Mind Matters Natural and Artificial Intelligence News and Analysis


Girls eye with paint and earth
Girls eye with paint and earth

New Scientist Offers a Sympathetic Account of Panpsychism

A serious, long form article shows that physicalism (“the mind is just what the brain does”) is failing

Panpsychism, the view that all nature participates in consciousness, has been growing under the radar for some time in science. But it is now coming into plainer view. New Scientist is one of the last places one might have expected to find a serious, long-form account of panpsychism — one that, in the context, amounts to a defense. Yet that’s just what science writer and filmmaker Thomas Lewton has been permitted by the editors to do. He tells us about his own journey at his site: “Studying physics, I thought telescopes and particle colliders would offer firm answers, but instead they raised more questions.” And at New Scientist, he tells us why: It can seem as if there is an…

Happy beautiful twins girls point up isolated on blue background, two sisters showing something above their heads , advertisement, place for text, body language

Why Physicalism Is Failing as the Accepted Approach to Science

The argument that everything in nature can be reduced to physics was killed by the philosophical Zombie, as Prudence Louise explains
At Medium, Prudence Louise, a writer on philosophy and religion, explains that in 1994 philosopher David Chalmers killed the Zombie in cold blood, igniting “a zombie apocalypse.” Sounds like an unusual role for a philosopher. And the Zombie?: “The philosophical notion of a “zombie” basically refers to conceivable creatures which are physically indistinguishable from us but lack consciousness entirely (Chalmers 1996)” — Internet Encyclopaedia of Philosophy. Louise asks us to picture that: Imagine you meet your doppelganger. Someone physically identical to you, atom for atom. The only difference is the doppelganger has no inner consciousness. They look happy or sad, they even tell you of their hopes and dreams. But there is nothing more than physical processes moving in response to physical causes. Their lips move and sounds which are meaningful to you come out, but they experience nothing at all. From the outside you are identical. But from the inside the zombie is a hollow imitation. That is a philosophical zombie. The physical structure, functions and behavior are identical, but there is no consciousness. What exactly is the missing ingredient? Prudence Louise, “The Impossibly Hard Problem of Consciousness” at Medium (October 30, 3021) The zombie could, in principle, exist. At the same time, we all know we are not zombies in the sense that we know we are conscious more certainly than we know anything else. And if consciousness is an illusion, well, whose illusion is it? As Louise goes on to show, for a physicalist (a person who believes that everything is physical), the zombie is an “explanatory nightmare.” It forces us to sense that there is something besides the physical. Although we can explain more and more about the human body in terms of structure and function, there is no good science-based theory of consciousness on the horizon. And if we can explain everything about a human being except consciousness, well, we haven’t explained, say, the difference between Jane and Zombie-Jane, which humans generally agree is important. As Louise explains in her short article, “The stakes are high. If there can’t be a scientific explanation of conscious experience, this shows physicalism is false.” One problem is that science explains third-person phenomena but consciousness is a first-person phenomenon. She then goes into much more careful logical and philosophical detail but here’s the gist: When you move your body to the fridge in response to a desire for a snack, or take medication in response to pain, or lock the doors due to a fear of burglars, there is no causal connection between those conscious states and the physical effects of your body moving. This view isn’t fatal to the physicalist theory, but it puts it on critical life support. Our mental states cause actions which move matter constantly, giving us a lot of evidence it’s true. Any arguments those powers are illusory will need to be stronger than our confidence our conscious states cause our bodies to move. Prudence Louise, “The Impossibly Hard Problem of Consciousness” at Medium (October 30, 3021) Physicalism took root in a mechanistic view of the universe, pioneered by Isaac Newton. And before the Zombie even showed up, that view was already being challenged by quantum mechanics, in which the conscious observer plays a key role in what happens. But, for scientists, physicalism is not the only game in town: Alternative metaphysics, like idealism, substance dualism or panpsychism all avoid the hard problem by denying causal closure. They accept the observation that consciousness is non-physical, and it’s causally effective, which means causal closure must be false. Unlike the observations of consciousness and its causal powers, causal closure isn’t based on observations of the world. It’s a metaphysical commitment. Physicalism is confronting a problem created by its philosophical commitments being in conflict with our observations of the world. Prudence Louise, “The Impossibly Hard Problem of Consciousness” at Medium (October 30, 3021) Of the three alternatives Louise lists, panpsychism seems to the one many scientists are gravitating to. Instead of “nothing is conscious,” many now think everything is conscious. Just recently, prominent biochemist James Shapiro titled a paper “All living cells are cognitive.” And prominent neuroscientist Antonio Damasio offered that viruses have some type of intelligence. Other well-known science achievers argue that electrons have a rudimentary mind. In response to criticism from physicists Sabine Hossenfelder and Sean Carroll, philosopher Philip Goff points out that panpsychism is not in conflict with physics. It offers a simpler view of physics than dualism, with fewer gaps than materialism (including physicalism). Essentially, panpsychism offers a way for scientists to address human consciousness, as currently understood, without explaining it away as an illusion. It would allow them to say that if Zombie-Jane existed, she would be missing something critical that Jane has (and so does everything else, to at least some extent). Whether that benefit makes panpsychism a better explanation of reality than idealism or dualism is a separate question. Each of these points of view has its own issues but the Zombie isn’t one of them. You may also wish to read: Theoretical physicist slams panpsychism Electrons cannot be conscious Sabine Hossenfelder’s view because they cannot change their behavior. Hossenfelder’s impatience is understandable but she underestimates the seriousness of the problem serious thinkers about consciousness confront. There is a reason that some scientists believe that the universe is conscious: It would be more logically coherent to say that you think the universe is conscious than to say that your own consciousness is an illusion. With the first idea, you may be wrong. With the second idea, you are not anything. Read More ›
The universe within. Silhouette of a man inside the universe, physical and mathematical formulas.. The concept on scientific and philosophical topics.  Elements of this image furnished by NASA.

