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Galileo's Error is a superlative work of public philosophy, particularly as a way of introducing modern academic panpsychism to a broader audience. In this commentary, I reflect on an issue that is prominent, though often with different background concerns, in both academic and popular discourse: what it means to be 'scientific' or 'unscientific'. Panpsychism is not itself a scientific hypothesis, but neither is it (as critics sometimes claim) in conflict with science. Indeed, Goff argues, and I agree, that panpsychism is an eminently scientific worldview, in the sense of a way of viewing reality that accords with and embraces what science reveals. But what exactly it means to 'accord with and embrace' science is disputed; this paper tries to untangle some of the threads.
Journal of Consciousness Studies, 28, No. 9–10, 2021, pp. 116–28
DOI: 10.53765/20512201.28.9.116
Luke Roelofs
Is Panpsychism at
Odds with Science?
Abstract: Galileo’s Error is a superlative work of public philosophy,
particularly as a way of introducing modern academic panpsychism to
a broader audience. In this commentary, I reflect on an issue that is
prominent, though often with different background concerns, in both
academic and popular discourse: what it means to be ‘scientific’ or
‘unscientific’. Panpsychism is not itself a scientific hypothesis, but
neither is it (as critics sometimes claim) in conflict with science.
Indeed, Goff argues, and I agree, that panpsychism is an eminently
scientific worldview, in the sense of a way of viewing reality that
accords with and embraces what science reveals. But what exactly it
means to ‘accord with and embrace’ science is disputed; this paper
tries to untangle some of the threads.
1. Introduction
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. Science is great, but it has
limits. We should accept its contributions but recognize those limits,
the things it can’t tell us, the mysteries it can’t address, the questions it
will never answer. For those things, we should look beyond science,
to… and usually at this point, whoever is speaking will insert their
favoured idea, product, or organization. Often the idea, product, or
organization in question is somewhere on the spectrum from harmless
nonsense to harmful nonsense. So it could be understandable for
someone seeing Philip Goff give a similar-sounding spiel (‘Galileo
New York University, NY, USA.
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was great, but let me tell you about his Error…’) to be immediately
suspicious. Combining this with a self-confessedly weird pitch
electrons are conscious! — seems to warrant even more suspicion, and
so does the vague affinity sometimes claimed (either by critics or
defenders) between panpsychism and various other -isms often viewed
with suspicion, like ‘animism’ or ‘pantheism’. It could be enough to
make one feel that the whole idea has ‘the faintly sickening odour of
something cooked up in the metaphysical laboratory’ (Nagel, 1986, p.
And recently there’s been no shortage of people ostentatiously
holding their noses: panpsychism is ‘a philosophically motivated
pseudoscience’, according to Barry Smith,
‘the consequence of
knowing next to no science’, according to Patricia Churchland,
‘crazy hypothesis [with] not a shred of evidence supporting it’,
according to Jerry Coyne,
and ‘one of several major steps backwards
taken by philosophers over recent years’, according to Dan Kaufman.
Anecdotally, I’ve been disappointed by people I know throwing pan-
psychism in with belief in literal deities, reliance on healing crystals,
and opposition to vaccines: the low point was someone challenging
me to explain what differentiates panpsychism from the reactionary
conspiracy theory Q-anon. While Goff’s excellent book is a remarka-
ble achievement in bringing complex philosophical ideas to a wider
audience, more exposure for panpsychism is likely to mean more of
this kind of suspicion.
I think this suspicion is misplaced, but I do have a little sympathy:
in a world where the internet seems to connect us with a million
charlatans every day, we have to reject most things out of hand, and
one could do worse than treating ‘Science is great, but…’ as a red
flag. It’s not too much of an exaggeration to say that unscientific
beliefs nearly overthrew US democracy, hamstrung responses to a
global pandemic, and are in the process of rendering the Earth
uninhabitable for humans. A cultural shift towards refusing to give
That this is said by someone in the course of offering an argument for panpsychism is,
of course, somewhat ironic.
