Panpsychism: the theory that all matter is conscious (quotes)

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Panpsychism is a theory that all matter is conscious to a degree

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Some scientist and philosophers argue that consciousness is a fundamental property of the universe and pervades it

  • According to panpsychism, in contrast, consciousness pervades the universe and is a fundamental feature of it. Philip Goff
  • Psyche and matter are contained in one and the same world, and moreover are in continuous contact with one another. Carl Jung
  • Consciousness is hidden within matter. Matter is arising within consciousness. The objective world and the subjective self co-exist and create each other. Tim Freke
  • Consciousness actually exists independently and outside of the brain as an inherent property of the universe itself like dark matter and dark energy or gravity. Dr. Peter Fenwick
  • Consciousness as such is the subtle counterpart of matter. Just as inertia and energy are attributes of matter, so does harmony manifest itself as consciousness. You may consider it in a way as a form of very subtle energy. Wherever matter organises itself into a stable organism, consciousness appears spontaneously. With the destruction of the organism consciousness disappears. Nisargadatta Maharaj
  • Panpsychism is the view that consciousness – the most puzzling and strangest phenomenon in the entire universe – is a fundamental and ubiquitous feature of the world, though in a form very remote from human consciousness. At a very basic level, the world is awake. William E Seager
  • If consciousness is the ground of being rather than an epiphenomenon of physical processes, we may find that a basic question asked by modern astronomy and space science- ‘Is there life out there?’- should be rephrased. Organic life, as well as intelligence, may already be a property enmeshed in the fabric of the cosmos, brought to fruition through the spiraling dynamics of the solar system and the galaxy, built into the structure of the universe itself, brought to fruition through the spiralling dynamics of the solar system and the galaxy, built into the structure of the universe itself. Daniel Pinchbeck
  • I suggest that a theory of consciousness should take experience as fundamental. More likely, we will take experience itself as a fundamental feature of the world, alongside mass, charge, and space-time. If we take experience as fundamental, then we can go about the business of constructing a theory of experience. In particular, a non-reductive theory of experience will specify basic principles that tell us how experience depends on physical features of the world. These psychophysical principles will not interfere with physical laws, as it seems that physical laws already form a closed system. Of course, by taking experience as fundamental, there is a sense in which this approach does not tell us why there is experience in the first place, but this is the same for any fundamental theory. Nothing in physics tells us why there is matter in the first place, but we do not count this against theories of matter. Certain features of the world need to be taken as fundamental by any scientific theory. A theory of matter can still explain all sorts of facts about matter by showing how they are consequences of the basic laws. The same goes for a theory of experience. David Chalmer
  • The argument unfolds as follows: Physicists have no problem accepting that certain fundamental aspects of reality – such as space, mass, or electrical charge – just do exist. They can’t be explained as being the result of anything else. Explanations have to stop somewhere. The panpsychist hunch is that consciousness could be like that, too – and that if it is, there is no particular reason to assume that it only occurs in certain kinds of matter. Oliver Burkeman
  • In our standard view of things, consciousness exists only in the brains of highly evolved organisms, and hence consciousness exists only in a tiny part of the universe and only in very recent history. According to panpsychism, in contrast, consciousness pervades the universe and is a fundamental feature of it. This doesn’t mean that literally everything is conscious. The basic commitment is that the fundamental constituents of reality—perhaps electrons and quarks—have incredibly simple forms of experience. And the very complex experience of the human or animal brain is somehow derived from the experience of the brain’s most basic parts. Gareth Cook
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This theory is known as panpsychism

  • Panpsychism is the theory that sentience or subjective experience is ubiquitous. Anthony Lambert
  • Panpsychism is the idea that everything, all of the tiny subatomic particles that make up the universe’s mass, have consciousness, a sense of what it’s like to have an experience. We have consciousness because it’s everywhere. In this way, it’s all there is. Robby Berman
  • Panpsychism, holds that all aspects of reality have some “psychological” properties apart from their physical properties. This type of property dualism suggests that the universe has consciousness at its base. Consciousness is a fundamental property of matter. Wikipedia
  • Panpsychism, well, to be more accurately called constitutive panpsychism, it’s the notion that at least some of the elementary particles that constitutes the universe, at least some of them, are fundamentally conscious. In other words, they have experiential states, fundamental experiential states, next to having fundamental physical properties, like mass, charge, spin, momentum, spacetime position, and so on. So, next to all of those physical properties, there is a fundamental experiential property to at least some of the elementary building blocks of the physical universe. Bernardo Kastrup
  • Our only intelligible notion of an object in itself is that it should be an object for itself, and this lands us in panpsychism and a belief that our physical perceptions are effects on us of ‘psychical’ realities. William James
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Panpsychism is a theory that all matter is conscious to a degree

