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Panpsychism is one of the oldest philosophical theories, and has been ascribed to philosophers like Thales, Plato, Spinoza, Leibniz and William James. Panpsychism can also be seen in ancient philosophies such as Stoicism, Taoism, Vedanta and Mahayana Buddhism. During the 19th century, panpsychism was the default theory in philosophy of mind, but it saw a decline during the middle years of the 20th century with the rise of logical positivism. The recent interest in the hard problem of consciousness has once again made panpsychism a widespread theory.
The term "panpsychism" has its origins with the Greek term pan (πᾶν : "all, everything, whole") and psyche (ψυχή: "soul, mind") as the unifying center of the mental life of us humans and other living creatures." Psyche comes from the Greek word ψύχω (psukhō, "I blow") and can mean life, soul, mind, spirit, heart and 'life-breath'. The use of psyche is controversial due to it being synonymous with soul, a term usually taken to have some sort of supernatural quality; more common terms now found in the literature include mind, mental properties, mental aspect, and experience.
Early forms of panpsychism can be found in pre-modern animistic beliefs in religions such as Shinto, Taoism, Paganism and shamanism. Panpsychist views are also a staple theme in pre-Socratic Greek philosophy. According to Aristotle, Thales (c. 624 – 545 BCE) the first Greek philosopher, posited a theory which held "that everything is full of gods." Thales believed that this was demonstrated by magnets. This has been interpreted as a panpsychist doctrine. Other Greek thinkers that 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").
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). 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.
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 was based on Hellenistic philosophies such as Neoplatonism and Gnosticism also made use of the Platonic idea of the Anima mundi.
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." Platonist ideas like the anima mundi also resurfaced in the work of esoteric thinkers like Paracelsus, Robert Fludd and Cornelius Agrippa.
In the 17th century, two rationalists can be said to be panpsychists, Baruch Spinoza and Gottfried Leibniz. In Spinoza's monism, the one single infinite and eternal substance was "God, or Nature" (Deus sive Natura) which has the aspects of mind (thought) and matter (extension). Leibniz' view is that there are an infinite number of absolutely simple mental substances called monads which make up the fundamental structure of the universe. The Idealist philosophy of George Berkeley is also a form of pure panpsychism and technically all idealists can be said to be panpsychists by default.
In the 19th century, Panpsychism was at its zenith. Philosophers like Arthur Schopenhauer, Josiah Royce, William James, Eduard von Hartmann, F.C.S. Schiller, Ernst Haeckel and William Kingdon Clifford as well as psychologists like Gustav Fechner, Wilhelm Wundt and Rudolf Hermann Lotze all promoted Panpsychist ideas.
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".
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 which the universe as suffused with mind which he associated with spontaneity and freedom. Following Pierce, William James also espoused a form of panpsychism. 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
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."
In the 20th century, the most significant proponent of the Panpsychist view is arguably Alfred North Whitehead (1861-1947). 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. According to Whitehead: "we should conceive mental operations as among the factors which make up the constitution of nature." Bertrand Russell's neutral monist views also tended towards panpsychism.
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". The psychologists James Ward and Charles Augustus Strong also endorsed variants of panpsychism.
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.
The panpsychist doctrine has recently been making a comeback in the American philosophy of mind. Prominent defenders include Christian de Quincey, Leopold Stubenberg, David Ray Griffin, and David Skrbina. In the United Kingdom the case for panpsychism has been made by Galen Strawson, Gregg Rosenberg and Timothy Sprigge.
In the philosophy of mind, panpsychism is one possible solution to the so-called hard problem of consciousness. The doctrine has also been applied in the field of environmental philosophy through the work of Australian philosopher Freya Mathews. David Chalmers has provided a sympathetic account of it in The Conscious Mind (1996). In addition, neuroscientist Christof Koch has proposed a "scientifically refined version" of panpsychism.
The problems found with emergentism are often cited by panpsychists as grounds to reject physicalism. This argument can be traced back to the Ancient Greek philosopher Parmenides, who argued that ex nihilo nihil fit — nothing comes from nothing and thus the mental cannot arise from the non-mental.
In his 1979 article Panpsychism, Thomas Nagel tied 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." Thus he denies that mental properties can arise out of complex relationships between physical matter. Opposing Nagel, emergentist philosophers Roberto Mangabeira Unger in The Religion of The Future and Alexander Bard & Jan Söderqvist in Syntheism - Creating God in The Internet Age have argued that the reality of time enables complex systems to have truly emergent (as in irreversible and irreproducible) properties, thereby replacing any need for panpsychism with a chronocentric, strong emergentism.
The most popular empirically based argument for panpsychism stems from Darwinism 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. 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 [...]
