Panpsychism Philosophical Essays On Friendship

Panpsychism

First published Wed May 23, 2001; substantive revision Mon Aug 23, 2010

Panpsychism is the doctrine that mind is a fundamental feature of the world which exists throughout the universe. Unsurprisingly, each of the key terms, “mind”, “fundamental” and “throughout the universe” is subject to a variety of interpretations by panpsychists, leading to a range of possible philosophical positions. For example, an important distinction is that between conscious and unconscious mental states, and appeal to it allows a panpsychism which asserts the ubiquity of the mental while denying that consciousness is similarly widespread. Interpretations of “fundamental” range from the inexplicability of mentality in other, and non-mentalistic, terms to the idealist view that in some sense everything that exists is, and is only, a mental entity. And, although the omnipresence of the mental would seem to be the hallmark feature of panpsychism, there have been versions of the doctrine that make mind a relatively rare and exceptional feature of the universe.

Against the backdrop of our immense scientific knowledge of the physical world, and the corresponding widespread desire to explain everything ultimately in physical terms, panpsychism has come to seem an implausible view. Nonetheless, the doctrine retains some attractive and interesting features. The recalcitrance of the mind, and especially consciousness, to fit smoothly into the scientific picture recommends our consideration of them.


1. Panpsychism and the Scientific World View

It is salutary to remember that not so very long ago anti-physicalism was orthodox philosophical opinion. The nature of mind or consciousness was believed to be entirely distinct from physical nature. It was sometimes allowed, by Cartesian dualists, that mind interacted with the physical world causally under very rare conditions, but the mode of interaction was impossible to understand and seemed to conflict with elementary principles of physics. These worries led to such bizarre views as Malebranche's occasionalism, in which God had to intervene between volition and action, between stimulus and sensation. A yet more extreme position, idealism, which became widespread in the nineteenth century and retained much support well into the twentieth, held that mind stood as the sole ontological foundation of reality, supporting a physical world conceived of as entirely constructed—somehow—out of mental phenomena. Such positions have lost much of their philosophical attractiveness and there can be little doubt that the primary reason for this radical change of philosophical opinion is that a principled separation of mind and matter precludes any deep integration of mind with the ever expanding and ever more powerful scientific picture of the physical world. For most philosophers the mind-body problem has become this problem of integration and a plethora of theories, which can be gathered together under the title of physicalism, have arisen in the attempt at its solution.

Broadly speaking, there are, at bottom, only two positions that can promise the desired integration: panpsychism and emergentism. If one believes that the most fundamental physical entities (quarks, leptons, bosons, or whatever physics will ultimately settle upon) are devoid of any mental attributes, and if one also believes that some systems of these entities, such as human brains, do possess mental attributes, one is espousing some kind of doctrine of the emergence of mind. All the currently popular physicalist theories (such as behaviorism, central state identity theories, functionalism) are theories which attempt to provide an account of how the mental emerges from the physical. Other, more radical, forms of emergentism are possible. These are theories that deny that there is any explanatory account of how emergence works: it is a brute fact of natural law that certain configurations of physical entities underpin certain mental states. This fact can only be accepted, as Samuel Alexander said, with “natural piety”. Of course, an inexplicable or brute emergence is still a form of emergence. It is possible to mark the distinction between the forms of emergence in terms of the explanatory role of the mental. Modern materialists do not regard the emergent features of the mind as either ontologically or explanatorily fundamental. The more radical emergentists would regard mind as explanatorily fundamental, but not ontologically basic in the sense that material conditions (or in general some system of non-mentalistic conditions) are required for the existence of mental features. The panpsychist naturally regards mind as both explanatorily and ontologically fundamental in the sense just mentioned.

The panpsychist alternative disputes the intelligibility of emergence whether based on the claim that the nature of emergence is simply inexplicable or the claim that the mental can be reduced to a set of relations amongst purely physical entities, and thus must opt instead for the attribution of mentalistic properties to the physically fundamental entities.[1]

It always remains possible to give up the job of integrating mind into our scientific picture of the physical world in favor of accepting some more or less remote relation between independent domains of matter and mind. Cartesian dualism can be seen as involving such a refusal which in the case of Descartes was entirely self-conscious. But integrators seem to be stuck with the dilemma of emergence versus panpsychism. By and large, the twentieth century witnessed the victory of emergentism, articulated in a bewildering, and still expanding, variety of forms.

Since panpsychism is, by definition, the doctrine that mind, in some sense of the term, is everywhere, in some sense of that term, it is worth mentioning a complication which is a possible source of confusion at the outset. There have been some panpsychists who, while being much more liberal than most in their willingness to ascribe mind, seem to have been unwilling to extend mind right down into the roots of the world. Both Gustav Fechner (1801-1887) and Josiah Royce (1855-1916) developed panpsychist accounts of nature that did not necessarily attribute mental properties to the ultimate constituents of mentalistic “systems”. It would seem to be intuitively clear that if one does not place mind at the very foundation, and in fact regards mentality to be a feature of systems of non-mentalistic entities, then one is an emergentist. Crudely put, someone who believes that amoebas have experiences, but that quarks and electrons, which ultimately constitute amoebas, do not is no panpsychist. However, this simplifying view contains an implicit assumption about the nature of the fundamental physical constituents of the world, namely that the unobservable and hypothetical entities postulated by physics are entirely real and are indeed the ontological foundation of the world. In the nineteenth century, the time of panpsychism's greatest flourishing, this was a rather more daring assumption than it is today. Furthermore, underlying metaphysical assumptions, in particular various forms of idealism, can provide an overarching argument for panpsychism, and Royce (among many other panpsychists of the nineteenth century, if indeed not most thinkers of the period) was an idealist. Fechner's panpsychism was also distinctive in its endorsement of a “world-soul” or “world-mind” of which everything is a part (there are obvious echoes of Spinoza in such a view). This rather top-down view of the place of mind in the world does seem to be a legitimate sort of panpsychism, and it is one that does not require that everything in the world be itself enminded. Nonetheless, without a basis in an explicitly idealist philosophy, it leaves entirely open the question of how the word-soul comes into being. If, for example, the world-mind is conditioned by the structure of its non-mentalistic parts we would seem to be returned to some form of emergentism. In any case, the arguments of such “synechological” panpsychists (as Hartshorne (1950) labels them in contrast with “atomistic” or “monadological” panpsychists) are arguments for panpsychism in general and can be examined as such.

Panpsychism's assertion that mind suffuses the universe presents a fundamental and sharp contrast with its basic rival, emergentism, which asserts that mind appears only at certain times, in certain places under certain—probably very special and very rare—conditions. But trying to explicate a little more precisely the key terms of this vague characterization of panpsychism results in several different versions of it. A cardinal distinction within the realm of the mind, though one that still carries more than a whiff of controversy, is that between conscious and unconscious mental states, and thus we could wonder whether panpsychism claims that consciousness is everywhere or merely that some unconscious form of mentality (often labelled proto-mentality) lurks throughout the universe. With regard to the ubiquity of the mental, we might wonder whether every thing has a mind (or associated mental attributes) or whether there is, even from within a panpsychist view of the world, a viable distinction between things with minds and things lacking minds (as we have seen, the world-mind form of panpsychism may have the resources to fund such a distinction). We might go so far as to wonder whether mind is to be thought of as some kind of field-like entity or in analogy with something as fundamental as energy,[2] spread out over the universe and not connected directly with or dependent upon any particular things. Although seldom clearly distinguished, the history of panpsychism reveals that all of these variants have been tried out. So before turning to the virtues and vices of panpsychism, let's look to its past (an historically focused collection of readings can be found in Clark (2004) and for an extensive discussion of the history of panpsychism and its pervasive role in Western philosophy see Skrbina 2005).

2. Early History of Panpsychism

Panpsychism seems to be such an ancient doctrine that its origins long precede any records of systematic philosophy. Some form of animism, which, insofar as it is any kind of doctrine at all, is very closely related to panpsychism, seems to be an almost universal feature of pre-literate societies, and studies of human development suggest that children pass through an animist phase, in which mental states are attributed to a wide variety of objects quite naturally (see Piaget 1929).[3] It is tempting to speculate that the basic idea of panpsychism arose in what is a common process of explanatory extension based upon the existence of what is nowadays called “folk psychology”. It would have been difficult for our ancestors, in the face of a perplexing and complex world, to resist applying one of the few systematic, and highly successful, modes of explanation in their possession.

In any event, clear indications of panpsychist doctrines are evident in early Greek thought. One of the first presocratic philosophers of ancient Greece, Thales (c. 624-545 B.C.E.) deployed an analogical argument for the attribution of mind that tends towards panpsychism. The argument depends upon the idea that enminded beings are self-movers. Thales notes that magnets and, under certain circumstances, amber, can move themselves and concludes that they therefore possess minds. It is claimed that Thales went much beyond such particular attributions and endorsed a true panpsychism and pantheism. For example, as reported by Barnes (1982, pp. 96-7), Diogenes claimed that Thales believed that “the universe is alive and full of spirits” but this remark is derived from an earlier claim of Aristotle: “some say a soul is mingled in the whole universe—which is perhaps why Thales thought that everything is full of gods”. While Barnes disputes the pantheistic reading of Thales, he allows that Thales believed in the “ubiquity of animation” and hence by the above argument accepted a true panpsychism.[4]

Of greater interest is the role of ancient panpsychism in the much wider debate between panpsychism and emergentism. This basic conflict is not merely a reflection of a problem about the mind's place in the world but rather represents a fundamental distinction within our schemes for understanding the world. We like to break the world down into bits and pieces, and then face the problem of retrieving the explanatory target properties from the simpler properties of the bits. This mode of explanation began to be codified with the Presocratics who to their everlasting credit strove to produce comprehensive and refreshingly naturalistic accounts of the world. Their accounts are obscure and less than rigorously scientific, and littered with oracular pronouncements notoriously difficult to interpret, but they nonetheless do mark the beginning of the attempt to give a scientific account of the world.

The Presocratics immediately recognized the basic dilemma: either mind (or, more generally, whatever the apparently “macroscopic”, “high-level”, or non-fundamental property at issue) is an elemental feature of the world or it somehow emerges from, or is conditioned by, such features. If one opts for emergence, it is incumbent upon one to at least sketch the means by which new features emerge. If one opts for panpsychism (thus broadly construed for now) then one must account for the all too obviously apparent total lack of certain features at the fundamental level. For example, Anaxagoras (c. 500-425 B.C.E.) flatly denied that emergence was possible and instead advanced the view that “everything is in everything”. Anaxagoras explained the obvious contrary appearance by a “principle of dominance and latency” (see Mourelatos 1986) which asserted that some qualities were dominant in their contribution to the behavior and appearance of things. However, Anaxagoras's views on mind are complex since he apparently regarded mind as uniquely not containing any measure of other things and thus not fully complying with his mixing principles. Perhaps this can be interpreted as the assertion that mind is ontologically fundamental in a special way; Anaxagoras did seem to believe that everything has some portion of mind in it while refraining from the assertion that everything has a mind (even this is controversial, see Barnes 1982, p. 405 ff.).

On the other hand, Empedocles, an almost exact contemporary of Anaxagoras, favored an emergentist account based upon the famous doctrine of the four elements: earth, air, fire and water. All qualities were to be explicated in terms of ratios of these elements. The overall distribution of the elements, which were themselves eternal and unchangeable, was controlled by “love and strife”, whose operations are curiously reminiscent of some doctrines of modern thermodynamics, in a grand cyclically dynamic universe.[5] The purest form of emergentism was propounded by the famed atomist Democritus (c. 460-370 B.C.E.). His principle of emergence was based upon the possibility of multi-shaped atoms “interlocking” to form an infinity of more complex shapes. But Democritus, in a way echoing Anaxagoras, had to admit that the qualities of experience (what we nowadays called “qualia”) could not be accounted for in this way and chose, ultimately unsatisfactorily, to relegate them to non-existence: “sweet exists by convention, bitter by convention, in truth only atoms and the void”. Although Democritus provides a remarkable anticipation of the modern doctrine of eliminativist materialism, we sorely miss his account of how conventions themselves—the consciously agreed upon means of common reference—emerge from the dancing atoms. Thus the core difficulty of the problem of consciousness remains unresolved.

What is striking about these early struggles about the proper “form” of a scientific understanding of the world, is that the mind and particularly consciousness keep rising as special problems. It is sometimes said that the mind-body problem is not an ancient philosophical worry (see Matson 1966), but it does seem that the problem of consciousness was vexing philosophers 2500 years ago, and in a form redolent of contemporary worries. Also critically important is the way that the problem of consciousness, and its origin, inescapably arises within the context of developing an integrated scientific view of the world.

3. Modern History of Panpsychism

It is this that explains the relative lack of interest in panpsychism, emergentism etc. that sets in after the Presocratics and lasts until the scientific revolution of the seventeenth century with its renewed interest in comprehensive naturalistic accounts of the world. Skrbina (2005) finds several panpsychist remarks in Plato, many fewer in Aristotle, and a general anti-panpsychist viewpoint coincident with the rise of “Aristotelian” Christianity that lasted until the renaissance. A number of important thinkers of the Italian renaissance embraced panpsychism, including G. Cardano (1501-76), G. Bruno (1548-1600) and T. Campanella (1568-1639).

But it was the modern “mechanistic” picture of the world inaugurated by Galileo, Descartes and Newton which put the problem of the mind at center stage while paradoxically sweeping it under the rug.[6] The whole problem-space was severely distorted by what was virtually a stipulated separation of matter from mind, so that what could have been merely a useful conceptual distinction was transformed into an ontological gulf. Thus, everything that could not be accounted for in terms of the interactions of simple material components was conveniently labelled a “secondary quality” inhabiting not the “real” world but merely the conscious mind. For instance, in a maneuver reminiscent of Democritus, colors were banished from the world of matter, replaced with the “causal powers” of physical things to produce “in the mind” the experience we call color. Thus the world was made safe for physics.

But the problem of the relation of the physical world to conscious minds was unavoidable and became ever more pressing. As Newton himself drolly pointed out in a letter to Henry Oldenburg: “… to determine by what modes or actions light produceth in our minds the phantasm of colour is not so easie.” One option was simply to give up—remove the mind from the expanding scientific picture of the world, and such was the motivation for René Descartes's infamous dualism of mind and body. But this leaves us with an untidy, perhaps incoherent, and certainly disintegrated view of the world. Another approach was to question the underlying definitional move of the scientific revolution, which was to stipulate that science was to study a “purely physical” world, voided of mentality by fiat. For one can wonder whether there is such a world. This question exacts its own price, however, which is our familiar dilemma, to which many thinkers responded with an endorsement of panpsychism.

