What happens now?
What happens now?
My view? 🤔 Hell fucking fire club yes it is! The Universe, stars, planets, homosapiens, dolphins, plants… Inanimate objects such as rocks (quartz stores vast amounts of information)…. The ‘shamans’ of today know it… People of ancient past knew and understood it!
We have lost that understanding… because of a cosmic impact… it traumatised us, and sent us schizophrenic… some of us still remember ‘the time before’. 😔 We remember it because consciousness is flowing throughout all life on Earth, throughout the planet, throughout the cosmos… Throughout time, space and creation itself.
I can sit and watch an ant nest for hours on end, give me ten minutes with the average modern homo sapien and I’m ready to beat them to fucking death by the end of it.
Mills has his theory on how the Universe gave rise to consciousness.
I met an extraterrestrial being, in a restaurant in Kazakhstan… and without saying a word… BLEW MY FUCKING MIND INTO A TRILLION FUCKING PIECES!
I don’t even have to be high, or in a top secret mission… I can be in my room (anywhere at anytime), and I can attune my eyes, my senses, my consciousness, and see intelligent conscious beings zipping around right in front of me! (Jinn?)
You don’t have to believe that story… but drink Ayahausca! Read Graham Hancock…
“is the brain responsible for producing consciousness, or is it a receiver picking up the signal for consciousness?”
‘God’… As a Jew… I have to ponder the question with all my might/mite, with all the available knowledge and instruments at my disposal… In the 21st century!
The question of how the brain gives rise to subjective experience is the hardest of all. Mathematicians think they can help, but their first attempts have thrown up some eye-popping conclusionsSPACE 29 April 2020
THEY call it the “unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics”. Physicist Eugene Wigner coined the phrase in the 1960s to encapsulate the curious fact that merely by manipulating numbers we can describe and predict all manner of natural phenomena with astonishing clarity, from the movements of planets and the strange behaviour of fundamental particles to the consequences of a collision between two black holes billions of light years away. Now, some are wondering if maths can succeed where all else has failed, unravelling whatever it is that allows us to contemplate the laws of nature in the first place.
It is a big ask. The question of how matter gives rise to felt experience is one of the most vexing problems we know of. And sure enough, the first fleshed-out mathematical model of consciousness has generated huge debate about whether it can tell us anything sensible. But as mathematicians work to hone and extend their tools for peering deep inside ourselves, they are confronting some eye-popping conclusions.
Not least, what they are uncovering seems to suggest that if we are to achieve a precise description of consciousness, we may have to ditch our intuitions and accept that all kinds of inanimate matter could be conscious – maybe even the universe as a whole. “This could be the beginning of a scientific revolution,” says Johannes Kleiner, a mathematician at the Munich Centre for Mathematical Philosophy in Germany.
If so, it has been a long time coming. Philosophers have pondered the nature of consciousness for a couple of thousand years, largely to no avail. Then, half a century ago, biologists got involved. They …
Scientists are doubling down on a peculiar model that attempts to quantify and measure consciousness.
The model, known as Integrated Information Theory (IIT), has long been controversial because it comes with an unusual quirk. When applied to non-living things like machines, subatomic particles, and even the universe, it claims that they too experience consciousness, New Scientist reports.
“This could be the beginning of a scientific revolution,” Munich Centre for Mathematical Philosophy mathematician Johannes Kleiner told the magazine.
IIT relies on a value called phi that represents the interconnectivity of a node, whether it’s a region of the brain, circuitry, or an atom. That value represents the node’s level of consciousness. The cerebral cortex, for instance, has a high value because it contains a dense cluster of widely-interconnected neurons.
But when IIT was first presented, calculating phi was impossibly convoluted. New Scientist reports that calculating the phi of a human brain would have previously taken longer than the universe has existed, but a February paper by IIT’s creators, currently awaiting peer review, attempts to simplify the process significantly.
Many academics remain unconvinced by IIT, in part because of its complexity but mainly because of its far-reaching implications for a conscious universe.
“I think mathematics can help us understand the neural basis of consciousness in the brain, and perhaps even machine consciousness, but it will inevitably leave something out: the felt inner quality of experience,” University of Connecticut philosopher and cognitive scientist Susan Schneider told New Scientist.