  • Even non-sentient beings have Buddha nature.  Zhanran
  • Some scientists and philosophers argue that all matter is conscious to some degree
  • The faculty of sensation is a general and essential quality of matter. Denis Diderot
  • Within your physical atoms the origins of all consciousness still sings. Seth-Jane Roberts
  • Panpsychism is the notion that all matter is conscious, even though the intensity or quality of consciousness may depend on the particular arrangement of matter at hand.  Bernardo Kastrup
  • I regard all matter as ensouled, that is to say as endowed with feeling (pleasure and pain) and motion. Ernst Haeckel
  • The entire cosmos is suffused with sentience. We are surrounded and immersed in consciousness; it is in the air we breathe, the soil we tread on, the bacteria that colonize our intestines, and the brain that enables us to think. Christof Koch
  • Maybe all organisms, physical and biological, have experiences and feelings, including atoms, molecules, crystals, cells, tissues, organs, plants, animals, societies of organisms, ecosystems, planets, solar systems and galaxies. Rupert Sheldrake
  • Who, then, is “animate” and who “inanimate”? Within the assembly of the Lotus, all are present without division. In the case of grass, trees and the soil…whether they merely lift their feet or energetically traverse the long path, they will all reach Nirvana.   Zhanran
  • Some argue this implies that rocks perceive the world around them, perhaps have thoughts and feelings, and enjoy an inner mental life similar to human beings. This is clearly an absurd suggestion, and not one that was ever intended. If a bacterium’s experience is a billionth of the richness and intensity of a human being’s, the degree of experience in the crystals of a rock might be a billion times dimmer still. They would possess none of the qualities of human consciousness—just the faintest possible glimmer of experience. Peter Russell
  • Contemporary philosophers use the term pan experientialism —everything has experience. Whatever name this position is given, its basic tenet is that the capacity for inner experience could not evolve or emerge out of entirely insentient, non-experiencing matter. Experience can only come from that which already has experience. Therefore, the faculty of consciousness must be present all the way down the evolutionary tree. According to this view, there is nowhere we can draw a line between conscious and nonconscious entities; there is a trace of experience, however slight, in viruses, molecules, atoms, and even elementary particles. Peter Russell
  • According to Panpsychism, consciousness is not limited to humans and other animals. Plants have it, too. It doesn’t stop at living things, either. Stones and stars, electrons and photons, even quarks have consciousness. According to some versions of the theory, the universe itself is conscious. (This variety of panpsychism is known as cosmopsychism.) Avery Hurt
  • Panpsychism as defended in contemporary philosophy is the view that consciousness is fundamental and ubiquitous, where to be conscious is simply to have subjective experience of some kind. This doesn’t necessarily imply anything as sophisticated as thoughts. Philip Goff
  • Panpsychism, the dizzying notion that everything in the universe might be conscious, or at least potentially conscious, or conscious when put into certain configurations. If humans have it, and apes have it, and dogs and pigs probably have it, and maybe birds, too – well, where does it stop? Since we don’t know how the brains of mammals create consciousness, we have no grounds for assuming it’s only the brains of mammals that do so – or even that consciousness requires a brain at all. Physicists have no problem accepting that certain fundamental aspects of reality – such as space, mass, or electrical charge – just do exist. They can’t be explained as being the result of anything else. Explanations have to stop somewhere. The panpsychist hunch is that consciousness could be like that, too – and that if it is, there is no particular reason to assume that it only occurs in certain kinds of matter. Panpsychism says, it’s everywhere. The universe is throbbing with it. Oliver Burkeman
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Panpsychism believes that mind and inner experience are a fundamental feature of the world

  • Mind, rather than emerging as a late outgrowth in the evolution of life, has existed always as the matrix, the source and condition of physical reality. George Wald
  • It is probable that “psyche and matter are two different aspects of one and the same thing.  Carl Jung
  • This world is indeed a living being endowed with a soul and intelligence … a single visible living entity containing all other living entities, which by their nature are all related.  Plato
  • Panpsychism is a theory that “the mind is a fundamental feature of the world which exists throughout the universe. Bruntrup, Godehard
  • Panpsychism is the view that all things have a mind or a mind-like quality.  Anthony Lambert
  • Panpsychism suggests that all matter/energy has some associated mental qualities, just as all matter/energy enjoys various physical qualities. Where there is matter there is mind and where there is mind there is matter. As matter complexifies so mind complexifies, and vice versa. They are two sides of the same coin. Tam Hunt
  • In philosophy of mind, panpsychism is the view that mind or a mind-like aspect is a fundamental and ubiquitous feature of reality. It has taken on a wide variety of forms. Contemporary academic proponents hold that sentience or subjective experience is ubiquitous, while distancing these qualities from complex human mental attributes;  they ascribe a primitive form of mentality to entities at the fundamental level of physics but do not ascribe it to most aggregates, such as rocks or buildings.  On the other hand, some historical theorists ascribed attributes such as life or spirits to all entities.  Robby Berman
  • Taken literally, panpsychism is the belief that everything is “enminded.” All of it. Whether it is a brain, a tree, a rock or an electron. Everything that is physical also possesses an interior mental aspect. One is objective—accessible to everybody—and the other phenomenal—accessible only to the subject. Christof Koch
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Mind is a property of matter so matter is still primary

  • Panpsychism very subtly takes matter to be more primary than mind: according to it, mind is a property of matter. Matter is seen as the substrate of mind, even though mind is considered intrinsic to matter.  Bernardo Kastrup
  • This sounds strange at first blush, but “panpsychism” – the view that all matter has some associated consciousness – is an increasingly accepted position with respect to the nature of consciousness. The panpsychist argues that consciousness did not emerge at some point during evolution. Rather, it’s always associated with matter and vice versa – they’re two sides of the same coin. But the large majority of the mind associated with the various types of matter in our universe is extremely rudimentary. An electron or an atom, for example, enjoys just a tiny amount of consciousness. But as matter becomes more interconnected and rich, so does the mind, and vice versa, according to this way of thinking. Tam Hunt
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Mind is even inherent in the atom…

  • Atoms are weird stuff, behaving like active agents rather than inert substances. They make unpredictable choices between alternative possibilities according to the laws of quantum mechanics. It appears that mind, as manifested by the capacity to make choices, is to some extent inherent in every atom. The universe is also weird, with its laws of nature that make it hospitable to the growth of mind. I do not make any clear distinction between mind and God. God is what mind becomes when it passes beyond the scale of our comprehension.  Freeman Dyson
  • Panpsychism, namely the idea that even atoms and molecules have a primitive kind of mentality or experience. Rupert Sheldrake
  • Consciousness permeates reality. Rather than being just a unique feature of human subjective experience, it’s the foundation of the universe, present in every particle and all physical matter. Olivia Goldhill
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…though not necessarily in all inanimate objects (though some believe it is)