Baruch Spinoza (1632-77) and Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646-1716) provide examples of two distinct and formatively important versions of panpsychism. Spinoza regarded both mind and matter as simply aspects (or attributes) of the eternal, infinite and unique substance he identified with God Himself. In the illustrative scholium to proposition seven of book two of the Ethics (1677/1985) Spinoza writes: “a circle existing in nature and the idea of the existing circle, which is also in God, are one and the same thing … therefore, whether we conceive nature under the attribute of Extension, or under the attribute of Thought … we shall find one and the same order, or one and the same connection of causes …”. We might say that, for Spinoza, physical science is a way of studying the psychology of God. There is nothing in nature that does not have a mental aspect—the proper appreciation of matter itself reveals it to be the other side of a mentalistic coin.

Leibniz's view is sometimes caricatured as: Spinoza with infinitely many rather than just one substance. These substances Leibniz called monads (see Leibniz 1714/1989). Since they are true substances, and hence can exist independently of any other thing, and since they are absolutely simple, they cannot interact with each other in any way (nonetheless they are created by God, who is one of them—here Spinoza seems rather more consistent than Leibniz). Yet each monad carries within it complete information about the entire universe. What we call space and time are in reality sets of relations amongst these monads (or, better, the information which they contain) which are in themselves radically non-spatial and perhaps even non-temporal (Leibniz's vision of space and time emerging from some more elementary systems of relations has always been tempting, if hard to fathom, and now fuels some of the most advanced physics on the planet).

Leibniz's monads are fundamentally to be conceived mentalistically—they are in a way mentalistic automatons moving from one perceptual state (some conscious and some not) to another, all exactly according to a God imposed pre-defined rule. It is highly significant for the development of later forms of panpsychism that Leibniz could find no intrinsic nature for his basic elements other than a mentalistic nature—the only model he found adequate to describe his monads was one of perception and spontaneous activity. The physical world is, so to speak, an aspect of these perceptual states (so Leibniz's panpsychism is one that favors the mental realm, that is, it is at bottom a kind of idealism as opposed to Spinoza's “neutral monism”). What is of special interest is that unlike Spinoza, Leibniz can maintain a distinction between things that have minds or mental attributes from those that do not, despite his panpsychism. This crucial distinction hinges on the difference between a “mere aggregate” and what Leibniz sometimes calls an “organic unity” or an organism. Each monad represents the world—in all its infinite detail—from a unique point of view (both literally in the sense of having a perceptual perspective but also in terms of clarity and “significance”). Consider a heap of sand. It corresponds to a set of monads, but there is no monad which represents anything like a “point of view” of the heap. By contrast, your body also corresponds to a set of monads but one of these monads—the so called dominant monad—represents the point of view of the system which is your living body. (There presumably are also sub-unities within you, corresponding to organized and functionally unified physiological, and hence also psychological, sub-systems.) Organisms correspond to a hierarchically ordered set of monads, mere aggregates do not. This means that there is no mental aspect to heaps of sand as such, even though at the most fundamental level mind pervades the universe. In fact, for Leibniz minds are only rarely associated with physical systems and he explicitly denied that the world-system had a corresponding monad. In sharp contrast with Spinoza's views, Leibniz's universe is a mere aggregate. One last point: you might wonder why you, a monad that represents every detail of the entire universe, seem so relatively ignorant. The answer depends upon another important aspect of the conception of mentality. Leibniz allows that there are unconscious mental states. In fact, almost all mental states are unconscious and low-level monads never aspire to consciousness (or what Leibniz calls apperception). You are aware, of course, only of your conscious mental states and these represent a literally infinitesimal fraction of the life of your mind, the most of which is composed of consciously imperceptible petites perceptions (it is galling to think that the answers to such questions as whether there are advanced civilizations in the Andromeda galaxy lie hidden within each of our minds, but there it is).

The philosophy of George Berkeley (1685-1753) is also worth mentioning here as an early and pure form of idealist panpsychism. Idealists are panpsychists by default, as it were, believing as they do that nothing exists except minds or mental attributes. Berkeley denied that anything exists or could conceivably exist except insofar as it was consciously experienced. This, coupled with the “doctrine of ideas”—that what we immediately perceive is restricted to our own states of consciousness, leads him to the conclusion that all material objects are systems of possible conscious perceptions and thus that the ordinary notion of matter as mind-independent is incoherent. Thus all of existence is reduced to minds and their experiences. One Supreme Mind, or God, is charged with the daunting task of organizing the conscious experiences of all the finite minds so as to sustain the “illusion” of an independent material world with which all these minds are in mutual interaction. Note that for Berkeley there was no sense in which material objects themselves possessed minds. Unlike Leibniz or Spinoza, there was for Berkeley no correspondence between the order of the material world and the mental order. Material objects were but constructions out of sets of conscious states and not a guide to how minds are distributed in the world. Such a pure form of idealism makes panpsychism technically true, but also rather uninteresting compared to the other forms of idealist based panpsychisms we shall see below.

The growth of idealist philosophy through the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries meant that panpsychism became, in effect, the default philosophy, but of course with a decided bias resulting from the positioning of mentality as the primary component of reality. However, this had little effect upon science (though it may well have contributed to the growth of positivism and “radical empiricism” in the philosophy of science) which throughout this period continued to rapidly expand in every direction, laying the groundwork for the overthrow of a philosophy-based mentalistic metaphysics with the physics-based scientific/materialistic metaphysical structure within which we still reside today.

The nineteenth century was the heyday of panpsychism. Even a partial list of panpsychists of that period reveals how many of the best minds of the time gravitated towards this doctrine. Prominent exponents of distinctive forms of panpsychism include Gustav Fechner, one of the founders of scientific psychology, Wilhelm Wundt (1832-1920), another famous early psychologist who established the first psychological research laboratory, Rudolf Hermann Lotze (1817-1881), a polymath who also figured in the creation of psychology as an empirical science, William James (1842-1910), the brilliant American philosopher and psychologist who co-founded the philosophy of pragmatism, Josiah Royce (1855-1916), famed teacher and defender of a monistic idealism (in this respect, Royce had a philosophical role in America similar to that of F. H. Bradley in Britain), and William Clifford (1845-1879), a tragically short lived mathematical and philosophical genius whose work on of the nature of space and time prefigured Einstein's general relativity.

Other notable panpsychist thinkers of this period include Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860), who held the curious dual doctrine that everything is conscious, but that not everything is alive, Friedrich Paulsen (1846-1908), a student of Fechner's who extended his teacher's version of panpsychism, Morton Prince (1854-1929), psychologist and physician who advocated a panpsychism which emphasized that it is matter that must be “psychologized” or imbued with mentalistic attributes (Prince regarded this as a form of materialism and there are affinities here with some recent views of Galen Strawson as we shall see below). Also to be mentioned are Eduard von Hartmann (1842-1906) who extended his famous doctrine of the unconscious down to the level of atoms, Ferdinand C. S. Schiller (1864-1937) who provided a pragmatist defense of panpsychism as a doctrine which by various analogical arguments yields otherwise unattainable insights into nature and Ernst Häckel (1834-1919), an early and avid proponent of Darwinism in Germany who Clifford credits with the evolutionary continuity argument for panpsychism (for which see below) and Häckel was certainly willing to ascribe mental properties to living cells.

Royce and Lotze represent what may be called “idealist panpsychism”. That is, the primary motivation for the ascription of mental attributes to matter is that matter is, in essence, a “form” of mind and thus panpsychism is a kind of theorem which follows from this more fundamental philosophical view. Royce believed that reality was a “world self”, a conscious being that comprised absolutely everything and of which we, as well as everything else of course, were but parts. But Royce's panpsychism was of the synechological variety. Although every thing participates in the conscious life of the world self, not every “object” which one might nominate within the world of experience need itself be conscious, for these things are but thoughts of the world self and do not necessarily correspond to a being (or a sub-being) with its own mental life or consciousness. Yet some aspects of the world self do have a conscious life of their own. We are obvious examples, but Royce also believed that the range of such conscious beings went far beyond what we normally allow. Planets, stars and galaxies and even species are themselves conscious beings.[7] To the complaint that such things exhibit no sign of conscious life or thought, Royce had an interesting reply that raises intriguing philosophical issues. The reply was that the time scale of a conscious mind could vary tremendously—the scale of the processes of consciousness in a galaxy are billions of time slower than the scale of human conscious processes (and mayhap the consciousness of subatomic particles, if they be conscious at all, runs billions of times faster).

Fechner, Wundt and perhaps James are “parallelist panpsychists”. Their metaphysics endorses a thorough going, Spinozistic, parallelism between mind and matter, so that every physical entity has mental attributes, and vice versa. In fact, it was this metaphysical parallelism that suggested to Fechner the idea that there should be a lawful relation between the mental and the physical, which led to the birth of psycho-physics and the discovery of his famous law relating the strength of a sensation, S, to the strength of the physical stimulus, P: S = k log(P) (still one of the very few psycho-physical laws with any claim to validity). This is an interesting, if minor, illustration of the general point that scientific advance is often contingent upon more or less explicit background metaphysical views. Although a clear scientific thinker Fechner was given to some rather mystical flights of fancy in defense of what he called the “day-view” (that is, the vibrant, open, panpsychist understanding of the world) as opposed to the dark and dead “night-view” of materialism. In the rather curiously entitled The Little Book of Life After Death, which was highly popular, boasted an introduction by no less than William James, and was last reprinted in 1977, Fechner asserts that “the plant thinks it is in its place … to play with beetles and bees”. Charles Hartshorne, a panpsychist himself, drily remarks of Fechner's ascription of consciousness to plants: “whatever can be said for this view must, it seems, have been said by Fechner” (1950, p. 447).

As mentioned above, Fechner's panpsychism is usually regarded to be of the synechological variety which withholds mental attributes from some of the simple constituents of larger, enminded systems (up to and including the world-soul itself). This view of Fechner stems from the extreme reliance Fechner placed upon analogical arguments for the existence of mental qualities, and which he regarded as the sole ground for the attribution of mind to anything other than oneself. Thus plants are like animals which are asleep, but not thereby mindless nor even unconscious, insofar as they possess no less than animals a complex set of teleological mechanisms serving their perseverance. Fechner was much taken to task for his failure to endorse a thorough going panpsychism by, among others, Lotze, who wrote (referring to Fechner's (1848) Nanna, or On the Mental Life of the Plants) “one cannot search for the mind arbitrarily in the plants, the darlings of our fantasy, and remain satisfied with the existence of dead matter in the rocks” (Lotze 1852, p. 133). This is worth mentioning since there is evidence that Fechner, in Zend-Avista (first published in 1851), did take the seemingly logical step of extending his panpsychism to all of nature, in line with the dual aspect metaphysics which he officially advocated (see Woodward 1972, from which the above translation).

William James's panpsychism grew out of his “neutral monism”—the view that reality is neither mental nor physical but has a distinct, and seemingly intrinsically mysterious, basic character which can be regarded as either mental or physical from certain viewpoints. To the extent that a neutral monism can be regarded as a dual-aspect view (as in Spinoza's philosophy), it might be regarded as a kind of panpsychism in its own right, but James's view developed beyond this, to incorporate mind like elements into the basic structure of reality. In a notebook of 1909 he wrote: “the constitution of reality which I am making for is of the psychic type” (see Cooper 1990). James's commitment to panpsychism remains somewhat controversial, since he also advanced a cogent set of objections against a version of the view, which he somewhat derisively labelled the “mind dust” theory, in chapter six of The Principles of Psychology (1890/1950). But in the end his commitment is quite clear (see James (1909,1911) Lamberth (1997), and for an excellent analysis of James's views on mind see Cooper (1990)).

The most significant development and defense of a panpsychist philosophy in the twentieth century was undoubtably that of Alfred North Whitehead (1861-1947)[8]. Exploration of the details of Whitehead's philosophy would require an article of its own, and would be fraught with interpretive difficulties in any case since Whitehead's own presentation is forbiddingly complex, full of idiosyncratic technical terms and sometimes of dubious intelligibility. But roughly speaking Whitehead proposed a radical reform of our conception of the fundamental nature of the world, placing events (or items that are more event-like than thing-like) and the ongoing processes of their creation and extinction as the core feature of the world, rather than the traditional triad of matter, space and time. His panpsychism arises from the idea that the elementary events that make up the world (which he called occasions) partake of mentality in some—often extremely attenuated—sense, metaphorically expressed in terms of the mentalistic notions of creativity, spontaneity and perception. The echoes of Leibniz are not accidental here, and Whitehead also has a form of Leibniz's distinction between unities and mere aggregates, which he explains in these terms: “… in bodies that are obviously living, a coordination has been achieved that raises into prominence some functions inherent in the ultimate occasions. For lifeless matter these functionings thwart each other, and average out so as to produce a negligible total effect. In the case of living bodies the coordination intervenes, and the average effect of these intimate functionings has to be taken into account” (1933, p. 207; lest it seem that Whitehead is only discussing life, he is clear that this depends upon a sort of mental functioning). Unavoidably, if perhaps unfortunately, Whitehead's panpsychism stands or falls with his entire metaphysical system which entails a more radical revision of our current scientifically based picture of the world than even panpsychism necessitates. In very general terms, Whitehead's panpsychism faces the same objections as any other version, and stems from the same basic anti-emergentist intuition (for a clear introduction to, and defense of, Whitehead's panpsychism see Griffin 1998; another interpretation, and pantheistic reworking, can be found in the writings of Charles Hartshorne (1897-2000), for example, in Hartshorne 1972).

With his emphasis on the vitality and spontaneity of nature, Whitehead represents a culmination of nineteenth century panpsychist thinking, and probably not coincidentally its presentation was pretty much simultaneous with the culminating development of a robust and serious emergentism (as worked out by, for example, C. Lloyd Morgan (1852-1936) and C. D. Broad (1887-1971)). It may have seemed that, for a moment, the ground was prepared for another great battle between the two basic conflicting ideas about mind's place in the natural world. But history moved in another direction. Big science took center stage, and metaphysics became a bit player in a new kind of philosophical drama. The kind of radical emergentism espoused by thinkers such as Broad was doomed by the huge technological advances and theoretical successes of physical science, in particular quantum mechanics' victory in explaining how chemical complexity arises from purely physical principles, along with the rise of a logical positivist philosophy that derided any philosophical idea that was not cleanly rooted in empirical science. But all this also had the predictable effect of relegating panpsychism, which also required a philosophical extension of scientific belief, to the limbo of unwarranted philosophical intercession into domains beyond its expertise.

