).  Anyone holding such a position may be quite happy with a quantum solution since it would explain how minds could be made of matter with computational abilities.  Still, one would need to work out the details of how individual particles with computational ability can be organized so that the total organism’s mind appears to be an unbroken whole.  That work might be made easier by quantum entanglement, but there is very little theoretical understanding on which to build.

Quantum entanglement provides some theoretical advantage over classical computation.  Quantum entanglement enables quantum information to be coded more compactly than classical information giving it the ability to reduce entropy.  Low entropy is a characteristic of order.  In this way, quantum computation has order producing power beyond the ordering power of classical computation.  But how this could take place in biological organisms remains a mystery.

Nagel finds additional problems with panpsychism when he imagines how it might address the developmental problem of life.  How did life originally arise from non-living matter and how did this proto-mental attribute of matter overcome the unlikelihood of random chemical interactions leading to life?  He concludes the section on panpsychism with this pessimistic comment:

“The idea of a reductive answer to both the constitutive and the historical questions remains very dark indeed. It seeks a deeper and more cosmically unified explanation of consciousness than an emergent theory, but at the cost of greater obscurity, and it offers no evident advantage with respect to the historical problem of likelihood.”

I find myself more optimistic about the outlook for a form of panpsychism that is based on quantum physics.  I think the entropy lowering capability of quantum computation will go a long way towards explaining the ordering power inherent in life and consciousness.  The problem is that quantum computation does not really explain subjective experience unless you assume that subjectivity is the result of computation.  And that assumption re-introduces the problem of dualism because you would need to assume subjectivity in all matter, not just living matter.  As soon as you’ve assumed that subjective experience is an attribute of living matter only, then it has to be an optional attribute, introduced by something besides physical law.

Consider what happens at the moment of death of any living organism.  For a brief instant, the chemical composition remains unchanged, yet life and consciousness are gone.  Subjectivity as we have come to know it during life has disappeared.  This would seem to indicate that subjectivity is an optional attribute of the material world, and that is dualism.

I suppose it is possible that there are subtle changes in the chemical composition at the time of death, but will those changes be sufficiently observable to clearly indicate which came first?  The subtlety may be telling us how miraculous consciousness is in the first place.  One can also consider the action of anesthetics which cause temporary unconsciousness.  For example, ether can cause unconsciousness in humans and inactivity in the one-celled animal paramecium, yet its exact action remains unexplained.

While I think that panpsychism based on quantum physics offers hope for explaining the tremendous ordering power of life and consciousness, I do not find that it offers a complete answer to the problem of dualism when viewed from the materialist point of view.  I am drawn more to the idealist point of view as a solution to dualism.  No less a world-class physicist than Leonard Susskind has suggested that the universe may be like a hologram. (A hologram is a three dimensional projection from a two dimensional source.  For Susskind’s analogy to hold, the universe would need to be a four dimensional projection from some external source.)  Susskind is an atheist, so he will not agree with my perspective that the universe is a projection from God, but that appears to be the only view that solves the problem of consciousness and dualism.

Thomas Nagel doesn’t agree with me either.  He finishes up chapter three by dismissing the theist path of an intentional power, but gives more credibility to what he calls the teleological framework.  The teleological path requires that the laws of nature are “value free,” yet they proceed toward a defined purpose or goal.  Nature’s laws would need to be “value free” to avoid the appearance of an intentional designer.  He needs to say more about how a desired goal can be free of value, and he promises to do so later in the book.

Consciousness and Dualism (Part 2)

“It has become clear that our bodies and central nervous systems are parts of the physical world, composed of the same elements as everything else and completely describable in terms of the modern versions of the primary qualities— more sophisticated but still mathematically and spatiotemporally defined. Molecular biology keeps increasing our knowledge of our own physical composition, operation, and development. Finally, so far as we can tell, our mental lives, including our subjective experiences, and those of other creatures are strongly connected with and probably strictly dependent on physical events in our brains and on the physical interaction of our bodies with the rest of the physical world.” – Thomas Nagel, Mind and Cosmos, Chapter 3.

With these words, Nagel begins to tell us about how the tremendous recent developments in biology and neuroscience have raised hopes for a materialist explanation of life and consciousness.  Science has made great strides in demonstrating the detailed workings of biology and brain function.  Yet, with all the scientific progress, the connection between mind and physical biology seems as elusive as ever.  Some philosophers have even taken the position that Nagel calls “eliminative materialism” in which mental events are illusory.

