Panpsychism: The Radical Idea That Everything Has a Mind

Have you ever wondered if the sun, the moon, or the stars have feelings? Or if the rocks, the trees, or the clouds have thoughts? Or if the atoms, the electrons, or the quarks have experiences? If you have, then you are not alone.

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Many philosophers throughout history have entertained the idea that everything in the universe has some form of consciousness, or a mind-like quality. This idea is called panpsychism, from the Greek words pan (all) and psyche (soul or mind).

Panpsychism is one of the oldest philosophical theories, dating back to ancient Greece, where thinkers like Thales, Plato, and Spinoza proposed that all things have a soul or a mind.

Panpsychism was also popular in the 19th century, when philosophers like William James, Alfred North Whitehead, and Bertrand Russell argued that consciousness is a fundamental and ubiquitous feature of reality.

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However, panpsychism declined in the 20th century, when logical positivism and physicalism dominated the philosophy of mind. Logical positivists claimed that only statements that can be verified by empirical observation are meaningful, while physicalists claimed that only physical entities and properties exist.

But in recent years, panpsychism has experienced a revival of interest, thanks to the hard problem of consciousness and the developments in neuroscience, psychology, and quantum physics. The hard problem of consciousness is the question of how physical processes in the brain give rise to subjective experiences, such as seeing colors, feeling emotions, or having thoughts.

This problem seems to resist a satisfactory explanation by physicalism, since there seems to be an explanatory gap between the objective facts about the brain and the subjective facts about consciousness.

Some philosophers have suggested that panpsychism can offer a solution to this problem, by positing that consciousness is not a product of complex physical systems, but rather a basic property of all physical entities.

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One of the main arguments for panpsychism is based on the principle of simplicity or parsimony. This principle states that we should prefer simpler explanations over more complex ones, all else being equal.

Panpsychists claim that their view is simpler than physicalism, because it does not require any additional ontological categories or explanatory mechanisms to account for consciousness.

Instead, it assumes that consciousness is already present in all physical things, albeit in different degrees and forms. Panpsychists also claim that their view is simpler than dualism, because it does not require any non-physical substances or properties to account for consciousness. Instead, it assumes that consciousness is an intrinsic aspect of all physical things.

Another argument for panpsychism is based on the principle of continuity or naturalism. This principle states that we should avoid postulating any radical discontinuities or breaks in nature, unless there is compelling evidence for them.

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Panpsychists claim that their view respects this principle better than physicalism or dualism, because it does not assume that consciousness emerges suddenly or mysteriously from non-conscious matter at some point in evolution or complexity.

Instead, it assumes that consciousness is a gradual and natural feature of all matter, varying in degree and quality according to its organization and structure.

Is there any evidence of panpsychism?

According to Roy Smith, Computer Engineer, our understanding of matter and consciousness is far too tangled in Cartesian Dualism for us to even begin to understand the structure of reality. We must completely eject our belief in an external objective reality of matter “out there” if we are the grasp the true meaning of panpsychism.

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Neuroscientists like Christof Koch are embracing panpsychism because they have realized that it is virtually impossible for consciousness or subjective experience magically pop out of unconscious complex matter. They’ve adopted panpsychism as the only logical choice.

Unfortunately, they are still mired in the materialistic belief in matter as a separate, external reality. Their panpsychism is really Materialism 2.0. The only way to truly understand panpsychism is through its most advanced development in A.N. Whitehead.

According to Whitehead, the true units of reality are not the materialist notion of random bits of brute matter floating in space, but in what Whitehead calls “occasions of experience”.

In other words, these occasions of experience are the only “real” things that exist. Matter is just a construct of our own mental apparatus. Whitehead asserts that, “‘I hold that these unities of existence, these occasions of experience are the really real things, which in their collective unity compose the evolving universe ever plunging into the creative advance.'”

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The entire universe and everything in it, including brains, is a relationship between consciousness and unconsciousness. These represent two mutually attracting poles that underpin everything, particles, atoms, stars, galaxies, humans, etc.