Thus for some fifty years after the 1929 publication of Whitehead's panpsychist Process and Reality and the 1925 publication of C. D. Broad's emergentist Mind and Its Place in Nature there was relatively little interest in either doctrine. There is a small but growing number of explicit defenders of panpsychism at the present time. The most prominent are Galen Strawson, David Griffin, Gregg Rosenberg, David Skrbina and Timothy Sprigge (now sadly deceased). Strawson's views are briefly discussed below. Sprigge, in A Vindication of Absolute Idealism (1983), defends an idealist based panpsychism somewhat akin to that of Royce. Sprigge summarized his views and provided some novel defences of them in Sprigge (2007), which is a response to a number of critics, a number of which explicitly discuss panpsychism (see e.g. Maddell (2007)). Griffin, in Unsnarling the World Knot (1998), espouses an atomistic panpsychism in the form of an explicit interpretation, extension and defense of Whitehead's version of the doctrine. Rosenberg (2005) provides the currently most detailed, developed and well defended panpsychist view of the Jamesian sort. While Skrbina (2005) is largely a compendious review of the long history and perennial significance of panpsychism in Western philosophy, the work also incorporates a defense of the doctrine.

Although not providing full scale defences of panpsychism, several other writers have recently approached the problem of consciousness in ways sympathetic to panpsychism. See for example chapter eight of Chalmers (1996), or the articles by Piet Hut and Roger Shepard, Gregg Rosenberg, and William Seager, all in Shear (1997).

Even more recently, largely as a result of the work of Galen Strawson, a new crop of young philosophers who defend various forms of panpsychism has sprung up. A sampling of their views can be found in Skrbina (2009).

The current burst of scientific and philosophical studies of mind sparked by the “cognitive revolution” has rekindled debate about the perennial dilemma of emergentism versus panpsychism. The recently renewed and once again influential claim of some philosophers, especially David Chalmers, that the explanation of consciousness presents a uniquely difficult problem for science has forced the reexamination of the metaphysical foundations of the scientific world view (see The Conscious Mind 1996). Chalmers calls this problem the “hard problem of consciousness”; it is also sometimes called the “explanatory gap” or the “generation problem”. The key difficulty is how to explain in naturalistic terms the generation of consciousness by “mere matter”. Once again it seems imperative to decide whether and how mind emerges upon, or exists only under, some specifiable and non-universal natural and non-mentalistic conditions or whether mind itself forms a part of the fundamental structure of the world, perhaps in some of the ways panpsychists have suggested.

4. Arguments For Panpsychism

In an excellent, albeit far from unbiased, article on panpsychism and its history, Paul Edwards (1967) divided the arguments for panpsychism into two broad categories: genetic and analogical. The division is incomplete but makes a good start. Genetic arguments assert that the best account of the genesis of mind lies in panpsychism; the analogical arguments seek to find analogies between clearly enminded entities and the rest of nature which are strong enough to warrant the extension of mental attributes throughout nature.

4.1 Genetic Arguments

There exist both a priori and empirical genetic arguments. The claim that emergence is strictly impossible has a metaphysical root in the ancient dictum “ex nihlio, nihil fit” to which Wundt, for example, explicitly appealed (see Wundt 1892/1894, p. 443). A much more recent version of this argument can be found in Nagel's article “Panpsychism” (1979). Nagel explicitly links panpsychism to a necessary failure of emergentism, namely that emergentism cannot rise to the status of a metaphysical relation. Nagel says: “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” (p. 182). Thus the only coherent form of emergentism is an epistemological doctrine about the limits of our understanding of the behavior of complex systems. The link to panpsychism appears with Nagel's denial of reductionism, which precludes simply identifying mental properties with complex physical properties. Then, since, as Nagel says, we can build an enminded system out of “any matter”, mind must be associated with matter in general and in its most fundamental forms (whatever these may be as eventually revealed by physics).[9] The argument appears to suffer from the lack of a clear proof that a more radical form of emergentism than the epistemological variety countenanced by Nagel is impossible. Although there are philosophical questions about the coherence of such a radical emergentism, exactly such a doctrine was developed in some detail by the likes of Morgan and Broad (see above). So this is a serious defect in Nagel's argument. Nonetheless, the epistemological form of emergentism is highly congenial to common interpretations of complexity in modern science and is usually what is meant in modern discussions of emergence. Thus the anti-emergence argument can retain some force within that context, if now in an empirical form.

The empirically based forms of the genetic argument have been traditionally more popular. Wundt himself makes an “inference to the best explanation” in defense of panpsychism. He states that panpsychism is “a theory, it is true; but it is the only theory which can explain the phenomena of movement displayed by these primitive creatures” (1892/1894, p. 443). Wundt found it literally incredible that the apparent purposiveness and appropriateness of the behavior of even simply micro-organisms—which he thought lent themselves naturally to mentalistic explanation—could spring, suddenly and arbitrarily, into existence through the mere conglomeration, via elementary physical forces, of material particles into complex systems.[9]

But by far the most popular empirical ground for the genetic argument stems from Darwinism, whose ascension in the mid-nineteenth century transformed debate about life and mind. This form of the genetic argument turns on the assumption that evolution is a continuous process that moulds pre-existing properties into more complex forms but which can not produce “entirely novel” properties. An important proponent of this argument was William Clifford. Clifford puts the argument thus: “… 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 …” (1874/1886, p. 266). Another extremely influential figure whose panpsychism rests in part on this idea is William James, who writes that “we ought … to try every possible mode of conceiving of consciousness so that it may not appear equivalent to the irruption into the universe of a new nature non-existent to then” (1890/1950, p. 148).The argument has drawn supporters throughout the twentieth century (see for example Drake (1925), Wright (1953), Waddington (1961) and of course Nagel (1979).

It is difficult to assess this argument, since, for example, the existence of such an obvious example as wings seems on the face of it to present a perfectly clear case of the evolutionary development of novel features (as compared, say, to the aviational equipment of the distant single celled ancestors of the birds). It would then be claimed on the other side that wings are nothing but a more complex configuration of matter itself, the possibilities of which configurations are implicit in the pure physics of the DNA based phylogeny of all living things. Wings, and all other materially embodied biological organs, seem clearly to fall under the kind of merely epistemological emergence discussed above. Mind, and especially consciousness, certainly does not seem to be merely a new kind of material organ nor a new kind of behavioral propensity, so there is indeed some cogency in this reply. The panpsychist position would clearly fail if there was a clear and uncontroversial conception of how consciousness emerges, in an ontological rather than epistemological sense, from entirely non-mentalistic physical features, but at present we simply do not possess such a conception, although many controversial suggestions are in play. It is the burden of the emergentist to provide one, or convince us to be content with the brute fact that mental properties are conditioned by certain physically complex states in a fundamentally inexplicable way. Either task is decidedly non-trivial.

It is also worth noting as an historical point that the empirical version of the above “argument from continuity” was bolstered for some time in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries by laboratory research. For example, work of Hans Driesch (1867-1941), famous as one of the last serious defenders of vitalism, a doctrine which had very close connections to panpsychism, and R. Lotze, who was a determined foe of vitalism despite his advocacy of panpsychism (his brand of idealism left the “material world” explicable by mechanical laws) was taken to support panpsychist claims. Both men had taken to dividing up certain creatures, to discover that whole organisms could develop from the parts. Driesch's experiments on sea urchin embryos—very demanding and cutting edge work at the time—suggested that every cell of the developing urchin was capable of forming a new embryo. This was taken as evidence that there was some “principle of life” inherent within each cell. In less rigorous experiments, Lotze showed that parts of polyps could grow into complete, new, polyps. A kind of analogical extension suggested that mental properties might be similarly inherent in the basic structures of the world. However, as mysterious and suggestive as such findings might have been in their time, they would seem now to be entirely explicable, albeit only in principle, by modern reductionist DNA based biology; any analogical support they might have offered to panpsychism has thus entirely evaporated. But perhaps other, more direct, analogical arguments might fare better.

4.2 Analogical Arguments

The most straightforward argument from analogy goes like this: if we look closely, with an open mind, we see that even the simplest forms of matter actually exhibit behavior which is akin to that we associate with mentality in animals and human beings. Unfortunately, in general, this seems quite preposterous, and some panpsychists have written some pretty silly things in its defense. For example, Ferdinand Schiller attempted to “explain” catalysis in terms of mentalistic relations: “is not this [that is, catalysis of a reaction between A and B by the catalyst C] strangely suggestive of the idea that A and B did not know each other until they were introduced by C, and then liked each other so well that C was left out in the cold” (as quoted by Edwards (1967) in an acidly humorous paragraph, from Schiller (1907)). Strange? Certainly, but not really very suggestive at all compared to the physical chemists' intricately worked out, mathematical and empirically testable tale of energy reducing reaction pathways. There has always been a strain of mysticism in many panpsychists, who like to imagine they can “sense” that the world is alive and thinking, or find that panpsychism provides a more “satisfying” picture of the world, liberating them from the arid barrenness of materialism and perhaps this leads them to seek analogies somewhat too assiduously (as noted above, Fechner was the most poetical advocate of the mystical appeal of panpsychism and also a fervent advocate of analogical arguments for panpsychism).

A more intriguing hope for an analogical defense of panpsychism springs from the overthrow of determinism in physics occasioned by the birth of quantum mechanics. There have been occasional attempts by some modern panpsychists, starting with Whitehead, to see this indeterminacy as an expression not of blind chance but spontaneous freedom in response to a kind of informational inclination rather than mechanical causation. This updated version of the analogy argument has the advantage that the property at issue, freedom, modelled as spontaneity and grounded in indeterminacy, can be found at the most fundamental level of the physical world. As in any analogical argument, the crux of the issue is whether the phenomena cited on the one side are sufficiently analogous to the target phenomena to warrant the conclusion that the attributes in question can be extended from the one domain to the other. In this case, we have to ask whether the indeterminacy found at the micro-level genuinely corresponds to what we take freedom to be, and this is doubtful. The indeterminacy of modern physics seems to be a pure randomness quite remote from deliberation, decision and indecision.

But still another analogical argument which draws upon quantum physics is much more promising. The analogy in this case involves the relation between consciousness and information. It is natural to think that among the functions of consciousness is the integration of diverse fields of information and the monitoring of various external and internal states. The consciousness of pain, for example, at least involves the monitoring and processing of information about significant states of the body.[11] In a recent work on consciousness which emphasizes the informational and monitoring functions of consciousness, William Lycan comes surprisingly close to a form of panpsychism when he states that “one little monitor does make for a little bit of consciousness. More monitors and better integration and control make for more and fuller consciousness” (1996, p. 40). This is only intended by Lycan to be part of an account of how consciousness emerges which is then forced to allow that consciousness is rather more ubiquitous than untutored intuition might expect. But it follows from this view that if information monitoring is a fundamental and pervasive feature of the world at even the most basic levels, then consciousness too should appear at those levels.

It is then highly suggestive that one of the central features of quantum mechanics is the existence of informational but non-causal relations between elements of systems. These relations are non-causal insofar as they are modulated instantaneously over any distance and do not involve the transfer of energy between the parts of the system. But they are informational in the sense that the changes of state of one part of the system seems in some way to be communicated to the other. There is no doubt whatsoever that such quantum systems can exist (they have been created in the laboratory) although the interpretation of them in terms of information exchange is contentious. For example, it is possible to create pairs of photons with correlated polarization states, such that, while neither photon is in a definite state of polarization prior to measurement, they must be discovered to be in opposite polarization states when a measurement takes place, no matter how far apart they are when the measurements occur. Such correlated particles are said to be “entangled”. It does not seem unreasonable to regard two such entangled photons as effectively monitoring each other's state of polarization. We can then use a theory of consciousness such as Lycan's to argue that a little monitoring makes for a little bit of consciousness. Furthermore, while entangled states are normally very delicate and susceptible to “decoherence” caused by environmental disturbance, there might be certain systems that can resist decoherence and it has been conjectured that these systems are the physical foundation of more complex states of consciousness (see Hameroff and Penrose 1996; Hameroff, at least, is willing to entertain a panpsychist interpretation of this work). To follow this line of thought even further, the decoherence argument evidently collapses for the universe as a whole, which by definition cannot be disturbed by any outside force, so presumably the total universe is in one immensely complex entangled state. Given a link between consciousness, monitoring and information exchange, this leads to a view highly reminiscent of Leibniz's monadology, with centres of (perhaps rudimentary) consciousness, or at least mind, at the foundation of the world. Michael Lockwood has developed a highly interesting and well worked out version of this panpsychist view combining quantum mechanical considerations with the intrinsic nature argument, to be considered below, which endorses “a conception of the world as … a sum of perspectives” (1991, p. 177).

4.3 Intrinsic Nature Arguments

Another possible argument for panpsychism is neither genetic nor analogical but instead depends on the idea that every actual thing, or kind of thing, must have an intrinsic nature. The objects studied by physics, it is claimed, are described in purely dispositional terms. That is, while an electron, for example, is said to possess “spin”, all this amounts to is that the electron has certain dispositions to behave in certain ways under certain circumstances. It is arguable that dispositions must be grounded in some intrinsic, non-dispositional attributes, but we have no conception whatsoever of what the intrinsic nature of matter might be. In fact, the only intrinsic nature with which we are familiar is consciousness itself. The qualities of conscious experience (to take simply sensory experience: the smell of a rose, the taste of a strawberry, etc.) seem not to be reducible to relations amongst non-experiential states nor entirely specifiable without remainder in terms of their causal powers to produce behavior (and other mental states). They seem instead to possess (or be) intrinsic and irreducible characteristics. If this is the only idea of intrinsic nature we possess, and matter must be assigned some intrinsic nature, it seems that matter must be granted a mentalistic intrinsic nature. The core idea of this argument can be traced back to Leibniz who felt forced to ascribe mentalistic attributes to his monads as the only possible feature which could make intelligible the active forces that seemed to be required in an adequate physics, and which finally laid to rest the dream of a purely mechanical world view. In his discussion of this difficulty, Whitehead describes all “modern cosmologies” as having to admit a “mysterious reality in the background, intrinsically unknowable” (1933/1967, p. 133) and notes that Leibniz “explained what it must be like to be an atom” (1933/1967, p. 132). See Sprigge (1983) for a defense of this argument within an extended discussion of the virtues of panpsychism (for another brief summary of the argument see Sprigge 1999). Another, less idealist, version of the argument is developed in Lockwood (1991), based upon ideas taken from Russell's later philosophy, married to an interpretation of quantum physics. Although far from demonstrative this is, in the words of Timothy Sprigge (1999), “a hypothesis worth exploring as the only alternative to saying that matter is unknowable in its inner essence, and as likely also to cast light on the mind-body or mind-brain relationship.” The currently most extensive discussion of this form of argument in favor of panpsychism, based upon a critique of the conception of causation, can be found in Rosenberg (2005).