READ MORE: Is the universe conscious? It seems impossible until you do the maths [New Scientist]
More on cosmic consciousness: New Study Links Human Consciousness to a Law That Governs the Universe
Philosopher Philip Goff answers questions about “panpsychism”
One of science’s most challenging problems is a question that can be stated easily: Where does consciousness come from? In his new book Galileo’s Error: Foundations for a New Science of Consciousness, philosopher Philip Goff considers a radical perspective: What if consciousness is not something special that the brain does but is instead a quality inherent to all matter? It is a theory known as “panpsychism,” and Goff guides readers through the history of the idea, answers common objections (such as “That’s just crazy!”) and explains why he believes panpsychism represents the best path forward. He answered questions from Mind Matters editor Gareth Cook.
[An edited transcript of the interview follows.]
Can you explain, in simple terms, what you mean by panpsychism?
In our standard view of things, consciousness exists only in the brains of highly evolved organisms, and hence consciousness exists only in a tiny part of the universe and only in very recent history. According to panpsychism, in contrast, consciousness pervades the universe and is a fundamental feature of it. This doesn’t mean that literally everything is conscious. The basic commitment is that the fundamental constituents of reality—perhaps electrons and quarks—have incredibly simple forms of experience. And the very complex experience of the human or animal brain is somehow derived from the experience of the brain’s most basic parts.
It might be important to clarify what I mean by “consciousness,” as that word is actually quite ambiguous. Some people use it to mean something quite sophisticated, such as self-awareness or the capacity to reflect on one’s own existence. This is something we might be reluctant to ascribe to many nonhuman animals, never mind fundamental particles. But when I use the word consciousness, I simply mean experience: pleasure, pain, visual or auditory experience, et cetera.
Human beings have a very rich and complex experience; horses less so; mice less so again. As we move to simpler and simpler forms of life, we find simpler and simpler forms of experience. Perhaps, at some point, the light switches off, and consciousness disappears. But it’s at least coherent to suppose that this continuum of consciousness fading while never quite turning off carries on into inorganic matter, with fundamental particles having almost unimaginably simple forms of experience to reflect their incredibly simple nature. That’s what panpsychists believe.
You write that you come to this idea as a way of solving a problem in the way consciousness is studied. What, in your mind, is the problem?
Despite great progress in our scientific understanding of the brain, we still don’t have even the beginnings of an explanation of how complex electrochemical signaling is somehow able to give rise to the inner subjective world of colors, sounds, smells and tastes that each of us knows in our own case. There is a deep mystery in understanding how what we know about ourselves from the inside fits together with what science tells us about matter from the outside.https://tpc.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-37/html/container.html
While the problem is broadly acknowledged, many people think we just need to plug away at our standard methods of investigating the brain, and we’ll eventually crack it. But in my new book, I argue that the problem of consciousness results from the way we designed science at the start of the scientific revolution.
A key moment in the scientific revolution was Galileo’s declaration that mathematics was to be the language of the new science, that the new science was to have a purely quantitative vocabulary. But Galileo realized that you can’t capture consciousness in these terms, as consciousness is an essentially quality-involving phenomenon. Think about the redness of a red experiences or the smell of flowers or the taste of mint. You can’t capture these kinds of qualities in the purely quantitative vocabulary of physical science. So Galileo decided that we have to put consciousness outside of the domain of science; after we’d done that, everything else could be captured in mathematics.
This is really important, because although the problem of consciousness is taken seriously, most people assume our conventional scientific approach is capable of solving it. And they think this because they look at the great success of physical science in explaining more and more of our universe and conclude that this ought to give us confidence that physical science alone will one day explain consciousness. However, I believe that this reaction is rooted in a misunderstanding of the history of science. Yes, physical science has been incredibly successful. But it’s been successful precisely because it was designed to exclude consciousness. If Galileo were to time travel to the present day and hear about this problem of explaining consciousness in the terms of physical science, he’d say, “Of course, you can’t do that. I designed physical science to deal with quantities, not qualities.”
How does panpsychism allow you to approach the problem differently?
The starting point of the panpsychist is that physical science doesn’t actually tell us what matter is. That sounds like a bizarre claim at first; you read a physics textbook, you seem to learn all kinds of incredible things about the nature of space, time and matter. But what philosophers of science have realized is that physical science, for all its richness, is confined to telling us about the behavior of matter, what it does. Physics tells us, for example, that matter has mass and charge. These properties are completely defined in terms of behavior, things like attraction, repulsion, resistance to acceleration. Physics tells us absolutely nothing about what philosophers like to call the intrinsic nature of matter: what matter is, in and of itself.