  • Panpsychism doesn’t necessarily imply that every inanimate object is conscious. Panpsychists usually don’t take tables and other artifacts to be conscious as a whole. Rather, the table could be understood as a collection of particles that each have their own very simple form of consciousness. Olivia Goldhill
  • But, then again, panpsychism could very well imply that conscious tables exist: One interpretation of the theory holds that “any system is conscious,” says Chalmers. “Rocks will be conscious, spoons will be conscious, the Earth will be conscious. Any kind of aggregation gives you consciousness.” Olivia Goldhill
  • The implication is that your home thermostat must be conscious; it must experience every single time it turns the heating system on or off. If you play the piano, beware: the piano must be conscious of every keystroke you perform. Every electric appliance you own, from your home computer to the vacuum cleaner, is also supposedly conscious under panpsychism.  Bernardo Kastrup
  • They ascribe a primitive form of mentality to entities at the fundamental level of physics but do not ascribe it to most aggregates, such as rocks or buildings. On the other hand, some historical theorists ascribed attributes such as life or spirits to all entities.  David Skrbina
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Human consciousness is constituted by a combination of the consciousness of the atoms that make up our nervous system

  • Some philosophers have proposed an alternative theory: that experience is inherent to every fundamental physical entity in nature. Under this view, called “constitutive panpsychism,” matter already has experience from the get-go, not just when it arranges itself in the form of brains. Even subatomic particles possess some very simple form of consciousness. Our own human consciousness is then (allegedly) constituted by a combination of the subjective inner lives of the countless physical particles that make up our nervous system. Bernardo Kastrup
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An implication of panpsychism is that consciousness exists both within the brain and beyond it

  • Consciousness exists independently and outside of the brain as an inherent property of the universe itself like dark matter and dark energy or gravity.  Peter Fenwick
  • Underlying the transmission theory is the supposition, as we’ve noted, that there is a form of consciousness that is external to the brain. The brain is in contact with this source, receiving and modifying information from it. Larry Dossey
  • This off-site repository of consciousness would survive the death of the brain and body. Larry Dossey
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More complex and integrated systems are believed to be more conscious

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Panpsychism believes that more complex forms of mind or experience emerge in more complex systems

  • Panpsychism does not mean that atoms are conscious in the sense that we are, but only that some aspects of mentality or experience are present in the simplest physical systems. More complex forms of mind or experience emerge in more complex systems. Rupert Sheldrake
  • In Christoff Koch’s view, all physical matter has some form of consciousness. The more complex the “Whole” is within any particular entity, the higher the level of consciousness or feelings it experiences. Christoff Koch
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Integrated Information Theory (IIT) aims to measure the amount of consciousness in a physical system

  • IIT doesn’t ask how matter gives rise to consciousness — rather, it takes as a given certain attributes of consciousness, and asks what kinds of physical systems would be needed to support them. And it’s quantitative: The theory purports to measure the amount of consciousness in a physical system (denoted by the Greek letter phi, Φ) by linking specific physical states to specific conscious experiences. Dan Falk
  • Panpsychism by itself leaves many questions unanswered. Why, for example, is this arrangement of matter more conscious than that arrangement of matter? Dan Falk
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IIT predicts the consciousness of an entity will be stronger if the information contained in the structure is sufficiently integrated or unified

  • One of the most popular and credible contemporary neuroscience theories on consciousness, Giulio Tononi’s Integrated Information Theory (IIT), further lends credence to panpsychism. Tononi argues that something will have a form of “consciousness” if the information contained within the structure is sufficiently “integrated,” or unified, and so the whole is more than the sum of its parts. Because it applies to all structures—not just the human brain—Integrated Information Theory shares the panpsychist view that physical matter has innate conscious experience. Olivia Goldhill
  • High integrated information means that the system cannot be subdivided in two independent systems – the future state of system A depends on the current state of system B and conversely. This corresponds to an important property of consciousness: the unity of consciousness. You experience a single stream of consciousness that integrates sound, vision, etc. Sound and vision are not experienced by two separate minds but by a single one. Yet this is what should happen if there were two unconnected brain areas dealing with sound and light. Thus a necessary condition for a unique conscious experience is that the substrate of consciousness cannot be divided into causally independent subsets. Romain Brette
  • Integrated Information Theory (IIT) postulates that any complex and interconnected mechanism whose structure encodes a set of cause-and-effect relationships will have some level of consciousness. It will feel like something from the inside. But if, like the cerebellum, the mechanism lacks integration and complexity, it will not be aware of anything. As IIT states it, consciousness is intrinsic causal power associated with complex mechanisms such as the human brain. Christof Koch
  • Integrated Information Theory (IIT) posits that any one conscious experience is identical to a maximally irreducible cause-effect structure. Its physical substrate, its Whole, is the operationally defined neural correlate of consciousness. The experience is formed by the Whole but is not identical to it. Christof Koch
  • Christof Koch’s specific twist on this idea, developed with the neuroscientist and psychiatrist Giulio Tononi, is narrower and more precise than traditional panpsychism. It is the argument that anything at all could be conscious, providing that the information it contains is sufficiently interconnected and organised. The human brain certainly fits the bill; so do the brains of cats and dogs, though their consciousness probably doesn’t resemble ours. But in principle the same might apply to the internet, or a smartphone, or a thermostat. Oliver Burkeman
  • Giulio Tononi says that consciousness is present only in causal systems with a positive amount of integrated information, which entails that conscious systems must be macrosubjects at least in the sense of having two or more components. David Chalmers
  • Christof Koch argues that in theory you could take any device, measure the complexity of the information contained in it, then deduce whether or not it was conscious. Oliver Burkeman
  • IIT redefines consciousness as the maximally-irreducible cause-effect power of a given network. Christoff Koch
  • Integrated information theory considers the parts and their interactions that make up a whole, whether evolved or engineered, and derives, via a well-specified calculus, the quantity and the quality of the experience of this whole. Christoff Koch
  • It is the irreducible Whole that forms my conscious experience, not the underlying neurons. So not only is my experience not my brain, but most certainly it is not my individual neurons. While a handful of cultured neurons in a dish may have an itsy-bitsy amount of experience, forming a mini-mind, the hundreds of millions [of] neurons making up my posterior cortex do not embody a collection of millions of mini-minds. There is only one mind, my mind, constituted by the Whole in my brain. Other Wholes may exist in my brain, or my body, as long as they don’t share elements with the posterior hot zone Whole. Thus, it may feel like something to be my liver, but given the very limited interactions among liver cells, I doubt it feels like a lot. Christoff Koch
  • IIT does not hold that all systems are conscious, leading Tononi and Koch to state that IIT incorporates some elements of panpsychism but not others. Koch has called IIT a “scientifically refined version” of panpsychism. Brandon Keim
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IIT implies a system with zero integrated information will have no inner experience