Philosopher: Panpsychism Is Not in Conflict With Physics at All

Responding to criticism from physicists Sabine Hossenfelder and Sean Carroll, Philip Goff points out that panpsychism is not a dualist perspective

At IAI.tv, University of Durham philosophy prof Philip Goff tells us that “The world of academic philosophy has been rocked by the conversion of one of the most influential materialists of the last thirty years, Michael Tye, to a form of panpsychism (panprotopsychism) in his latest book. And the main annual UK philosophy conference held a plenary panel on panpsychism this year for the first time in its history.” That’s part of a pattern in which philosophy and science are warming to panpsychism, the belief that either all entities or all living entities participate in consciousness. Dr. Goff, author of Galileo’s Error: Foundations for a New Science of Consciousness, offers some thoughts on what panpsychism is and isn’t: Panpsychism is the…

Beautiful night sky, the Milky Way, moon and the trees. Elements of this image furnished by NASA.

“If Nobody Looks at the Moon, Does It Exist?” and Other Metaphysical Questions

If no one is looking at the moon, does it exist? Why has materialism been around for so long? Will computers ever be conscious? What happens to our consciousness after we die? Bernardo Kastrup tackles these questions and more with Michael Egnor in another bingecast! Show Notes 0:00:28 | Introducing Dr. Bernardo Kastrup 0:01:22 | How quantum mechanics points to…

Illustration of synapse and neuron on a blue background.

Will We Soon Be Able to Test Theories of Consciousness?

Proponents of two leading theories of consciousness are trying to develop tests for their models, in a hitherto baffling field

Science journalist and author Anil Ananthaswamy has written a thoughtful piece at New Scientist on the leading models of consciousness and their relationship to quantum mechanics (quantum physics). Are we reaching the point where we can test at least one of them? Ananthaswamy is well qualified to assess the arguments. He is the author of both Through Two Doors at Once (2018) on quantum physics and The Man Who Wasn’t There (2015) on the nature of the self. Models of consciousness that assume that “consciousness isn’t separate from the material reality that physics explains” (materialist or naturalist theories) fall into three general classes, as he explains. Analysts like Tufts philosopher Daniel Dennett and Princeton neuroscientist Michael Graziano argue that consciousness…

X-ray of the head and brain of a person

Bingecast: Michael Egnor on the Human Brain

In this Bingecast episode, Dr. Robert J. Marks and Dr. Michael Egnor explore the human brain and its relationship to the mind. Is the mind an emergent property of the brain? Is there neurological evidence for the soul? What have brain experiments taught us about free will and the human person? Can you still think in a coma? Show Notes…

face paper illusion.jpg
shout abstrat illusion background. 3D Illustration

Panpsychism Is, in Angus Menuge’s View, a Desperate Move

But he thinks it is worth keeping an eye on as an understandable reaction to materialism

In Walter Bradley Center director Robert J. Marks’s second podcast with philosopher Angus Menuge, the big topic is the perennial “Hard Problem of consciousness and various proposed solutions. Last time, they talked about the surprisingly large philosophical problem created by a concept like “red.” This time, they talk about whether Integrated Information Theory (IIT) and panpsychism in general are a way out of the dead end of naturalism. That is, if our science hypothesis is that consciousness is just an illusion, then we don’t — and can’t — have a hypothesis. There must be a better solution than that: https://episodes.castos.com/mindmatters/Mind-Matters-134-Angus-Menuge.mp3 This portion begins at 10:35 min. A partial transcript, Show Notes, and Additional Resources follow. Robert J. Marks: Okay. Let’s…

Looking through glasses to bleach nature landscape - tulips field. Color blindness. World perception during depression. Medical condition. Health and disease concept.

