Illustration of the Neoplatonic concept of the World Soul emanating from The Absolute, in some ways a precursor to modern panpsychism

In philosophy of mind, panpsychism is the view that mind or a mind-like aspect is a fundamental and ubiquitous feature of reality.[1] It is also described as a theory that "the mind is a fundamental feature of the world which exists throughout the universe."[2] It holds that mentality is present in all natural bodies that have unified and persisting organization, which most proponents define in a way that excludes objects such as rocks, trees, and human artifacts.[3]

Panpsychism is one of the oldest philosophical theories, and has been ascribed to philosophers including Thales,[4] Plato,[4] Spinoza,[4] Leibniz,[4] William James,[4] Alfred North Whitehead,[1] and Galen Strawson.[1] In the 19th century, panpsychism was the default philosophy of mind in western thought, but it saw a decline in the mid-20th century with the rise of logical positivism.[4][5] Recent interest in the hard problem of consciousness has revived interest in panpsychism.[5][6][7]


Panpsychism holds that mind or a mind-like aspect is a fundamental and ubiquitous feature of reality.[1] It is also described as a theory that "the mind is a fundamental feature of the world which exists throughout the universe".[2] Panpsychists posit that the type of mentality we know through our own experience is present, in some form, in a wide range of natural bodies.[8] This notion has taken on a wide variety of forms. Contemporary academic proponents hold that sentience or subjective experience is ubiquitous, while distancing these qualities from complex human mental attributes;[9] they ascribe a primitive form of mentality to entities at the fundamental level of physics but do not ascribe it to most aggregates, such as rocks or buildings.[1][10] On the other hand, some historical theorists ascribed attributes such as life or spirits to all entities.[9]


For a definition of the term "panpsychism", see the Wiktionary entry panpsychism.

The term "panpsychism" comes from the Greek pan (πᾶν : "all, everything, whole") and psyche (ψυχή: "soul, mind").[8]: 1  Psyche comes from the Greek word ψύχω (psukhō, "I blow") and may mean life, soul, mind, spirit, heart, or 'life-breath'. The use of psyche is controversial because it is synonymous with soul, a term usually taken to refer to something supernatural; more common terms now found in the literature include mind, mental properties, mental aspect, and experience.


The philosopher David Chalmers, who has explored panpsychism as a viable theory, distinguishes between microphenomenal experiences (the experiences of microphysical entities) and macrophenomenal experiences (the experiences of larger entities, such as humans).[11]

Philip Goff draws a distinction between panexperientialism and pancognitivism. In the form of panpsychism under discussion in the contemporary literature, conscious experience is present everywhere at a fundamental level, hence the term panexperientialism. Pancognitivism, by contrast, is the view that thought is present everywhere at a fundamental level—a view which had some historical advocates, but has not garnered present-day academic adherents. As such, contemporary panpsychists do not believe microphysical entities have complex mental states such as beliefs, desires, fears, and so forth.[1] Originally, however, the term panexperientialism had a narrower meaning, having been coined by David Ray Griffin to refer specifically to the form of panpsychism used in process philosophy (see below).[9]



Two iwakura – a rock where a kami or spirit is said to reside in the religion of Shinto

Panpsychist views are a staple theme in pre-Socratic Greek philosophy.[5] According to Aristotle, Thales (c. 624 – 545 BCE) the first Greek philosopher, posited a theory which held "that everything is full of gods."[12] Thales believed that this was demonstrated by magnets. This has been interpreted as a panpsychist doctrine.[5] Other Greek thinkers who have been associated with panpsychism include Anaxagoras (who saw the underlying principle or arche as nous or mind), Anaximenes (who saw the arche as pneuma or spirit) and Heraclitus (who said "The thinking faculty is common to all").[9]

Plato argues for panpsychism in his Sophist, in which he writes that all things participate in the form of Being and that it must have a psychic aspect of mind and soul (psyche).[9] In the Philebus and Timaeus, Plato argues for the idea of a world soul or anima mundi. According to Plato:

This world is indeed a living being endowed with a soul and intelligence ... a single visible living entity containing all other living entities, which by their nature are all related.[13]

Stoicism developed a cosmology which held that the natural world was infused with a divine fiery essence called pneuma, which was directed by a universal intelligence called logos. The relationship of the individual logos of beings with the universal logos was a central concern of the Roman Stoic Marcus Aurelius. The metaphysics of Stoicism finds connections with Hellenistic philosophies such as Neoplatonism. Gnosticism also made use of the Platonic idea of the anima mundi.