  • A system with zero integrated information does not feel like anything. It is not conscious. It does not exist for itself, as it can be fully reduced to its subcomponents. Christoff Koch
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IIT implies computers cannot be conscious in their normal format…

  • Integrated Information Theory implies that digital computers, even if their behaviour were to be functionally equivalent to ours, and even if they were to run faithful simulations of the human brain, would experience next to nothing. Giulio Tononi and Christof Koch
  • IIT also predicts that a sophisticated simulation of a human brain running on a digital computer cannot be conscious—even if it can speak in a manner indistinguishable from a human being. Just as simulating the massive gravitational attraction of a black hole does not actually deform spacetime around the computer implementing the astrophysical code, programming for consciousness will never create a conscious computer. Consciousness cannot be computed: it must be built into the structure of the system. Christof Koch
  • A computer — at least anything that functions like today’s digital computers — could, at best, mimic consciousness; it wouldn’t actually be conscious, Christoff Koch argues, because it would lack the brain’s “intrinsic causal powers”; he argues that the “brain as hardware, mind as software” analogy has been wildly oversold. Dan Falk
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…but could conceivably be conscious if restructured in ways similar to the brain

  • Question: Turning to one of the core contentions of your book, that computers using von Neumann architectures, could never be truly conscious, does the growing development (e.g., Diaz-Alvarez et al. 2019) of neuromorphic-architecture computers, which rely in some cases on “self-assembly,” change this conclusion? That is, if computers rely on self-assembly and re-entrant structures rather than feedforward networks (von Neumann architecture), do you see computers possibly becoming conscious in a meaningful manner in the coming decades? Answer by Christof Koch: Yes, you are entirely correct. There is nothing super-natural about the human brain. If the intrinsic causal powers of the brain are reproduced in an artificial, engineered substrate, then it too would have conscious experiences. This might happen in dense neuromorphic architectures or possibly in highly entangled quantum computers, such as the ones Google is building in Santa Barbara.
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There are some shortcomings with IIT

  • IIT is more restricted than naïve panpsychism, but it suffers from the same problem: how do you define a “system”? Wouldn’t a subsystem of a conscious system also be conscious, according to the theory? Romain Brette
  • But let me end on a positive note. In my opinion, the fact that Integrated Information Theory is wrong—demonstrably wrong, for reasons that go to its core—puts it in something like the top 2% of all mathematical theories of consciousness ever proposed. Almost all competing theories of consciousness, it seems to me, have been so vague, fluffy, and malleable that they can only aspire to wrongness. Scott Aaronson
  • The uncertainty of IIT as a physicalist explanation to the deep mystery of the mind and brain when it requires a non-empirical presence of some form of conscious feelings in the lowest physical strata leaves it in uncertain territory. Gerald R. Baron
  • IIT does not address the hard problem. A critic would naturally ask why this “integrated information” should feel like anything; couldn’t you have the same flow of information but without consciousness?  Dan Falk
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Panpsychism is a step on from materialism and distinct from dualism and idealism

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Panpsychism is distinct from idealism

  • Idealism: Everything is in consciousness. VERSE Panpsychism: everything is conscious. Bernardo Kastrup
  • Idealism does not take consciousness to be just another fundamental property of matter, like mass or charge, as panpsychism entails, but an ontological primitive in and by itself, independent of matter. Bernardo Kastrup
  • Idealism entails that all reality is in mind. But that does not imply that rocks, tables, and chairs have their own form of consciousness. One should not confuse the claim that all of reality is in consciousness with the idea that everything is conscious. Idealism does not entail that rocks and chairs experience things subjectively the way you and I do. Bernardo Kastrup
  • Idealism entails that, like a dream, reality exists only insofar as it is in mind, but not that everything in it is conscious and has an inner life of its own. For instance, while acknowledging that other living entities are conscious – that is, while granting validity to statement 2 discussed earlier – I do not subscribe to the notion that rocks, windmills, home thermostats, or computers are conscious in and of themselves, having their own individual, subjective points-of-view. Bernardo Kastrup
  • Consciousness is not in everything. There are no things independent of consciousness. Panpsychism grants too much existence to the universe.  Rupert Spira
  • Panpsychism very subtly takes matter to be more primary than mind: according to it, mind is a property of matter. Matter is seen as the substrate of mind, even though mind is considered intrinsic to matter. Bernardo Kastrup
  • Panpsychism, in contrast to many forms of idealism, holds that for all minds there is a single, external, spatio-temporal world, which is not just ideas in a divine mind.  Charles Hartshorne
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Panpsychism is distinct from pantheism and hylozoism

  • Idealism is not panpsychism. Bernardo Kastrup
  • Panpsychism is distinguished from hylozoism (all matter is living) and pantheism (everything is God). Encyclopaedia Britannica
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Panpsychism is a logical step on for materialists who cannot explain how matter gives rise to consciousness…