Still, one obvious reply to this argument is to bite the bullet of unknowability and accept that the intrinsic nature of matter is either unknown or even essentially unknowable. Belief in such irremediable ignorance would seem neither to entail panpsychism nor to be incoherent, and many might prefer it to panpsychism.

However, recently several philosophers have made remarks somewhat reminiscent of this argument. For example, Galen Strawson has argued for a revised conception of materialism and remarks 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” (1997/1999, p. 7). Strawson has extended his discussion in Strawson (2006). Strawson's general argument for panpsychism is clearly a version of the intrinsic nature argument. His view can be crudely summarized as being akin to Russellian neutral monism with the crucial difference that the substrate is explicitly taken to be experiential in nature rather than metaphysically neutral between mind and matter. The volume in which Strawson's essay appears also includes a sizable number of reflections and criticisms of his views, to which Strawson replies in detail. It is remarkable and salutary to see such a deep engagement with panpsychism by analytic philosophers.

Strawson also sometimes hints that only a “revolutionary development” in physics would allow consciousness to be “discerned and described” by that science. The idea that a revolutionary change in physics may be necessitated by the problem of consciousness is endorsed, suggested or at least hinted at by several distinguished thinkers, including Roger Penrose (1989), John Searle (1991, pp. 123-4), Thomas Nagel (1979, 1986, 1999) and Noam Chomsky (1999; see the remarks about unification and revision on p. 82 for example). Suggestive as these thoughts may be, it only leaves a gap into which the wedge of panpsychism might be inserted. What reason have we to suppose that the hoped for revolution in our understanding of matter at the most fundamental level will involve ascribing essentially mentalistic properties to it? The panpsychist's hope lies in the thought that any modification of our conception of the physical that does not incorporate mind will leave us in an essentially unchanged position, with no explanation of how consciousness emerges from the radically non-mental physical elements of the world. We have seen that this argument has been bruited since at least the time of the Presocratics and it has often led emergentists to reconsider their position when the problem of consciousness is directly considered (it is this worry that probably explains why Morgan, a radical emergentist, retreated into a Spinozistic parallelism of mind and matter; see Morgan 1923, p. 32).

This leads to the final consideration in favor of panpsychism to be considered here, which is a sort of methodological argument. Panpsychism enjoys a metaphysical advantage in that it avoids the difficulties of emergentism, which are greater than is generally thought. Not only is there a problem simply in accounting for the emergence of something so distinctive as consciousness from mere matter, it is surprisingly difficult to articulate a form of emergentism that does not threaten to make the emergent features causally impotent or epiphenomenal. This is not the place to discuss the difficulties of all the varieties of emergentism, but they seem serious.

5. Arguments Against Panpsychism

This article would be incomplete without a consideration of some of the objections against panpsychism, but it will also serve to sharpen our understanding of the doctrine to consider possible replies available to the panpsychist.

Perhaps the initially most obvious problem with panpsychism is simply the apparent lack of evidence that the fundamental entities of the physical world possess any mentalistic characteristics. Protons, electrons, photons (to say nothing of rocks, planets, bridges etc.) exhibit nothing justifying the ascription of psychological attributes and thus Occam's razor, if nothing else, encourages withholding any such ascriptions. Furthermore, it is argued, since we now have scientific explanations (or modes of explanation at least) which have no need to ascribe mental properties very widely (it is tempting to interject: not even to people!) panpsychism can be seen as merely a vestige of primitive pre-scientific beliefs. At one time, perhaps, panpsychism or animism may have been the conclusions of successful inferences to the best explanation, but that time has long passed.

As we examine ever smaller, more basic units of the physical world, it seems harder and harder even to imagine that such things have any properties that go beyond those ascribed to them by the physical theories which are, after all, the only reason we have to believe in them. In any case, there seems no reason to assign any intrinsic nature to the theoretically postulated entities of physics that goes beyond providing for the causal powers they are presumed to possess according to the theories which posit them. Even granting the need to assign some intrinsic nature to matter, it remains far from clear that mentality is the intrinsic character required for possession of these causal powers. Some such argument likely accounts for the general sense of implausibility with which many people greet panpsychism nowadays. For example, John Searle describes panpsychism as an “absurd view” and asserts that thermostats do not have “enough structure even to be a remote candidate for consciousness” (1997, p. 48) while Colin McGinn (1999, pp. 95 ff.) labels it either “ludicrous” (for the strong panpsychism which asserts that everything has full fledged consciousness) or “empty” (for the weak panpsychism which asserts only that everything has at least some kind of proto-mentality).

Another possible, and closely related, diagnosis for the sense of implausibility which panpsychism engenders in many may stem from a certain methodological ideal. The job of philosophers, it may well be thought, is to show how the mind, and especially consciousness, is to be integrated into the scientific world view, or, to use the current term, naturalized. It is against the implicit rules of this game to demand that science be changed to accommodate consciousness—the point is to take science as it is and show that consciousness can be fitted into that kind of conceptual structure. This assumes of course that science is, as it stands, or near enough, already true and complete. Thus it is curious to find Searle both advocating that consciousness is a “biological property” whose conditions of emergence are no stranger than those of the liquidity of water, and also hinting that a revolution in our understanding of the physical world will be needed to accommodate consciousness.

Such remarks as Searle's betray emergentist presuppositions as well as assumptions about the nature of consciousness. After all, on the view of Lycan canvassed above it would be difficult to withhold attributing a “little bit” of consciousness to thermostats. In any case, this “no evidence” argument can be weakened by noting that we should not necessarily expect to see signs of complex mentality at the simplest level or perhaps any sign at all. After all, the effects of gravitation are invisible at the level of extremely small sizes and masses but this does not mean that gravitation is insignificant in the universe, nor that it is not a ubiquitous and fundamental feature of the world, of which every existing thing partakes.

A problem very closely related to this difficulty of lack of evidence is this: even if there was a need to revolutionize fundamental physics in order to give an account of consciousness, why would the new features of the transformed physics be mental features? One should not ascribe anything more to these new features than what is necessary for them to solve whatever problem in physics that prompted their postulation.

Leaving aside how the argument from intrinsic nature impinges on this point, what is crucial here is just how these hypothetical revolutionary features would operate. If they involved basic operations on informational states and, for example, the cross monitoring of and by fundamental physical entities (as discussed above) then there might well be some reason to connect them with mentality. It seems that physics already has posited something like these informational operations and with them something at least somewhat analogous to aspects of the psychological domain.

This reply, so far as it goes, can also serve to deflect another objection, which is that the mental attributes assigned to the fundamental physical entities by the panpsychist must lack all causal efficacy, that is be entirely epiphenomenal, since the physical world, as described by physics, is causally closed. (Something like this argument is advanced by McGinn in his discussion of panpsychism in The Mysterious Flame (1999, pp. 95-101), though McGinn tendentiously ignores the distinction frequently drawn by panpsychists and discussed above between “mere aggregates” and “unities”.) That is, for every physical event there is a purely physical explanation for its occurrence and these explanations make no reference to mental properties. This argument suffers from an intentional fallacy. It is possible that some of the properties referred to in physical description of an event and its causes are identical to mental properties. The dispositional aspect of the properties of remote connectedness via informational states that we have been discussing are a part of basic physics but the panpsychist may urge that they also represent the primitive consciousness of the basic entities involved in these interactions. Physics has described them in the physical terms appropriate for physical theory, that is, purely in terms of their dispositions to interact with other physical entities in certain ways; this does not preclude their being mental properties. Of course, we need some independent argument that these properties ought to be regarded as mental, but that is provided, to the extent it can be, by the informational and mutual monitoring aspects of them.

There is another form of the argument from the causal closure of the physical world. One might expect that a fundamental feature as significant as consciousness appears to be should take some part in the world's causal commerce. But if it does play such a role, then we should expect it to turn up in our investigation of the physical world; we should expect, that is, to see physically indistinguishable systems at least occasionally diverge in their behavior because of the lurking causal powers of their mental dimension. The argument proceeds with the claim that it is very doubtful that there is any such evidence and, if it were supposed to exist, our physical picture of the world would then be radically causally incomplete in contradiction with the world's presumed causal closure at the physical level. The reply in the text serves against this objection as well. But it is also worth noting that, as a matter of fact, physically indistinguishable systems do behave differently from each other; no one knows if some “hidden variables” can be invoked to account for this indeterminism. Perhaps the hidden feature is in some way related to mentality and consciousness—such is the core notion of panpsychism. If one regards the problem of free will as especially pressing one may be drawn to this second line of reply against the argument from causal closure (one panpsychist who takes this line is Griffin 1998).

We noted above that a common distinction within the field of psychological attributes is that between conscious and unconscious mental states, and several panpsychists have appealed to this distinction in setting forth their doctrines. But there is a danger here that threatens to undercut one of the prime virtues of panpsychism which is the avoidance of emergence. For if the mental attributes which the panpsychist ascribes to the fundamental or simplest entities in the world are all unconscious mental properties, then the question of how conscious mental states arise will be inescapable. And this in turn means that we now need a theory of the emergence of consciousness from the merely unconscious mental states licensed by this cautious panpsychism.[12] It is best to cut this line of objection off at the start. The panpsychist needs to bite the bullet here and postulate that it is indeed states of consciousness, although presumably with a very impoverished degree and kind of content, which are to be assigned to the most simple elements of nature.

However, the postulate of primitive consciousness still leaves open a line of objection, call it the “combination problem,” which was first raised by William James, who in the following passage argues that panpsychism will still face its own problem of emergence:

Take a sentence of a dozen words, and take twelve men and tell to each one word. Then stand the men in a row or jam them in a bunch, and let each think of his word as intently as he will; nowhere will there be a consciousness of the whole sentence … Where the elemental units are supposed to be feelings, the case is in no wise altered. Take a hundred of them, shuffle them and pack them as close together as you can (whatever that might mean); still each remains the same feeling it always was, shut in its own skin, windowless, ignorant of what the other feelings are and mean. There would be a hundred-and-first feeling there, if, when a group or series of such feeling were set up, a consciousness belonging to the group as such should emerge. And this 101st feeling would be a totally new fact; the 100 original feelings might, by a curious physical law, be a signal for its creation, when they came together; but they would have no substantial identity with it, nor it with them, and one could never deduce the one from the others, or (in any intelligible sense) say that they evolved it (1890/1950, p. 160, original emphasis).

This is a powerful objection since if panpsychism must allow for the emergence of states of consciousness then what prevents an emergence doctrine which avoids the implausible and indiscriminate broadcasting of mental characteristics throughout the world?

Note first that a form of panpsychism such as Leibniz's entirely escapes this objection. For Leibniz, minds are not formed out of combinations of parts (whether sub-minds or non-mental entities). Each mind is complete in itself, and in fact totally causally isolated from all other minds. There is no way that the combination problem could arise. However, the cost to Leibniz is the downgrading of the physical world to a kind of “consensual illusion”; matter, space and time are essentially constructs of mental phenomena.

If we wish to retain a robust conception of matter, which is extended but not eliminated by panpsychism, there seems little doubt that we will require a theory of emergence. But it does not follow, at least not directly, that a non-mentalistic emergentism is therefore to be favored. That depends upon the nature of the emergence in question. Whitehead, for example, embraced the need for a kind of emergence with no diminishment in his support for panpsychism. As Hartshorne explains, “it is the destiny of the many to enter into a novel unity, an additional reality” which means that Whitehead makes the “admission not merely of emergence, but of emergent or creative synthesis as the very principle of process and reality” (1972, p. 162).

It is clear from the way that James develops his version of the combination problem that he is presupposing a metaphysics of part-whole reductionism such that the properties of the whole are no more than the sum or combined effect of the properties of the parts, in which the parts entirely retain their identities. For example, he says “… in the parallelogram of forces, the “forces” themselves do not combine into the diagonal resultant; a body is needed on which they may impinge, to exhibit their resultant effect” (1890/1950, p. 159). Such a view undoubtedly has a certain attractiveness; it seems no more than a reasonable generalization of the mereological reductionism of which the world provides so much evidence.

But we know that this view is inadequate. Quantum mechanics has made it abundantly clear that systems are not simply the sum of their parts in James's sense but can exhibit properties that go beyond those of the parts and which cannot be detected by examining the parts in isolation. It is impossible to tell if an electron, for example, possesses an entangled partner positron by looking only at the electron and the positron (they individually look identical to non-entangled particles). Yet the system of entangled particles exhibits properties quite distinct from the properties of pairs of non-entangled particles. Thus there is a mode of combination which goes far beyond what James allows and which we know is actually at work in the world. This mode of combination also seems to have some intimate connection with information and some sort of non-causal information exchange which, as noted above, has some affinity with psychological notions. (A more detailed examination of this argument can be found in Seager 1999, ch. 9.)

Nevertheless, it obviously remains far from clear that quantum mechanics necessarily leads to panpsychism and one might wish to deploy the powerful theory of emergence which quantum mechanics provides in the service of a more traditional emergentism which sees mind developing from non-mental aspects of nature (such an approach is taken by Silberstein and McGeever 1999). Assessing such a strategy would require consideration of the plausibility of the claim that mind and consciousness can be explicated solely in terms of the physical properties and entities postulated by quantum mechanics, a difficult task beyond the scope of this article, but about which one might harbor some doubts. The point here is simply that the combination problem can be addressed from within a panpsychist framework.

The existence of possible replies to a set of objections does not, in itself, provide positive grounds for endorsing a theory. At present, the predominance of the scientific view of the world, and a general disinclination towards dualistic as well as idealistic metaphysics, brings with it the triumph of emergentism, and the key issue becomes that of assessing the prospects of theories of emergent mentality. All modern physicalistic theories of mind implicitly rest upon a theory of emergence (which is seldom articulated in any detail), but, thus far, none of these has dealt with consciousness in a fully satisfactory way (that is, the problem of the emergence of consciousness has not gone the way of the problem of the emergence of chemistry). Unless and until we have such a satisfactory account, panpsychism remains an open possibility.