Illustration of the Cosmic order by Robert Fludd, where the World Soul is depicted as a woman

After the closing of Plato's Academy by the Emperor Justinian in 529 CE, Neoplatonism declined. Though there were mediaeval Christian thinkers who ventured what might be called panpsychist ideas (such as John Scotus Eriugena), it was not a dominant strain in Christian thought. In the Italian Renaissance, however, panpsychism enjoyed something of an intellectual revival, in the thought of figures such as Gerolamo Cardano, Bernardino Telesio, Francesco Patrizi, Giordano Bruno, and Tommaso Campanella. Cardano argued for the view that soul or anima was a fundamental part of the world and Patrizi introduced the actual term panpsychism into the philosophical vocabulary. According to Giordano Bruno: "There is nothing that does not possess a soul and that has no vital principle."[9] Platonist ideas resembling the anima mundi also resurfaced in the work of esoteric thinkers such as Paracelsus, Robert Fludd, and Cornelius Agrippa.

Early modern period

In the 17th century, two rationalists can be said to be panpsychists, Baruch Spinoza and Gottfried Leibniz.[5] In Spinoza's monism, the one single infinite and eternal substance is "God, or Nature" (Deus sive Natura), which has the aspects of mind (thought) and matter (extension). Leibniz's view is that there are an infinite number of absolutely simple mental substances called monads that make up the fundamental structure of the universe. While it has been said that the idealist philosophy of George Berkeley is also a form of pure panpsychism,[5] Berkeley rejected panpsychism and posited that the physical world exists only in the experiences minds have of it, while restricting minds to humans and certain other specific agents.[14]

19th century

In the 19th century, panpsychism was at its zenith. Philosophers such as Arthur Schopenhauer, C.S. Peirce, Josiah Royce, William James, Eduard von Hartmann, F.C.S. Schiller, Ernst Haeckel and William Kingdon Clifford as well as psychologists such as Gustav Fechner, Wilhelm Wundt and Rudolf Hermann Lotze all promoted panpsychist ideas.[5]

Arthur Schopenhauer argued for a two-sided view of reality which was both Will and Representation (Vorstellung). According to Schopenhauer: "All ostensible mind can be attributed to matter, but all matter can likewise be attributed to mind".[citation needed]

Josiah Royce, the leading American absolute idealist held that reality was a "world self", a conscious being that comprised everything, though he didn't necessarily attribute mental properties to the smallest constituents of mentalistic "systems". The American pragmatist philosopher Charles Sanders Peirce espoused a sort of psycho-physical Monism in which the universe was suffused with mind which he associated with spontaneity and freedom. Following Pierce, William James also espoused a form of panpsychism.[15] In his lecture notes, James wrote:

Our only intelligible notion of an object in itself is that it should be an object for itself, and this lands us in panpsychism and a belief that our physical perceptions are effects on us of 'psychical' realities[9]

In 1893, Paul Carus proposed his own philosophy similar to panpsychism known as 'panbiotism', which he defined as "everything is fraught with life; it contains life; it has the ability to live."[16]: 149 [17]

20th century

In the 20th century, the most significant proponent of the panpsychist view is arguably Alfred North Whitehead (1861–1947).[5] Whitehead's ontology saw the basic nature of the world as made up of events and the process of their creation and extinction. These elementary events (which he called occasions) are in part mental.[5] According to Whitehead: "we should conceive mental operations as among the factors which make up the constitution of nature."[9]

Bertrand Russell's neutral monist views tended toward panpsychism.[9] The physicist Arthur Eddington also defended a form of panpsychism.[6]

The psychologist Carl Jung, who is known for his idea of the collective unconscious, wrote that "psyche and matter are contained in one and the same world, and moreover are in continuous contact with one another", and that it was probable that "psyche and matter are two different aspects of one and the same thing".[18][better source needed] The psychologists James Ward and Charles Augustus Strong also endorsed variants of panpsychism.[19][16]: 158 [20]

The geneticist Sewall Wright endorsed a version of panpsychism. He believed that the birth of consciousness was not due to a mysterious property of increasing complexity, but rather an inherent property, therefore implying these properties were in the most elementary particles.[21]