So it turns out that there is a huge hole in our scientific story. The proposal of the panpsychist is to put consciousness in that hole. Consciousness, for the panpsychist, is the intrinsic nature of matter. There’s just matter, on this view, nothing supernatural or spiritual. But matter can be described from two perspectives. Physical science describes matter “from the outside,” in terms of its behavior. But matter “from the inside”—i.e., in terms of its intrinsic nature—is constituted of forms of consciousness.
What this offers us is a beautifully simple, elegant way of integrating consciousness into our scientific worldview, of marrying what we know about ourselves from the inside and what science tells us about matter from the outside.
What are the objections to this idea that you hear most frequently? And how do you respond?
Of course, the most common one is “That’s just crazy!” But many of our best scientific theories are wildly counter to common sense, too—for example, Albert Einstein’s theory that time slows down when you travel very fast or Charles Darwin’s theory that our ancestors were apes. At the end of the day, you should judge a view not by its cultural associations but by its explanatory power. Panpsychism gives us a way of resolving the mystery of consciousness, a way that avoids the deep difficulties that plague more conventional options.
Do you foresee a scenario in which panpsychism can be tested?
There is a profound difficulty at the heart of the science of consciousness: consciousness is unobservable. You can’t look inside an electron to see whether or not it is conscious. But nor can you look inside someone’s head and see their feelings and experiences. We know that consciousness exists not from observation and experiment but by being conscious. The only way we can find out about the consciousness of others is by asking them: I can’t directly perceive your experience, but I can ask you what you’re feeling. And if I’m a neuroscientist, I can do this while I’m scanning your brain to see which bits light up as you tell me what you’re feeling and experiencing. In this way, scientists are able correlate certain kinds of brain activity with certain kinds of experience. We now know which kinds of brain activity are associated with feelings of hunger, with visual experiences, with pleasure, pain, anxiety, et cetera.
This is really important information, but it’s not itself a theory of consciousness. That’s because what we ultimately want from a science of consciousness is an explanation of those correlations. Why is it that, say, a certain kind of activity in the hypothalamus is associated with the feeling of hunger? Why should that be so? As soon as you start to answer this question, you move beyond what can be, strictly speaking, tested, simply because consciousness is unobservable. We have to turn to philosophy.
The moral of the story is that we need both the science and the philosophy to get a theory of consciousness. The science gives us correlations between brain activity and experience. We then have to work out the best philosophical theory that explains those correlations. In my view, the only theory that holds up to scrutiny is panpsychism.
How did you become interested in this topic?
When I studied philosophy, we were taught that there were only two approaches to consciousness: either you think consciousness can be explained in conventional scientific terms, or you think consciousness is something magical and mysterious that science will never understand. I came to think that both of these views were pretty hopeless. I think we can have hope that we will one day have a science of consciousness, but we need to rethink what science is. Panpsychism offers us a way of doing this.ADVERTISEMENTRights & Permissions
Are you a scientist who specializes in neuroscience, cognitive science, or psychology? And have you read a recent peer-reviewed paper that you would like to write about? Please send suggestions to Mind Matters editor Gareth Cook. Gareth, a Pulitzer prize-winning journalist, is the series editor of Best American Infographics and can be reached at garethideas AT gmail.com or Twitter @garethideas.
is associate professor in philosophy at the Central European University in Budapest. His research interest is in consciousness and he blogs at Conscience and Consciousness. His most recent book, Galileo’s Error: Foundations for a New Science of Consciousness, is forthcoming in August 2019.Listen here
In the past 40 or so years, a strange fact about our Universe gradually made itself known to scientists: the laws of physics, and the initial conditions of our Universe, are fine-tuned for the possibility of life. It turns out that, for life to be possible, the numbers in basic physics – for example, the strength of gravity, or the mass of the electron – must have values falling in a certain range. And that range is an incredibly narrow slice of all the possible values those numbers can have. It is therefore incredibly unlikely that a universe like ours would have the kind of numbers compatible with the existence of life. But, against all the odds, our Universe does.
Here are a few of examples of this fine-tuning for life:
Some take the fine-tuning to be simply a basic fact about our Universe: fortunate perhaps, but not something requiring explanation. But like many scientists and philosophers, I find this implausible. In The Life of the Cosmos (1999), the physicist Lee Smolin has estimated that, taking into account all of the fine-tuning examples considered, the chance of life existing in the Universe is 1 in 10229, from which he concludes:
In my opinion, a probability this tiny is not something we can let go unexplained. Luck will certainly not do here; we need some rational explanation of how something this unlikely turned out to be the case.
