Have You Ever Heard Of Panpsychism?

What do you think of the idea that all matter AND all energy is sentient? Sentient meaning able to both perceive and/or feel things. Well, what you think of that might influence your idea of panpsychism. Panpsychism is a philosophical view with its roots deep in ancient thinkers, in fact, many believe that its earliest followers were actually pre-Socratic. This philosophy hold that consciousness (and even souls) are a universal and primordial feature of all things - from leaves to energy to people and air. 



Let's break it down even more - the word "Pan" means everywhere, and the word "Psyche" is the soul/mind. Put these two together and you have Panpsychism: the belief that the soul is everywhere. 

Panpsychism also seeks to explain how life can result from decidedly nonliving mater, as well as how consciousness can result from non-conscious matter. In fact, it makes short work of this dilemma with its conclusion: all things have consciousness. 

Now, you might be thinking...Tess, what is this hippie nonsense? And, I agree - to an extent. But one interesting feature of this blog is the ability to dive deeper into new ideas, and I found this one particularly enamoring. But, to soothe the skeptics I will let you in on a little secret: Panpsychism has two major flaws.

1. "The Problem of Aggregates" - This is the idea that consciousness cannot spread over the universe, as John Searle, a UCB philosopher puts it "like a thin veneer of jam...there has to be a point where my consciousness ends and yours begins." 

2.  The second point following the problem of aggregates is: if consciousness is everywhere...why doesn't it animate every.single.leaf in visible ways? Or hey, why not the ladder in your garage? Or why does dead matter not have consciousness or if you take a brain and step on it, despite being the hub of consciousness, there is no longer consciousness?

But contemporary thinkers are trying to suss out these problems, particularly psychiatrist and neuroscientist Giulio Tononi. He has created the idea of "Integrated Panpsychism" which posits that consciousness depends on a "physical substrate but is not reducible to it." While our expereince are linked to our brains...but is different from our brains. Thus any system that has a level of integrated information above zero...likely has "a very minute conscious expereince" 

There are two principled assumptions: 

1. Conscious states are highly differentiated and informationally, very rich. 

2. Each of these experiences are highly integrated. Chistof Knoch, the author of the Scientific American linked above, makes a great point, " You cannot force yourself to see the world in black and white; its color is an integrated part of your view. Whatever information you are conscious of is wholly and completely presented to your mind; it cannot be subdivided."

With these assumptions we can come to the conclusion that in order to be conscious requires a two things: 1) You need to be a single, integrated entity and two 2) You must have a  large repertoire of highly differentiated states. 

Thus, a bunch of disconnected items like the photos in your grandmother's photo album, beads on a necklace, or books on a shelf are not integrated They lack consciousness and do not have the appropriate mental properties to meet the above 2 requirements of consciousness. 

However, others say that all of the above positing and rules and stipulations are...to complicated.

For example, Seattle University professor Dnaiel Dombrowksi writes: "[Panpsychism] “suggests that every instance of reality is mind-like or at least exhibits some slight ability to feel the difference between itself and the rest of what is." If we can imagine that a human has consciousness why can't a dog or an insect or a tree branch. We're all made up of atoms and individuals cells and mater, right?

So why study this at all? What caught my eye about this complicated, zany, out-there theory? I was reading an article on JStor Daily about it, while looking for ideas about how the universe is growing - as space is a popular topic on the blog. And, I found this quote in the article (linked above), "If panpsychism is true, and if, as postulated by some contemporary physicists, the cosmos is expanding, might we not think of the universe as literally a mind expanding, a world soul growing up?" Benjamin Winterhalter, the author of this Jstor Daily article, wrote these words and I just had to share the whole idea with you! Because, well, thinking of the universe as a mind expanding and a soul growing up is a whole lot more comforting than many of the other theories I've heard. 

The above image is from Flickr User Ivan and it is of a brain nebula. It is liscensed under creative commons 2.0 generic!