The panpsychist doctrine has recently seen a resurgence in the philosophy of mind, set into motion by Thomas Nagel's 1979 article "Panpsychism"[22] and further spurred by Galen Strawson's 2006 realistic monist article "Realistic Monism: Why Physicalism Entails Panpsychism."[23][24][25] Other recent proponents include American philosophers David Ray Griffin[1] and David Skrbina,[5][16] British philosophers Gregg Rosenberg,[1] Timothy Sprigge,[1] and Philip Goff,[6][26] and Canadian philosopher William Seager.[27] The British philosopher David Papineau, while distancing himself from orthodox panpsychists, has written that his view is "not unlike panpsychism" in that he rejects a line in nature between "events lit up by phenomenology [and] those that are mere darkness."[28][29]

Panpsychism has also been applied in environmental philosophy by Australian philosopher Freya Mathews.[30]

In 1990, the physicist David Bohm published "A new theory of the relationship of mind and matter," a paper based on his interpretation of quantum mechanics.[31] The philosopher Paavo Pylkkänen has described Bohm's view as a version of panprotopsychism.[32]

The integrated information theory of consciousness (IIT), proposed by the neuroscientist and psychiatrist Giulio Tononi in 2004 and since adopted by other neuroscientists such as Christof Koch, postulates that consciousness is widespread and can be found even in some simple systems.[33]

In 2019 cognitive scientist Donald Hoffman published The Case Against Reality: How evolution hid the truth from our eyes. Hoffman argues that consensus reality lacks concrete existence, and is nothing more than an evolved user-interface. He argues that the true nature of reality are abstract "conscious agents".[34] Science editor Annaka Harris argues for panpsychism as a viable theory in her 2019 book Conscious, though she stops short of fully endorsing the view.[35][36]

Variants of panpsychism

A wide breadth of views, theories, or ontologies fall under the umbrella of panpsychism; the only requirement is that it take experience as ubiquitous.[citation needed]

Philosophical frameworks

In theory, panpsychism is compatible with all four of the above frameworks.


Cosmopsychism hypothosizes that the cosmos is a unified object that is ontologically prior to its parts. It has been described as an alternative to panpsychism,[37] or as a form of panpsychism.[38] Proponents of cosmopsychism claim that the cosmos as a whole is the fundamental level of reality and that it instantiates consciousness. They differ on that point from panpsychists, who usually claim that the smallest level of reality is fundamental and instantiates consciousness. Accordingly, human consciousness, for example, merely derives from cosmic consciousness.


Further information: Idealism

According to the philosophers William Segear and Sean Allen-Hermenson, "idealists are panpsychists by default".[14] But idealism differs from other forms of panpsychism in some key ways. Both hold that everything that exists has some form of experience. Normally, panpsychists come to this conclusion by believing that things in the external world, such as elections or bits, have some rudimentary form of experience. In contrast, idealists hold that everything that exists has experience by simply denying the external world exists in the first place.[39] Chalmers also contrasts panpsychism with idealism (as well as materialism and dualism).[40] Uwe Meixner argues that panpsychism has both dualistic and idealist forms.[41] He further divides the latter into "atomistic idealistic panpsychism," which he ascribes to David Hume, and "holistic idealistic panpsychism," which he favors.[41]

Neutral monism

Main article: Neutral monism

Neutral monism rejects the dichotomy of mind and matter, instead taking a neutral third variable as fundamental. Just what that third variable is is up for debate, and many choose to leave it undefined. This has lead to a variety of different formulations of neutral monism,[42] many of which broadly overlap with other philosophies. In The Conscious Mind, Chalmers states that, in some instances, the differences between "Russell's neutral monism" and his property dualism are merely semantic.[43] In versions of neutral monism in which the fundamental constituents of the world are neither mental nor physical, it is quite distinct from panpsychism.[42] In versions where the fundamental constituents are both mental and physical, neutral monism may lead to panpsychism, panprotopsychism, or dual aspect theory.[42] Phillip Goff believes that neutral monism can reasonably be regarded as a form of panpsychism "in so far as it is a dual aspect view."[1] Neutral monism, panpsychism, and dual aspect theory may be conflated or used interchangeably in some contexts.[43][44][7]


Panexperientialism is associated with the philosophies of, among others, Charles Hartshorne and Alfred North Whitehead, although the term itself was invented by David Ray Griffin in order to distinguish the process philosophical view from other varieties of panpsychism.[9] Whitehead's process philosophy argues that the fundamental elements of the universe are "occasions of experience," which can together create something as complex as a human being.[5] Building off Whitehead's work, process philosopher Michel Weber argues for a pancreativism.[45] Goff has used the term panexperientialism more generally to refer to forms of panpsychism in which experience rather than thought is ubiquitous.[1]


pan (πᾶν : "all, everything, whole");[46] proto (πρῶτος : “first”);[47] and psyche (ψυχή: "soul, mind").[8]: 1 

