| Thinking hard|
or hardly thinking?
|Major trains of thought|
|The good, the bad|
and the brain fart
|Come to think of it|
Panpsychism is a metaphysical concept that all matter is conscious. There are various formulations of the concept, ranging from weaker to stronger versions, usually involving how much "consciousness" different things have. Softer forms of panpsychism may include the position that all matter has the possibility of being conscious or that all matter, while not necessarily being conscious, has some form of "mental properties." The basic idea of panpsychism is analogous to pantheism, just replace "god" with "consciousness," so all matter, and by extension, the universe, is conscious. There have been variations on this theme stretching back to ancient times — it is similar to ancient religions based on animism.
Thomas Nagel formulated a modern argument for panpsychism, claiming that mental processes cannot be reduced to physical matter and that if physical properties of matter are discovered by inference from other physical properties, then the same must be true for mental properties. So matter must have some "mental component." The supposed inability of materialism to deal with qualia is another argument often made for panpsychism. Galen Strawson argues that panpsychism is a consequence of physicalism because, if physicalism is true, mental states must actually exist in physical form. David Chalmers proposed the concept of "panprotopsychism," in which objects only possess a "proto-consciousness" and this can develop into a fuller form of consciousness when these objects combine. The idea is also very popular in New Age circles, often being tied into quantum consciousness or the notion of a "universal consciousness."
Arguments for and against panpsychism
Modern proponents of panpsychism argue in favour on this view with the following arguments:
- 1. Genetic argument: The idea that “ex nihilo, nihil fit” - i.e. you cannot create a substance from nothing, you need to already have it in some form in advance, and since we have mental/immaterial substances in physical systems like brains we need to have them also in the building blocks.
- 2. Intrinsic nature argument: Physics just describes behaviour and "dispositions" to behave of systems, it provides a formal description but dispositions and behaviours are supposed to come from "intrinsic" properties and these properties can be supposed to have a nature similar to our mental properties. “Physics is the knowledge of structural form, and not knowledge of content. All through the physical world runs that unknown content, which must surely be the stuff of our consciousness.” (Eddington, 1920, 200).
The main argments against Panpsychism:
- 1. Unnecessary/untestable claims and entities: There cannot be, even in principle, any test to see if mental properties exist in any physical system other than our mind and we don't need to assume their existence in order to understand reality.
- 2. Combination problem: The mental properties we experience personally apparently involve a unique self/mind that we agree to be linked to the physical behaviour of a brain, yet the brain is a combination of several parts; the problem being that, assuming mind is everywhere it must be in all these parts, how does it happen that all these several minds combine into what seems to be just one single mind?
Psychologists and neuroscientists, as well as many philosophers of mind, tend to dismiss this idea for a number of reasons. Panpsychism is unfalsifiable because there would be no way to detect if, say, a rock had a conscious experience. In the case of humans or other animals, we can explore consciousness and its relation to neurology through behavioral and anatomical studies. The same does not apply to inert matter. Panpsychism also may be driven by the fallacy of division. That is to say, it assumes that anything that has mental properties (such as a brain) must be made of something else that has mental properties. However, there is already a possible solution to this in the form of emergentism. Much research in cognitive science and related fields in recent years is based on an emergentist view of the mind, which holds that mental states may not totally reduce to physical matter but supervene on matter. Alternatively, reductionist approaches sidestep this problem by denying the mental states, claiming that the mind and brain are identical. Panpsychism has yet to produce fruitful research programs as emergentist and reductionist approaches have. In short, panpsychism may be a solution in search of a problem as it commits a category mistake similar to dualism by presuming consciousness is to be found as part of or a property of matter itself rather than as an abstract notion referring to certain patterns of interaction among matter. Thus, panpsychism tends to live mostly in pure philosophy and woo-related fields.
In contemporary philosophy, panpsychism is offered as a naturalistic solution to various problems inherent in classical physicalism:
- 1. Eliminativism denies internal existence (including qualia; such as the redness of red, or the specific taste of an apple, as distinct from the neural processes/information representing these experiences). While popular amongst some philosophers, eliminativism goes against human intuition; existing beliefs regarding the sentience of intelligent biological systems (given that the agent/"software" encoded in the brain has evolved to believe that it is conscious; see self-directed theory of mind).
- 2. Reductive physicalism reduces mental properties to physical properties, such as the firing of individual neurons. This prospect is becoming increasingly unlikely based on neuroscientific research concerning how information processing mapped to specific mental events is distributed across neural networks (multiple physical events).
- 3. Non-reductive physicalism assumes that mental reality supervenes on physical reality; that although there is a correspondence between mental and physical events, their mapping is not one-to-one. Mental properties under non-reductive physicalism are seen to be emergent, that given the right physical conditions they will arise (see Chalmers on strong emergence). Emergent mental properties are however redundant to the evolution and function of the physical system (see Jaegwon Kim on overdetermination).
- does not attempt to deny internal existence (eliminativism)
- takes into account current neuroscientific findings regarding the distribution of information (unlike classical reductive physicalism), and
- does not suffer from the problems (barring teleology) inherent in the emergence of redundant mental properties at specific points in space-time
It may be that we need to reconceptualise physical properties to facilitate their reduction to mental properties however (in the case of panpsychism/the combination problem), or at the very least, to reduce mental properties to physical properties (e.g. as probability waves; Dawkins).
- Panpsychism entry at the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
- Entry in the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy
- Panpsychism on Philpapers
- Michael Blamauer, The Mental as Fundamental: New Perspectives on Panpsychism, reviewed by Sam Coleman, University of Hertfordshire.
- Nagel, Thomas (1979). Panpsychism. In Thomas Nagel (ed.), Mortal Questions. Cambridge University Press.
- Galen Strawson. "Realistic Monism: Why Physicalism Entails Panpsychism." Journal of Consciousness Studies 13.10/11 (2006): 3.
- David Chalmers. (2013) Panpsychism and Panprotopsychism.
- James L. McClelland. Emergence in Cognitive Science. Topics in Cognitive Science 2 (2010) 751–770
- Michael Silberstein. Essay Review: Why Neutral Monism is Superior to Panpsychism. Mind & Matter Vol. 7(2), 2009, pp. 239-248
- James van Cleve. Mind -- Dust or Magic? Panpsychism versus Emergence. Philosophical Perspectives Vol. 4, Action Theory and Philosophy of Mind (1990), pp. 215-226
- Reductionism entry in the MIT Encyclopedia of Cognitive Science.
- See also Eliminative Materialism
- Kim, Jaegwon (1993). Supervenience and Mind: Selected Philosophical Essays. Cambridge University Press.