Panpsychism is an abstract metaphysical doctrine which as such has no direct bearing on any scientific work; there is no empirical test that could decisively confirm or refute panpsychism. One might complain about this remoteness, as Thomas Nagel does with the remark that panpsychism has “the faintly sickening odor of something put together in the metaphysical laboratory” (1986, p. 49). Nonetheless, metaphysical views form an indispensable background to all science. They integrate our world views and allow us to situate our scientific endeavors within a larger vista and can suggest fruitful new lines of empirical enquiry (as the example of Fechner's psycho-physics illustrates). In particular, panpsychism accords with an approach that rejects physicalist reductionism at the same time as enjoining the search for neural correlates of consciousness, and it sees, or wants to see, a fundamental unity in the world which emergentism denies. Thus it is not a doctrine at odds with current empirical research.

It has always been and remains impossible to resist metaphysical speculation about the fundamental nature of the world. As long has there been science, science has informed this speculation and in return metaphysics has both helped to tell us what the point of science is and paved the way for new science. Panpsychism remains an active player in this endless speculative interchange.

Bibliography

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Berkeley, George | consciousness | Descartes, René | dualism | emergent properties | epiphenomenalism | Hartshorne, Charles | James, William | Leibniz, Gottfried Wilhelm | mereology | monism | neutral monism | pantheism | physicalism | qualia | quantum theory: and consciousness | Royce, Josiah | Spinoza, Baruch | Whitehead, Alfred North | Wundt, Wilhelm Maximilian

1. Panpsychism in the History of Western Philosophy

Clear indications of panpsychist doctrines are evident in early Greek thought. One of the first Presocratic philosophers of ancient Greece, Thales (c. 624–545 BCE) deployed an analogical argument for the attribution of mind that tends towards panpsychism. The argument depends upon the idea that enminded beings are self-movers. Thales notes that magnets and, under certain circumstances, amber, can move themselves and concludes that they therefore possess minds. It is claimed that Thales went much beyond such particular attributions and endorsed a true panpsychism and pantheism. For example, as reported by Barnes (1982: 96–7), Diogenes claimed that Thales believed that “the universe is alive and full of spirits”, but this remark is derived from an earlier claim of Aristotle: “some say a soul is mingled in the whole universe—which is perhaps why Thales thought that everything is full of gods”. While Barnes disputes the pantheistic reading of Thales, he allows that Thales believed in the “ubiquity of animation”.[1]

The Presocratics were struck by a dilemma: either mind is an elemental feature of the world, or mind can somehow be reduced to more fundamental elements. If one opts for reductionism, it is incumbent upon one to explain how the reduction happens. On the other hand, if one opts for the panpsychist view that mind is an elemental feature of the world, then one must account for the apparent lack of mental features at the fundamental level. Anaxagoras (c. 500–425 BCE) flatly denied that novel elements can emerge from more basic features of reality and instead advanced the view that “everything is in everything” (there are interesting parallels between this and much more recent arguments for panpsychism by Thomas Nagel and Galen Strawson, discussed below). Anaxagoras explained the appearance to the contrary in terms of a “principle of dominance and latency” (see Mourelatos 1986), which asserted that some qualities were dominant in their contribution to the behavior and appearance of things. However, Anaxagoras’s views on mind are complex since he apparently regarded mind as uniquely not containing any measure of other things and thus not fully complying with his mixing principles. Perhaps this can be interpreted as the assertion that mind is ontologically fundamental in a special way; Anaxagoras did seem to believe that everything has some portion of mind in it while refraining from the assertion that everything has a mind (even this is controversial, see Barnes 1982: 405 ff.).

On the other hand, Empedocles, an almost exact contemporary of Anaxagoras, favored a reductionist account based upon the famous doctrine of the four elements: earth, air, fire and water. All qualities were to be explicated in terms of ratios of these elements. The overall distribution of the elements, which were themselves eternal and unchangeable, was controlled by “love and strife” in a grand cyclically dynamic universe.[2] The purest form of reductionism was propounded by the famed atomist Democritus (c. 460–370 BCE). His principle of emergence was based upon the possibility of multi-shaped atoms “interlocking” to form an infinity of more complex shapes. But Democritus had to admit that the qualities of experience could not be accounted for in this way, and thus chose to relegate them to non-existence: “by convention sweet and by convention bitter, by convention hot, by convention cold, by convention color; but in reality atoms and void” (Taylor 1999).

What is striking about these early attempts to formulate an integrated theory of reality is that the mind and particularly consciousness keep arising as special problems. It is sometimes said that the mind-body problem is not an ancient philosophical worry (see Matson 1966), but it does seem that the problem of consciousness was vexing philosophers 2500 years ago, and in a form redolent of contemporary worries.

We find these worries re-emerging at the start of the scientific revolution, as the mechanistic picture of the world inaugurated by Galileo, Descartes and Newton put the problem of the mind at center stage while paradoxically sweeping it under the rug. Galileo’s mathematisation of nature seemed to leave no space for the qualities we find in experience: the redness of the tomato, the spiciness of the paprika, the sweet smell of flowers. Galileo’s solution, in a move reminiscent of Democritus, was to strip matter of such sensory qualities. This led to the distinction between “primary qualities”—such as shape, size and motion—which were thought to really exist in matter, and “secondary qualities”—such as colours, odours and tastes—which were thought to exist only in the mind of the observer (or to exist as powers to cause ideas in the minds of observers).[3] Galileo and Descartes did not take the radical Democritian step of denying the existence of the secondary qualities; instead they placed them in the soul.[4] However, this of course led to a radical form of dualism, with a sharp metaphysical division between souls with their secondary qualities and bodies with their primary qualities.

In opposition to this dualism, the panpsychist views of Spinoza (1632–77) and Leibniz (1646–1716) can be seen as attempts to provide a more unified picture of nature. Spinoza regarded both mind and matter as simply aspects (or attributes) of the eternal, infinite and unique substance he identified with God Himself. In the illustrative scholium to proposition seven of book two of the Ethics ([1677] 1985) Spinoza writes:

a circle existing in nature and the idea of the existing circle, which is also in God, are one and the same thing … therefore, whether we conceive nature under the attribute of Extension, or under the attribute of Thought … we shall find one and the same order, or one and the same connection of causes….

We might say that, for Spinoza, physical science is a way of studying the psychology of God. There is nothing in nature that does not have a mental aspect—the proper appreciation of matter itself reveals it to be the other side of a mentalistic coin.

Leibniz’s view is sometimes caricatured as: Spinoza with infinitely many substances rather than just one. These substances Leibniz called monads (Leibniz [1714] 1989). Since they are true substances (able to exist independently of any other thing), and since they are absolutely simple, they cannot interact with each other in any way. Yet each monad carries within it complete information about the entire universe. Space, for Leibniz, was reducible to (non-spatial) similarity or correspondence relationships between the intrinsic natures of the monads.

Leibniz’s monads are fundamentally to be conceived mentalistically—they are in a way mentalistic automatons moving from one perceptual state (some conscious and some not) to another, all according to a God imposed pre-defined rule. It is highly significant for the development of contemporary forms of panpsychism that Leibniz could find no intrinsic nature for his basic elements other than a mentalistic nature—the only model he found adequate to describe his monads was one of perception and spontaneous activity. This view has been highly influential on the emergence in recent times of Russellian monism, discussed below.

The nineteenth century was the heyday of panpsychism. Even a partial list of panpsychists of that period reveals how many of the best minds of the time gravitated towards this doctrine. Prominent exponents of distinctive forms of panpsychism include Gustav Fechner (1801–1887), Wilhelm Wundt (1832–1920), Rudolf Hermann Lotze (1817–1881), William James (1842–1910), Josiah Royce (1855–1916) and William Clifford (1845–1879). Royce and Lotze represent what may be called “idealist panpsychism”. That is, the primary motivation for the ascription of mental attributes to matter is that matter is, in essence, a “form” of mind, and thus panpsychism is a kind of theorem that follows from this more fundamental philosophical view.

An important figure in the development of panpsychist thought is Arthur Schopenhauer (1788–1860). Schopenhauer was influenced by Kant’s view that we lack an understanding of reality as it is in and of itself, but he made a crucial exception for the immediate knowledge one has of oneself. Taking will to be the fundamental quality one is aware of in introspection, Schopenhauer thus theorised that will is the inner nature of all things. This line of reasoning bears a striking similarity to, and indeed is an important influence on, the contemporary Russellian monists, whom we will discuss below.

Other panpsychists of this time include Friedrich Paulsen (1846–1908), a student of Fechner’s who extended his teacher’s version of panpsychism, and Morton Prince (1854–1929), psychologist and physician who advocated a panpsychism that emphasized that it is matter that must be “psychologized” or imbued with mentalistic attributes (Prince regarded this as a form of materialism, and there are again affinities here with Russellian monism, discussed below). Also to be mentioned are Eduard von Hartmann (1842–1906) who extended his famous doctrine of the unconscious down to the level of atoms, Ferdinand C.S. Schiller (1864–1937) who provided a pragmatist defense of panpsychism as a doctrine which by various analogical arguments yields otherwise unattainable insights into nature, and Ernst Häckel (1834–1919), an early and avid proponent of Darwinism in Germany who interpreted our evolutionary connection with the rest of nature as evidence for panpsychism, and who was thus willing to ascribe mental properties to living cells.

Fechner and Royce developed panpsychist accounts of nature that did not attribute mental properties to the smallest bits of matter. This might seem to exclude their being correctly classed as “panpsychists”, as it is part of the definition of panpsychism that mentality is fundamental. Surely someone who believes that amoebas have experiences, but that the quarks and electrons that ultimately constitute amoebas do not, is no panpsychist. However, this simplifying view contains an implicit assumption about the nature of fundamental reality, namely that micro-level entities are its building blocks. Fechner and Royce did not accept this assumption, holding instead that the ontological foundation of reality is the “world-soul” or “world-mind” of which everything is a part (there are obvious echoes of Spinoza in such a view). This top-down view of the place of mind in the world does seem to be a legitimate sort of panpsychism, and it is one that does not require that everything in the world be itself enminded. Hartshorne (1950) labelled this kind of panpsychism “synecological”, in opposition to “atomistic” panpsychism. In contemporary philosophy, these views are known respectively as “(constitutive) cosmopsychism” and “(constitutive) micropsychism”, and both have their defenders as we shall see below.

William James’s panpsychism grew out of his “neutral monism”— the view that the fundamental nature of reality is neither mental nor physical, but of some third form that can be regarded as either mental or physical from different viewpoints. To the extent that a neutral monism can be regarded as a dual-aspect view (as in Spinoza’s philosophy), it might be regarded as a kind of panpsychism in its own right; but James’s view developed beyond this, to incorporate mind-like elements into the basic structure of reality. In a notebook of 1909 he wrote: “the constitution of reality which I am making for is of the psychic type” (see Cooper 1990). James’s commitment to panpsychism remains somewhat controversial, since he also advanced a cogent set of objections against a version of the view, which he labelled the “mind dust” theory, in chapter six of The Principles of Psychology ([1890] 1981). These objections are the inspiration for the so-called “combination problem”, around which much of the twenty first century literature on panpsychism focuses. But in the end James’s commitment is quite clear (see James 1909, 1911; Lamberth 1997; and for an excellent analysis of James’s views on mind see Cooper 1990 or chapters 2–4 of Cooper 2002).

The most significant development and defense of a panpsychist philosophy in the twentieth century was undoubtedly that of Alfred North Whitehead (1861–1947).[5] Exploration of the details of Whitehead’s philosophy would require an article of its own, and would be fraught with interpretive difficulties in any case since Whitehead’s own presentation is forbiddingly complex. But roughly speaking Whitehead proposed a radical reform of our conception of the fundamental nature of the world, placing events (or items that are more event-like than thing-like) and the ongoing processes of their creation and extinction as the core feature of the world, rather than the traditional triad of matter, space and time. His panpsychism arises from the idea that the elementary events that make up the world (which he called occasions) partake of mentality in some—often extremely attenuated—sense, metaphorically expressed in terms of the mentalistic notions of creativity, spontaneity and perception. The echoes of Leibniz are not accidental here, and Whitehead also has a form of Leibniz’s distinction between unities and mere aggregates, which he explains in these terms:

… in bodies that are obviously living, a coordination has been achieved that raises into prominence some functions inherent in the ultimate occasions. For lifeless matter these functionings thwart each other, and average out so as to produce a negligible total effect. In the case of living bodies the coordination intervenes, and the average effect of these intimate functionings has to be taken into account. (1933: 207)

(Lest it seem that Whitehead is only discussing life, he is clear that this depends upon a sort of mental functioning.)[6]

From the 1930s to the end of the twentieth century, there was relatively little interest in panpsychism in Western philosophy. This attitude was arguably caused by two things: the dominance of physicalism in the philosophy of mind, and the general hostility to metaphysics which reigned up until the 1970s. A rare exception to this trend was Timothy Sprigge who, in A Vindication of Absolute Idealism (1983), defends an idealism-based form of panpsychism. Sprigge summarized his views and provided some novel defences of them in Sprigge (2007), which is a response to critics, a number of which explicitly discuss panpsychism (see e.g., Maddell 2007). An important form of the anti-emergence argument for panpsychism (discussed below) was published by Thomas Nagel in 1979. Later David Griffin, in Unsnarling the World Knot (1998), espoused an atomistic panpsychism in the form of an explicit interpretation, extension and defense of Whitehead’s version of the doctrine. We also find sympathy for panpsychism in David Chalmers’ (1996) The Conscious Mind, and in articles responding to Chalmers by Piet Hut & Roger Shepard, Gregg Rosenberg, and William Seager, all in Shear 1997 (for more on the history of panpsychism see Clark 2004 and Skrbina 2005).

Recent developments have gone some way to reversing the aversion to panpsychism that has dominated Western philosophy in recent times. From the 1970s onwards hostility to metaphysics slowly withdrew, and most philosophers in the analytic tradition now accept the inevitability of metaphysics. And towards the end of the twentieth century and into the twenty-first, the continuing failure of physicalists to come up with a satisfying account of consciousness has led many to look for alternatives. As a result of both of these things, a significant and growing minority of analytic philosophers have begun seriously to explore the potential of panpsychism, both to provide a satisfying account of the emergence of human consciousness and to give a positive account of the intrinsic nature of matter (these motivations should become clearer in the discussion below of the arguments for panpsychism). The following volumes include some of this recent work: Freeman 2006; Skrbina 2009; Blaumauer 2011; Alter & Nagasawa 2015; Brüntrup & Jaskolla 2016; Seager forthcoming.