Panprotopsychists believe that higher-order phenomenal properties (such as qualia) are logically entailed by protophenomenial properties, at least in principle. The combination problem thus holds no weight; it is not phenomenal properties that are pervasive, but protophenomenal properties. And protophenomenal properties are by definition the constituent parts of consciousness.[10] Chalmers argues that the view faces difficulty in dealing with the combination problem. He considers Russell's proposed solution "ad hoc", and believes it diminishes the parsimony that made the theory initially interesting.[43]

Russellian monism

Further information: Russellian monism

Russellian monism is a type of neutral monism.[43][48] The theory is attributed to Bertrand Russell, and may also be called Russell's panpsychism, or Russell's neutral monism.[10][43] Russell believed that all causal properties are extrinsic manifestations of identical intrinsic properties.

Russell referred to these identical internal properties as quiddities. Just as the extrinsic properties of matter can form higher order structure, so too can their corresponding and identical quiddities. Russell believed the conscious mind was one such structure.[49][10]

Religious or mystical ontologies

Advaita Vedānta

Main article: Advaita Vedanta

Advaita Vedānta is a form of idealism in Indian philosophy which views consensus reality as illusory.[50] Anand Vaidya and Purushottama Bilimoria have argued that it can be considered a form of panpsychism or cosmopsychism.[51]

Animism and hylozoism

Further information: Animism and Hylozoism

Animism maintains that all things have a soul, and hylozoism maintains that all things are alive.[9] Both could reasonably be interpreted as panpsychist, but both have fallen out of favour in contemporary academia.[9] Modern panpsychists have tried to distance themselves from theories of this sort, careful to carve out the distinction between the ubiquity of experience and the ubiquity of mind and cognition.[1][11]


Main article: Buddha-nature

The term Buddha-nature is the English translation of the classical Chinese term 佛性 (or fó xìng in pinying), which is in turn a translation of the Sanskrit tathāgatagarbha. Tathāgata refers to someone (namely the Buddha) having arrived, while garbha translates into the words embryo or root.[52]

In the art of the Japanese rock garden, the artist must be aware of the "ishigokoro" ('heart', or 'mind') of the rocks [53]

Broadly speaking, Buddha-nature can be defined as the ubiquitous dispositional state of being capable of obtaining Buddhahood.[54][55] In some Buddhist traditions, this may be interpreted as implying a form of panpsychism. D. C. Clark, a philosopher of mind and the author of Panpsychism and the Religious Attitude,[56] argues that most "traditional Chinese, Japanese and Korean philosophy would qualify as panpsychist in nature."[53]

Who, then, is "animate" and who "inanimate"? Within the assembly of the Lotus, all are present without division. In the case of grass, trees and the soil...whether they merely lift their feet or energetically traverse the long path, they will all reach Nirvana.

— Zharan 湛然,[53] the sixth patriarch of Tendai Buddhism(1711-82)[57]

The Huayan, Tiantai, and Tendai schools of Buddhism explicitly attributed Buddha-nature to inanimate objects such as lotus flowers and mountains.[8]: 39  Similarly, Soto Zen master Dogen argued that "insentient beings expound" the teachings of the Buddha, and wrote about the "mind" (心,shin) of "fences, walls, tiles, and pebbles". The 9th-century Shingon Buddhist thinker Kukai went so far as to argue that natural objects such as rocks and stones are part of the supreme embodiment of the Buddha. According to Clark, Buddha-nature is best described "in western terms" as something "psychophysical."[53]

Scientific theories

Conscious realism

See also: Map–territory relation

Conscious realism is the work of Donald Hoffman, a cognitive scientist specialising in perception. He has written numerous papers on the topic[58] which he summarised in his 2019 book The Case Against Reality: How evolution hid the truth from our eyes.[34] Conscious realism builds upon Hoffman's former User-Interface Theory. In combination they argue that (1) consensus reality and spacetime are illusory, and are merely a "species specific evolved user interface"; (2) Reality is made of a complex, dimensionless, and timeless network of "conscious agents".[59]

It is a natural and near-universal assumption that the world has the properties and causal structures that we perceive it to have; to paraphrase Einstein's famous remark, we naturally assume that the moon is there whether anyone looks or not. Both theoretical and empirical considerations, however, increasingly indicate that this is not correct.