  • A logical implication of materialism: panpsychism. Bernardo Kastrup
  • If you cannot explain consciousness in terms of emerging dynamics of unconscious subatomic particles, you must then postulate that consciousness is itself a fundamental property – like electric charge, mass or spin – of all particles. Bernardo Kastrup
  • The only possible reason to believe in panpsychism is to make materialism work. Bernardo Kastrup
  • Is the turn toward panpsychism a kind of neo-Romanticism born of our yearning to reënchant the world that materialism has rendered mute?  Donald Hoffman
  • Panpsychism offers an attractive alternative solution to materialism: Consciousness is a fundamental feature of physical matter; every single particle in existence has an “unimaginably simple” form of consciousness. These particles then come together to form more complex forms of consciousness, such as humans’ subjective experiences. This isn’t meant to imply that particles have a coherent worldview or actively think, merely that there’s some inherent subjective experience of consciousness in even the tiniest particle. Olivia Goldhill
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…while still remaining an ultimately materialist view

  • Panpsychism is a wholly materialist view in almost all its versions, and Goff himself recommends the materialist panpsychist view that “consciousness is located in the intrinsic nature of the physical world”. Galen Strawson
  • Unlike panpsychism does not deny that a world of matter exists independent of mind. It acknowledges such a world but says that matter itself is conscious with some degree of inner experience. Anthony Lambert
  • What, really, are the alternatives for someone who wants to explain consciousness in strictly physical terms? Apart from the theory that consciousness is an illusion, perhaps the only other option, is to conclude that mind is one with the material world—that everything, in other words, is conscious. Meghan O’Gieblyn
  • Panpsychism, in religious terms, is a belief that matter and soul are one substance. Anthony Lambert
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Some argue panpsychism offers an attractive middle way between materialism and dualism

  • For its proponents, panpsychism offers an attractive middle way between physicalism on the one hand and dualism on the other. The worry with dualism — the view that mind and matter are fundamentally different kinds of thing — is that it leaves us with a radically disunified picture of nature, and the deep difficulty of understanding how mind and brain interact. And whilst physicalism offers a simple and unified vision of the world, this is arguably at the cost of being unable to give a satisfactory account of the emergence of human and animal consciousness. Panpsychism, strange as it may sound on first hearing, promises a satisfying account of the human mind within a unified conception of nature. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
  • It would be satisfying for multiple reasons if a theory like this [Panpsychism] were eventually to vanquish the Hard Problem of consciousness. On the one hand, it wouldn’t require a belief in spooky mind-substances that reside inside brains; the laws of physics would escape largely unscathed. On the other hand, we wouldn’t need to accept the strange and soulless claim that consciousness doesn’t exist, when it’s so obvious that it does. On the contrary, panpsychism says, it’s everywhere. The universe is throbbing with it. Oliver Burkeman
  • There are two basic views about consciousness: materialism and dualism. Materialists say that physical matter is all there is. Consciousness emerges (somehow, no one can explain just how) out of the physical brain. Dualists, on the other hand, argue that consciousness is something separate from matter. Neither viewpoint is totally satisfactory. Materialism can’t explain how matter produces consciousness; dualism can’t explain how immaterial consciousness interacts with matter. Panpsychism provides a way around this conundrum. Panpsychism is the idea that consciousness did not evolve to meet some survival need, nor did it emerge when brains became sufficiently complex. Instead it is inherent in matter — all matter. Avery Hurt
  • There is no escape from this dilemma – either all matter is conscious, or consciousness is something distinct from matter. Alfred Russel Wallace
  • This solution avoids the ungainliness of dualism: panpsychism elegantly eliminates the need to explain how the mental emerges out of the physical and vice versa. Both coexist. Christoff Koch
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…and an attractive middle way between materialism and idealism

  • I understand and agree with what seems to be the underlying motivation for idealism old and new: a strong feeling that materialist explanations of the universe fail to capture what it is to be human and fail to adequately explain all of reality. But as described above, idealism goes too far in the opposite direction and it cannot, as a result, explain the reality of the external world. Panpsychism finds the reasonable middle ground in explaining both our own minds and external reality, and the ongoing dance between the two at all levels of being. Tam Hunt
  • A lot of the screwiness of classical and modern idealism begins to make sense if we re-frame it in panpsychist terms. Where materialism simply lops off the mental half of the universe, leaving us with an explanation of only half of the universe, panpsychism re-includes this mental aspect of the universe as part of the integral whole. Tam Hunt
  • Idealism goes too far in the opposite direction from materialism by arguing that only mind and consciousness are fundamental. It lops off the physical world in an effort to satisfactorily explain mind and consciousness, making the same but opposite mistake that materialism does. Tam Hunt
  • Panpsychism strikes a balance between acknowledging the reality of an objective external world and the reality of mind/consciousness. External and internal are two sides of the same coin in panpsychism; the yin and yang of reality. Tam Hunt
  • This view combines scientific realism — the view that there is an objective world out there independent of human consciousness — with the view that all matter/energy has some associated mind, but this associated mind is extremely simple in the vast majority of circumstances. It is probably only when biological life comes into the picture that consciousness becomes complex enough to be very interesting. While atoms and molecules have their own very dim consciousness, it’s generally pretty negligible. We don’t need to start worrying about atomic or molecular rights. Tam Hunt
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Panpsychism is an old idea that has been revived of late

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Panpsychism is far from being a new idea…