Nagel looks historically at conceptual approaches to solving the problem because he thinks that reductionism alone will not discover an answer.  A conceptual approach is based on adding something new to science in the hopes of providing the necessary leverage for new discovery.  This is similar to the approach of David Chalmers who has called for adding back into the scientific picture a fundamental quality of subjective experience.

Chalmers approach is to include within the science of consciousness the science of subjective experience, including the psychological and sociological implications of our mental states.  It is difficult to tell whether Nagel would agree with Chalmers.  Nagel thinks that whatever is added to science would need to be at least as radical as electromagnetic fields and relativity theory.  Here Nagel has written something very surprising from the viewpoint of science history.  The most radical scientific developments in the twentieth century were quantum physics and relativity theory, not electromagnetic fields and relativity theory.  Electromagnetic fields were definitively added to science in the 19th century by James Clerk Maxwell.   I wonder if he has chosen to write “electromagnetic fields” in order to preserve some hope for quantum explanations of consciousness.

Nevertheless, Nagel’s description of the difficulty of avoiding dualism has challenged me.  As I have pursued the path of quantum explanations for consciousness, I have concentrated on the power of quantum calculation to bring about order.  There is real order producing power in quantum computation that lends itself to a possible explanation for mental activity if consciousness is seen as a type problem solving.

However, there is nothing in the computational model of quantum physics that can produce subjective experience.   I have worked over thirty years in computer systems design and programming and there is no way that classical computation alone will produce consciousness or subjective experience.  There must be a qualitative difference between classical computation and quantum computation that allows for the addition of a subjective sense of intent or purpose to quantum computation.  The type of subjective sense added to quantum calculation would probably need to be optional because it could not be required to be present for such non-conscious quantum calculations as take place in ordinary physics (for example, in lasers).  And if it is optional, or “contingent” as Nagel would say, then it must be considered a dualistic explanation.

The non-dualist solution to this problem takes me to George Berkeley, whom Nagel mentions in passing and whose idea of “subjective idealism,” Nagel completely discounts.  Berkeley was an 18th century philosopher whose perspective developed as a counterpoint to the new discoveries in science and the trend away from theism.  Berkeley’s Idealism is the point of view that everything is mind and that all matter originates in God’s mind, and he maintains that view without denying the objective existence of material objects.  Some of his ideas influenced Albert Einstein and his view of the role of consciousness in the act of perception has new echoes in quantum physics.  But few thinkers these days give much credence to idealism.  I think that Berkeley’s idealism takes on fresh meaning when seen through the lens of quantum physics.

Another non-dualist approach would be to discount subjective experience.  Those favoring a behaviorist approach would be happy with this line of reasoning.  If quantum computation is at the core of our mental ability, then that could explain our mental problem solving ability but it would leave unexplained any subjective experience.  Those who view subjective experience as an unnecessary byproduct of evolution, like the color of blood, might find this view attractive.  But it has the unfortunate consequence of turning us into zombies.

At this point in chapter 3, Nagel has left us with a significant puzzle: (1) there is no non-dualist materialist theory of consciousness that can explain subjective experience; (2) Idealist and theistic theories are not welcome; and (3) dualism leaves too much room for theistic explanation and therefore it is also not welcome.  I await his recommendation for something new to be added to the description of the physical world, because at this point, I am feeling challenged but also slightly unwelcome.

Theism and Materialism

In Chapter 2 of Mind and Cosmos by Thomas Nagel, the author explores the typical positions held by proponents of theism and by proponents of evolution.  His focus is sharpened by analysis of the different ways that each point of view attempts to make sense of human beings who are part of the world that ought to be intelligible to us.

According to Nagel, theists appeal to a deity who is outside the natural order, but who nevertheless provides intention and directionality to the natural order and who assures us of the basic reliability of our observational capacity and our reasoning ability.  It is a reassuring position at the expense of requiring a power outside of the natural order.  It suffers from a lack of any serious attempt to make human beings intelligible from within the natural order.