— Donald Hoffman, Conscious agent networks: Formal analysis and applications to cognition, p. 2

The consensus view is that perception is a reconstruction of one's environment. Hoffman views perception as a construction of rather than a reconstruction. He argues that perceptual systems as analogous to information channels, and thus subject to data compression. The set of possible representations for any given data set is quite large. Of that set, the subset that is homomorphic is minuscule, and does not overlap with the subset that is efficient or easiest to use. Hoffman offers the "fitness beats truth theorem"[60] as mathematical proof that perceptions of reality bear no resemblance to realities true nature.[61]

Even if reality is an illusion, Hoffman takes consciousness as an indisputable fact. He represents rudimentary units of consciousness (which he calls "conscious agents") as Markovien kernels. Though the theory was not initially panpsychist, he reports that he and his college Chetan Prakash found the math to be more parsimonious if it were.[62] They hypothesize that reality is composed of these conscious agents, who interact to form "larger, more complex" networks.[63][34]

Axioms and postulates of integrated information theory

Integrated information theory

Main article: Integrated information theory

Giulio Totoni first articulated Integrated information theory (IIT) in 2004,[64] and it has undergone two major revisions since then.[65][66] Totoni approaches consciousness from a scientific perspective, and has expressed frustration with philosophical theories of consciousness for lacking predictive power.[33] Though integral to his theory, he refrains from philosophical terminology such as qualia or the unity of consciousness, instead opting for mathematically precise alternatives like entropy function and information integration.[64] This has allowed Totoni to create measurement for integrated information, which he calls phi (Φ). He believes consciousness is nothing but integrated information, so Φ measures consciousness.[67] As it turns out, even basic objects or substances have a nonzero degree of Φ. This would mean that consciousness is ubiquitous, albeit to a minimal degree.[68]

The philosopher Hedda Hassel Mørch's views IIT as similar to Russellian monism,[69] while other philosophers such as John Searle and David Chalmers consider them a form of panpsychism.[70][71] IIT does not hold that all systems are conscious, leading Totoni and Koch to state that IIT incorporates some elements of panpsychism but not others.[33] Koch has called IIT a "scientifically refined version" of panpsychism.[72]

Arguments in favor of panpsychism

Hard problem of consciousness

Main article: Hard problem of consciousness

Panpsychism is one possible solution to the hard problem of consciousness.[73][7] The hard problem was formulated by the philosopher David Chalmers in his 1995 paper Facing up to the problem of consciousness and his 1996 book The Conscious Mind.[74][73] Chalmers argues that the cognitive, neurological, or behavioural functions of consciousness the "easy problems" of consciousness. The hard problem is the further question of why and how these process give rise to conscious experience.[73] Though he was the first to formalise the problem, Chalmers was not the first to write about it. Isaac Newton,[75] John Locke,[76] Gottfried Libniz,[77] John Stuart Mill,[78] Thomas Henry Huxley,[79] Wilhelm Wundt,[5] all wrote about the seeming incompatibility of third-person functional descriptions of mind and matter and first-person conscious experience. Similar sentiments also been articulated through philosophical inquiries such as the problem of other minds, solipsism, and the explanatory gap. These problems have caused Chalmers to consider panpsychism as a viable solution to the hard problem,[44][10][73] though he is not committed to any single view.[44]

Philosophical zombies are a thought experiment commonly used in discussions of the hard problem.[80][81] They are hypothetical beings physically identical to humans but lack conscious experience.[82] Philosophers such as Chalmers, and Joseph Levine, and Francis Kripke. They do not think that philosophical zombies are possible within the bounds of nature, but they do think they are conceivable within the bounds of logic.[83] This would imply that facts about experience are not logically entailed by the "physical" facts. Therefore, consciousness is irreducible. In Chalmers words, "after God (hypothetically) created the world, he had more work to do."[43][page needed] Daniel Dennett, a philosopher of mind, has criticised the fields use of "the zombie hunch" which he deems an "embarrassment"[84] that ought to "be dropped like a hot potato."[85]

The Knowledge Argument, also known as Mary's Room, is another common thought experiment. It centres around a hypothetical neuroscientist named Mary. She has lived her whole live in a black and white room and has never seen colour before. She also happens to know everything their is to know about the brain and colour perception.[86] Chalmers believes that if Mary were to see the colour red for the first time that she would gain new knowledge of the world. That means knowledge of the what red looks like is distinct from knowledge and the brain or visual system. In other words knowledge of what red looks like is irreducible to knowledge of the brain or nervous system; therefore, experience is irreducible to the functioning of the brain or nervous system.[43][page needed] Others disagree, saying the same could be said about Mary knowing everything there is to know about bikes and riding one for the first time, or swimming, etc.[87] Elsewhere, Thomas Nagel has put forward a "speculative proposal" of devising a language that could "explain to a person blind from birth what it is like to see."[88] If such a language is possible then the force of the knowledge argument may be undercut.