  • Panpsychism is not a new idea. Most people used to believe in it, and many still do. All over the world, traditional people saw the world around them as alive and in some sense conscious or aware: the planets, stars, the earth, plants and animals all had spirits or souls. Rupert Sheldrake
  • Panpsychism is the view that mentality is fundamental and ubiquitous in the natural world. The view has a long and venerable history in philosophical traditions of both East and West, and has recently enjoyed a revival in analytic philosophy. Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy
  • Panpsychism is one of the oldest philosophical theories, and has been ascribed to philosophers including Thales, Plato, Spinoza, Leibniz, William James, Alfred North Whitehead, and Galen Strawson. During the nineteenth century, panpsychism was the default theory in philosophy of mind, but it saw a decline during the middle years of the twentieth century with the rise of logical positivism. The recent interest in the hard problem of consciousness has revived interest in panpsychism. Robby Berman
  • Like the Vedic rishis, Spinoza was a panpsychist. He believed (probably on the basis of personal mystical experience, although he also felt the need to justify his position by a series of intricate and often dicey intellectual arguments) that all is one i.e. that everything which exists is God. Robby Berman
  • The Dharmakaya is nothing other than the physical universe and natural objects like rocks and stones are included as part of the supreme embodiment of the Buddha. 9th-century Shingon Buddhist Philospher Kukai
  • For Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, the 17th-century German philosopher and a typical panpsychist, the world is composed of atoms of energy that are psychic. These monads have different levels of consciousness: in inorganic reality they are sleeping, in animals they are dreaming, in human beings they are waking; God is the fully conscious monad. In 19th-century Germany, Arthur Schopenhauer asserted that the inner nature of all things is will—a panpsychistic thesis. And Gustav Theodor Fechner, the founder of experimental psychology and an ardent defender of panpsychism, contended that even trees are sentient and conscious.  Among other 20th-century philosophers, Alfred North Whitehead may fittingly be called a panpsychist inasmuch as in his philosophy each actual entity is capable of prehensions that involve feelings, emotions, consciousness, and so on.   Encyclopaedia Britannica
  • Though it sounds like something that sprang fully formed from the psychedelic culture, panpsychism has been around for a very long time. Philosophers and mathematicians Bertrand Russell and Alfred North Whitehead, physicists Arthur Eddington, Ernst Schrödinger, and Max Planck, and psychologist William James are just a few thinkers who supported some form of panpsychism. The idea lost traction in the late 20th century, but recently, philosophers and scientists such as David Chalmers, Bernardo Kastrup, Christof Koch, and Philip Goff have revived the idea, making strong claims for some form of panpsychism. Avery Hurt
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…although interest in it has been greatly revived of late

  • Interest in panpsychism has grown in part thanks to the increased academic focus on consciousness itself following on from Chalmers’ “hard problem” paper. Philosophers at NYU, home to one of the leading philosophy-of-mind departments, have made panpsychism a feature of serious study. There have been several credible academic books on the subject in recent years, and popular articles taking panpsychism seriously. Olivia Goldhill
  • Panpsychism is the view that mentality is fundamental and ubiquitous in the natural world. The view has a long and venerable history in philosophical traditions of both East and West, and has recently enjoyed a revival in analytic philosophy. For its proponents, panpsychism offers an attractive middle way between physicalism on the one hand and dualism on the other. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
  • Thinkers including philosopher Bertrand Russell and physicist Arthur Eddington made a serious case for panpsychism, but the field lost momentum after World War II, when philosophy became largely focused on analytic philosophical questions of language and logic. Interest picked up again in the 2000s, thanks both to recognition of the “hard problem” and to increased adoption of the structural-realist approach in physics, explains Chalmers. Olivia Goldhill
  • In the last few years, several scientists and philosophers, Chalmers and Koch among them, have begun to look seriously again at a viewpoint so bizarre that it has been neglected for more than a century, except among followers of eastern spiritual traditions, or in the kookier corners of the new age. This is “panpsychism”, the dizzying notion that everything in the universe might be conscious, or at least potentially conscious, or conscious when put into certain configurations. Oliver Burkeman
  • Panpsychism seems implausible to most, and yet it has experienced a remarkable renaissance of interest over the last quarter century. The reason is the stubbornly intractable problem of consciousness. William E Seager
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Some argue panpsychism amounts to a kind of modern form of animism

  • This is a kind of modern articulation of animism, the belief that inanimate objects, like statues or even rocks, are also ‘alive.’ Bernardo Kastrup
  • The quantum consciousness assumption, which amounts to a kind of “quantum animism” likewise asserts that consciousness is an integral part of the physical world, not an emergent property of special biological or computational systems. Since everything in the world is on some level a quantum system, this assumption requires that everything be conscious on that level. If the world is truly quantum animated, then there is an immense amount of invisible inner experience going on all around us that is presently inaccessible to humans, because our own inner lives are imprisoned inside a small quantum system, isolated deep in the meat of an animal brain. Nick Herbert
    Twentieth-century developments in science support a new animism. Developments in physics have led to a world of energetic events which seem to be self-moving and to behave in unpredictable ways. And recent studies in biology seem to demonstrate that bacteria and macromolecules have elemental forms of perception, memory, choice, and self-motion. David Ray Griffin
    While many claim regal Animism as a primitive philosophy appealing to people unexposed to science and progress, there are physicists who have formed a bridge between science and Animism. American physicist and author, Nick Herbert, argues that consciousness is not just a property of biological and computational systems but is an integral aspect of the physical world. Debanjan Dhar
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Some implications of panpsychism

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Panpsychism makes allowance for the continuation of consciousness after a person’s death…

  • Just because the organ that filters, perceives, and interprets it dies does not mean the phenomenon itself ceases to exist. It only ceases to be in the now-dead brain but continues to exist independently of the brain as an external property of the universe itself. Dr. Peter Fenwick
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…while some make the point this consciousness will be dispersed

  • Such a consciousness can only be dispersed into its tiniest bits, losing all history and identity, effectively being recycled. I am agnostic on this point. Bernard Haisch
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Panpsychism implies consciousness is far more widespread than assumed within standard western canon