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unscientific-sounding ideas the benefit of the doubt would probably be
a net good right about now.
One of the striking things about many of the attacks on panpsychism
is how endlessly they recycle objections that Goff has already
patiently dismantled, both in this book and, often, in direct conversa-
tions with people like Churchland. I don’t think I would add much
value by just repeating Goff’s points, but perhaps there’s value in
spending a bit of time identifying and criticizing the things that are
unacceptably unscientific, rather than just explaining why pan-
psychism isn’t. So in this paper I want to focus on that on
analysing what sort of views a scientific outlook should rule out, and
how panpsychism does and doesn’t relate to them.
2. ‘Being Scientific’ as Accepting Current Science
We can distinguish a few ways for a view to try to be ‘scientific’. The
first and simplest is compatibility with science, specifically regarding
the world’s causal structure. Panpsychists of Goff’s variety are very
interested in certain things science can’t tell us, but what it certainly
can tell us is what causes what, and when, where, and how. A basic
requirement for a worldview to be scientific is that it treat science as
the final authority on this: if the best available science says that A can
only cause B under X conditions, then A can only cause B under X
conditions. That means, in particular, ruling out phenomena like
telepathy, psychokinesis, ESP, spoonbending, precognition, past life
regression, and communication with the dead, since all of these would
require causal mechanisms sharply different from any of the gravita-
tional, nuclear, and electromagnetic ones recognized by current
science. Of course, there may turn out to be technological ways to
produce phenomena like this — radiotransmitting neural implants that
effect a sort of telepathy, for instance — but we’ll have to devise them
first, and in the meantime we should confidently reject
It should go without saying that panpsychists agree with all this
(Goff certainly does). But I have sometimes encountered the idea,
both from friends of panpsychism and from its enemies, that it might
somehow make space for parapsychology in a way that materialism
doesn’t. After all, if the spoon in my hand is just consciousness — if,
as on some versions of the view, it and I are just two permutations of
the same cosmic consciousness then shouldn’t it make sense for
this consciousness to be able to speak directly to that consciousness?
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No. Unromantic as it may seem, the cosmic consciousness seems to be
rigidly and inflexibly committed to certain laws of action, which
dictate that we can bend the spoon only by applying the familiar sorts
of forces, for instance by means of those permutations of the cosmic
mind that we customarily call our ‘hands’. After all, it’s not as if we
need panpsychism in order to unsettle our everyday view of spoons:
we already know a spoon is just a complex of ripples in the universal
quantum wave function, like us. But alas, grasping that truth will not
help us bend it, except by means of those complex ripples in the
universal quantum wave function that we customarily call our ‘hands’.
3. ‘Being Scientific’ as
Accepting Likely Future Science
Here is a second, slightly more aggressive, way in which a worldview
might try to be ‘scientific’. It might aim for compatibility, not just
with presently established science, but with where science looks like
it’s going. That is, it might try to pre-emptively incorporate the most
ambitious, complete way for present science to advance — as opposed
to exploiting whatever ‘gaps’ and uncertainties may exist at present.
There is obviously more room for controversy about what this
demands: different philosophical assumptions will predict different
future advances. Indeed, the central dispute between Goff and critics
like Churchland is whether a particular gap the explanatory gap
between objective and subjective descriptions should be expected
to close with more scientific work. But it is crucial that panpsychists
have well-understood arguments for the special status of this gap:
they’re not just observing that we don’t have an answer yet, not just
exploiting whatever gaps happen to exist.
As Goff notes (2019, p. 162), I defend a version of panpsychism
committed to micro-reductionism: a complete account of the facts
about the smallest components of nature, and their relations to one
another, will determine all the facts about the larger components
the ‘bottom level’ fully determines all the higher levels.