The most popular empirically based argument for panpsychism stems from evolution and is a form of the non-emergence argument. This argument begins with the assumption that evolution is a process that creates complex systems out of pre-existing properties but yet cannot make "entirely novel" properties.[5] William Kingdon Clifford argued that:

... we cannot suppose that so enormous a jump from one creature to another should have occurred at any point in the process of evolution as the introduction of a fact entirely different and absolutely separate from the physical fact. It is impossible for anybody to point out the particular place in the line of descent where that event can be supposed to have taken place. The only thing that we can come to, if we accept the doctrine of evolution at all, is that even in the very lowest organism, even in the Amoeba which swims about in our own blood, there is something or other, inconceivably simple to us, which is of the same nature with our own consciousness ...[89]

Those critical of the hard problem have compared it to vitalism, the now discredited hypothesis that life is inexplicable and can only be explained through the existence of some vital life force. Critics maintain that given time, consciousness and its evolutionary origins will be understood just as life is now understood.[90] Patricia Churchland, an eliminative materialist, maintains that philosophers ought to be more patient. Neuroscience is still in it's early stages, so Chalmers hard problem is premature. Clarity will come from learning more about the brain, not from metaphysical speculation.[91][92]

Panpsychism as a solution to the hard problem

In the article "Panpsychism" in his 1979 book Mortal Questions, Thomas Nagel defines panpsychism as "the view that the basic physical constituents of the universe have mental properties",[24]: 181  which he claims are non-physical properties.[1] Nagel argues that panpsychism follows from four premises:[1]

Nagel notes that new physical properties are discovered through explanatory inference from known physical properties; following a similar process, mental properties would seem to derive from properties of matter not included under the label of "physical properties", and so they must be additional properties of matter. He also argues that "the demand for an account of how mental states necessarily appear in physical organisms cannot be satisfied by the discovery of uniform correlations between mental states and physical brain states."[24]: 187  Furthermore, Nagel argues mental states are real by appealing to the inexplicability of subjective experience, or qualia, by physical means. Nagel ties panpsychism to the failure of emergentism to deal with metaphysical relation: "There are no truly emergent properties of complex systems. All properties of complex systems that are not relations between it and something else derive from the properties of its constituents and their effects on each other when so combined."[5] Thus he denies that mental properties can arise out of complex relationships between physical matter.

Chalmers has built on his previous exploration of panpsychism and said that a "Hegelian" argument is the most convincing argument for panpsychism, although he admits that it is not definitive. The argument is Hegelian because it is based on Hegelian dialectic and the concepts of thesis, antithesis and synthesis.[10] Chalmers uses the materialist argument from causal closure as his thesis and the conceivability argument for mind–body dualism as his antithesis. Chalmers argues that each argument is persuasive, and that the most persuasive way to resolve both simultaneously is to adopt a form of panpsychism, which is the synthesis of the two arguments.[10] Chalmers takes his argument further, and argues that for the thesis of panpsychism there is a separate antithesis of panprotopsychism—the proposition that everything in existence is proto-conscious as opposed to conscious. Chalmers tentatively proposes Russellian monism as a synthesis but he does not fully embrace this option and instead sees panpsychism and panprotopsychism as more plausible options.[10]

Intrinsic nature

All that physics gives us is certain equations giving abstract properties of their changes. But as to what it is that changes, and what it changes from and to—as to this, physics is silent.