Evolutionary naturalists, on the other hand, claim that humanity is intelligible from within the natural order based on science and reason.  But, again according to Nagel, the problem is that both science and reason are the products of evolution and we have no authority outside of ourselves to substantiate the reliability of our understanding of science.  In Nagel’s terminology, evolutionary naturalism undermines its own claim of reliability.  Ultimately, the evolutionary explanations fail because the science that we possess has failed to explain consciousness and therefore failed to explain why we should trust the judgments arising from our consciousness.

I think Nagel is stretching too far for a criticism of the evolutionary point of view.  Its main problem is the inability for science to explain consciousness.  To find fault for the inability of evolution to provide reassurance that our reasoning is sound is the same criticism that can be applied to the theist position.   Both positions are based on faith!  Theists have faith in God based on a religious community and Darwinian evolutionists have faith in science based on the scientific community.  If anything, the evolutionary point of view has the advantage in that the scientific community is generally more unified and disciplined than the religious community.

The primary distinction between the two points of view, then, is the position and importance that each assigns to humanity.  Theism relies on a power outside the normal purview of science to explain and give meaning to human life and consciousness while evolution relies solely on current science at the expense of diminishing any essential or transcendent importance for human life and consciousness.

Nagel is searching for middle ground.  He wants an explanation for consciousness that does not rely on a power outside the natural order.  At this point in his book, I think he fails to see that any such explanation will be relying on faith in something.  Whether that something is science or philosophy or some combination, it will still be the object of faith.  Given the constraints on his search that there can be no power outside the natural order, his explanation would not be able to claim any more authority than evolutionary materialism.

From my point of view, a form of theism that provides a way for God to work through the natural order provides the best alternative.  The importance and discipline of science is maintained and modified so that human life and consciousness have access to transcendent power for guidance and assurance.

Scientific reductionism ends at the quantum boundary, so the assumption of transcendent consciousness working at the quantum level provides for the needed adjustment to science while maintaining the entire scientific edifice based on empirical evidence and reductionist explanation.  And there is scientific evidence for an order producing power working at the quantum level.  This evidence is being developed by the nascent scientific discipline of quantum biology.

The strongest evidence to date comes from quantum action during photosynthesis, but I expect much more evidence as quantum biology matures.  After all, isn’t all of physics based on quantum action?  The only alternative besides dualism would be a view that posits new scientific principles acting at the biological level.  But, it seems to me that there is too much continuity between chemistry and biology.  That continuity leaves little room for wholly new principles to be plausible.

What if Evolution had Produced an Unintelligible World?

In Chapter 2 of Thomas Nagel’s book, Mind and Cosmos, the author explores more deeply the reasons why materialist reductionism is necessary for science and why mind cannot be explained by such a reductionist approach.  One important observation is that we believe that the world is intelligible:

“Science is driven by the assumption that the world is intelligible. That is, the world in which we find ourselves, and about which experience gives us some information, can be not only described but understood. That assumption is behind every pursuit of knowledge, including pursuits that end in illusion. In the natural sciences as they have developed since the seventeenth century, the assumption of intelligibility has led to extraordinary discoveries, confirmed by prediction and experiment, of a hidden natural order that cannot be observed by human perception alone. Without the assumption of an intelligible underlying order, which long antedates the scientific revolution, those discoveries could not have been made.”

On the one hand, I can hear the Darwinian materialist answer that evolution could not have done otherwise since we have evolved to be successful in the existing world.  Of course we understand the world!  Our survival depends on it!  However, this response only provides a partial answer.

Clearly, we are dependent on biological adaptation to the physical world.  All of our physical movements in the world depend on an intuitive understanding of the physical laws that govern such activity.  We could not long survive without intuitively grasping the law of gravity.  One could even argue that our direct experience with electricity and with radiation have come so recently that we have not yet had time to evolve an intuitive understanding of these forces.

Yet, it is difficult to see why evolution would need to respond to the electromagnetic force or the nuclear force by making them comprehensible, since direct experience with these forces is rare.  Why wouldn’t evolution respond to electricity and radiation by providing either immunity or an avoidance reaction?   So the question raised by Nagel boils down to why have we been so successful in understanding such non-intuitive phenomenon as electromagnetism and nuclear energy?

Our success at understanding non-intuitive scientific principles is even more remarkable when we consider how our minds are wired.  From my viewpoint as a computer programmer, the human brain works in a very inefficient manner.  We don’t simply compute responses to input stimuli as one might expect.  The mind is actually continuously generating expected results and comparing the expected results to observed activity and our attention is drawn to areas where the expected results do not match reality so we can make quick adjustments.