In his book titled Mortal Questions, Thomas Nagel defines panpsychism as, "the view that the basic physical constituents of the universe have mental properties," effectively claiming the panpsychist thesis to be a type of property dualism. Nagel argues that panpsychism follows from four premises:
- (1) "Material composition", or commitment to materialism.
- (2) "Non-reductionism", or the view that mental properties cannot be reduced to physical properties.
- (3) "Realism" about mental properties.
- (4) "Non-emergence", or the view that "there are no truly emergent properties of complex systems".
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. Also, he 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." Furthermore, Nagel argues mental states are real by appealing to the inexplicability of subjective experience, or qualia, by physical means.
Philosophers such as Alfred North Whitehead have drawn on the indeterminacy observed by quantum physics to defend panpsychism. They see quantum indeterminacy and informational but non-causal relations between quantum elements as the key to explaining consciousness. Recent work on this approach has been undertaken by William Lycan (1996) and Michael Lockwood (1991).
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". 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.
Philosophers such as Galen Strawson, Roger Penrose (1989), John Searle (1991), Thomas Nagel (1979, 1986, 1999) and Noam Chomsky (1999) have said that a revolutionary change in physics may be needed to solve the problem of consciousness. Galen Strawson has also called for a revised "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".
One criticism of panpsychism is the simple lack of evidence that the physical entities have any mental attributes. John Searle states that panpsychism is an "absurd view" and that thermostats lack "enough structure even to be a remote candidate for consciousness" (Searle, 1997, p. 48).
Physicalists also could argue against panpsychism by denying proposition (2) of Nagel's argument. If mental properties are reduced to physical properties of a physical system, then it does not follow that all matter has mental properties: it is in virtue of the structural or functional organization of the physical system that the system can be said to have a mind, not simply that it is made of matter. This is the common Functionalist position. This view allows for certain man-made systems that are properly organized, such as some computers, to be said to have minds. This may cause problems when (4) is taken into account. Also, qualia seem to undermine the reduction of mental properties to brain properties.
Some have argued that the only properties shared by all qualia are that they are not precisely describable, and thus are of indeterminate meaning within any philosophy which relies upon precise definition according to these critics (that is, it tends to presuppose a definition for mentality without describing it in any real detail). The need to define better the terms used within the thesis of panpsychism is recognized by panpsychist David Skrbina, and he resorts to asserting some sort of hierarchy of mental terms to be used. This is motivation to argue for panexperientialism rather than panpsychism, since only the most fundamental meaning of mind is what is present in all matter, namely, subjective experience.
The panpsychist answers both these challenges in the same way: we already know what qualia are through direct, introspective apprehension; and we likewise know what conscious mentality is by virtue of being conscious. For someone like Alfred North Whitehead, third-person description takes second place to the intimate connection between every entity and every other which is, he says, the very fabric of reality. To take a mere description as having primary reality is to commit the "fallacy of misplaced concreteness".
One response is to separate the phenomenal, non-cognitive aspects of consciousness—particularly qualia, the essence of the hard problem of consciousness—from cognition. Thus panpsychism is transformed into panexperientialism. However, this strategy of division generates problems of its own: what is going on causally in the head of someone who is thinking—cognitively of course—about their qualia?
In relation to other metaphysical positions
Panpsychism can be understood as related to a number of other metaphysical positions.
Panpsychism agrees with idealism that in a sense everything is mental, but whereas idealism treats most things as mental content or ideas, panspychism treats them as mind-like, in some sense, and as having their own reality. Also, in contrast to many forms of idealism, it holds that there is for all minds, there is a single, external, spatio-temporal world.
In contrast to "idealism", as this term is often used, panpsychism is not a doctrine of the unreality of the spatio-temporal world perceived through the senses, or its reduction to mere "ideas" in the human or divine mind. The constituents of this world are, for panpsychists, just as real as human minds or as any mind. Indeed, they are minds, though, in large part, of an extremely low, subhuman order. Thus panpsychism is panpsychical realism; realistic both in the sense of admitting the reality of nature, and in the sense of avoiding an exaggerated view of the qualities of its ordinary constituents. "Souls" may be very humble sorts of entities––for example, the soul of a frog––and panpsychists usually suppose that multitudes of units of nature are on a much lower level of psychic life even than that.
