Panpsychism: A Concept That Redefines Consciousness!

Panpsychism is a theory that states, “everything has a mind.” Though contemporary debates have considered mentality as fundamental and ubiquitous in the natural world, panpsychism promotes the idea that consciousness is not a unique feature of human’s subjective experience. But the foundation of the universe and is present in every particle and all physical matter.

Experts Take

The concept seemed easily dismissible, but the “panpsychist” view has gained momentum and is being taken seriously by philosophers, physicists, and neuroscientists like Christ of Koch and physicist Roger Penrose.

Philip Goff- philosophy professor at Central European University in Budapest, Hungary, states- “Why do you think common sense is a guide to what the universe is like?” He further adds, “Einstein tells us things about the nature of time that counters common sense; quantum mechanics runs counter to common sense. Our intuitive reaction isn’t necessarily a guide to the nature of reality.”

David Chalmers- professor of philosophy at New York University, demonstrates that there was still no answer to what causes consciousness. The two dominant perspectives, materialism, and dualism have tried to solve the problem, but both lead to intractable complications. The materialist viewpoint suggests that consciousness is derived from physical matter. But as Chalmer says, “Physics is a structure which can explain biology, but the gap of consciousness remains unanswered.” Dualism treats consciousness as separate and distinct from physical matter. This, in turn, raises the question of how consciousness interacts and has an effect on the physical world.

Panpsychism Solves The Quest

Panpsychism has an alternative solution to offer- it states that consciousness is a fundamental feature of every physical particle. It suggests that every single particle has an “unimaginably simple” form of consciousness. When these single particles come together, they form more complex forms of consciousness, like humans’ subjective experiences. This doesn’t mean that particles can actively think or have a worldview, but they do have an inherent subjective experience of consciousness.

Hedda Hassel Morch- a philosophy researcher at New York University, states that Panpsychists don’t consider tables and other objects to be conscious as a whole. But they do mean that table is a collection of particles and each particle has a consciousness of its own.

Integrated Panpsychism

Giulio Tononi- the most popular and credible contemporary neuroscientist suggested an Integrated Information Theory (IIT). This theory states that conscious experience is an important aspect of reality and is identical to integrated information. This means that consciousness is dependent on a physical substrate but not reducible to it. That is, your experience of swimming is linked to your brain, but it is different from your brain.

Any system with a nonzero amount of integrated information has an experience. The experience could be minute, but there is an experience.

IIT Explained

IIT makes two assumptions. The first being that conscious states are highly differentiated. It means that each particle is informationally rich, which makes you conscious of an infinite number of things. If this has to be explained further, you can consider a film. Consider a film with multiple frames; each frame has a different and a specific conscious perception.

The second assumption is each such experience is highly integrated. It means that whatever information you are conscious of is presented to you and cannot be subdivided. If parts of your brain are fragmented or divided, your consciousness will fade as happens during anesthesia or sleep. This means to be conscious, you need to be a single entity with a repertoire of highly differentiated states.

Understanding Further

To understand it better, consider your computer’s hard disk. The disk can have lifetime memories, but the information isn’t integrated. The family photos on your computer are not linked together, which is why the computer doesn’t know your parents or family. For your computer, all the information is meaningless. Yet you can derive meaning because your memories are cross-linked. The more interconnected the memories, the more meaningful they become.

The more connected your brain is, the more integrated and conscious it will be. IIT addresses the problem of aggregates. It states that the “local maxima” of integrated information exists, which means that your consciousness, my consciousness, but nothing in between. My consciousness will be different from yours because of the experiences I have. Which means every person living in the U.S. is conscious on their own, but there is no superordinate consciousness of the U.S. population as a whole.

It means that unlike classical panpsychism, not all physical objects have integrated consciousness. A galaxy of stars, a black hole, disconnected neurons- none of them are integrated, and thus not conscious. They do not have any mental properties.

Alternative Theory

An alternative panpsychist perspective suggests that the Universe as a whole is conscious. Goff says this isn’t the same as believing that the Universe is a divine being. It is more like considering the Universe to be a “cosmic mess.” However, it reflects that the Universe is a top-down creation, not the bottom-up version. This means that every individual being is derived from the universe as opposed to objects being built from smaller particles.

Goff also believes that the universe functions as a fundamental whole as opposed to the collection of discrete particles. This is known as quantum entanglement- which is a finding that certain particles behave as a unified system even when they are distant apart without any causal sign between them.

Conclusion

These theories are undoubtedly incredible. Chalmers states that the more he thinks about any theory, the less plausible it becomes. He then says that one starts as a materialist turning into a dualist, then a panpsychist, and finally an idealist. Idealism is a belief that physical matter does not exist at all, and the only truth is the conscious experience. Considering that, panpsychism is still moderate.

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