— Bertrand Russell, My Philosophical Development, p. 18

These arguments are based on the idea that everything must have an intrinsic nature. They argue that while the objects studied by physics are described in a dispositional way, these dispositions must be based on some non-dispositional intrinsic attributes, which Whitehead called the "mysterious reality in the background, intrinsically unknowable".[5] While we have no way of knowing what these intrinsic attributes are like, we can know the intrinsic nature of conscious experience which possesses irreducible and intrinsic characteristics. Arthur Schopenhauer argued that while the world appears to us as representation, there must be 'an object that grounds' representation, which he called the 'inner essence' (das innere Wesen) and 'natural force' (Naturkraft), which lies outside of what our understanding perceives as natural law.[93]

Galen Strawson has called his form of panpsychism "realistic physicalism", arguing that "the experiential considered specifically as such – the portion of reality we have to do with when we consider experiences specifically and solely in respect of the experiential character they have for those who have them as they have them – that 'just is' physical".[94]: 7 

Quantum superposition of states and decoherence
Schrödinger's cat simultaneously dead and alive in a quantum superposition
According to the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics, Schrödinger's cat is both dead and alive until otherwise observed.

Quantum mechanics

Further information: Introduction to quantum mechanics

Panpsychist interpretations of quantum mechanics have been put forward philosophers Shan Gao,[95] Michael Lockwood,[5] Alfred North Whitehead,[5] and Hoffman, who is a cognitive scientist[96] Protopanpsychist interpretations have been put forward by the physicist David Bohm and the philosopher Paavo Pylkkänen.[32]

Quantum theories of consciousness are a controversial point of interest within consciousness studies. In a 2018 interview, Chalmers called quantum mechanics "a magnet for anyone who wants to find room for crazy properties of the mind".[97] Though he has criticised such theories,[98] he does not believe they are entirely without warrant; some interpretations of quantum mechanics are "suggestive" of a connection to consciousness.[97] Especially within the Copenhagen interpretation, which is one of the oldest interpretations of quantum mechanics and the most widely taught.[99][100] The Copenhagen interpretation views observation as playing a causal role of determining the properties of quantum particles. Before a quantum particle (like an atom or a photon) is observed it can hold multiple conflicting properties simultaneously; it can be in multiple locations at once, can be simultaneously be both excitable and not excitable, or in a state of decay and not in state of decay, and so on. This is what is known as a quantum superposition, and it can be described mathematically as a wave function. When a wave function is observed, it collapses into one definitive state or one definitive location.

This is what is known as the quantum measurement problem. Its unusual implications were famously articulated by Erwin Schrödinger in the thought experiment that has now been come to known as Schrödinger cat. He imagines a hypothetical scenario where a cat, a flask of poison, radioactive material, and a Greiger counter are put in a box. If the Greiger counter notices the radioactive decay of a single atom, and the cat will then be killed. If the Greiger counter does not detect radioactive decay, then the glass will not be shattered and the cat will live. Before it is observed, a quantum particle is in a superposition of being both in a state of decay and not in a state decay. This means that the vial of poison will both be shattered and not shattered, and the cat will be both dead and alive. Since the act of observation collapses the wave function, this means that the cat will be both dead and alive until one opens the box and peers inside.

This has lead to speculation regarding the relationship between observer and the observed, or consciousness and its contents. Quantum mechanics has largely been characterised as the clash between classical physics and quantum physics. But, as has been argued by the physicists David Bohm and Roger Penrose,[73] it could just as well be characterised classical physics, quantum physics, and phenomenology; all three levels of description seem to be difficult to reconcile, or even contradictory.[32] Similarly, Chalmers has written that if a theory of everything is ever discovered, it will be a set of "psychophysical laws", rather than simply a set of physical laws.[43] With Chalmers as their inspiration, Bohm and Pylkkänen set out to do just that, ergo their panprotopsychism. Not everyone is impressed with this line of thinking: ". . .to my ear," writes Steven Pinker "this amounts to the feeling that quantum mechanics sure is weird, and consciousness sure is weird, so maybe quantum mechanics can explain consciousness."[101]

Hoffman, the creator of conscious realism, has taken a different approach. He takes the measurement problem the reality is rendered by the mind in his species specific user interface. He argues that the phenomenon of quantum entanglement demonstrate that spacetime is illusory.[96] Theoretical physicist Max Tegmark has argued that "calculations of neural decoherence rates" demonstrate that the brain is a "classical rather than a quantum system." He argues that the measurement problem is not "related to consciousness is any fundamental way."[102]

Arguments against panpsychism


Further information: Philosophy of science

One criticism of panpsychism is that it cannot be empirically tested.[10] Chalmers has responded that while no direct evidence exists for the theory, neither is there direct evidence against it.[10] But any given data set has an infinite number of logically possible interpretations, and most of them aren't worthy of consideration. Philosophers have long noted, for instance, that it is impossible to prove that one is not a brain in a vat.