Dr. Angus Menuge: Models of Consciousness (Part II)

What is it like to see a red rose? To smell a red rose? To feel pain? In this week’s podcast, Dr. Robert J. Marks and Dr. Angus Menuge continue their discussion on philosophies of the mind, delving into competing definitions of consciousness. Show Notes 00:26 | Introducing Dr. Angus Menuge 01:01 | Phenomenal consciousness and qualia 07:25 | Experiencing…

Ideas escape from brain of pensive african man

How Have Various Thinkers Tried To Solve the Mind–Body Problem?

Philosopher Angus Menuge explains why traditional physicalism (the mind is just what the brain does) doesn’t really work

In last week’s podcast, Walter Bradley Center director Robert J. Marks interviewed Concordia University philosopher Angus Menuge on one of philosophy’s biggest headscratchers, the mind–body problem. In the second part, they looked at a big question, if the mind and body are so different, how can they interact? We know we are not just bodies, and a number of models of the relationship are offered. Menuge offers a look at some of them: https://episodes.castos.com/mindmatters/Mind-Matters-133-Angus-Menuge.mp3 This portion begins at 15:50 min. A partial transcript, Show Notes, and Additional Resources follow. Some philosophers don’t think the mind–body problem is as big a challenge as it is made out to be. Angus Menuge (pictured): Well, there are some like Richard Swinburne, who is…

neurons pulses.jpg
Neurons electrical pulses. Interconnected neurons with electrical pulses.

How a Materialist Philosopher Argued His Way to Panpsychism

Galen Strawson starts with the one fact of which we are most certain — our own consciousness

In 2018, science writer Robert Wright interviewed physicalist philosopher Galen Strawson (pictured) who, in a long conversation, explained the logical steps by which he — a philosopher who holds that nature is all there is and that everything is physical — also came to believe that consciousness underlies everything. Wright published a long excerpt from the discussion in June 2020, in which Strawson explains his reasoning. Wright starts things off by noting that “In recent years more and more philosophers seem to have embraced panpsychism—the view that consciousness pervades the universe and so is present, in however simple a form, in every little speck of matter.” Indeed, even publications like Scientific American have run panpsychist opinion pieces in recent years.…

Unfolding of Geometry

A Physicist and Philosopher Examines Panpsychism

Idealism says everything is an idea in the mind of God. Panpsychism says everything participates in consciousness (thus is not just an idea)

In last week’s podcast,” our guest host, neurosurgeon Michael Egnor, interviewed philosopher of science Bruce Gordon on “Idealism and the Nature of Reality.” Idealism is the view that “something mental (the mind, spirit, reason, will) is the ultimate foundation of all reality, or even exhaustive of reality” – Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. As Gordon noted in the earlier portion of this podcast, idealism is actually a practical philosophy. It originated with Plato (c. 424–347 BC) but the modern form, which he himself holds, is that of George Berkeley (1685–1753). In Berkeley’s view everything that exists is an idea in the mind of God. Thus, Dr. Egnor asked him what he thinks of panpsychism, the view that everything in the universe…

Bench on scenic overlook in Oklahoma, southeastern region in the Ouachita Mountains,   scenic vistas of the mountains

Why Idealism Is Actually a Practical Philosophy

Not what you heard? Philosopher of science — and pianist — Bruce Gordon says, think again

In last week’s podcast,,” our guest host, neurosurgeon Michael Egnor, interviewed philosopher of science Bruce Gordon on “Idealism and the Nature of Reality.” Idealism is “something mental (the mind, spirit, reason, will) is the ultimate foundation of all reality, or even exhaustive of reality” – Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy Gordon thinks that idealism is defensible, reasonable, and too easily discarded: https://episodes.castos.com/mindmatters/Mind-Matters-129-Bruce-Gordon.mp3 A partial transcript, Show Notes, and Additional Resources follow. Michael Egnor: At its most fundamental level, is reality more like a mind? Or is it more like a physical object? That question — and questions like that — are fundamental to our understanding of nature and our understanding of ourselves, and our understanding of God. I should point out…

Side view of young man brain and thinking concepts

Bruce Gordon On Idealism and the Nature of Reality (Part I)

What is the fundamental nature of reality? Is reality more like a mind, or more like a physical object? What is panpsychism? Tune in to this week’s podcast to hear guest host Michael Egnor interview Dr. Bruce Gordon on idealism. Gordon explores different varieties of idealism, the insights of past philosophers, and the theories of contemporary thinkers. Show Notes 00:43…

Thought Trails

Why Would a Neuroscientist Choose Panpsychism Over Materialism?