The two standard explanations of the fine-tuning are theism and the multiverse hypothesis. Theists postulate an all-powerful and perfectly good supernatural creator of the Universe, and then explain the fine-tuning in terms of the good intentions of this creator. Life is something of great objective value; God in Her goodness wanted to bring about this great value, and hence created laws with constants compatible with its physical possibility. The multiverse hypothesis postulates an enormous, perhaps infinite, number of physical universes other than our own, in which many different values of the constants are realised. Given a sufficient number of universes realising a sufficient range of the constants, it is not so improbable that there will be at least one universe with fine-tuned laws.
Both of these theories are able to explain the fine-tuning. The problem is that, on the face of it, they also make false predictions. For the theist, the false prediction arises from the problem of evil. If one were told that a given universe was created by an all-loving, all-knowing and all-powerful being, one would not expect that universe to contain enormous amounts of gratuitous suffering. One might not be surprised to find it contained intelligent life, but one would be surprised to learn that life had come about through the gruesome process of natural selection. Why would a loving God who could do absolutely anything choose to create life that way? Prima facie theism predicts a universe that is much better than our own and, because of this, the flaws of our Universe count strongly against the existence of God.
Turning to the multiverse hypothesis, the false prediction arises from the so-called Boltzmann brain problem, named after the 19th-century Austrian physicist Ludwig Boltzmann who first formulated the paradox of the observed universe. Assuming there is a multiverse, you would expect our Universe to be a fairly typical member of the universe ensemble, or at least a fairly typical member of the universes containing observers (since we couldn’t find ourselves in a universe in which observers are impossible). However, in The Road to Reality (2004), the physicist and mathematician Roger Penrose has calculated that in the kind of multiverse most favoured by contemporary physicists – based on inflationary cosmology and string theory – for every observer who observes a smooth, orderly universe as big as ours, there are 10 to the power of 10123 who observe a smooth, orderly universe that is just 10 times smaller. And by far the most common kind of observer would be a ‘Boltzmann’s brain’: a functioning brain that has by sheer fluke emerged from a disordered universe for a brief period of time. If Penrose is right, then the odds of an observer in the multiverse theory finding itself in a large, ordered universe are astronomically small. And hence the fact that we are ourselves such observers is powerful evidence against the multiverse theory.
Neither of these are knock-down arguments. Theists can try to come up with reasons why God would allow the suffering we find in the Universe, and multiverse theorists can try to fine-tune their theory such that our Universe is less unlikely. However, both of these moves feel ad hoc, fiddling to try to save the theory rather than accepting that, on its most natural interpretation, the theory is falsified. I think we can do better.
In the public mind, physics is on its way to giving us a complete account of the nature of space, time and matter. We are not there yet of course; for one thing, our best theory of the very big – general relativity – is inconsistent with our best theory of the very small – quantum mechanics. But it is standardly assumed that one day these challenges will be overcome and physicists will proudly present an eager public with the Grand Unified Theory of everything: a complete story of the fundamental nature of the Universe.
In fact, for all its virtues, physics tells us precisely nothing about the nature of the physical Universe. Consider Isaac Newton’s theory of universal gravitation:
The variables m1 and m2 stand for the masses of two objects that we want to work out the gravitational attraction between; F is the gravitational attraction between those two masses, G is the gravitational constant (a number we know from observation); and r is the distance between m1 and m2. Notice that this equation doesn’t provide us with definitions of what ‘mass’, ‘force’ and ‘distance’ are. And this is not something peculiar to Newton’s law. The subject matter of physics are the basic properties of the physics world: mass, charge, spin, distance, force. But the equations of physics do not explain what these properties are. They simply name them in order to assert equations between them.
If physics is not telling us the nature of physical properties, what is it telling us? The truth is that physics is a tool for prediction. Even if we don’t know what ‘mass’ and ‘force’ really are, we are able to recognise them in the world. They show up as readings on our instruments, or otherwise impact on our senses. And by using the equations of physics, such as Newton’s law of gravity, we can predict what’s going to happen with great precision. It is this predictive capacity that has enabled us to manipulate the natural world in extraordinary ways, leading to the technological revolution that has transformed our planet. We are now living through a period of history in which people are so blown away by the success of physical science, so moved by the wonders of technology, that they feel strongly inclined to think that the mathematical models of physics capture the whole of reality. But this is simply not the job of physics. Physics is in the business of predicting the behaviour of matter, not revealing its intrinsic nature.
