The Case For Panpsychism

Brain against stars

Philip Goff in Philosophy Now:

Panpsychism is sometimes caricatured as the view that fundamental physical entities such as electrons have thoughts; that electrons are, say, driven by existential angst. However, panpsychism as defended in contemporary philosophy is the view that consciousness is fundamental and ubiquitous, where to be conscious is simply to have subjective experience of some kind. This doesn’t necessarily imply anything as sophisticated as thoughts.

Of course in human beings consciousness is a sophisticated thing, involving subtle and complex emotions, thoughts and sensory experiences. But there seems nothing incoherent with the idea that consciousness might exist in some extremely basic forms. We have good reason to think that the conscious experiences a horse has are much less complex than those of a human being, and the experiences a chicken has are much less complex than those of a horse. As organisms become simpler perhaps at some point the light of consciousness suddenly switches off, with simpler organisms having no subjective experience at all. But it is also possible that the light of consciousness never switches off entirely, but rather fades as organic complexity reduces, through flies, insects, plants, amoeba, and bacteria. For the panpsychist, this fading-whilst-never-turning-off continuum further extends into inorganic matter, with fundamental physical entities – perhaps electrons and quarks – possessing extremely rudimentary forms of consciousness, which reflects their extremely simple nature…

Panpsychism offers the hope of an extremely elegant and unified picture of the world. In contrast to substance dualism (the view that the universe consists of two kinds of substance, matter and mind), panpsychism does not involve minds popping into existence as certain forms of complex life emerge, or else a soul descending from an immaterial realm at the moment of conception. Rather, it claims that human beings are nothing more than complex arrangements of components that are already present in basic matter.

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