2. Varieties of Contemporary Panpsychism

2.1 The Definition of Panpsychism

The word “panpsychism” literally means that everything has a mind. However, in contemporary debates it is generally understood as the view that mentality is fundamental and ubiquitous in the natural world. Thus, in conjunction with the widely held assumption (which will be reconsidered below) that fundamental things exist only at the micro-level, panpsychism entails that at least some kinds of micro-level entities have mentality, and that instances of those kinds are found in all things throughout the material universe. So whilst the panpsychist holds that mentality is distributed throughout the natural world—in the sense that all material objects have parts with mental properties—she needn’t hold that literally everything has a mind, e.g., she needn’t hold that a rock has mental properties (just that the rock’s fundamental parts do).

We can distinguish various forms of panpsychism in terms of which aspect of mentality is taken to be fundamental and ubiquitous. Two important characteristics of human minds are thought and consciousness. In terms of these characteristics we can distinguish the following two possible forms of panpsychism:

  • Panexperientialism—the view that conscious experience is fundamental and ubiquitous
  • Pancognitivism—the view that thought is fundamental and ubiquitous.

According to the definition of consciousness that is dominant in contemporary analytic philosophy, something is conscious just in case there is something that it’s like to be it; that is to say, if it has some kind of experience, no matter how basic.[7] Humans have incredibly rich and complex experience, horses less so, mice less so again. Standardly the panexperientialist holds that this diminishing of the complexity of experience continues down through plants, and through to the basic constituents of reality, perhaps electrons and quarks. If the notion of “having experience” is flexible enough, then the view that an electron has experience—of some extremely basic kind—would seem to be coherent (of course we must distinguish the question of whether it is coherent from the question of whether it is plausible; the latter will depend on the strength of the arguments discussed below).

Thought, in contrast, is a much more sophisticated phenomenon, and many doubt that it is correct to ascribe it to non-human animals, never-mind fundamental particles. The traditional view in analytic philosophy is that thoughts are mental states that can be modelled as psychological attitudes towards specific propositions: believing that Budapest is the capital of Hungary, hoping that war is over, fearing that there will be another Global Financial Crisis. Panpsychism is often caricatured as the view that electrons have hopes and dreams, or that quarks suffer from existential angst. However, whilst there have been some defenders of pancognitivism in history, it is panexperientialist forms of panpsychism that are taken seriously in contemporary analytic philosophy. From now on I will equate panpsychism with panexperientialism.

2.2 Constitutive Versus Emergentist Panpsychism

Panpsychists believe that there is much more consciousness in the universe than most Westerners tend to think there is; indeed at least some fundamental entities have consciousness according to panpsychism. But what is the relationship between this “extra” consciousness and the consciousness we ordinarily believe in, the consciousness we pre-theoretically associate with humans and other animals?

David Chalmers (2015) distinguishes between constitutive and non-constitutive forms of panpsychism, a distinction I present here in a slightly modified form:

  • Constitutive panpsychism—Forms of panpsychism according to which facts about human and animal consciousness are not fundamental, but are grounded in/realized by/constituted of facts about more fundamental kinds of consciousness, e.g., facts about micro-level consciousness.
  • Non-Constitutive panpsychism—Forms of panpsychism according to which facts about human and animal consciousness are among the fundamental facts.[8]

The most common form of constitutive panpsychism is:

  • Constitutive Micropsychism—The view that all facts are grounded in/realized by/constituted of consciousness-involving facts at the micro-level.

According to constitutive micropsychism, the smallest parts of my brain have very basic forms of consciousness, and the consciousness of my brain as a whole is in some sense made up from the consciousness of its parts. This is the form of panpsychism that suffers most acutely from the combination problem, which we will explore below. However, if it can be made sense of, constitutive micropsychism promises an elegant and parsimonious view of nature, with all the richness of nature accounted for in terms of facts at the micro-level.

Turning to non-constitutive forms of panpsychism, we should note that by saying that human and animal consciousness is not “fundamental”, we simply mean that it is not grounded in (realized by/constituted of) micro-level consciousness; and this does not entail that human/animal consciousness is not caused by micro-level consciousness. Indeed, non-constitutive panpsychism typically takes the form of some kind of emergentism, according to which the conscious minds of humans and animals arise as a causal product of interactions between micro-level conscious subjects.

Emergentist panpsychism in turn takes two forms. Gregg Rosenberg (2004) and Godehard Brüntrup (2016) have each defended a form of layered emergentism, according to which human minds co-exist with the micro-level conscious subjects that give rise to them and sustain them throughout their existence. The resulting picture is structurally similar to the “British emergentism” of the 19th and early 20th century: in both pictures new fundamental entities and forces appear when matter reaches a certain level of complexity.[9] However, panpsychist emergentists are arguably committed to a less radical form of emergence than non-panpsychist emergentists, as the emergent entities are of the same kind as the micro-level entities from which they emerge.

William Seager (2016) and Hedda Hassel Mørch (2014) have independently defended a non-layered form of panpsychist emergentism, which we can call “fusionism”. According to fusionism, when micro-level subjects come together to form a human mind they don’t compose it as bricks compose a house, rather they as it were fuse into it, ceasing to exist in the process. On Seager’s view the post-fusion conscious brain entirely lacks parts; it is a “big simple”. On Mørch’s view the post-fusion conscious brain still has parts, but whereas pre-fusion the brain was dependent for its existence on its parts, post-fusion the parts are dependent for their existence upon the brain.

By taking human and animal consciousness to be fundamental, rather than somehow made up of more basic forms of consciousness, emergentists avoid some forms of the combination problem (discussed below). However, this comes at the cost of having an empirically more risky view. It is natural to think that emergent fundamental features of reality would introduce radically new causal powers, and hence it ought to be possible in principle to observe the difference they make in the world when they come into existence. David Papineau (2001) has argued that (i) neuroscience and cellular biology show no sign of the existence of distinctive causal powers associated with biological consciousness, and that (ii) this counts strongly against emergentism of any kind.

2.3 Panpsychism Versus Panprotopsychism

It is worth mentioning a position very similar to panpsychism, namely panprotopsychism. Whereas panpsychists think that consciousness is fundamental and ubiquitous, panprotopsychists think that proto-consciousness is fundamental and ubiquitous. The properties that characterise conscious experience are commonly referred to as “phenomenal properties”; and hence the properties involved in proto-consciousness are referred to as “protophenomenal properties”.[10]

In the first instance, we can think of protophenomenal properties as properties that are not themselves forms of consciousness but which in combination give rise to forms of consciousness. However, as Daniel Stoljar (2010) has pointed out, this definition is too broad, as anybody who believes that consciousness is not fundamental holds that it is constituted of some other properties, and hence believes in properties which are “protophenomenal” in this sense. Standard forms of physicalism will turn out to be forms of “panprotopsychism” on such a definition.

To get around this problem, a fuller definition of “protophenomenal properties” would define them as properties that in certain combinations transparently account for the existence of consciousness, in the sense that one could in principle move a priori from knowing the relevant facts about protophenomenal properties to knowing the relevant facts about phenomenal properties (Chalmers 2015; Goff 2015, 2017). That is to say, if you could magically perceive the protophenomenal properties in my brain (assuming panprotopsychism is true), you would in principle be able to deduce what it’s like to be me. This would distinguish panprotopsychism from the standard contemporary form of physicalism—that advocated by proponents of the so-called “phenomenal concept strategy” (Loar 1990; Papineau 1998; Diaz-Leon 2010)—according to which there is no explanatory entailment from the physical to the mental. We can further stipulate that the explanatory entailment advocated by the panprotopsychist does not hold (solely) in virtue of the kind of properties physical science reveals to us, thus distinguishing panprotopsychism from more radically reductive views such as analytic functionalism.

Thus, protophenomenal properties have a kind of indirect definition, in terms of their propensity to ground consciousness. Different forms of panprotopsychism are distinguished by what if anything they have to say about the positive nature of protophenomenal properties. Many panprotopsychists think we currently have no positive conception of the nature of protophenomenal properties. Indeed, some have argued that we are constitutionally incapable of ever forming one. This view was dubbed “mysterianism” by Owen Flanagan, and is most associated with Colin McGinn (1989; McGinn does not use the label “panprotopsychism” to describe his view, but it fits the definition laid out in this section).

Perhaps the most promising conception of protophenomenal properties is given by the view Herbert Feigl (1960) called “panqualityism”, crediting it to a conversation with Stephen C. Pepper. Versions of the view itself were held by William James (1904), Ernst Mach (1886), Bertrand Russell (1921) and Peter Unger (1999). More recently the view has been prominently defended by Sam Coleman (2012, 2014, 2015, 2016). According to panqualityism the protophenomenal properties are unexperienced qualities. Our conscious experience is filled with experienced qualities, e.g., those phenomenal qualities involved in seeing colour or feeling pain. Panqualityists believe that such qualities are only contingently experienced, and that in basic matter they exist unexperienced.

Panqualityists typically give some kind of reductionist account of how such unexperienced qualities come to be experienced, such as a functionalist account according to which for a quality to be experienced is for it to play the right causal role in the cognitive capacities of the organism. Thus, panqualityism can be seen as a kind of middle way between panpsychism and physicalism.[11] Whereas the physicalist thinks that we can give an entirely reductive account of consciousness, and the panpsychist thinks that consciousness is fundamental, the panqualityist thinks that that the qualitative aspect of consciousness is fundamental, whilst holding a reductive view of subjectivity, i.e., the fact that those qualities are experienced.

Tom McClelland (2013) defends a form of panprotopsychism that combines elements of mysterianism with the kind of reductive account of subjectivity favoured by the panqualityists. McClelland is a mysterian about the basic features of matter that give rise to the qualitative properties we encounter in our experience, but like Coleman he hopes that we may be able to give a reductive account of how those qualities come to be experienced.

For some other defences of protopanpsychism or closely related views, see Stoljar (2001), Holman (2008), Montero (2010) and Pereboom (2011, 2015).

2.4 Micropsychism Versus Cosmopsychism

Contemporary philosophers tend to assume that fundamental things exist at the micro-level. Coleman (2006) calls this “smallism”: the view that facts about big things are grounded in facts about little things, e.g., the table exists and is the way it is because the particles making it up are related in certain extremely complicated ways. However, the work of Jonathan Schaffer (2010) has recently brought to prominence an alternative picture of reality. According to the view Schaffer calls “priority monism”, facts about little things are grounded in facts about big things. The table’s atoms exist and are the way they are because the table exists and is the way it is; and all things ultimately exist and are the way they are because of certain facts about the universe as a whole. For the priority monist there is one and only one fundamental thing: the universe.

If we combine priority monism with constitutive panpsychism we get:

  • Constitutive cosmopsychism—The view that all facts are grounded in/realized by/constituted of consciousness-involving facts at the cosmic-level.

We can also envisage non-constitutive forms of cosmopsychism. On a standard form of layered emergentism (discussed above), human and animal minds are causally dependent on consciousness-involving micro-level facts whilst being fundamental entities in their own right; on the cosmopsychist analogue, human and animal minds are causally dependent on the conscious cosmos whilst being fundamental entities in their own right.[12] The minimal commitment of cosmopsychism is that the universe is conscious; in principle this is compatible with holding that the universe is a derivative entity, grounded in facts about is parts.

Cosmopsychism is not to be confused with pantheism: the view that the universe is God.[13] Just as the micropsychist holds that electrons have experience but not thought, so the cosmopsychist holds that the universe has some kind of experience, but may refrain from attributing thought or agency to the universe. It could be that the consciousness of the universe is a gigantic mess that doesn’t add up to anything coherent enough to ground cognition.

Detailed forms of cosmopsychism have been proposed by Mathews (2011), Jaskolla & Buck (2012), Shani (2015), Nagasawa & Wager (2016), and Goff (2017, forthcoming). Most of these philosophers are attracted to cosmopsychism on the grounds that it is better fitted than micropsychism to deal with the combination problem (we will discuss some of their reasons for thinking this below in the section on the combination problem). Cosmopsychism is the contemporary analogue of the “synecological” forms of panpsychism, defended by Fechner and Royce amongst others, which were discussed above.

2.5 Russellian Monism

In his 1927 book The Analysis of Matter, Bertrand Russell proposed a novel approach to the mind-body problem. Arthur Eddington, in his Gifford lectures of the same year, independently expressed very similar thoughts (published in Eddington 1928).[14] Remarkably this approach was almost completely forgotten about for much of the twentieth century. However, there has recently been a revival of interest in this approach, resulting in a Russell-inspired view that has become known as “Russellian monism”.

Russellian monists are motivated by the need to characterise the intrinsic nature of matter (This issue is discussed in great detail below in the section on the “Intrinsic nature argument”; reading that section will help one get a grip on Russellian monism and its motivation). We can define the view itself in terms of two components, one negative and one positive:

  • The information we get from the physical sciences is in some significant sense limited. There are subtle variations on how exactly this is put, but the idea is that the physical sciences only tell us about the extrinsic, relational, mathematical, or dispositional nature of matter, and leave us in the dark about its intrinsic, concrete and categorical nature. Physics tells us how an electron behaves, but it doesn’t tell us how it is in and of itself.
  • The intrinsic/concrete/categorical features of matter which physical science remains silent on account for the existence of consciousness. The problem of consciousness, the difficulty seeing how consciousness fits into the physical word, is the result of our not taking into account these “hidden” features of the physical world.

Some Russellian monists think that the intrinsic nature of fundamental matter is itself consciousness-involving; others that it involves non-phenomenal properties that somehow transparently explain the reality of consciousness. Thus, we get panpsychist and panprotopsychist forms of the view, which we can call “Russellian panpsychism” and “Russellian panprotopsychism” respectively.

The attraction of Russellian monism is that it has the potential to avoid both the deep problems facing dualism and the deep problems facing physicalism. The problem with dualism is its difficulty reconciling the causal efficacy of human consciousness with (what many philosophers take to be) the empirical fact that the physical world is causally closed, in the sense that every event has a sufficient physical cause. The causal closure of the physical seems to leave no room for fundamental non-physical mental causes to do any work. If my behaviour is entirely caused by physical events in my brain, then my immaterial soul is left with no role to play in the production of behaviour. The physicalist avoids this problem as on her view consciousness states are physical states, and hence they are themselves parts of the causally closed physical system. Or rather physicalists can avoid this problem if they can give an adequate account of the grounding of consciousness. The problem for physicalists, as we will discuss in the next section, is that there are strong philosophical grounds for thinking that they are unable to do this.[15]

Russellian monism offers hope of a satisfying solution to both of these difficulties. Its elegant integration of consciousness in the material world looks to be a promising way of accounting for the causal role of human consciousness. If conscious states just are the intrinsic nature of brain states, then the causal action of brain states and the causal action of conscious states are arguably one and the same thing. And by postulating a phenomenal or protophenomenal nature to fundamental physical reality, Russellian monism hopes to provide an adequate account of the grounding of consciousness.[16]

For these reasons, Russellian monism is increasingly being seen as one of the most promising ways forward on the problem of consciousness. Even its opponents have expressed admiration for its virtues; physicalist Alyssa Ney (2015: 349) says of it

This proposal strikes me, suspending disbelief about the…theses that lead up to it, as at least as bold and exciting as Newton’s proposed identification of terrestrial and cosmic reality.