It’s silly to say that atoms are entirely removed from mentality, then wonder where mentality comes from
Given that physics tell us nothing of the nature of physical reality, is there anything we do know? Are there any clues as to what is going on ‘under the bonnet’ of the engine of the Universe? The English astronomer Arthur Eddington was the first scientist to confirm general relativity, and also to formulate the Boltzmann brain problem discussed above (albeit in a different context). Reflecting on the limitations of physics in The Nature of the Physical World (1928), Eddington argued that the only thing we really know about the nature of matter is that some of it has consciousness; we know this because we are directly aware of the consciousness of our own brains:
We are acquainted with an external world because its fibres run into our own consciousness; it is only our own ends of the fibres that we actually know; from those ends, we more or less successfully reconstruct the rest, as a palaeontologist reconstructs an extinct monster from its footprint.
We have no direct access to the nature of matter outside of brains. But the most reasonable speculation, according to Eddington, is that the nature of matter outside of brains is continuous with the nature of matter inside of brains. Given that we have no direct insight into the nature of atoms, it is rather ‘silly’, argued Eddington, to declare that atoms have a nature entirely removed from mentality, and then to wonder where mentality comes from. In my book Consciousness and Fundamental Reality (2017), I developed these considerations into an extensive argument for panpsychism: the view that all matter has a consciousness-involving nature.
There are two ways of developing the basic panpsychist position. One is micropsychism, the view that the smallest parts of the physical world have consciousness. Micropsychism is not to be equated with the absurd view that quarks have emotions or that electrons feel existential angst. In human beings, consciousness is a sophisticated thing, involving subtle and complex emotions, thoughts and sensory experiences. But there seems nothing incoherent with the idea that consciousness might exist in some extremely basic forms. We have good reason to think that the conscious experience of a horse is much less complex than that of a human being, and the experiences of a chicken less complex than those of a horse. As organisms become simpler, perhaps at some point the light of consciousness suddenly switches off, with simpler organisms having no experience at all. But it is also possible that the light of consciousness never switches off entirely, but rather fades as organic complexity reduces, through flies, insects, plants, amoeba and bacteria. For the micropsychist, this fading-while-never-turning-off continuum further extends into inorganic matter, with fundamental physical entities – perhaps electrons and quarks – possessing extremely rudimentary forms of consciousness, to reflect their extremely simple nature.
However, a number of scientists and philosophers of science have recently argued that this kind of ‘bottom-up’ picture of the Universe is outdated, and that contemporary physics suggests that in fact we live in a ‘top-down’ – or ‘holist’ – Universe, in which complex wholes are more fundamental than their parts. According to holism, the table in front of you does not derive its existence from the sub-atomic particles that compose it; rather, those sub-atomic particles derive their existence from the table. Ultimately, everything that exists derives its existence from the ultimate complex system: the Universe as a whole.
Holism has a somewhat mystical association, in its commitment to a single unified whole being the ultimate reality. But there are strong scientific arguments in its favour. The American philosopher Jonathan Schaffer argues that the phenomenon of quantum entanglement is good evidence for holism. Entangled particles behave as a whole, even if they are separated by such large distances that it is impossible for any kind of signal to travel between them. According to Schaffer, we can make sense of this only if, in general, we are in a Universe in which complex systems are more fundamental than their parts.
If we combine holism with panpsychism, we get cosmopsychism: the view that the Universe is conscious, and that the consciousness of humans and animals is derived not from the consciousness of fundamental particles, but from the consciousness of the Universe itself. This is the view I ultimately defend in Consciousness and Fundamental Reality.
The cosmopsychist need not think of the conscious Universe as having human-like mental features, such as thought and rationality. Indeed, in my book I suggested that we think of the cosmic consciousness as a kind of ‘mess’ devoid of intellect or reason. However, it now seems to me that reflection on the fine-tuning might give us grounds for thinking that the mental life of the Universe is just a little closer than I had previously thought to the mental life of a human being.