Our minds are wired to be generators of outcomes based on intuitive narratives that we have learned from experience.  This is why professional tennis players and baseball players can hit a ball that is travelling faster than we can consciously follow.  Professional players have learned to see clues about the physical dynamics of play that they have learned from experience and sometimes cannot even consciously explain.

In fact, our need for a narrative to generate expected outcomes is so great that it doesn’t much matter how good the narrative is as long as it does better than random chance.  That is why superstition can sometimes have such a strong grip on our outlook if we have had experiences that have confirmed those superstitions.  The same can be said about political and social beliefs.  The simple narrative always has an advantage over the more complex narrative because it is easier to use based on the way that our minds are wired.

So we are not naturally predisposed to understanding complex and abstract subjects like electromagnetism.  Yet we seem driven to explain the physical world even if we do not need such explanations for individual survival.  One could say this is about group power, but it seems to me that curiosity precedes the desire for prestige and power.  Time after time the satisfaction of curiosity is the only reward.  Few persons make the important discoveries that pay off in terms of power and prestige.

Nagel thinks this character of intelligibility leads to an important conclusion.  Since we have evolved to find the world intelligible, and we, ourselves, are part of the world, then we must be able to understand ourselves.  We are certainly driven to try.  I am still waiting for a clear answer.

Can the Philosophy of Mind Revise Science?

Thomas Nagel makes an astounding claim in his book, Mind and Cosmos.  That claim is that the entire edifice of science must change in order to accommodate the fact that human beings have evolved with minds that cannot be explained by science.  His reasoning in Chapter 1 goes like this:

“The great advances in the physical and biological sciences were made possible by excluding the mind from the physical world. This has permitted a quantitative understanding of that world, expressed in timeless, mathematically formulated physical laws. But at some point it will be necessary to make a new start on a more comprehensive understanding that includes the mind.”

“Mind, as a development of life, must be included as the most recent stage of this long cosmological history, and its appearance, I believe, casts its shadow back over the entire process and the constituents and principles on which the process depends.”

Nagel discounts intervention by an intelligent designer, but favors some sort of teleological explanation that can be contained within the laws of nature.  Presumably, Nagel’s teleological principle would modify the laws of physics so that those laws would be more likely to support the genesis of life and the evolutionary direction that he perceives.  What sort of modification could that be and still have the laws of physics support reductionism?  Although Nagel doesn’t require reductionism in his approach, I am adding the requirement of supporting reductionism because some form of causal reductionism is necessary to maintain the history of successful scientific explanation.

First, teleology is a philosophical position that attributes to nature the ability to proceed toward a final goal or objective.  That would seem to imply that whatever adjustment is made to physics, that it would need to be sophisticated enough to be able to correlate long term implications with assign short-term actions.  Short term actions that did not correlate strongly with the desired long term outcome would need to be minimized.

Second, in order to change physics so that the entire structure of physics does not have to be re-built requires a rather subtle change.  One way that I have stated that change is as a bias in the laws of physics that favor life.  I think that still works in Nagel’s framework, although in order to be more compatible with Nagel, perhaps the bias also needs to favor consciousness.

Third, the place to insert such a subtle change so that it doesn’t greatly disturb the whole structure of science is at the most fundamental level.  For physics that would be at the quantum level.  And some physicists do argue that quantum physics is incomplete as it is now constituted.

There may be many such modifications, but the simplest modification that I can imagine would be a decision process in quantum physics that favors life and consciousness.  The decision process would need to produce the exact same results that quantum experiments currently confirm.  And it would need to provide for the action of biological molecules in the simplest organisms and in the most complex organisms.  Presumably such a bias would also greatly increase the likelihood that life originated from the available raw materials, either on Earth or nearby.

In such a framework where a decision process favoring life and consciousness has been added to quantum physics, the fundamental particles would be representatives of the decision process rather than mechanistic material particles.  Some explanation would be needed to differentiate the constituents of inorganic matter from living biological matter.

In order to explain mind with this new edifice, it will be necessary to explain how individual particles can bind together into larger entities that possess the attributes of a single mind.  That may not be easy, but it is probably easier than explaining how mind can emerge from a collection of mechanistic particles.