  • Everything about humans, including the consciousness we’re so proud of, is just a particular arrangement of the same ingredients all other matter is made of. Human consciousness is not something extra, nor even something all that special. It’s just a variation, albeit a very complex variation, on a theme that runs through all matter. Avery Hurt
  • Christoff Koch, at times, appears motivated by something even more elemental—a longing to reënchant the world. He confesses to finding spiritual sustenance in the possibility that humans are not the lone form of consciousness in an otherwise dead cosmos. “I now know that I live in a universe in which the inner light of experience is far, far more widespread than assumed within standard Western canon.  Meghan O’Gieblyn
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Panpsychism sees all living beings as conscious which raises ethical issues

  • Integrated Information Theory (IIT) shares many intuitions with biopsychism, the belief that all life, to a smaller and larger extent, is sentient, capable of experience, in particular of pain and pleasure. Thus, they too have a right to exist. Of course, such an ethical demand clashes with the innate desire of every creature to maintain itself. This requires metabolic energy that comes from ingesting other living creatures. All ethical and moral judgements always involve a balancing act of various rights. Christoff Koch
  • Christoff Koch argues that consciousness is not unique to humans but exists throughout the animal kingdom and the insect world, and even at the microphysical level. Koch, an outspoken vegetarian, has long argued that animals share consciousness with humans; this new book extends consciousness further down the chain of being. Koch proposes that all sorts of things we have long thought of as inert might have “a tiny glow of experience,” including honeybees, jellyfish, and cerebral organoids grown from stem cells. Even atoms and quarks may be forms of “enminded matter.” Meghan O’Gieblyn
  • Panpsychism has an ethical upshot – enabling, and requiring, us to empathise with other humans and animals. It “bids us recognise that what looks forth from another’s eyes, what feels itself in the writhing of a worm . . . is really that very thing which, when speaking through my lips, calls itself ‘I’.”  Jane O’Grady
  • We don’t have a clue what consciousness is. Emergent theories in neural science and newly energised philosophical traditions suggest it’s an intrinsic property throughout nature and the cosmos itself. Leader scientist Kristof Koch went to India to explore the mystery with the Dalai Llama. The two concurred on almost every point. Commented by Dr Koch, “I was confronted by the Buddhist teaching that sentience is probably everywhere at varying levels. When I see insects in my home, I don’t kill them. Kenny Ausubel
  • I know I am conscious: I am seeing, hearing, feeling something here, inside my own head. But is consciousness—subjective experience—also there, not only in other people’s heads, but also in the head of animals? And perhaps everywhere, pervading the cosmos, as in old panpsychist traditions and in the Beatles’ song? Christof Koch
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If mind is a fundamental property of the universe, some argue it implies the universe has some degree of purpose

  • Neuroscientists assume that these mental powers somehow emerge from the electrical signaling of neurons — the circuitry of the brain. But no one has come close to explaining how that occurs. That, Dr. Nagel proposes, might require another revolution: showing that mind, along with matter and energy, is “a fundamental principle of nature” — and that we live in a universe primed “to generate beings capable of comprehending it.” Rather than being a blind series of random mutations and adaptations, evolution would have a direction, maybe even a purpose.  George Johnson
  • Life is nature’s way to give mind opportunities it wouldn’t otherwise have had. Freeman Dyson
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Arguments against panpsychism

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Some point out there is no empirical justification for believing that non-living things are conscious

  • We can infer that other people are conscious. After all, we observe in other people, and even in animals, behaviors that are entirely analogous to our own: they scream in pain, behave illogically when in love, sigh deeply when lost in thoughts, etc. Bernardo Kastrup
  • There is indeed good empirical justification for the inference that other people and animals, and perhaps even all life forms, are conscious. Bernardo Kastrup
  • But there is no empirical justification to infer that inanimate objects, which manifest no external behaviors that anyone could possibly relate to one’s own inner experience, are individually conscious in any way or to any degree whatsoever.  Bernardo Kastrup
  • The problem with panpsychism is, of course, that there is precisely zero evidence that any inanimate object is conscious. To resolve an abstract, theoretical problem of the materialist metaphysics one is forced to project onto the whole of nature a property – namely, circumscribed, individualized consciousness – which observation only allows to be inferred for a tiny subset of it – namely, living beings. This is, in a way, an attempt to make nature conform to theory, as opposed to making theory conform to nature.  Bernardo Kastrup
  • The point here is not what can be known for sure, but what inferences can be justified on the basis of observation. Bernardo Kastrup
  • I can explain much of my own external behavior to myself by the fact that I am conscious, and so can you. It is your conscious feelings that explain your facial expressions, your impulsive reactions, your dislike of certain people and your love for others, etc. And you undoubtedly observe very similar external behaviors in others: their facial expressions, impulsive reactions, likes and dislikes, etc.
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Some question the premise that particles are conscious

  • Now, if you want a particle to be conscious, your minimum expectation should be that the particle can change. It’s hard to have an inner life with only one thought. Sabine Hossenfelder
  • It’s very difficult to conceive of an experiential state that is completely static. The inner state of the elementary subatomic particles doesn’t change. It’s a fixed inner state. Bernardo Kastrup
  • You cannot have a static experiential state and therefore, subatomic particles, elementary subatomic particles, cannot have experiential states. Sabine Hossenfelder
  • A subatomic particle is just like the ripple. It is a ripple in the quantum field and as such, it doesn’t really exist. It’s just a way of talking about the pattern of excitation of the quantum field. But if the panpsychists bite this bullet, then you would have to concede that the consciousness that they want to put in at that level of nature, as a fundamental aspect of nature, would be spatially unbound, because the quantum field is spatially unbound. You cannot say that the ripple is conscious because the ripple doesn’t exist. There is only the quantum field. So, you have to say the quantum field is conscious. But now, you end up with universal consciousness because the quantum field, this is spatially unbound. It exists everywhere at the same time. And that makes it impossible for panpsychists to explain why you and I seem to have separate conscious in their lives. I can’t read your thoughts. Presumably, you can’t read mine. I do not know what’s happening in the galaxy of Andromeda. So, I think that’s a very strong argument against panpsychism. Bernardo Kastrup
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Some question how different consciousnesses combine (known as the combination problem)