The Canadian philosopher John Leslie proposed an intriguing explanation of the fine-tuning, which in Universes (1989) he called ‘axiarchism’. What strikes us as so incredible about the fine-tuning is that, of all the values the constants in our laws had, they ended up having exactly those values required for something of great value: life, and ultimately intelligent life. If the laws had not, against huge odds, been fine-tuned, the Universe would have had infinitely less value; some say it would have had no value at all. Leslie proposes that this proper understanding of the problem points us in the direction of the best solution: the laws are fine-tuned because their being so leads to something of great value. Leslie is not imagining a deity mediating between the facts of value and the cosmological facts; the facts of value, as it were, reach out and fix the values directly.
It can hardly be denied that axiarchism is a parsimonious explanation of fine-tuning, as it posits no entities whatsoever other than the observable Universe. But it is not clear that it is intelligible. Values don’t seem to be the right kind of things to have a causal influence on the workings of the world, at least not independently of the motives of rational agents. It is rather like suggesting that the abstract number 9 caused a hurricane.
But the cosmopsychist has a way of rendering axiarchism intelligible, by proposing that the mental capacities of the Universe mediate between value facts and cosmological facts. On this view, which we can call ‘agentive cosmopsychism’, the Universe itself fine-tuned the laws in response to considerations of value. When was this done? In the first 10-43 seconds, known as the Planck epoch, our current physical theories, in which the fine-tuned laws are embedded, break down. The cosmopsychist can propose that during this early stage of cosmological history, the Universe itself ‘chose’ the fine-tuned values in order to make possible a universe of value.
Making sense of this requires two modifications to basic cosmopsychism. Firstly, we need to suppose that the Universe acts through a basic capacity to recognise and respond to considerations of value. This is very different from how we normally think about things, but it is consistent with everything we observe. The Scottish philosopher David Hume long ago noted that all we can really observe is how things behave – the underlying forces that give rise to those behaviours are invisible to us. We standardly assume that the Universe is powered by a number of non-rational causal capacities, but it is also possible that it is powered by the capacity of the Universe to respond to considerations of value.
It is parsimonious to suppose that the Universe has a consciousness-involving nature
How are we to think about the laws of physics on this view? I suggest that we think of them as constraints on the agency of the Universe. Unlike the God of theism, this is an agent of limited power, which explains the manifest imperfections of the Universe. The Universe acts to maximise value, but is able to do so only within the constraints of the laws of physics. The beneficence of the Universe does not much reveal itself these days; the agentive cosmopsychist might explain this by holding that the Universe is now more constrained than it was in the unique circumstances of the first split second after the Big Bang, when currently known laws of physics did not apply.
Ockham’s razor is the principle that, all things being equal, more parsimonious theories – that is to say, theories with relatively few postulations – are to be preferred. Is it not a great cost in terms of parsimony to ascribe fundamental consciousness to the Universe? Not at all. The physical world must have some nature, and physics leaves us completely in the dark as to what it is. It is no less parsimonious to suppose that the Universe has a consciousness-involving nature than that it has some non-consciousness-involving nature. If anything, the former proposal is more parsimonious insofar as it is continuous with the only thing we really know about the nature of matter: that brains have consciousness.
Having said that, the second and final modification we must make to cosmopsychism in order to explain the fine-tuning does come at some cost. If the Universe, way back in the Planck epoch, fine-tuned the laws to bring about life billions of years in its future, then the Universe must in some sense be aware of the consequences of its actions. This is the second modification: I suggest that the agentive cosmopsychist postulate a basic disposition of the Universe to represent the complete potential consequences of each of its possible actions. In a sense, this is a simple postulation, but it cannot be denied that the complexity involved in these mental representations detracts from the parsimony of the view. However, this commitment is arguably less profligate than the postulations of the theist or the multiverse theorist. The theist postulates a supernatural agent while the agentive cosmopsychist postulates a natural agent. The multiverse theorist postulates an enormous number of distinct, unobservable entities: the many universes. The agentive cosmopsychist merely adds to an entity that we already believe in: the physical Universe. And most importantly, agentive cosmopsychism avoids the false predictions of its two rivals.
The idea that the Universe is a conscious mind that responds to value strikes us a ludicrously extravagant cartoon. But we must judge the view not on its cultural associations but on its explanatory power. Agentive cosmopsychism explains the fine-tuning without making false predictions; and it does so with a simplicity and elegance unmatched by its rivals. It is a view we should take seriously.
This Essay was made possible through the support of a grant from the Templeton Religion Trust to Aeon and a separate grant from the Templeton-funded ‘Pantheism and Panentheism’ project to the author. The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Templeton Religion Trust.