This is
This goes in reverse too: a full account of the largest thing, the cosmos itself, would
determine every fact about its smaller portions. Micro-reductionism, thus understood,
isn’t opposed to holistic views of the universe as ultimately just one big thing, including
the mysticism-influenced form of holism that Goff discusses over pp. 205–11. It just
says that it’s the same universe whether we think of it as one big thing or as trillions of
little things: the forms of our description will change, but the reality described doesn’t.
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largely because, while I accept that micro-reductionism hasn’t been
(and perhaps can’t be) decisively established (as Goff discusses over
pp. 162–4), it seems to me the direction science is going, and to that
extent a micro-reductionist philosophy seems to me more attractive
than an emergentist one which posits a ‘patchwork world’ (cf.
Cartwright, 1983; cited by Goff, 2019, p. 163; see also Moran, this
On this score I think I aim for a more aggressive stance than
Goff does: while he is agnostic about micro-reductionism, I strongly
suspect that whatever gaps currently exist in our scientific reductions
of neuroscience to biochemstriy, of biochemistry to particle
physics, etc. reflect our own current limitations, not facts about
reality. Hence where I see a way of being more vigorously and pre-
emptively scientific, he sees ‘dogmas which are simply accepted as
part of the zeitgeist’ (p. 163). (As a matter of intellectual psychology,
I suspect it’s not a coincidence that I’m a compatibilist about free will
and determinism, and Goff is more sympathetic to incompatibilism.)
Another part of embracing not just the undeniable data of science
but the world-picture they seem to be suggesting is embracing the
absence of any really sharp boundaries between different kinds of
objects: between a brain and a rock lies an indefinitely gradual con-
tinuum of intermediate forms, with no place on that continuum where
anything fundamental appears or disappears. For panpsychists, this
means there is a pressure towards the sort of ‘universalist’ pan-
psychism that Goff holds off from endorsing: as he says, ‘Most
panpsychists will deny that your socks are conscious, while asserting
that they are ultimately composed of things that are conscious’ (2019,
p. 113). It’s true that most panpsychists try to restrict which composite
things are conscious, but I think this is ultimately a mistake, and I
think Goff agrees; at least, he has argued for universalism forcefully in
print (Goff, 2013; cf. Buchanan and Roelofs, 2019, pp. 3007–10).
It is worth noting here that quantum entanglement, far from being an inexplicable
anomaly for the micro-reductionist perspective, is deducible from the laws operating the
micro-level: from a full account of two particles and the way they interact, one can
predict that they will become entangled, and how this entanglement will affect the
behaviour of each.
Partly because I think universalism is ultimately more defensible, and partly just for
ease of exposition, I will sometimes put panpsychism as the idea that ‘everything is con-
scious’. In strictness this should be ‘everything is conscious or made out of conscious
parts’, but relative to the usual assumption that most things are utterly devoid of con-
sciousness, ‘conscious or made of conscious parts’ is still a pretty striking claim.
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4. An Interlude on Observational Equivalence
One upshot of (at least some forms of) panpsychism being an
aggressively scientific view, in the two senses just discussed, is that
panpsychism and materialism are robustly observationally equivalent:
no current observations discriminate between them, nor will any fore-
seeable future observations. This claim of observational equivalence
has provoked incredulity from some critics (Churchland calls it
‘probably the stupidest thing I have ever read’),
while others regard
it as correct, but fatally undermining panpsychism by rendering it
unfalsifiable and therefore nonsensical (I’ve not yet seen a good
response to the natural rejoinder that this standard implies the exact
same verdict for materialism). I think the claim of observational
equivalence is basically correct, and indeed central to properly under-
standing the dispute between panpsychism and its rivals, but in full
strictness it requires two important qualifications.