  • To avoid this combination problem, some philosophers have moved to the exact opposite end of the scale. They say, “Well, you know what? There is only one universal consciousness.” And by the way, that’s much more consistent with physics as we know. It’s much more consistent with quantum field theory. Bernardo Kastrup
  • If conscious particles can join with others to create a larger, more complex consciousness together, does this mean the universe is itself one unimaginably large unified mind? And if so, how can private, personal, concurrent but non-overlapping consciousnesses emerge from the universal consciousnesses, each one of which has its own personality and experiences? This is the ontology’s “recombination” problem. Robby Berman
  • Idealism is a tantalizing view of the nature of reality, in that it elegantly circumvents two arguably insoluble problems: the hard problem of consciousness and the combination problem. Insofar as dissociation offers a path to explaining how, under idealism, one universal consciousness can become many individual minds, we may now have at our disposal an unprecedentedly coherent and empirically grounded way of making sense of life, the universe and everything. Bernardo Kastrup
  • Naïve panpsychism states that everything is conscious, to different levels: a brain, a tree, a rock. This immediately raises a big problem (refered to as the “problem of aggregates” in the article): you might claim that everything is conscious, but then you need to define what a “thing” is. Is half a rock conscious? Then which half? Is any set of 1000 particles randomly chosen in the universe conscious? Is half of my brain plus half of your stomach a conscious entity? Romain Brette
  • The biggest problem caused by panpsychism is known as the “combination problem”: Precisely how do small particles of consciousness collectively form more complex consciousness? Consciousness may exist in all particles, but that doesn’t answer the question of how these tiny fragments of physical consciousness come together to create the more complex experience of human consciousness. Any theory that attempts to answer that question, would effectively determine which complex systems—from inanimate objects to plants to ants—count as conscious. Olivia Goldhill
  • Aside from the fact that it just sounds a bit bizarre, the biggest problem for panpsychism is that it’s unclear how exactly our experience as human beings is supposed to be composed out of the consciousness of the particles that our brains are made up of. Even supposing that each of the particles that compose my brain has some primitive form of consciousness, how are all these distinct consciousnesses somehow blended together to produce the complex, unified experience that I enjoy? It therefore seems to me that the panpsychist’s proposed solution to the difficulties that dualism faces only raises further difficulties that are at least as daunting as those it’s meant to solve. Ben White
  • The obvious way around the combination problem is to posit that, although consciousness is indeed fundamental in nature, it isn’t fragmented like matter. The idea is to extend consciousness to the entire fabric of spacetime, as opposed to limiting it to the boundaries of individual subatomic particles. This view—called “cosmopsychism” in modern philosophy, although our preferred formulation of it boils down to what has classically been called “idealism”—is that there is only one, universal, consciousness. The physical universe as a whole is the extrinsic appearance of universal inner life, just as a living brain and body are the extrinsic appearance of a person’s inner life. Bernardo Kastrup
  • Panpsychists hold that consciousness emerges from the combination of billions of subatomic consciousnesses, just as the brain emerges from the organization of billions of subatomic particles. But how do these tiny consciousnesses combine? We understand how particles combine to make atoms, molecules and larger structures, but what parallel story can we tell on the phenomenal side? How do the micro-experiences of billions of subatomic particles in my brain combine to form the twinge of pain I’m feeling in my knee? If billions of humans organized themselves to form a giant brain, each person simulating a single neuron and sending signals to the others using mobile phones, it seems unlikely that their consciousnesses would merge to form a single giant consciousness. Why should something similar happen with subatomic particles? Keith Frankish
  • Constitutive panpsychism has a critical problem of its own: there is arguably no coherent, non-magical way in which lower-level subjective points of view—such as those of subatomic particles or neurons in the brain, if they have these points of view—could combine to form higher-level subjective points of view, such as yours and ours. This is called the combination problem and it appears just as insoluble as the hard problem of consciousness. The obvious way around the combination problem is to posit that, although consciousness is indeed fundamental in nature, it isn’t fragmented like matter. The idea is to extend consciousness to the entire fabric of spacetime, as opposed to limiting it to the boundaries of individual subatomic particles. This view—called “cosmopsychism” in modern philosophy, although our preferred formulation of it boils down to what has classically been called “idealism”—is that there is only one, universal, consciousness. The physical universe as a whole is the extrinsic appearance of universal inner life, just as a living brain and body are the extrinsic appearance of a person’s inner life.   Bernardo Kastrup
  • Panpsychism is the idea that everything, all of the tiny subatomic particles that make up the universe’s mass, have consciousness, a sense of what it’s like to have an experience. We have consciousness because it’s everywhere. In this way, it’s all there is. When enough of these conscious particles come together—there’d be countless numbers of them in each of our brains after all—a more complex, self-aware consciousness is created. This doesn’t quite make sense, though: It’s as if you arranged all the various pieces of a car randomly in a pile and by virtue of sheer proximity, they self-combined into a Prius. This is constitutive panpsychism’s “combination” problem, as in how do all these separate glimmers of consciousness merge to create our individuated consciousnesses. Another thing: If conscious particles can join with others to create a larger, more complex consciousness together, does this mean the universe is itself one unimaginably large unified mind? And if so, how can private, personal, concurrent but non-overlapping consciousnesses emerge from the universal consciousnesses, each one of which has its own personality and experiences? This is the ontology’s “recombination” problem. Robby Berman
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Some question why it requires a conscious observer (mind) to collapse a particle into being if mind already pervades all particles

  • That a conscious observer is required to convert the superposition of states of a quantum system into the single observable outcome has always troubled physicists. If quantum physics is really a fundamental theory of reality, it shouldn’t need to invoke conscious brains and measuring devices. Instead these macroscopic objects should emerge naturally from the theory. Many solutions have been proposed, but none have found acceptance. Christoff Koch
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