Is Panpsychism Inconsistent with Physics?

8 Jan

I’ve been commenting on this piece that tries to argue in a not particularly sophisticated way that panpsychism is inconsistent with physics. For some reason, my comments have come up under the name “Art Uncut,” which was a now defunct campaigning group I was involved in 8 years ago. Here is my final comment:

I’ll try to explain the view one more time. Physics gives us behavioural structure; panpsychism is a proposal about what underlies that behavioural structure. Think about a mathematical model in economics that’s just a bunch of equations that abstracts away from the concrete realities of labour, prices, etc. The reality of labour doesn’t add to the reality specified by that model; to the contrary, labour is the very thing one of those symbols refers to! Similarly, according to panpsychism, physics gives us mathematical models that abstract away from the concrete reality of a universe filled with consciousness. The term ‘mass’ refers to something that physics characterises in terms of its behaviour but which in its intrinsic nature is a form of consciousness. If that view makes sense, then there’s no conflict with physics. There are all sorts of ways you could (and people do) challenge it, but you haven’t given us one.

Indeed, the very reason philosophers like David Chalmers, Sam Coleman and myself are interested in this form of panpsychism is that, in contrast to dualism, it avoids a conflict with physics. There’s been a significant number of peer reviewed articles published in academic journals on this view in the past 10 years or so. Do you really think that if there were such a basic conflict with physics, it would not have been picked up on before? Philosophers working on this stuff may be profoundly misguided, but we’re not idiots.

I’ll leave it there.

11 Responses to “Is Panpsychism Inconsistent with Physics?”

  1. I found her comments, especially in the comments really rather distasteful. Among other juvenile barbs she openly questioned why you deserve to have your job.

    Given that her entire article was based upon a grotesque (one might say quite embarrassing/naive) misreading of what panpsychism, both in in ancient and modern forms, is arguing for I found really distasteful.

    (I also came across her article from a philosopher, Massimo Pigliucci, who retweeted it approvingly!)

  2. Lee Roetcisoender January 13, 2019 at 5:01 pm #

    Everyone is entitled to a narrow, bigoted opinion, even Sabine. I can appreciate the work that you and others are doing on the panpsychism front, nevertheless, as long as you and others insist upon grounding all potential theories in a form of “Realism”, those theories are dead on arrival. Realism as a grounding architecture is an albatross, the only model that will avoid dualism in one form or another is an architecture grounded in the reality-appearance distinction, a model which asserts strict monism.


  3. Marco Lin (@marcolin91) January 19, 2019 at 8:12 pm #

    Dear Philip,

    While I personally lean towards a form of monism congruent with panpsychism (although I’m not sympathetic to most formulations), I was wondering if there is a justification for calling it panpsychism. As I see it the most compelling argument is that a priori we cannot justify a distinction between different forms of reality at the fundamental level, only how it manifests. With the irrefutable reality of quantum mechanics and thus indeterminism at (what is at the moment closest to) the fundamental level, all possible grounding for the distinction has fallen away.

    But anyone who would hold a panpsychist or monist view along these lines, can also not a priori justify anything that suggests a primacy of the mental or conscious. In other words it *implies* a similar mistake present in a dualist view, or any other view that rejects panpsychism: that there is an ontological primacy of either one or the other. Although I admit it does not mean that people truly believe so, but I cannot see the justification for even the (strong) implication that they do, not to mention that the implication should have non-trivial effects on those exposed to the idea, either being unnecessarily attractive to those unsympathetic, and unnecessarily disposing to the fallacy for those sympathetic.

    Would love to hear your thoughts, cheers!

    • conscienceandconsciousness January 25, 2019 at 2:23 pm #

      The form of panpsychism I defend is not dualistic: it’s not there are physical properties on the one hand and mental properties on the other. Physics describes ‘mass’ in terms of its behaviour, but in and of itself mass is a form of consciousness. I don’t think quantum mechanics makes that picture problematic.

      • Lee Roetcisoender January 25, 2019 at 4:32 pm #

        Is your current model still based upon a version of cosmo-panpsychism or has your position been revised to reflect micro-panpsychism? And also: Is your model predicated upon property dualism like Chalmers?


      • Marco January 29, 2019 at 10:21 am #

        Sorry I think I might have no made clear what issue I’m exactly raising. I’m aware you do not defend a form of dualism, nor as if QM makes the picture you are defending problematic.

        I was purely curious about your take on what I believe is sort of a pragmatic issue in terms of communication. I’m sure you’re aware Panpsychism is getting too diverse to be placed in a single umbrella term, especially in terms of distinguishing an implicit adherence to a primacy of a mental or conscious ontology, versus a primacy of neither.

        My point is that simply calling a theory or view pan*psychism* or implying it is an appropriate characteristic description, implicitly suggests that there’s a primacy of the mental or conscious, rather than a primacy of something neutral.

        Of course maybe I misunderstood and that’s actually what you’re adhering too, but I was hoping to get an explicit answer on that matter.

        Thanks, and good luck with the Papineau debate!