It seems to have come down to a choice between “nothing is conscious” and “everything is conscious”

A really significant change in brain science in recent years has been the gradual acceptance in mainstream science venues of sympathy for panpsychism — the position that everything is conscious to some degree. Leading neuroscientist Christof Koch, for example, explained last month in MIT Reader: But who else, besides myself, has experiences? Because you are so similar to me, I abduce that you do. The same logic applies to other people. Apart from the occasional solitary solipsist this is uncontroversial. But how widespread is consciousness in the cosmos at large? How far consciousness extends its dominion within the tree of life becomes more difficult to abduce as species become more alien to us. One line of argument takes the principles…

Evolving Abstract Visualization

Can Mathematics Help Us Understand Consciousness?

Gregory Chaitin asks, what if the universe is information, not matter?

In last week’s podcast, “The Chaitin Interview IV: Knowability and Unknowability,” Walter Bradley Center director Robert J. Marks interviewed mathematician Gregory Chaitin, best known for Chaitin’s Unknowable Number, on, among other things, consciousness. What can mathematics contribute to the discussion. Also, what does Chaitin think about panpsychism (everything is conscious”)? The discussion began with reference to David Chalmers’s 1996 book, The Conscious Mind: In Search of a Fundamental Theory, in which Chalmers coined the term “Hard Problem of Consciousness.” The term acknowledged what everyone knew, that human consciousness is a very difficult problem to understand, especially from a materialist perspective.Are there other approaches? Chaitin offers a look at the challenge panpsychism presents to materialism: https://episodes.castos.com/mindmatters/Mind-Matters-127-Gregory-Chaitin.mp3 This portion begins at 28:25…

Omega, the letter of a Greek alphabet. Greek numerals, mathematical eight hundred number concept. Abstract, digital, wireframe, low poly mesh, Raster blue neon 3d illustration. Triangle, line dot

The Chaitin Interview IV: Knowability and Unknowability

What does it mean for something to be unknowable? Is creativity non-computable? Do all things have a level of consciousness? Jump into today’s podcast, where Robert J. Marks continues his discussion with Gregory Chaitin about mathematical theory and philosophy. Show Notes 00:23 | Introducing Gregory Chaitin 00:40 | What is unknowability? 06:07 | Does non-computable mean unknowable? 09:43 | A…

Wireframed Robot hand making contact with human hand on dark 3D rendering

Bingecast: John Lennox on Artificial Intelligence and Humanity

In this bingecast episode, Robert J. Marks talks with Dr. John C. Lennox, professor of mathematics at the University of Oxford, about all things artificial intelligence. Should robots have rights? What are A.I.’s advantages and threats to humanity? And does theology have anything to say about all of this? Listen in as they discuss Dr. Lennox’s book 2084, and wrestle…

Line Design Composition

The Evolution (or Not) of Consciousness

Did consciousness evolve? How do materialists deal with the definition of consciousness? Dr. Michael Egnor and Dr. Bernardo Kastrup discuss consciousness, evolution, and intelligent design. Show Notes 00:28 | Introducing Dr. Bernardo Kastrup 01:05 | Did consciousness evolve? 03:35 | Two alternatives for Darwinists 05:00 | Intelligent design theory 07:15 | Jerry Fodor on natural selection 10:52 | Random mutations…

Glorious Sky - Elements of this Image Furnished by NASA

Bernardo Kastrup Argues for a Universal Mind as a Reasonable Idea

The challenge, he says, is not why there is consciousness but why there are so many separate instances of consciousnesses

In a recent podcast, Michael Egnor continued his discussion with philosopher and computer programmer Bernardo Kastrup; This week, the topic was panpsychism and cosmopsychism. (Last week, the topic was why consciousness couldn’t just evolve from the mud.) https://episodes.castos.com/mindmatters/Mind-Matters-096-Bernardo-Kastrup.mp3 A partial transcript follows: (The complete transcript is here. The Show Notes and Resources are below.) Dr. Kastrup made clear that he is not a panpsychism but rather a cosmopsychist. He explains the difference, defining panpsychism as follows: Bernardo Kastrup (pictured): Panpsychism, well, to be more accurately called constitutive panpsychism, it’s the notion that at least some of the elementary particles that constitutes the universe, at least some of them, are fundamentally conscious. In other words, they have experiential states, fundamental experiential…

Asian women travel relax in the holiday. Standing on the mountain. Thailand

Bernardo Kastrup on Panpsychism and Cosmopsychism

How do we know what happens around us? Is the whole universe conscious? Dr. Michael Egnor and Dr. Bernardo Kastrup discuss panpsychism, cosmopsychism, and conciousness. Show Notes 00:35 | Introducing Dr. Bernardo Kastrup 01:29 | Panpsychism and cosmopsychism 02:42 | Using your senses to convey information to the mind 04:24 | Communicating feelings 05:33 | Differentiating complex internal states from…