Panpsychists and dualists agree that mental properties cannot be reduced to physical properties. The difference is that dualists consider mental and physical properties to be qualitatively different, to belong to different categories with virtually nothing in common (for instance, Descartes' characterisation of matter and mind as "extension" and "thought"), whereas panpsychists view physical properties as lesser quantities of mental properties. For instance, a panpsychist would interpret the ability of a stone to move under an impact to be a highly diminished form of sensitivity, with no element of volition. This distinction also separates dual aspect theory from panpsychism: although dual aspect theorists can agree with panpsychists that everything has some mental properties, they also hold that everything has some physical properties, whereas panpsychists hold that physical properties are (lessened) mental properties.
There are also varieties of monism that don't presuppose (like materialism and idealism do) that mind and matter are fundamentally separable. An example is neutral monism first introduced by Spinoza and later propounded by William James. Neutral monism is often coupled with dual aspect theory which maintains that general and physical are two perspectives on a reality that is neither mental nor physical. Panpsychism, on the other hand, holds that the physical is the (attenuated) mental.
Physicalism and materialism
Reductive physicalism, a form of monism, is normally assumed to be incompatible with panpsychism. Materialism, if held to be distinct from physicalism, is compatible with panpsychism insofar as mental properties are attributed to physical matter, which is the only basic substance.
Panpsychism is related to the more holistic view that the whole Universe is an organism that possesses a mind (cosmic consciousness). It is claimed to be distinct from animism or hylozoism, which hold that all things have a soul or are alive, respectively. Gustav Theodor Fechner claimed in "Nanna" and "Zend-Avesta" that the Earth is a living organism whose parts are the people, the animals and the plants.
Panpsychism, as a view that the universe has "universal consciousness", is shared by some forms of religious thought such as theosophy, pantheism, cosmotheism, non-dualism, new age thought and panentheism. The hundredth monkey effect exemplifies the threshold for this applied cosmic consciousness. The Tiantai Buddhist view is that "when one attains it, all attain it".
Hylopathism argues for a similarly universal attribution of sentience to matter. Few writers would advocate a hylopathic materialism, although the idea is not new; it has been formulated as "whatever underlies consciousness in a material sense, i.e., whatever it is about the brain that gives rise to consciousness, must necessarily be present to some degree in any other material thing". A compound state of mind does not consist of compounded psychic atoms. The concept of awareness "being in itself" allows for the idea of self-aware matter. Attempts have been made to conceptualize this primitive level of existence prior to associative learning and memory. In the way that the collection of self-aware matter constitutes a cognitive being, the collection of cognitive beings as a conglomerate entity, reﬂects panpsychism. Consciousness was not "nascent" but emergent due to a lack of abandon during the evolution of material awareness.
Similar ideas have been attributed to Australian philosopher David Chalmers, who assumes that consciousness is a fundamental feature of the Universe, what he refers to as the First Datum in the study of the mind. In the practice of non-reductionism this feature may not be attributable to any base monad but instead radically emergent on the level of physical complexity at which it demonstrates itself. Complex elegance is the further development of awareness that is self-aware. This we can call "post-intelligence" where "intelligence" is simple processing. The element of superiority might be that the post-intelligence is proto-experiential. These phenomenal properties are called "the internal aspects of information".:162–170
No form of panpsychism attributes full, human-style consciousness to the fundamental constituents of the universe, therefore all versions need a certain amount of emergence—that is, weak emergence, in which more sophisticated versions of basic properties emerge at a higher level. No version of panpsychism requires strong emergence, in which high-level properties do not have any low-level precursors or basis, and instead emerge "from nothing". Indeed, avoidance of strong emergentism is one of the motivations for panpsychism, while strong emergentism, based on the reality of time, is the major argument against panpsychism.
"Panexperientialism" (or "panprotopsychism"), and "panprotoexperientialism" are related concepts. Panexperientialism is associated with the philosophies of 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.
Whitehead's metaphysics incorporated a scientific worldview similar to Einstein’s theory of relativity into the development of his philosophical system. His 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. This experience is not consciousness; there is no mind-body duality under this system, since mind is seen as a particularly developed kind of experience. Whitehead was not a subjective idealist, and while his occasions of experience (or "actual occasions") resemble Leibniz's monads, they are described as constitutively interrelated. He embraced panentheism, with God encompassing all occasions of experience and yet still transcending them. Whitehead believed that these occasions of experience are the smallest element in the universe—even smaller than subatomic particles.
Panprotoexperientialism is a theory found in the works of Gregg Rosenberg. For his part, Michel Weber argues for a pancreativism.
In eastern philosophy
According to Graham Parkes: "Most of traditional Chinese, Japanese and Korean philosophy would qualify as panpsychist in nature. For the philosophical schools best known in the west — Neo-confucianism and Japanese Buddhism — the world is a dynamic force field of energies known as qi or bussho (Buddha nature) and classifiable in western terms as psychophysical."
