This article is an excerpt of one that originally appeared in Volley 61 (Summer 2022) entitled “Everything is Conscious? Panpsychism going mainstream.”
Panpsychism – the view that the entire universe participates in consciousness, which is most
fully developed in humans – has gained popularity in science in recent years. Do that
sounds incredible? Isn’t science entirely committed to materialism and nothing but
Materialism? Won’t consciousness soon be “explained” by a random error in brain wiring?
that natural selection persists?
Science doesn’t seem nearly as committed to this view at the moment.
An article from 2018 at quartz by Olivia Goldhill was titled “The idea that everything from spoon to stone is conscious is gaining academic credibility.” Christof Koch, a prominent Allen Institute neuroscientist, concedes that neuroscientist Giulio Tononi’s popular Integrated Information Theory (IIT) of consciousness, for which he advocates is panpsychist.
Avery Hurt noted at Discover Magazine earlier this year,
The philosopher David Chalmers once suggested that a foray into panpsychism is almost inevitable once one thinks seriously about consciousness. So perhaps it should come as no surprise that the idea is gaining traction again. While implausible, Chalmers writes, it is no more implausible than other theories of consciousness… But the idea—crazy as it sounds—that everything is conscious is becoming more mainstream.
Avery hurt“Panpsychism: The crazy theory that everything from bananas to bicycles is conscious” at Discover Magazine (February 16, 2021)
Why panpsychism is likely to gain ground over materialism
Panpsychism is probably gaining ground over materialism because, as Strawson Wright said, it seems more reasonable to say that everything is conscious—at least to some degree—than to deny that one is conscious.
Panpsychistic ideas appear in the research literature and in books by scientists. Biochemist James Shapiro from the University of Chicago titled a recent journal article “All living cells are cognitive”. The neuroscientist Antonio Damasio takes a similar view in a book excerpt The scientist, says we cannot deny viruses a fraction” of intelligence, based on the similarity of their strategies to those of insects. viruses?
It is possible that future debates about the origins of intelligence, consciousness, etc., will be panpsychists vs. theists rather than materialists vs. theists.
Why could this happen? I think it’s driven by what I call “Egnor’s Principle” in honor of the neurosurgeon Michael Egnora defender of the mind’s reality: If your hypothesis is that your mind is an illusion, then you have no hypothesis.
Many materialists striving to spread the good word of Darwinian nihilism do not address this issue. But other researchers and philosophers do. They realize that in order to maintain the reality of any point of view, they must maintain the reality of the mind. In order to believe in the integrity of his own point of view, the panpsychist chooses to believe that the human mind really exists and the phenomena associated with it are real.
The pervasive materialism is slowly being destroyed by its sheer implausibility. Here is a
simple illustration: A currently popular materialistic thesis states that human consciousness has developed in evolution
to help people hunts better in groups. But wait. Wolves simply hunt in groups with no such thing as human awareness.
What would human consciousness add to a wolf pack? Philosophy and ethics?: “Brother wolves, I think it’s wrong to tear fellow mammals to pieces. I’ve made it my goal to become a vegan.” Such an appeal would fall on very keen ears – but on morally deaf ones.
Our human consciousness is clearly an anomaly in nature, if not in the universe. Unless, of course – and this is the panpsychist view – it is simply the culmination of the development of a consciousness that permeates all of nature…
Thus, perhaps panpsychism is best seen as an attempt to rescue naturalism from materialism, to make it viable by acknowledging the reality of mind, but insisting that mind is a natural part of the universe.
In a 2018 essay, Philosophy Professor Philip Goff, author of Galileo’s mistake: Foundations for a New Science of Consciousness (2019) sees universe fine-tuning as an argument for cosmopsychism (a form of panpsychism):
Over the past 40 years, scientists have gradually learned a strange fact about our universe: the laws of physics and the initial conditions of our universe are fine tuned for the possibility of life. It turns out that for life to be possible, the numbers in basic physics – for example, the strength of gravity or the mass of the electron – must have values that fall within a certain range. And that range is an incredibly narrow slice of all the possible values that those numbers can have. It is therefore incredibly unlikely that a universe like ours would have numbers consistent with the existence of life. But against all odds, our universe does.
In Goff’s view, the best presentation of the matter is that awareness of nature is fundamental
of the universe. This is a different approach to consciousness rather than the usual “Eureka! we
figured out human consciousness!” (for the 1457thth Time… ). He sees his view as a kind of mechanic:
American philosopher Jonathan Schaffer argues that the phenomenon of quantum entanglement is good evidence of holism. Entangled particles behave as a whole, even when they are separated by such great distances that it is impossible to transmit any signal between them. According to Schaffer, we can only understand this if we are generally in a universe where complex systems are more fundamental than their parts.
According to the cosmopsychism that Goff argues for, “The universe is conscious, and that is that
The consciousness of humans and animals does not derive from the consciousness of the fundamental
particles, but from consciousness of the universe itself.” He wrote a book on the subject, Consciousness and fundamental reality (2017).
Many don’t like the whole business, including well-known theoretical physicists Sabine Hoessenfelder. But the fact that they even accept it shows that counter-arguments today have to offer more than funny counter-replies…