First, it is not quite true that panpsychism and materialism predict
all the same observations; they differ on one crucial observational
prediction, though which one it is depends on the observer. From my
perspective, they differ in their predictions about whether or not I am
subjectively conscious: panpsychism predicts that I should be, while
materialism gives no basis for predicting this. I say this because of the
much-discussed explanatory gap: we cannot see any explanation of
consciousness on a purely material basis, any reason why some
amount of movements-and-forces-in-space should feel some way. And
so if we did not know already, from the first person, that we are con-
scious, then nothing in the world-picture provided by materialism
would give us reason to expect that we should be. At least, that is my
take on what the respective theories predict: obviously there is no
shortage of debate about this. But if panpsychists are right in their
arguments — in particular, right that their theory explains human con-
sciousness and materialism does not then the upshot is that, so to
speak, if I lived in a panpsychist world, I should expect to be con-
scious, and if I lived in a physicalist world, I should have no definite
expectation on that score (or even expect not to be). Since I am
conscious, that’s a data-point in favour of panpsychism.
Of course, you can’t observe whether a prediction that I should be
conscious is borne out; from your perspective, the key observation is
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whether you are subjectively conscious, and in general each of us can
observe that we ourselves are conscious, as panpsychism predicts.
This is an odd sort of prediction — there is no single observation that
can be predicted and evaluated by the scientific establishment
collectively, but only a mass of individual observations that each indi-
vidual scientist has already made before they even look at a textbook.
I don’t think this observational difference between panpsychism and
materialism is therefore unimportant, but it cannot be denied that it is
atypical. If we confine ourselves to more standard, shareable, ‘public’
observations, panpsychism and materialism are observationally
equivalent: they differ observationally only when we recognize this
important but atypical set of observations.
There is a second difference between panpsychism and materialism
that relates to observation, but is not well captured in any summary of
‘observable evidence’. Just now I said that ‘each of us’ can observe
that we’re conscious. Who does that cover? Who, that is, counts as an
observer? This is a big question, that risks dropping out of view if we
just ask ‘what is observable?’, and skim past the question ‘to who?’.
Theories which disagree about who is an ‘observer’ are not really
‘observationally equivalent’, even if they agree about what a given
observer should expect to observe. In the words of MC Hammer,
‘when you measure, include the measurer’.
Admittedly, neither pan-
psychism nor materialism directly provide a complete answer to this
question. But panpsychism does suggest that, in so far as conscious-
ness is one key requirement for being an observer, everything in the
universe fulfils that requirement, and so is perhaps one step of the way
towards observerhood.
5. ‘Being Scientific’ as Adding No
New Elements to the Scientific Picture
A third sense in which we might want our philosophy to be scientific
is that, as well as treating science as the authority on the world’s
Isn’t it part of the scientific method to distrust private observations, to only trust what
can be publicly shared? Perhaps in the sense that I should be wary of trusting your
private observations (more precisely, your reports of them to me), but it makes no sense
for me to distrust my own private observations until they have been publicly validated
— after all, how would I learn that they had been publicly validated, except via some
perception of my own?
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causal structure, we shouldn’t add any new structure, even if we
stipulate that it has no direct causal impact. Of course, panpsychists
like Goff are in some sense ‘adding’ something to the physical picture,
namely consciousness (and lots of it!). But this isn’t posited as some-
thing additional: it’s posited as what — without realizing it — we were
talking about all along. There are electrons, they move in space, they
have negative charge and a little bit of mass: the panpsychist doesn’t
add anything to this picture, they just propose that the things already
in this picture — objects like electrons, relational structures like space,
properties like charge and mass — are in fact forms of consciousness.
This isn’t adding, it’s interpreting. And it rests on recognizing that the
physical picture itself is just under-specified: it tells us how this thing
called an ‘electron’ behaves, and how these properties called ‘charge’
affect that behaviour, but never says (never could say) what any of
this is in and of itself.
Goff talks about this idea at length, under the heading of ‘simplicity’
or ‘Ockham’s razor’, and I think he does an excellent job of explain-
ing why simplicity-based reasoning is an important, indispensable part
of any scientific worldview, and why it tells in favour of panpsychism
or materialism and against dualism. I think it’s useful to belabour the
point a little, because this concern not to add anything unnecessary
tells not only against dualism, but also against virtually any sort of
individual afterlife, and, I think, against belief in any number of gods
— at least if they are understood as intelligent agents who knowingly
pursue goals.