I believe that such a decision process requires an intelligent power at least as powerful as the human mind, but probably vastly more powerful since this power must encompass the entire scope and history of the Universe.  That is why I take the theistic position contrary to Nagel’s atheistic position.

I am looking forward to a more specific proposal from Nagel as I plunge into Chapter 2.

Has Scientific Reductionism Failed?

Yesterday, I began reading Thomas Nagel’s book, Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature Is Almost Certainly False.  This book has generated a lot of controversy and I wanted to comment on some of the author’s statements as I encountered them rather than waiting until I had finished the book.

In Chapter 1, Nagel lays out his basic argument.  He is asserting that the central concept about the nature of the universe held by most secular-minded persons is not true.  That concept is that life began from a chemical accident several billion years ago and once life began to evolve, it proceeded by random mutation to develop new species arriving at humankind all within a time frame set by the age of the earth and the age of the universe.

According to Nagel, the reason that most secular-minded people hold this view is that many scientists present this view as the only possible scenario: “But among the scientists and philosophers who do express views about the natural order as a whole, reductive materialism is widely assumed to be the only serious possibility.”

Nagel goes on to say that reductive materialism has failed: “The starting point for the argument is the failure of psychophysical reductionism, a position in the philosophy of mind that is largely motivated by the hope of showing how the physical sciences could in principle provide a theory of everything.”

Later, Nagel qualifies this by saying he is mainly speaking about materialist reductionism as it applies to biology (and mind, presumably).  And here is where some clarification is needed.  Nagel uses several phrases to describe the type of reductionism he is speaking about.  In Chapter 1 they are:  “psychophysical reductionism,”  “physio-chemical reductionism,” and “materialist reductionism.”  What they all have in common is reductionism, so it will help to understand what reductionism is.

Reductionism is the idea that any complex entity can be completely understood and explained by analysis of its parts.  It is like peeling back the layers of an onion to reveal the innermost layer which presumably is the fundamental layer from which everything can be explained.  Within the physical sciences this approach has been very successful.  The innermost, fundamental layer for the physical sciences is the layer described as the “Standard Model of Particle Physics.”  This model describes the fundamental particles such as the electron and proton (quarks) as well as the fundamental forces such as the electromagnetic force.

The standard model has been very successful.  Its most recent achievement was the prediction and tentative confirmation of the Higgs Boson, also known as the “God particle,” a name suggested by a journalist, not a scientist.  So I was taken aback when I first read that reductionism had failed.

I think that Nagel is referring to the current inability to explain biology and particularly mind in terms of the features of the standard model.  I think that is an accurate statement:  living organisms cannot be fully understood or explained by appealing to their constituent particles and fundamental forces, if those entities are understood mechanically.

What I think is missing is the realization that the standard model may not be the most fundamental layer of scientific reductionism.  It is simply the layer that is best understood.  The standard model describes phenomenon at the quantum boundary.  Its particles and forces are the smallest measurable entities on which science can perform experiments.  The components of the standard model are conceptual entities.  But they are conceptual entities that have a huge advantage over the layer beneath them: they are measurable.

One could argue that the quantum layer is more fundamental than the standard model.  The huge problem is that the quantum layer contains conceptual entities that cannot be measured, even in principle.  The conceptual entities of the quantum layer are quantum states and they cannot be measured.  But quantum states are the mathematical entities that are essential for the success of the standard model.  So who is to say that quantum states are any less real than electrons and protons?

At the quantum boundary, science has encountered the absolute limit on what can be measured.  So, in that sense, science has reached the limit of what it can confirm experimentally.  But, if one believes that the quantum world is real, then an entirely different picture emerges from the standard model.  Instead of mechanistic particles, the quantum world suggests that elementary particles are computed entities.  One does not need to attribute classical computation to these tiny bundles of energy.  What is important is that there exists a decisional process in the universe that determines the specific outcome whenever one of these particles participates in the transfer of energy from one place in space-time to another place in space-time.

In other words, the fundamental particles are more mind-stuff than material-stuff.  I think that counts as a success for scientific reductionism, not as failure.  Of course the problem is that one must make a leap of faith to the point of view that the quantum world represents reality.  That might be a leap too far for the many who have been trained in the classical view of reality.