Panpsychism is an interesting theory from the philosophy of the mind [^] . This topic has a long history, and it has recently been put forth in a very engaging form by an Australian-American professor, Dr. David Chalmers [^]. I gather that there also have been others like Prof. Giulio Tononi [^] and Dr. Kristoph Koch [^]. However, I have not yet read them or watched their videos. So, my discussion of panpsychism is going to be limited to what I understand about this theory after listening to only Prof. Chalmers. Prof. Chalmers discusses panpsychism mainly in the context of “the hard problem of consciousness.”
I had last year (in 2018) listened to Prof. Chalmer’s TedX talks, and also had browsed through some of his writings. However, I didn’t think of writing a post about it. The reason I am now writing this post is that several physicist have recently come to discuss it. See: “Electrons don’t think” by Dr. Sabine Hossenfelder [^] ; “Panpsychism is needed to quantify consciousness” by Dr. Lubos(h) Motl [^] , and “The mind-body problems” by Dr. Roger Schlafly [^].
In these couple of posts (this one and the next), I am going to note a few points about panpsychism—what I think of it, based on just some surface reading (and watching videos) on the topic by Prof. David Chalmers. My write-up here is exploratory, and for that reason, a bit meandering.
Panpsychism says (going by the definition of the term thrown up by a Google search on the word) that “everything material, however small, has an element of individual consciousness.” For this post, we will assume that this definition correctly characterizes panpsychism. Also see the Google Ngram, at this link: [^]
The thesis of panpsychism seems to have the following two ideas at its base:
(i) What we perceive can cut across the entirety of the existence.
There are no sub-categories of beings (or parts of existence) that can in principle (i.e. directly or indirectly) remain permanently inaccessible to us, i.e., to our means and methods of cognition. For instance, consider the fact that a technique like SEM (scanning electron microscope) can bring certain spatial features of bacteria or of nano-scale structures to a high-fidelity representation that is within the range of our direct perception. Something similar, for the idiot box in your room—it brings a remote scene “to life” in your room.
Notice that this philosophical position means: a denial of a “second” (or “third” etc.) world that is permanently inaccessible to the rest of us, but one that is, somehow, definitely accessible to philosophers of mysticism such as Plato or Kant.
(ii) The idea that what we perceive includes both the realms: the physical realm, and the realm of the mind or consciousness.
Obviously, by the “realm” of consciousness, we don’t mean a separate world. We here take the word “realm” in the sense of just a collective noun for such things as: the contents of consciousnesses, their actions, the products of their processes, etc., as beings having consciousness are observed to exist and be conscious of this world (or take conscious actions in it).
By the idea of the two abstract realms—physical and consciousness-related—we mean a categorically improved version of the Cartesian division—which is to say that our realms have no connection whatsoever to the actual Cartesian division.
[I don’t know if all advocates of panpsychism accept the above two ideas or not. However, when I began wondering what could possibly be the theoretical bases of this idea (of panpsychism), these two seemed to be the right kind of bases.]
Given the above two ideas, the logic of panpsychism basically seems to go something like this:
Since the world we can directly or indirectly perceive is all there is to existence, and since our perception includes both the physical and the consciousness-related aspects, therefore, we should take a direct jump to the conclusion that any part of the existence must carry both kinds of attributes—physical, and the consciousness-pertaining.
If you ask me, there is a problem with this position (of panpsychism). I will cover it in a separate post later this week. I would like to see whether, knowing the fact that I find the logic problematic, you would want to give it a try as to what the reasoning could be like, so that we could cross-check our notes. … Happy thinking!
Bye for now… [The songs section will come back in the next part, to be posted soon enough.]
Originally published on 2019.01.06 14:59 IST. Slightly revised (without introducing any new point) on 2019.01.07 10:15 IST.