That is, part of the scientific spirit that drives pan-
psychism is a thorough-going opposition to anthropomorphism in our
understanding of the universe and its non-human parts.
Panpsychism’s opposition to anthropomorphism is, I suspect, some-
times a bit confusing. If we hear ‘X is conscious’, we naturally assume
that a certain basic sort of intelligence goes along with this — desiring
things, representing one’s surroundings, choosing to do things that
satisfy those desires in light of those representations, etc. If we hold
onto that link between consciousness and intelligence, then attributing
This sort of scientific spirit may still be compatible with a sort of impersonal pantheism,
something like what Einstein expresses by saying ‘I believe in Spinoza’s God, who
reveals himself in the harmony of all that exists, not in a God who concerns himself
with the fate and the doings of mankind’ (Isaacson, 2008, pp. 388–9, cf. New York
Times, 1929). See also Leidenhag (this issue) for an attempt to argue that theist pan-
psychism does better than atheist panpsychism at accomodating the principle of
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consciousness more widely will imply attributing intelligence more
widely, including to things whose behaviour and internal structure
don’t fit such a structure. And that would violate Ockham’s razor:
attributing intelligence to, say, a rock, or an electron, would mean
positing a sort of complexity — the specific content of its representa-
tions, the specific things it desires, the mechanisms by which the one
influences the other, and so on that had no correspondence to
anything scientifically determinable about its structure or behaviour.
Fortunately, attributing intelligence to rocks is not what pan-
psychism is about: it’s about holding onto the link between intelli-
gence and observable behaviour, while revising the link between con-
sciousness and intelligence. Scientific observation and study are still
the best and only ways to determine what sort of intelligence any
natural system (a rock, a river, a plant, an insect, a frog) has, what sort
of information it can absorb and process, what its cognitive capacities
are. But at present, any account of a system’s degree and forms of
intelligence tends to provoke the further, awkward, question: is it
intelligent enough to be conscious? Are its cognitive capacities
‘advanced enough’, do they cross the magic threshold for there to be
some subjective experience accompanying them? Panpsychism’s
impact is here: it dismisses this question by throwing out the whole
idea of a magic threshold, a boundary between the conscious and the
non-conscious. It replaces it with the very different question: ‘what
sorts of consciousness accompany these cognitive or informational
processes, whatever they are?’ This is the same question we already
have to ask about every system which we decide is conscious, and it’s
often a profoundly difficult question, especially as we get further and
further from human-like minds. Panpsychism doesn’t by itself answer
this question: it just tells us that we can ask this question about every
system we study, and thereby dissolves the binary question ‘conscious
or not?’.
6. An Interlude on ‘Animism’
Some readers might take the last two paragraphs to constitute a
rejection of something called ‘animism’, thought of as ascribing
human-like minds to all sorts of natural things. If that’s what you
associate with the term ‘animism’, then panpsychism is opposed to
animism. But I prefer not to use that term to express this point,
because it is so entangled with a long history of contentious meanings:
originally a term in the anthropology of religion, often used to
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caricature non-European beliefs, and given multiple contradictory
definitions by different authors with different aims (Bird-David,
1999). To the extent that the term has currency now, it is often in the
context of what is sometimes called ‘the new animism’ (see, for
example, Rose, 1996; 2003; Harvey, 2006), and in this context it
seems to express an orientation, a stance taken towards natural things,
more than it expresses any truth-claim about their nature. That is,
‘animism’ in this context is about approaching forests, rivers, mount-
ains, animal populations, and so on in a spirit of respect, with the goal
of learning from them, finding out what they need, and providing it
while taking what we need in turn. On this reading, being an animist is
a matter of practice, not belief: the practice of caring about non-human
things for their own sake. As a way of approaching things, this is not
the sort of thing that can be true or false, nor conflict or agree with any
given scientific theory or discovery. It contrasts not with doctrines,
like panpsychism or materialism, but with rival approaches, like the
exploitative instrumental approach that treats anything non-human as
a resource to be owned and used.
