One of the most intriguing and controversial topics in philosophy and science is the nature and origin of consciousness. We humans are undoubtedly conscious beings, capable of experiencing, feeling, and reflecting on our own existence and the mysteries of reality.
But what is the source of this consciousness? Is it a product of our brains, or does it transcend the physical realm? Is it a unique property of living organisms, or is it a fundamental aspect of the universe that pervades all matter?
These questions were the focus of a recent workshop at Marist College in Poughkeepsie, New York, where philosophers and physicists gathered to discuss panpsychism, the view that consciousness is not a rare or emergent phenomenon, but a basic and universal feature of reality that is present in every particle and system.
According to panpsychism, consciousness is not something that arises from complex arrangements of matter, but something that is inherent to matter itself. It is a fundamental property of reality, like mass or charge, that has always existed and is woven into the very fabric of the universe.
This view challenges the conventional wisdom that consciousness is a result of evolution and computation, and that it can only be found in highly sophisticated forms of life.
“This doesn’t mean that literally everything is conscious,” philosopher Philip Goff previously told Scientific American. “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.”
In this context, ‘experience’ is a reference to perceiving the world, either through pleasure or pain, or through seeing, hearing, smelling, touching etc.
“Perhaps, at some point, the light switches off, and consciousness disappears,” Goff added.
“But it’s at least coherent to suppose that this continuum of consciousness fading while never quite turning off carries on into inorganic matter, with fundamental particles having almost unimaginably simple forms of experience to reflect their incredibly simple nature.”