This article is an excerpt of one that originally appeared in Salvo 61 (Summer 2022), under the title “Everything is Conscious? Panpsychism goes mainstream.” Panpsychism — the view that all of the universe participates in consciousness, which is most fully developed in humans — has been gaining popularity in science in recent years. Does that sound unbelievable? Is not science committed wholly to materialism and nothing but materialism? Will consciousness not soon be “explained” by an accidental glitch in brain wiring that natural selection retained? Science doesn’t seem nearly as committed to that view just now. A 2018 article at Quartz by Olivia Goldhill was titled “The idea that everything from spoons to stones is conscious is gaining academic credibility.” Read More ›
Durham University philosopher Philip Goff, co-editor of Is Consciousness Everywhere? Essays on Panpsychism (November 1, 2022), has an interesting take on religion. While it’s common to assume that religious people are “believers,” he thinks that people can meaningfully be part of a religion without actually believing in it: But there is more to a religion than a cold set of doctrines. Religions involve spiritual practices, traditions that bind a community together across space and time, and rituals that mark the seasons and the big moments of life: birth, coming of age, marriage, death. This is not to deny that there are specific metaphysical views associated with each religion, nor that there is a place for assessing how plausible those views Read More ›
Jerry Coyne, a traditional Darwinian evolutionary biologist and author of Why Evolution Is True, is having a hard time understanding why anyone would even consider taking panpsychism seriously. His bafflement over the growing acceptance of the idea that every living thing (or everything) is conscious to some extent may shed light on some new features of the changing science landscape. His jumping off point is a recent three-way debate/discussion, sponsored by MindChat, between panpsychist philosopher Philip Goff, naturalist theoretical physicist Sean Carroll, and physicalist philosopher Keith Frankish, who views the mind as an illusion created by the brain — or, as Coyne puts it, “a trick of the biological mind.” Coyne, as a metaphysical naturalist (nature is all there is), Read More ›
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 Read More ›
Cosmic fine-tuning is the observation that many of the values of the variables in the fundamental laws of physics specifically permit the existence of sentient life (life like us) within a very narrow margin of error. The likelihood of this happening by chance seems vanishingly small. It seems as if Someone expected us. How can we explain this? The fact that God created the universe explains fine-tuning. But for atheists, it’s a real conundrum. As a result, at Neurologica blog, neurologist Steven Novella (pictured) and philosopher Philip Goff have been discussing the most popular atheist explanation for fine-tuning, the “multiverse.” That is, there are countless universes out there, each with its own parameters, and ours just happens to be one Read More ›
A recent article at New Scientist treats panpsychism as a serious idea in science. That’s thanks to the growing popularity of neuroscientist Giulio Tonioni’s Integrated Information Theory (IIT), which offers the opportunity for mathematical modeling, along with the implication that inanimate matter and/or the universe may be conscious. If IIT continues to gain a sympathetic hearing, panpsychism could become, over time, a part of normal science.
No good theories of consciousness match up with current science beliefs. The panpsychists, who ask us to consider that perhaps consciousness pervades the universe, force the issue, as put by Philip Goff: “If a general theory of reality has no place for consciousness, then that theory cannot be true.”
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.
Make no mistake, panpsychism—as Goff elucidates it—is a purely naturalist view (“nothing supernatural or spiritual”). But, unlike the village atheist, he goes on to ask, but then what is nature? Matter is all there is? But what is matter? It turns out, no one really knows.
These prominent thinkers are driven to panpsychism because materialism about the mind doesn’t really work. So if panpsychism ends up seeming absurd, dualism—there really is an immaterial world—is also worth considering.