But a practical approach can still benefit from theoretical under-
pinnings. As Freya Mathews, a panpsychist environmental philoso-
pher, writes: ‘…animism does leave certain philosophical questions
unaddressed: which things count as alive, in the animist sense?… In
any case, what is it about animate things that entitles them to be
treated with respect[?]’ (2020, p. 133). To put it another way: the
stance of approaching something with respect presupposes that it has
some sort of needs, and that we have some way of determining what
they are. Maybe these needs belong to it as a whole, or derive from
interests of its parts or members, or inhere in its relationships to other
things; maybe on some fundamental level these different options
aren’t as distinct as we tend to think. But what sort of needs a system
is capable of having, and what its actual needs are, and how we can
find out about them are all questions that demand philosophical
I think Mathews and Goff are right that panpsychism has a lot to
offer as a theoretical underpinning for the relational orientation that
the new animists speak of: the belief that everything in nature is some
form of consciousness pairs very nicely with the attempt to approach
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everything in nature with some form of respect.
But I also think the
relationship between theory and practice here is a fairly loose relation-
ship: a materialist cosmology could potentially pair just as neatly with
animism, in so far as it tells us that human and non-human parts of
nature are fundamentally the same kind of thing, just intricate arrange-
ments of matter that, for a fleeting moment, becomes aware of itself
(cf. Goff, 2019, pp. 189–90).
So too, perhaps, could a form of
naturalistic dualism that saw the glimmer of an immaterial mind in
bears and birds and beetles, or even in trees and rivers. The only view
which is really deeply unsuited to this task is the sort of anthropo-
centric dualism which radically distinguishes human beings from all
non-human life. Ironically, this sort of dualism has little following in
academic philosophy but enormous reach in major world religions.
7. Towards a Monist United Front
The fact that panpsychism and materialism are both well-suited to
provide a metaphysical backing to a respectful, ‘animistic’ orientation
towards natural things, in a way that anthropocentric dualism is not,
points towards an important difference between the context of
academic philosophy and that of wider society. In academic philoso-
phy of mind, materialism is the hegemonic view; everything else is
defined by its departures from materialist orthodoxy. In this context,
it’s natural to group panpsychists, dualists, and other non-materialists
together, united by their status as rebels against the system.
But that doesn’t reflect the wider culture. It’s hard to know what is
the most widely accepted metaphysics of conscious, or even if most
people have a coherent position on the question, but dualism or at
least, ideas about past lives, the afterlife, and so on, that seem to
require dualism is plausibly the most widespread actual belief.
And, as Goff (2019, pp. 188–90) and Papineau (2020) suggest, many
Mathews makes this claim in much of her work, see especially Mathews (2003; 2020),
Goff (2019, pp. 188–95); cf. Skrbina (2005); Vetlesen (2019).
For this reason, I am a little wary of Mathews’ claim that ‘the environmental crisis… is
the result of an anthropocentric outlook that permeates the Western tradition’ (2020, p.
131, italics added; cf. Goff’s quotation of Naomi Klein on pp. 188–9, about the
‘corrosive separation between mind and body… from which both the Scientific Revolu-
tion and the Industrial Revolution sprang’, italics also added). I suspect that anthropo-
centric theories are more a result than a cause of environmentally destructive practices,
whose ultimate origin lies more with the practical advantages that various individuals
and societies were able to get from them.
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people’s lip service to materialism covers up an unconscious dualism.