Consciousness at one pole represents all future potentials and probabilities. It is known as the mental pole. At the other pole is vacuum space, the unconscious matrix out of which matter forms. The matter matrix has the characteristic of what we call the standard model in physics.

It’s a rule set in consciousness that governs the formation of “stuff” in the universe. This “stuff” exists in a past relationship to the mental or consciousness pole.

The material pole is characterized by time and space. The mental pole does not exist in a spacial dimension, it just “Is”. The relation between the material pole and the mental pole is only in the time dimension. In other words, matter follows mind. Whatever mind creates, matter follows. Whitehead calls these material forms, “concretions”.

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Whitehead derived his panpsychism from an intimate knowledge of quantum mechanics and intuition about existence. He was the brilliant mathematician who with his student Bertrand Russell authored what is possibly the most important mathematics text, the Principia Mathematica, which is still used today. He understood that quantum theory and experimentation shows us that consciousness is fundamental at quantum scale.

When we make a quantum measurement we are collapsing a probabilities “wave” into a particle, and this is how consciousness causes the concretion of forms. Consciousness produces waves in the matrix of vacuum space and the waves in turn collapse into concretions of forms.

It takes a finite amount of time for waves to “wave” so the concretions appear in a past relationship to the actual movement of consciousness. It is these concretions that give us the physical universe and its myriad forms.

So, in answer to the question, we may say that the best “evidence we have for panpsychism comes from quantum mechanics. Of course I’ve only briefly touched upon the principles of Whitehead panpsychism but we can gather from it that we must utterly change our clunky materialist concept of brute matter existing objectively in external space as false.

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To really understand how consciousness interacts with matter we must utterly change our point of view to that of consciousness and its “occasions of experience” as the only reality there is.

Panpsychism is not without its challenges and objections

One of them is the combination problem: how do the microphenomenal experiences of simple physical entities combine to form the macrophenomenal experiences of complex physical entities? For example, how do the experiences of billions of neurons in the brain combine to form the unified experience of a human being? Or how do the experiences of trillions of atoms in a neuron combine to form the experience of a neuron?

Panpsychists have proposed various solutions to this problem, such as emergentism (the idea that new levels of experience arise from lower levels), holism (the idea that higher levels of experience are not composed of lower levels), or neutral monism (the idea that there is a common substance underlying both physical and mental aspects).

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Another objection to panpsychism is the incredulous stare: how can we seriously believe that everything has consciousness? Isn’t this just a fanciful or absurd idea? Panpsychists respond by pointing out that their view is not as implausible as it may seem at first glance.

They argue that we should not anthropomorphize or project our human-like qualities onto other things, but rather recognize that there are different kinds and degrees of consciousness. They also argue that we should not dismiss an idea just because it goes against our common sense or intuition, but rather examine it on its own merits and evidence.

How consciousness interacts

To understand how consciousness interacts withe the human brain, we must refer to the quantum mind theory of consciousness developed by Roger Penrose and Stuart Hameroff, which is based on the Whitehead model.

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Consciousness interfaces with the brain by means of quantum vibrations in brain neuron microtubules. It is these quantum vibrations or waves of consciousness in brain microtubules that set up the quantum computing states of the dipole protein arrays that make up the structure of microtubules, setting up appropriate code for axon firing and other operations that control body and brain. There name of this theory, which has experimental evidence, is Orch OR.

Panpsychism is an ancient idea that has regained popularity in modern times. It is a bold and radical theory that challenges our conventional views on reality and consciousness. It offers a simple and naturalistic account of how consciousness pervades everything in existence and also raises questions about the nature and origin of mind, matter, and life.

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Zoe Mitchell

Zoe Mitchell is an independent researcher and writer on extraordinary topics. She has a passion for delving into the realms of UFOs, paranormal phenomena and the enigmatic.

Zoe has a degree in journalism and a keen interest in history, mythology and folklore. She believes that there is more to reality than meets the eye, and that the truth is often stranger than fiction.

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