      • conscienceandconsciousness January 29, 2019 at 10:49 pm #

        @Marco, I do favour a primacy of consciousness, rather than a neutral base.
        @I think I’m now more attracted to an emergentism micro view, but I think we should keep all options on the table. It’s early days! It’s not property dualism though: there are only the properties denoted by the terms of physics, e.g. mass charge, etc. It’s just that those properties are forms of consciousness.

      • Lee Roetcisoender February 11, 2019 at 3:57 pm #

        Regarding my posts on January 30 & 31: If you or any of your colleagues are interested in reviewing my work, I can be reached at (… With that said, I will not trouble you any longer.


  4. brodix January 19, 2019 at 11:04 pm #

    I think there are various issues humanity needs to clarify, before going that deep.
    For instance, as mobile organisms, we evolved a sequential thought process and memory storage. Which makes the resulting past to future narrative foundational to our comprehension of reality, that even physics codifies as measures of duration.
    Yet the cause is change turning future to past. Potential>actual>residual. Tomorrow becomes yesterday, because the earth turns.
    Which makes time an effect of action, similar to temperature, pressure, color, frequency, etc. Duration is the present, as events form and dissolve.
    Different clocks can run at different rates because they are separate actions. The turtle is still plodding along, long after the hare has died, because it has a slower metabolic clock rate and no space travel is necessary.
    Time is asymmetric because action is inertial. The earth turns one direction, not both.
    There is no physical dimension of time because the present consumes the past, in order to be informed by it. Causation/conservation of energy.
    Basically reality is a dichotomy of energy and the form it manifests. As energy is constantly changing form, it creates the effect of time. So energy goes from past to future forms, as these forms coalesce and dissolve, go future to past.
    This goes to processes and entities. Consider a factory, where the product goes from start to finish, future to past, while the production line goes the other way, consuming material and expelling product. Life is similar, as individuals go birth to death, being in the future, to being in the past, while the species moves onto future generations, shedding old.
    As does our consciousness go from prior to succeeding thoughts, as these thoughts form and dissolve. Which suggests that consciousness functions as a form of energy.
    Which gets to the premise of monotheism. The logical fallacy of which is that a spiritual absolute would logically be the essence of sentience, from which we rise, not an ideal of knowledge, wisdom and judgement, from which we fell. More the new born baby, than the wise old man. The Ancients did tend to invoke this emotion and nature into heir theological models, but we have settled on this top down, father figure lawgiver and his Ten Commandments. Which, not coincidently, validates authority and order over all else.
    Consider as well, that galaxies are energy radiating out, as mass(form) coalesces in, in a cosmic convection cycle.
    Consider as well that as these mobile organisms, we developed a central nervous system to process the information/form of our environment, along with a digestive, respiratory and circulatory systems to process the energy driving they information gather onward. Motor and steering.
    Consider as well the tendency to associate the heart and gut with emotions.
    I would also argue the left, rational side of the brain amounts to a clock, while the right, emotional side amounts to a thermostat.
    Those most professionally involved in formalizing reality have settled into mathematical formalization, as foundational, rather than the dynamics driving it, so while God might be dead, we still live in its shadow.
    Just some thoughts to consider.

  5. Lee Roetcisoender January 30, 2019 at 12:05 am #


    Thanks for responding. “…there are only the properties denoted by the terms of physics, e.g. mass charge, etc. It’s just that those properties are forms of consciousness.”

    Your are preaching to the choir now Philip. My models are grounded in the reality-appearance distinction, a model I’ve coined the “immortal principle”. The immortal principle is a revision of transcendental idealism without the built in paradox of the “thing-in-itself” being unknowable. What makes the immortal principle an ideal model is that the ontological primitive of the “thing-in-itself” is both knowable and quantifiable. Subsequently, the underlying, qualitative properties of the ontological primitive are easily recognizable as the convergent point of singularity responsible for causation. It’s a profoundly “ideal” model, one that can be articulated, and one that is fully capable of overcoming the infamous combination problem because of my universal axioms, distinctions and theorems.

    My work is complete; but to date, it has not been published and I have not shared my models with anyone because it’s my intellectual property. If my models can be apprehended and validated by other leading theoretical philosophers, the immortal principle will rival in both scale and scope the geo-centric universe and the flat earth syndrome. The time has come for a dramatic change in understanding…


  6. Lee Roetcisoender January 31, 2019 at 3:44 pm #

    Here’s an additional caveat…

    Consciousness is a feature of the “thing-in-itself”. Consciousness is “not” a qualitative property of the ontological primitive as such. This distinction needs to be firmly established and rigorously maintained. As a feature of Reality, consciousness is the continuous, linear system that the discrete systems of appearances run on. According to this model, mass, spin and charge, etc, are all discrete systems that are forms of consciousness.

    Furthermore, every discrete system without exception is a self-contained, solipsistic self-model. Therefore, every discrete system is nothing more than a “condition”, and that condition is the possibility of other discrete systems. These emergent discrete systems make up the fundamental building blocks of our phenomenal world, the same emergent, discrete systems which coalesce into the diversity and novelty of the entire expression.

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