It’s easy to mock the idea. But consider what neuroscientists studying consciousness are up against:
Traditionally, scientists have been stalwart materialists. But doing so has caused them to slam up against the limitations of materialism. Consider the chasm between relativity and quantum mechanics, or Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle, and you quickly start to recognize these incongruities.PHILIP PERRY, “THE UNIVERSE MAY BE CONSCIOUS, SAY PROMINENT SCIENTISTS” AT BIGTHINK, JUNE 25, 2017
Put another way, in a universe governed by uncertainty principles rather than hard facts, what is the “material” in materialism? There is no good materialist theory of consciousness; far from it, an article in Chronicles of Higher Education last year labeled the current research a “bizarre” field of science.
Consciousness depends on the brain, yes. But one may as well say that a student’s essay depends on her laptop. The laptop enables an essay that it does not create. Her ideas start elsewhere but where, exactly, do they start? What space do they inhabit?
Some prominent physicists and neuroscientists who cannot accept the idea of a separate immaterial reality (dualism) turn to the simplest alternative, that the whole universe participates in consciousness (panpsychism). Perry notes that this general approach is a staple of Hindu and Buddhist thought but a number of scientists whom one might expect to be materialists also favor it in various ways. Physicist Gregory Matloff even thinks that panpsychism might explain dark matter, the 95% of matter in our universe that must exist, on account of gravitational forces, but is otherwise unknown to us:
Veteran physicist Gregory Matloff of the New York City College of Technology, says he has some preliminary evidence showing that, at the very least, panpsychism isn’t impossible. Hey, it’s a start. Dr. Matloff told NBC News, “It’s all very speculative, but it’s something we can check and either validate or falsify.”PHILIP PERRY, “THE UNIVERSE MAY BE CONSCIOUS, SAY PROMINENT SCIENTISTS” AT BIGTHINK, JUNE 25, 2017
Theoretical physicist Bernard Haisch, in 2006, suggested that consciousness is produced and transmitted through the quantum vacuum, or empty space. Any system that has sufficient complexity and creates a certain level of energy, could generate or broadcast consciousness.PHILIP PERRY, “THE UNIVERSE MAY BE CONSCIOUS, SAY PROMINENT SCIENTISTS” AT BIGTHINK, JUNE 25, 2017
Theoretical physicist John Archibald Wheeler (1911–2008), a “giant of 20th century physics,” believed that “reality might not be a wholly physical phenomenon. In some sense, Wheeler suggested, reality grows out of the act of observation, and thus consciousness itself: it is “participatory.” Perry also cites Roger Penrose who, while not strictly a panpsychist, nonetheless says “Somehow, our consciousness is the reason the universe is here.”
That stuff, you may say, is a lot like Pareago’s odd stars in the Milky Way—pretty far out. But consider this: Some prominent neuroscientists, whom you might expect to be stark materialists, are also on board, including Christof Koch and Giulio Tononi. Philosopher Philip Goffsurmises:
The panpsychist offers an alternative research programme: Rather than trying to account for consciousness in terms of utterly non-conscious elements, try to explain the complex consciousness of humans and other animals in terms of simpler forms of consciousness which are postulated to exist in simpler forms of matter, such as atoms or their sub-atomic components. This research project is still in its infancy. But a number of leading neuroscientists, such as Christof Koch and Giulio Tononi, are now finding that working within a panpsychist framework bears fruit. The more fruit is borne by this alternative research programme, the more reason we have to accept panpsychism.PHILIP GOFF, “COULD ELECTRONS BE CONSCIOUS?” CONSCIENCE AND CONSCIOUSNESS
Koch and Tononi write cautiously but in an open-access research paper they acknowledge that their work “vindicates some panpsychist intuitions – consciousness is an intrinsic, fundamental property, is graded, is common among biological organisms, and even some very simple systems have some” (2014).
In Tononi’s view, consciousness requires a special kind of space called qualia space: “A conscious experience is a maximally reduced conceptual structure in a space called ‘qualia space.’ Think of it as a shape. But not an ordinary shape — a shape seen from the inside.” These do not sound like materialist intuitions.
The main thing to see is that 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.
