There was a rather crude attack on panpsychism published last week in the Swiss newspaper Neue Zürcher Zeitung. It contained the usual cliched “arguments” – accusing panpsychists of being anti-science and really just seeking the comforts of religion – without really addressing the roots of the problem of consciousness and the merits of the panpsychist solution. On Friday there was an excellent reply by Godehard Brüntrup, Professor of Philosophy at the Munich School of Philosophy.
It’s to be expected that a proposal that pushes at the limits of our scientific paradigm should meet resistance. The irony is, physical science was never designed to deal with consciousness; indeed it has been so successful precisely because Galileo kicked things off by taking consciousness outside of its domain of enquiry and thereby gave physical scientists a more manageable task (roughly formulating mathematical models to capture the behaviour of matter). We are currently going through a phase of history where people are so blown away by the success of physical science, and the technology that has resulted from it, that they have become inclined to place all of their metaphysical faith in it. But physical science was designed for prediction not metaphysics, and its failure to explain consciousness is just one symptom of this fact.
I guess the reaction panpsychists seem to be getting is evidence that we’re having some impact. As Oscar Wilde said, the only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about. In academic philosophy, panpsychism has gone from being laughed at to becoming a respected minority position. My aim now, partly through the book I’m currently working on, is to put the arguments to a general audience. I have little doubt than in twenty years time, the idea that panpsychism can be quickly dismissed as “crazy” will be seen as, well, crazy.