A corollary of this is that panpsychism has no predictive power, leaving theorists with yet fewer means of assessing its validity. Tononi and Koch write that while panpsychism integrates consciousness into the physical world in a way that is "elegantly unitary," its "beauty has been singularly barren. Besides claiming that matter and mind are one thing, it has little constructive to say and offers no positive laws explaining how the mind is organized and works."[33]

Philosophers such as Chalmers have argued that theories of consciousness should be capable of providing insight into the brain and mind to avoid the problem of mental causation.[10][103] If they fail to do that, the theory will succumb to epiphenominalism,[103] a view commonly criticised as implausible or even self-contradictory.[73][104][105] Proponents of panpsychism (especially those with neutral monist tendencies) hope to bypass this problem by dismissing it as a false dichotomy; mind and matter are two sides of the same coin, and mental causation is merely the extrinsic description of intrinsic properties of mind.[106] Robert Howell has argued that all causal functions are still accounted for dispositionally (i.e., in terms of the behaviors described by science), leaving phenomenality causally inert.[107] He concludes, "This leaves us once again with epiphenomenal qualia, only in a very surprising place."[107] Neutral monists reject such dichotomous views of mind-body interaction.[106][48]

Theoretical vice

An especially vocal critic of panpsychism, Searle has alleged that its unfalsifiability goes deeper than run-of-the-mill untestability: it is unfalsifiable because "it does not get up to the level of being false. It is strictly speaking meaningless because no clear notion has been given to the claim."[70] The need for coherence and clarification is recognized by David Skrbina, a proponent of panpsychism.[16]: 15 

A related criticism is what seems to many to be the theory's bizarre nature.[10] Goff dismisses this objection.[1] Though he admits that panpsychism is counterintuitive, he notes that Einstein's and Darwin's theories are also counterintuitive. "At the end of the day," he writes, "you should judge a view not for its cultural associations but by its explanatory power."[26]

In any case, there are other avenues of justification available to the panpsychist, such as theoretical virtues such as parsimony or simplicity. According to Chalmers, "there are indirect reasons, of a broadly theoretical character, for taking the view seriously".[10] Even critics such as Totoni and Koch speak of panpsychism's "beauty" and "elegant unity". But beauty may provide less justification than initially anticipated. In his paper "When is Parsimony a Virtue?", Michael Huemer analyses the "virtue of parsimony" and its relation and application to empirical and philosophical theories. He concludes that "in typical cases, ontological simplicity has no evidential value."[108] If this conclusion is sound, then panpsychism's simplicity or parsimony says little about its truth.

Combination problem

The combination problem (also known as the binding problem) can be traced to William James,[11] but was given its present name by William Seager in 1995.[109][11] The problem arises from the tension between the seemingly irreducible nature of consciousness and its ubiquity. If consciousness is ubiquitous, then presumably every atom (or every bit, depending on the theory) will have a minimal level of it. How then, as Keith Frankish puts it, do these "tiny consciousnesses combine" to create larger larger conscious experiences such as "the twing of pain" he feels in his knee?[110] This question has proven provocative,[11][110][1] and many have attempted to answer it.[111][112] None of the proposed answers has gained widespread acceptance.[11]

In relation to other theories


Chalmers calls panpsychism an alternative to both materialism and dualism.[10] Similarly, Goff calls it an alternative to both physicalism and substance dualism.[6] Chalmers says panpsychism respects the conclusions of both the causal argument against dualism and the conceivability argument for dualism.[10] Goff has argued that panpsychism avoids the disunity of dualism, under which mind and matter are ontologically separate, as well as dualism's problems explaining how mind and matter interact.[1]

Physicalism and materialism

Further information: Physicalism and Materialism

Panpsychism encompasses many theories, united by the notion that consciousness is ubiquitous; these can in principle be reductive materialist, dualist, or something else.[9] Galen Strawson maintains that panpsychism is a form of physicalism, on his view the only viable form.[25] On the other hand, Chalmers calls panpsychism an alternative to both materialism and dualism.[10] Similarly, Goff calls panpsychism an alternative to both physicalism and substance dualism.[6]


Further information: Emergentism

Panpsychism is incompatible with emergentism.[9] In general, theories of consciousness fall under one or the other umbrella; they hold either that consciousness is present at a fundamental level of reality (panpsychism) or that it emerges higher up (emergentism).[9] The same cannot be said of panprotopsychism.

See also




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Further reading