Dualist Michael Egnor, for example, responds to the idea that electrons may be conscious from a dualist perspective in which the mind is immaterial and therefore not part of the substance of what it surveys:
Consciousness always has an object, something to which it points. Thoughts are always about something. Thinking things (animals, humans) have the power to think about things. This property of “aboutness,” called intentionality by philosophers, is the hallmark of consciousness. Inanimate things have no inherent power of intentionality; they are never about anything. They merely exist.MICHAEL EGNOR, “ARE ELECTRONS CONSCIOUS?” AT MIND MATTERS NEWS
In any event, he jokes, if electrons were conscious, the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle guarantees that they could never make up their minds.
At what point is a structure complex enough to become conscious? If we take away one particle from that structure then it must cease to be conscious. Likewise, there must be unconscious structures where the addition of a single particle causes them to suddenly become conscious. This also seems weird. But if we say there is no such “one particle” transition point, then no matter how many particles we remove from the structure, it must remain conscious—even to the point where there is only a single particle left. At which point, we are back to a conscious particle model, where at least some particles must be inherently conscious. And these particles must be fundamental, they cannot be built from other material objects otherwise we are back at the emergent consciousness model.ERIC HOLLOWAY, “NO MATERIALIST THEORY OF CONSCIOUSNESS IS PLAUSIBLE” AT MIND MATTERS NEWS
Despite these conundrums, bordering on absurdity, panpsychism seems to be gaining ground against materialism in science and philosophy:
Interest in panpsychism has grown in part thanks to the increased academic focus on consciousness itself following on from Chalmers’ “hard problem” paper. Philosophers at NYU, home to one of the leading philosophy-of-mind departments, have made panpsychism a feature of serious study. There have been several credible academic books on the subject in recent years, and popular articles taking panpsychism seriously.OLIVIA GOLDHILL, “THE IDEA THAT EVERYTHING FROM SPOONS TO STONES IS CONSCIOUS IS GAINING ACADEMIC CREDIBILITY” AT QUARTZ (JANUARY 27, 2018)
Still, there are prices to pay:
Panpsychism doesn’t necessarily imply that every inanimate object is conscious. “Panpsychists usually don’t take tables and other artifacts to be conscious as a whole,” writes Hedda Hassel Mørch, a philosophy researcher at New York University’s Center for Mind, Brain, and Consciousness, in an email. “Rather, the table could be understood as a collection of particles that each have their own very simple form of consciousness.”
But, then again, panpsychism could very well imply that conscious tables exist: One interpretation of the theory holds that “any system is conscious,” says Chalmers. “Rocks will be conscious, spoons will be conscious, the Earth will be conscious. Any kind of aggregation gives you consciousness.”OLIVIA GOLDHILL, “THE IDEA THAT EVERYTHING FROM SPOONS TO STONES IS CONSCIOUS IS GAINING ACADEMIC CREDIBILITY” AT QUARTZ (JANUARY 27, 2018)
If the immateriality of the mind is rejected in principle, one must, it seems, choose one’s absurdity.
Further reading on panpsychism:
No materialist theory of consciousness is plausible. All such theories either deny the very thing they are trying to explain, result in absurd scenarios, or end up requiring an immaterial intervention. (Eric Holloway)
Panpsychism: You are conscious but so is your coffee mug Materialists have a solution to the problem of consciousness, and it may startle you
How can consciousness be a material thing? Maybe it can’t. But materialist philosophers face starkly limited choices in how to view consciousness.
Now need to fucking tell us Boris!
The British Empire peaked over a hundred years ago pal, been downhill ever since pal.
Congratulations on the baby! 😃
(I do actually mean that! William and Kate never got a congratulations)
What do I want? 🤔 I want a piece of the multi trillion dollar industry that’s heading our way. 😎 Numerous multi trillion dollar industries (hydrino compounds, molecular modelling, pharmaceuticals and drug design, genetics, pesticides and agriculture, arms and weaponry, anti gravity propulsion and space exploration)
I want my own bloodline!
Amschel Rothschild, John D. Rockefeller, John Jacob Astor, Obadiah Bush, Pierre Samuel du Pont de Nemours… … Daniel P. Hurley! 😉
They all came from nothing, and went on to become the most powerful families on the planet.
Banking? Meh?… we’ll see what happens to the world economy and global currencies!
Like… I could just imagine her being demanding and dominating in the bedroom!
“Fuck me now Daniel Hurley! And I want to cum at least five times… or I’m having you murdered by MI5”
“You have some weird sexual fantasies Danny Boy!” 😆😅😂🤣
And then… I’d give her the best, most powerful and intense four orgasms of her life, and be like…
“Fucking bring it on bitch… I’m Mossad”