East Asian Buddhism
According to D. S. Clarke, panpsychist and panexperientialist aspects can be found in the Huayan and Tiantai (Jpn. Tendai) Buddhist doctrines of Buddha nature, which was often attributed to inanimate objects such as lotus flowers and mountains. Tiantai patriarch Zhanran argued that "even non-sentient beings have Buddha nature."
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.
The Tiantai school was transmitted to Japan by Saicho, who spoke of the "buddha-nature of trees and rocks".
According to the 9th-century Shingon Buddhist thinker Kukai, the Dharmakaya is nothing other than the physical universe and natural objects like rocks and stones are included as part of the supreme embodiment of the Buddha. The Soto Zen master Dogen also argued for the universality of Buddha nature. According to Dogen, "fences, walls, tiles, and pebbles" are also "mind" (心,shin). Dogen also argued that "insentient beings expound the teachings" and that the words of the eternal Buddha "are engraved on trees and on rocks . . . in fields and in villages". This is the message of his "Mountains and Waters Sutra" (Sansui kyô).
According to a common misunderstanding, in the Buddhist Dzogchen tradition , particularly Dzogchen Semde or "mind series" the principal text of which is the Kulayarāja Tantra, there is nothing which is non-sentient, i.e. everything is sentient. Moreover, two of the English scholars that opened the discourse of the Bardo literature of the Nyingma Dzogchen tradition, Evans-Wentz & Jung (1954, 2000: p. 10) specifically with their partial translation and commentary of the Bardo Thodol into the English language write of the "One Mind" (Tibetan: sems nyid gcig; Sanskrit: *ekacittatva; *ekacittata; where * denotes a possible Sanskrit back-formation) thus:
The One Mind, as Reality, is the Heart which pulsates for ever, sending forth purified the blood-streams of existence, and taking them back again; the Great Breath, the Inscrutable Brahman, the Eternally Unveiled Mystery of the Mysteries of Antiquity, the Goal of all Pilgrimages, the End of all Existence.
It should be borne in mind, that Evans-Wentz never studied the Tibetan language and that the lama who did the main translation work for him was of the Gelukpa Sect and is not known to have actually studied or practiced Dzogchen.
According to the translation with commentary, "Self-Liberation Through Seeing with Naked Awareness", by John Myrdhin Reynolds, the phrase, "It is the single nature of mind which encompasses all of Samsara and Nirvana," occurs only once in the text and it refers not to "some sort of Neo-Platonic hypostasis, a universal Nous, of which all individual minds are but fragments or appendages", but to the teaching that, "whether one finds oneself in the state of Samsara or in the state of Nirvana, it is the nature of the mind which reflects with awareness all experiences, no matter what may be their nature." This can be found in Appendix I, on pages 80–81. Reynolds elucidates further with the analogy of a mirror. To say that a single mirror can reflect ugliness or beauty, does not constitute an allegation that all ugliness and beauty is one single mirror.
Quran 33:72 seems to imply panpsychism and panbiotism.
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- Orig. source unknown, cited in Danah Zohar & Ian Marshall, SQ: Connecting with our Spiritual Intelligence, Bloomsbury, 2000, p. 81.
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- Clarke, D.S. (2004). Panpsychism: Past and Recent Selected Readings. State University of New York Press. ISBN 0-7914-6132-7.
- Skrbina, David (2005). Panpsychism in the West. The MIT Press. ISBN 978-0-262-69351-6.
- Skrbina, David (ed.) (2009). Mind That Abides: Panpsychism in the New Millennium. John Benjamins.
- Ells, Peter (2011). Panpsychism: The Philosophy of the Sensuous Cosmos. O Books. ISBN 1-84694-505-4.
- Michel Weber and Anderson Weekes (eds.), Process Approaches to Consciousness in Psychology, Neuroscience, and Philosophy of Mind (Whitehead Psychology Nexus Studies II), Albany, New York, State University of New York Press, 2009.
- Michel Weber and Pierfrancesco Basile (eds.), Subjectivity, Process, and Rationality, Frankfurt/Lancaster, Ontos Verlag, 2006
|Wikisource has the text of the 1913 Catholic Encyclopedia article Panpsychism.|
- List of online classic papers on panpsychism
- Online papers on panpsychism, by various authors, compiled by David Chalmers
- Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy - Panpsychism
- Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy - Panpsychism
- consciousentities.com - Philosophical Deadends - Panpsychism
- panpsychism.net Panpsychism and Pantheism (a good introduction by Ken Van Cleve)
- The Center for Process Studies (Whitehead and Panexperientialism)
- Panexperientialism Blog
- The Panpsychist Society
- Popper's Flawed Critique of Panpsychism (Neuroself Article)