The growing prominence of Russellian monism, given that one paradigmatic form of Russellian monism is panpsychist, has resulted in panpsychism once again being considered as a serious option.

See Alter & Nagasawa (2015) for a recent collection of essays on Russellian monism. For further work on Russellian monism and related views see Feigl (1967), Maxwell (1979), Lockwood (1989), Strawson (1994, 2003, 2016), Chalmers (1996, 2015), Griffin (1998), Stoljar (2001), Pereboom (2011, 2015) and Goff (2015, 2017).

3. Arguments for Panpsychism

3.1 The Anti-Emergence Argument

Neuroscience has made great progress in uncovering the mechanisms in the brain that underlie our cognitive and behavioural functioning. But this form of scientific investigation has not produced anything approaching a satisfying explanation of why it is that a person has subjective experience, i.e., of why there is something that it’s like to be a human being. It seems that we can imagine a creature that was empirically indiscernible from a human being in terms of its physical brain processes and the behaviour they give rise to, but which had no experience whatsoever (it screams and runs away when you stick a knife in it, but it doesn’t actually feel pain). And it arguably follows that facts about physical brain processes and behaviour cannot explain, at least not in a transparent and satisfying manner, the reality of conscious experience.

This is the problem David Chalmers (1995, 1996) famously named “the hard problem of consciousness”.[17] Some think the alleged problem involves a confusion, although anyone who thinks this is obliged to diagnose the exact root of the confusion. Others think that there is a problem, but one that further scientific investigation will solve. Perhaps we just need to wait for the arrival of the “Darwin of consciousness” to make progress. However, there is no reason to suppose that “further scientific investigation” has to be pursued under the methodological assumption that consciousness is to be accounted for in terms of processes which don’t involve consciousness, e.g., in terms of facts about non-conscious neurons. The panpsychist proposes an alternative approach: explain human and animal consciousness in terms of more basic forms of consciousness. These more basic forms of consciousness are then postulated as properties of the fundamental constituents of the material world, perhaps of quarks and electrons. Thus, we try to explain the consciousness of the human brain in terms of the consciousness of its most fundamental parts.

Thomas Nagel (1979) influentially argued that adopting a view like panpsychism is the only way to avoid what he called “emergence”. Crucially, close examination of the text reveals that Nagel is using the word “emergence” slightly differently to how it has come to be used in contemporary discussions of panpsychism (discussed above). For Nagel, “emergent” properties of a complex system are ones that cannot be intelligibly derived from the properties of its parts. In contrast, for the “emergentist panpsychists” discussed above, “emergent” properties of a complex system are simply fundamental macro-level properties, which may or may not be intelligibly derived from the properties of its parts.[18] Following Galen Strawson (2006a) we can use the word “radical emergence” to express Nagel’s notion of emergence.[19]

Nagel’s argument involves four premises:

  1. Material Composition—Living organisms are complex material systems with no immaterial parts. The matter composing us is not special; the matter composing any material entity, if broken down far enough and rearranged, could in principle be incorporated into a living organism.
  2. Realism—Mental states are genuine properties of living organisms.
  3. No Radical Emergence—All the properties of a complex organism are intelligibly derived from the properties of its parts.
  4. Non-Reductionism—The mental states of an organism are not intelligibly derived from its physical properties alone.

Nagel takes these premises to imply that there must be non-physical properties of basic matter that, when combined in the right way, intelligible imply the existence of mental states. It is worth noting that, although Nagel calls the resulting view “panpsychism”, it seems compatible with panprotopsychism (discussed above).

More recently, Galen Strawson (2006a) has defended a similar argument from the untenability of radical emergence. Whereas Nagel’s aim is merely to establish the disjunction of panpsychism and panprotopsychism, the conclusion of Strawson’s argument is very definitely the truth of panpsychism. Strawson begins by arguing that radical emergence is upon reflection unintelligible:

Emergence can’t be brute. It is built into the heart of the notion of emergence that emergence cannot be brute in the sense of there being absolutely no reason in the nature of things why the emerging thing is as it is (so that it is unintelligible even to God). For any feature Y of anything that is correctly considered to be emergent from X, there must be something about X and X alone in virtue of which Y emerges, and which is sufficient for Y (Strawson 2006a: 18)

There are of course cases in which one property arises from another, e.g., liquid arises from individual molecules each of which is not itself liquid. However, in all such cases, Strawson argues, the emergence is perfectly intelligible:

We can easily make intuitive sense of the idea that certain sorts of molecules are so constituted that they don’t bind together in a tight lattice but slide past or off each other (in accordance with van de Waals molecular interaction laws) in a way that gives rise to—is—the phenomenon of liquidity. So too, with Bénard convection cells we can easily make sense of the idea that physical laws relating to surface tension, viscosity, and other forces governing the motion of molecules give rise to hexagonal patterns on the surface of a fluid like oil when it is heated. In both these cases we move in a small set of conceptually homogeneous shape-size-mass-charge-number-position-motion-involving physics notions with no sense of puzzlement…. Using the notion of reduction in a familiar loose way, we can say that the phenomena of liquidity reduce without remainder to shape-size-mass-charge-etc. (Strawson 2006a: 18)

Thus, the crucial feature of intelligible emergence, according to Strawson, is that the relationship between the product of emergence and its producer can be adequately characterized using a single set of conceptually homogeneous concepts. But it’s very hard to see how any set of conceptually homogeneous concepts could capture both the experiential (i.e., consciousness-involving) and the non-experiential (non-conscious-involving), and hence hard to see how the thesis that consciousness emerges from non-consciousness could be rendered intelligible. Strawson argues that it is only by supposing that human and animal consciousness emerges from more basic forms of consciousness, that we have hope of avoiding the emergence of animal consciousness being a brute and inexplicable miracle.

It is not clear that Strawson is able to conclusively rule out the panprotopsychist option discussed above. It is plausible that we currently have no positive conception of wholly non-experiential states that would intelligibly give rise to consciousness. But maybe that’s because the Darwin of consciousness hasn’t come along yet to theorise her way to their nature. Or maybe, as Colin McGinn (1989) famously argued, human beings are constitutively incapable of grasping the nature of the properties underlying consciousness; it could nonetheless be that the emergence of consciousness from non-consciousness is intelligible to God if not to us. We have seen that Strawson insists that an emergent feature and that from which it emerges must be capable of being captured under a set of conceptually homogeneous notions; but perhaps there is an unknown (at least thus far) neutral vocabulary in terms of which both experiential and non-experiential features of reality can be adequately described (Nagel is open to this possibility, which is another way of seeing how the conclusion of Strawson’s argument is stronger than that of Nagel’s). Furthermore, as Philip Goff (2006, 2017: ch. 7) has argued in response to Strawson, there is reason to doubt that the panpsychist herself is able to give a wholly intelligible story as to how macro-level consciousness emerges from the micro-level consciousness, which threatens to undermine Strawson’s claim that panpsychism avoids radical emergence. (This issue is discussed in detail below in the section on The Subject-Summing Problem).

Strawson’s argument is intended to show that a non-panpsychist reduction of consciousness is impossible. However, it is not obvious that this is essential for the anti-emergence argument for panpsychism to have force. Philosophers and scientists have spent a great deal of time trying to explain consciousness in terms of non-consciousness, and these efforts have not produced even the beginnings of an intelligible explanation. Given this failure it seems reasonable to explore other paradigms of scientific explanation.

It might seem obvious that emergentist panpsychists (discussed above) are unable to make use of the anti-emergence argument for panpsychism. However, many panpsychists argue that panpsychist forms of emergentism are less radical than non-panpsychism forms of emergentism. Hedda Hassel Mørch (2014), for example, defends a form of panpsychism involving partially intelligible emergence, which she argues is to be preferred over fully brute emergence.

Brian McLaughlin (2016) responds to Nagel’s argument by deploying a currently popular strategy for defending physicalism: the phenomenal concept strategy. See also Freeman 2006 for a volume of responses to Strawson’s anti-emergence argument, followed by Strawson’s counter-response.

3.2 The Intrinsic Nature Argument

There is a second prominent argument for panpsychism, which has nothing to do with the need to explain human consciousness; rather it begins from a certain gap in the picture of the world we get from the physical sciences. This argument has its roots in Leibniz, Schopenhauer, Russell (1927) and Whitehead (1933 [1967]), and is defended by many panpsychists, including Sprigge (1999), Strawson (2003) and Goff (2017). It is also strongly connected to the motivations for Russellian monism, and so it may be useful to read this section in close conjunction with the section above on Russellian monism.

In the public mind physics is on its way to giving us a complete account of the fundamental nature of the material world. It seems almost tautological that “physics” is the true theory of “the physical”, and hence that it is to physics we should turn for an understanding of the complete nature of space, time and matter. However, this commonplace opinion comes under pressure when we reflect on the austere vocabulary in terms of which physical theories are framed. A crucial moment in the scientific revolution was Galileo’s declaration that the book of the universe is written in the language of mathematics; from this point onwards mathematics has been the language of physics. The vocabulary of physics is arguably not entirely mathematical, as it involves causal or nomic notions, such as the notion of a law of nature. But the kind of qualitative concepts we find in the Aristotelian characterisation of the universe are wholly absent from modern physics. Physical theories are framed in a wholly mathematico-nomic vocabulary.

The problem is that it’s not clear that such an austere vocabulary can even in principle capture the complete nature of concrete reality. A mathematical description of a situation abstracts from concrete reality; a mathematical model in economics for example abstracts away from what is being bought or sold, or the nature of labour. And nomic predicates can only express information about how physical entities are disposed to behave. This is fine if we want to predict, say, how electrons will behave. But intuitively there must also be an intrinsic nature to an electron; there must be an answer to the question “How is the electron in and of itself?” And this question doesn’t seem to be answered by describing how electrons are disposed to behave.

Some philosophers, known as “dispositional essentialists”, hold that all fundamental properties are pure dispositions (Ellis 2001; Molnar 2003; Mumford 2004; Bird 2007). On this view, once we have fully described how the electron is disposed to behave, e.g., the disposition to repel other electrons and to attract positrons, or the disposition to exert gravitational attraction on other entities with mass, we have thereby said everything there is to be said about the nature of the electron. Entities on this view are not so much beings as doings.

However, there are powerful arguments against the intelligibility of dispositional essentialism. Most discussed is the charge that attempts to characterize the nature of properties under the assumption of dispositional essentialism lead to vicious regress (Robinson 1982; Blackburn 1990; Armstrong 1997; Heil 2003; Lowe 2006; Goff 2017: ch. 6). For any given disposition X, we understand the nature of X only when we know the nature of its manifestation, that is, the property it gives rise to when manifested. For example, the manifestation of flammability is burning; we only know what flammability is when we know that burning is its manifestation. However, assuming dispositional essentialism the manifestation of any disposition X will be another disposition, call it “Y”. To know the nature of X we need to know the nature of Y. But we can only know the nature of Y by knowing the nature of its manifestation, which will be another disposition, call it “Z”. To know the nature of Z we need to know the nature of its manifestation, and so on ad infinitum. The buck is continually passed, and hence an adequate understanding of the nature of any property is impossible, even for an omniscient being; in other words, a dispositional essentialist world is unintelligible. Russell records the moral of the story thus:

There are many possible ways of turning some things hitherto regarded as “real” into mere laws concerning the other things. Obviously there must be a limit to this process, or else all the things in the world will merely be each other’s washing (Russell 1927: 325)

If this argument is sound, then physical theory will never provide us with a complete and adequate account of the nature of the material world. The job of physics is to provide us with mathematical models that accurately predict the behaviour of matter. This is incredibly useful information; rich understanding of the causal structure of matter has enabled us to manipulate the natural world in all sorts of extraordinary ways, allowing us to build lasers and hairdryers, and to put men on the moon. Indeed we can explain the extraordinary success of physics in terms of the fact that from Galileo onwards it focused on this more limited project of capturing matter’s causal structure, rather than speculating about the underlying nature of the stuff that has that structure.

However, as philosophers we may be interested in finding out what the intrinsic nature of matter is, or at least having our best guess as to what it might be. And if the above line of reasoning is correct, we must look beyond physics for this. The panpsychist has a proposal: the intrinsic nature of matter is, at least in part, consciousness. Supposing for the sake of discussion that electrons are fundamental constituents of reality, the panpsychist proposal is as follows: physics tells us how an electron behaves, but in and of itself the electron is essentially a thing that instantiates consciousness (of presumably some extremely basic kind).

What is to be said in favour of this proposal? The first thing to say is that it is not obvious that we have an alternative proposal, at least at present. We learn about matter through its causal impact on our senses or on our measuring devices; as Eddington (1928: 58–60; quoted in Strawson 2006a) put it “Our knowledge of the nature of the objects treated in physics consists solely of readings of pointers [on instrument dials] and other indicators”. It’s hard to see how this indirect method of investigating matter could yield insight into its intrinsic nature. Derk Pereboom (2011) has suggested that future thinkers may through imagination theorise their way to a positive hypothesis concerning the intrinsic nature of matter, and such a proposal may turn out to have empirical support, or theoretical support of some other kind. However, at least as they are currently conceived of, the physical sciences have no use for speculation concerning matter’s intrinsic nature. It is arguable that our choice is between the panpsychist proposal and the view that the intrinsic nature of matter is “we know not what”.

Furthermore, assuming the falsity of dualism, we know that the intrinsic nature of at least some matter is consciousness-involving: namely the matter of brains (or whole organisms if we think that organisms are the bearers of consciousness). This is perhaps our only real clue as to the intrinsic nature of matter in general; as regards the intrinsic nature of stuff outside of brains (or of the parts of brains) we can only speculate. Goff (2016, 2017: ch. 7) has argued that from this epistemic starting point there is a clear “simplicity argument” in favour of panpsychism: in the absence of any reason to suppose otherwise, the most simple, elegant, parsimonious hypothesis is that the matter outside of brains is continuous with the matter of brains in also having a consciousness-involving nature. Eddington (1928: 259–60; quoted in Strawson 2003) remarked that it was rather “silly”, given that we know nothing from physics of the intrinsic nature of matter, to suppose that its nature is incongruent with mentality and then to wonder where mentality comes from. These panpsychists try to put the onus is on their opponents to come up with a non-panpsychist proposal as to the intrinsic nature of matter, and to give reasons to prefer it to the prima facie much simpler and more parsimonious panpsychist proposal.