More generally, respect for empirical science, not just as a social
institution over there in the universities but as a disciplining factor for
one’s own most heartfelt beliefs, is less widespread than we might
hope. In this context, grouping panpsychism together with dualism,
against materialism, seems to me a mistake. Much better would be, so
to speak, a ‘Monist United Front’: despite their differences in the
seminar room, panpsychists and materialists should be largely in
agreement on most worldly matters. They can agree on the importance
of following scientific consensus on empirical questions. And they can
agree that, metaphysically, there’s just us, and other things made of
the same stuff as us. Nothing outside the world, and no deep divides
or sharp boundaries within it.
One of the great virtues of Galileo’s Error is to bring contemporary
panpsychist ideas to a wider audience. And one part of that value is
that, for some people, panpsychism may offer a more satisfying and
appealing environmental philosophy than materialism does. My hope
would be that this needn’t be a point of conflict between panpsychists
and materialists; the broader culture is so full of both outright science
denialism and explicit or implicit dualism that the points of agreement
between panpsychists and materialists are more important than their
points of disagreement. This is especially so in environmental matters,
where respect for scientific consensus and recognition of fundamental
kinship between humans and nature are so desperately needed.
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relational epistemology, Current Anthropology, 40s, pp. 67–91.
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Skrbina, D. (2005) Panpsychism in the West, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Vetlesen, A. (2019) Cosmologies of the Anthropocene: Panpsychism, Animism,
and the Limits of Posthumanism, Abingdon: Taylor & Francis.
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Provides a cosmological version of panpsychism and its environmental implications.
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Some philosophical theories of consciousness imply consciousness in things we would never intuitively think are conscious—most notably, panpsychism implies that consciousness is pervasive, even outside complex brains. Is this a reductio ab absurdum for such theories, or does it show that we should reject our original intuitions? To understand the stakes of this question as clearly as possible, we analyse the structured pattern of intuitions that panpsychism conflicts with (what we call the ‘Great Chain of Being’ intuition). We consider a variety of ways that the tension between this intuition and panpsychism (or other counter-intuitive theories) could be resolved, ranging from complete rejection of the theory to complete dismissal of the intuition, but argue in favour of more nuanced approaches which try to reconcile the two.
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Towards the end of her eventful and productive life, Val Plumwood was turning toward Indigenous people and cultures as a way of encountering the lived experience of ideas she was working with theoretically. At the same time, she was defining herself as a philosophical animist. As I understand her term, she was making connections with animism as a worldview, but rather than mimic or appropriate indigenous animisms she was developing a foundation that could be argued from within western philosophy. Her beautiful definition of philosophical animism is that it “opens the door to a world in which we can begin to negotiate life membership of an ecological community of kindred beings.” Thus, her animism, like indigenous animisms, was not a doctrine or orthodoxy, but rather a path, a way of life, a mode of encounter. In the spirit of open-ended encounter, I aim to bring her work into dialogue with some of my Australian Aboriginal teachers. More specifically, I focus on developing an enlarged account of active listening, considering it as the work participants engage in as they inter-act with other sentient creatures. I take a country or place based perspective, engaging with life on the inside of the webs and patterns of connection. An earlier version of this paper was presented as the Val Plumwood Memorial Lecture at the Minding Animals Conference, held in Newcastle, Australia in July 2009.
This paper presents a novel challenge for the panpsychist solution to the problem of consciousness. It advances three main claims. First, that the problem of consciousness is really an instance of a more general problem: that of grounding the qualitative. Second, that we should want a general solution to this problem. Third, that panpsychism cannot provide it. I also suggest two further things: (1) that alternative kinds of Russellian monism may avoid the problem in ways panpsychists cannot, and (2) that a kind of neo-Aristotelian or ground-theoretical physicalism fares just as well here if not better.
This paper argues that there is a deep level of agreement between panpsychism and theism. Goff's Galileo's Error would have been even more compelling than it already is if Goff had portrayed a panpsychist cosmos as the world created by God, not as a spiritual alternative to theism. First, I critique Goff's assumption of incompatibilism, with regards the relationship between science and religion, and argue that panpsychism provides unique resources for articulating divine action. Second, I argue that most panpsychists endorse either the 'principle of sufficient reason' or a 'causal principle' in their rejection of emergence theory, and that if either of these principles are applied to the universe as a whole this would imply a further endorsement of the cosmological argument for the existence of God.