3.3 Other Arguments for Panpsychism

Whereas the anti-emergence argument discussed above tries to show that panpsychism offers the best account of the synchronic dependence of biological consciousness on more fundamental features of reality, genetic arguments try to show that panpsychism offers the best account of the development of biological consciousness in evolutionary history.[20] Such arguments turn on the assumption that evolution is a continuous process that molds pre-existing properties into more complex forms, but that cannot produce “entirely novel” properties. William Clifford puts the argument thus:

… 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…. (Clifford [1874] 1886: 266)

A similar argument is due to James:

we ought … to try every possible mode of conceiving of consciousness so that it may not appear equivalent to the irruption into the universe of a new nature non-existent to then. ([1890] 1950: 148)

More recently, Goff (2013) has argued that consciousness is not vague, and that this leads to a sorites-style argument for panpsychism. Very roughly if consciousness does not admit of borderline cases, then we will have to suppose that some utterly precise micro-level change—down to an exact arrangement of particles—marked the first appearance of consciousness (or the change from non-conscious to conscious embryo/foetus), and it is going to seem arbitrary that it was that utterly precise change that was responsible for this significant change in nature.

A final important motivation for panpsychism comes from the need to account for mental causation in a way that is consistent with alleged causal closure of the physical: the thesis that every physical event has a sufficient physical cause (Chalmers 2015; Goff 2017: ch. 6). If, as the dualist believes, consciousness exists outside the physical world, it is hard to see how it could impact on a causally closed physical system. But if, as the panpsychist believes, consciousness infuses the intrinsic nature of the material world, then consciousness and its effects are part of the causally closed system. As discussed above, this is an important motivation for the contemporary position Russellian monism.[21]

4. Objections to Panpsychism

4.1 The Incredulous Stare

Many people, both philosophers and non-philosophers, find deeply counterintuitive the idea that fundamental constituents of the physical world, such as electrons, have conscious experience. And many take this to be a good reason not to take panpsychism seriously. However, panpsychists may respond by denying that a theory’s ill-fit with our intuitions is a reason for doubting its truth. Consider the thesis that we have a common ancestors with apes, or that time flows slower when travelling at high speeds, or that a particle can exist in a superposition between distinct locations; all of these theses are highly counter-intuitive, but this gives us little or no reason to think them false.

Presumably these scientific theories are taken so seriously in spite of their strangeness because they are supported by empirical evidence. However, most arguments for panpsychism start from a datum which is known with greater certainty than the data of observation and experiments: the existence of human consciousness. Of course the mere existence of human consciousness does not logically entail the truth of panpsychism. There are always an infinite number of theories consistent with the data, and we must choose between them on the basis of theoretical virtues, such as parsimony and simplicity. But if it could be shown that panpsychism provides the best explanation of the existence of human and animal consciousness, or that it is the most parsimonious theory of the intrinsic nature of matter (given that the only clue we have as to the intrinsic nature of matter is that some of it involves consciousness), this would give us strong support for the truth of panpsychism in spite of its prima facie strangeness.

Consider the following analogy (Goff 2016, 2017: ch. 7). Einstein’s theory of special relativity is empirically equivalent to the Lorentzian theory that preceded it; and if our concern is fit with commonsense then Lorentz’s theory is superior as it preserves our commonsense notion of absolute time. However, the scientific community almost universally went for Einstein’s view on the grounds of its greater simplicity and elegance. Similarly, we should assess panpsychism on the grounds of its theoretical virtue and explanatory power, rather than the fact that most Western people find it strange.

4.2 The Combination Problem

It is generally agreed, both by its proponents and by its opponents, that the hardest problem facing panpsychism is what has become known as the “combination problem”. This term comes from William Seager (1995), although in the contemporary literature the problem itself is generally traced back to William James ([1890] 1981).[22] The combination problem is most obviously a challenge for constitutive micropsychism, although as we shall see there are forms of it that threaten other kinds of panpsychism. According to constitutive micropsychism, micro-level entities have their own very basic forms of conscious experience, and in brains these micro-level conscious entities somehow come together to constitute human and animal consciousness. The problem is that this is very difficult to make sense of: “little” conscious subjects of experience with their micro-experiences coming together to form a “big” conscious subject with its own experiences.

The inspiration for the problem is the following passage from James:

Take a hundred of them [feelings], shuffle them and pack them as close together as you can (whatever that may mean); still each remains the same feeling it always was, shut in its own skin, windowless, ignorant of what the other feelings are and mean. There would be a hundred-and first-feeling there, if, when a group or series of such feelings where set up, a consciousness belonging to the group as such should emerge. And this 101st feeling would be a totally new fact; the 100 feelings might, by a curious physical law, be a signal for its creation, when they came together; but they would have no substantial identity with it, not it with them, and one could never deduce the one from the others, nor (in any intelligible sense) say that they evolved it. (James [1890] 1981: 160)b

In fact, if one reads on in the text one finds that James’ argument is that there is no mental combination because there is no combination whatsoever (Shani 2010). James believes that in reality there are only particles arranged in various ways, which give rise to the idea of composite objects by the effects they have on our senses. The denial that there are any composite objects whatsoever is fairly radical. However, contemporary philosophers have been inspired by the above passage to think that there is something specifically troubling about the notion of mental combination, a concern that doesn’t obviously arise in the physical case. At least on the face of it we have no problem with the idea of bricks forming a house, or mechanical parts forming a car engine. But the idea of many minds forming some other mind is much harder to get your head around (so to speak).

The general consensus among panpsychists is that there is currently no wholly adequate solution to the combination problem. However, this is not obviously a reason to think the panpsychist research project is not worth pursuing. Compare: it was only many decades after Darwin and Wallace formulated the principle of natural selection that modern genetics developed, and indeed there are many deep problems facing the Darwinian research project that remain unsolved. It takes time to move from a broad theoretical framework to a complete theory with all the details filled in. It is only recently that panpsychism is once again being taken seriously by contemporary philosophers and neuroscientists (e.g., Tononi & Koch 2015). If it does eventually produce a perfectly adequate account of human consciousness and of the nature of matter, this will no doubt only be after many decades or centuries of serious inter-disciplinary work.

4.3 The Subject-Summing Problem

The kind of mental combination which is generally taken to be most troubling is subject-summing: the combination of distinct conscious subjects into a single conscious mind. And hence the paradigmatic form of the combination problem is the subject-summing problem.

The subject-summing problem, and indeed all forms of the combination problem, can be construed in a stronger or a milder form. In its milder form it is taken to be a challenge that the panpsychist must address in the long run, either by eventually coming up with an adequate theoretical account of mental combination, or at least by explaining why such an account is beyond our ken. Almost all panpsychists accept this challenge, and one major activity of the contemporary panpsychism research project is attempting to solve (or circumnavigate) the subject-summing problem and the combination problem more generally.

In its stronger form the subject-summing problem takes the form of an argument to the conclusion that subject-summing is incoherent or impossible, and hence that panpsychism—or at least constitutive micropsychism—must be false. Sam Coleman (2014), for example, has argued that subject-summing is incoherent on the grounds that each subject has a viewpoint that excludes the viewpoints of all other subjects. The essence of my current point of view as a conscious subject is a matter not just of the conscious experiences I am positively having, but of the fact that I am having those experiences and no others. The same could be said of the essence of the point of view you are currently enjoying. If my point of view and your point of view were to be combined into an “uber-mind”, then that uber-mind would have to have both your experiences to the exclusion of all other experiences and my experiences to the exclusion of all other experiences. This seems flatly contradictory, assuming that you and I have different experiences. If this argument works, it ought to apply to the much simpler points of view of micro-level subjects, thus rendering constitutive micropsychism incoherent.[23]

Another attempt to demonstrate the impossibility of subject-summing is found in Goff’s (2009, 2017) conceivability argument against mental combination. Goff reads into the above James passage a claim about conceivability:

Conceivable Isolation of Subjects (CIS)—For any group of subjects, \(S_{1}\), \(S_{2}\), …, \(S_{n}\), and any conscious states, \(E_{1}\), \(E_{2}\), …, \(E_{n}\), the following scenario is conceivable: there are \(S_{1}\), \(S_{2}\), …, \(S_{n}\) instantiating \(E_{1}\), \(E_{2}\), …, \(E_{n}\), but it’s not the case that there is a subject \(S*\) such that \(S*\) is not identical with any of \(S_{1}\), \(S_{2}\) … \(S_{n}\).

Building on this he argues that we can conceive of a “micro-experiential zombie”, defined as a creature that is:

  • Physically indiscernible from an actual human being,
  • Such that each of its micro-level parts has conscious experience.
  • Such that no macro-level part of the organism has conscious experience.

If we can infer from the conceivability to the possibility of such creatures, then the falsity of constitutive micropsychism seems to follow. For the constitutive micropsychist holds that the facts about micro-subjects wholly account for the existence of macro-level conscious subjects. But if it is possible for the facts about micro-subjects to obtain in the absence of any macro-level consciousness—which on the face of it seems to be the case in a world of micro-experiential zombies—then it seems that the facts about micro-subjects cannot wholly account for the existence of macro-level consciousness (it’s generally assumed that for fact X to ground fact Y, it must be the case that X necessitates Y). In that sense, it’s impossible for subjects to sum.

This is a particularly worrying argument for the panpsychist, as she generally motivates her view in terms of a rejection of physicalism: if physicalist accounts of consciousness are implausible then this can motivate turning to panpsychism as an alternative. However, the most common way of rejecting physicalism is via a conceivability argument of the above form, roughly: we can conceive of the physical facts of the body and brain obtaining in the absence of the facts about consciousness, and hence the physical facts cannot wholly account for the facts about consciousness (see Chalmers 2009 and Goff 2017). If the same form of argument also applies to the panpsychist account of macro-level consciousness—the kind of consciousness we surely want explained at the end of the day—then it seems we’ve got nowhere. (Note that this worry does not threaten the intrinsic nature argument for panpsychism, discussed above).[24]

For further details, see the supplementary document Possible Solutions to the Subject-Summing Problem.

4.4 Other Forms of the Combination Problem

In David Chalmers’ (2016) taxonomy of the combination problem, there are three dimensions of difficulty:

  • Difficulties relating to subject combination: the core difficulty being the subject-summing problem
  • Difficulties relating to quality combination: the core difficulty being the palette problem
  • Difficulties relating to combination of structure: the core difficulties being the structural mismatch problem and the grain problem.

We have already covered the subject-summing problem in some detail. I turn now to a briefer treatment of problems pertaining to quality and structure.

4.4.1 The Palette Problem

Human consciousness is a rich and wonderful thing. In any given sense modality, we enjoy an incredible variety of qualities. Moreover, prima facie the delightful qualities we enjoy in one sense modality seem to be wildly different from the sensory qualities we enjoy in any other sensory modality; what it’s like to smell, for example, seems to have nothing in common with what it’s like to see a colour. For the panpsychist all this richness and variety results from fundamental kinds of mental qualities, which panpsychists tend to suppose are quite small in number (e.g., for Russellian monists basic conscious properties are the intrinsic nature of the basic properties picked out by physics, which are relatively few in number). The palette problem (Chalmers 2016), expressed as metaphor, goes as follows: How is it that the richly painted canvas of human experiences is produced from such a small palette of paints?

Numerous speculative solutions have been offered to the palette problem. Patrick Lewtas (forthcoming) avoids the palette problem altogether by postulating an enormous number of fundamental micro-experiential properties, one corresponding to every basic quality we find in human experience. Luke Roelofs (2014, 2015) develops a form of constitutive micropsychism according to which we cannot recognise or imagine the basic micro-conscious ingredients which make up human consciousness, because we never experience them in isolation from the extremely complex combinations we find in our experience; given that we are unable even to imagine the micro-conscious ingredients, we have no good reason to deny that those ingredients are extremely small in number. Keith Turausky (2012, Other Internet Resources) considers the view that perhaps there is just one fundamental mental quality that somehow contains all others, in something like the way white light contains all colours.

4.4.2 The Structural Mismatch Problem

Human conscious experience is not only rich in qualities, but also rich in structure. For example visual experience appears to have a structure that corresponds to the spatial environment being experienced, and experience as a whole comes carved up into distinct sensory modalities. The structure of our experience seems very different from the structure of the brain, at either the micro or the macro level. For the dualist this is of course not a worry, as the conscious mind is a completely distinct entity from the brain. However, many panpsychists believe that the conscious mind is identical with, or bears a very intimate relationship with, the brain. Most Russellian monists, for example, believe that the conscious mind is the intrinsic nature of the brain. And all constitutive micropsychists think that human experience is grounded in the properties of micro-level entities. Thus, these forms of panpsychism face the challenge of explaining how the rich structure of consciousness results from, or at least co-exists with, the seemingly very different structure of the brain. Perhaps the most discussed form of the structural mismatch problem is the grain problem (Maxwell 1979; Lockwood 1993): the worry that experiences seem to be smooth and continuous in a way that is at odds with the discrete, particularized structure of brain properties.

Again there are numerous proposals for addressing the worry. Michael Lockwood (1993) suggests that the worry only arises when we are implicitly thinking of the brain in terms of classical physics, and that it evaporates when we explicitly adopt more recent scientific paradigms. Stoljar (2001) argues that the alleged problem arises from philosophers confusing the structure of consciousness itself with the structure of what is represented by consciousness. Nagasawa & Wager (2016) suggest that the problem goes away when we adopt cosmopsychism rather than micropsychism, because we no longer suppose that the structure of the macro-level brain is derived from its structure at the micro-level. Roelofs (2015: 182–97) has argued, echoing certain views of Leibniz and Spinoza, that the structure of our conscious experience might outstrip our awareness of it. Goff (2017: ch. 8) argues that we do find structure in the brain isomorphic with the structure of consciousness, so long as we consider less basic kinds of brain structure; and hence the moral of the story is that there is much more consciousness present in the brain than we ordinarily suppose, corresponding both to more basic and to less basic brain structures (cf. Roelofs 2015: 213–28 and Chalmers 2016: 7.8).

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