This paper attempts to show that orthodox property dualists, if they are committed to the linguistic theory of vagueness, are obliged to hold that it can never be vague whether or not a given thing is conscious. Together with the commonsense assumption that some but not all macroscopic objects are conscious, this entails that the psycho-physical laws governing the emergence of consciousness are utterly precise such that a slight adjustment to a fundamental particle can make the difference between a macroscopic object having or lacking consciousness. I argue that this is a deeply implausible consequence, and hence that the orthodox property dualist who accepts the linguistic theory of vagueness must reject the commonsense assumption that some but not all macroscopic objects are conscious. Given her realism about consciousness, the property dualist is obliged to hold that all macroscopic objects are conscious.
In For Love of Matter Freya Mathews challenges basic assumptions of Western science, modern philosophy, and environmental philosophy, arguing that the environmental crisis is a symptom of a larger, metaphysical crisis. Western science rests on the premise that the world is an inert backdrop to human presence rather than a communicative presence in its own right, one capable of dialogical congress with us. Mathews explores the transformative effects of a substitution of the latter, panpsychist premise for the former, materialist one. She suggests that to exist in a dialogical modality is to enter an expanded realm of eros in which the self and world are mutually kindled into a larger, more incandescent state of realization. She argues that any adequate philosophical response to the so-called "environmental crisis" cannot be encompassed within the minor discipline of environmental philosophy but must instead address the full range of existential questions.
Nancy Cartwright argues for a novel conception of the role of fundamental scientific laws in modern natural science. If we attend closely to the manner in which theoretical laws figure in the practice of science, we see that despite their great explanatory power these laws do not describe reality. Instead, fundamental laws describe highly idealized objects in models. Thus, the correct account of explanation in science is not the traditional covering law view, but the ‘simulacrum’ account. On this view, explanation is a matter of constructing a model that may employ, but need not be consistent with, a theoretical framework, in which phenomenological laws that are true of the empirical case in question can be derived. Anti‐realism about theoretical laws does not, however, commit one to anti‐realism about theoretical entities. Belief in theoretical entities can be grounded in well‐tested localized causal claims about concrete physical processes, sometimes now called ‘entity realism’. Such causal claims provide the basis for partial realism and they are ineliminable from the practice of explanation and intervention in nature.
“Animism” is projected in the literature as simple religion and a failed epistemology, to a large extent because it has hitherto been viewed from modernist perspectives. In this paper previous theories, from classical to recent, are critiqued. An ethnographic example of a hunter‐gatherer people is given to explore how animistic ideas operate within the context of social practices, with attention to local constructions of a relational personhood and to its relationship with ecological perceptions of the environment. A reformulation of their animism as a relational epistemology is offered.
In Panpsychism in the West, the first comprehensive study of the subject, David Skrbina argues for the importance of panpsychism -- the theory that mind exists, in some form, in all living and nonliving things -- in consideration of the nature of consciousness and mind. Panpsychism, with its conception of mind as a general phenomenon of nature, uniquely links being and mind. More than a theory of mind, it is a meta-theory -- a statement about theories of mind rather than a theory in itself. Panpsychism can parallel almost every current theory of mind; it simply holds that, no matter how one conceives of mind, such mind applies to all things. After a brief discussion of general issues surrounding philosophy of mind, Skrbina examines the panpsychist views of philosophers from the pre-Socratics to the post-structuralists. The original edition of Panpsychism in the West helped to reinvigorate a neglected and important aspect of philosophic thinking. This revised edition offers expanded and updated material that reflects the growth of panpsychism as a subdiscipline. It covers the problem of emergence of mind from a non-mental reality and the combination problem in greater detail. It offers expanded coverage of the pre-Socratics and Plato; a new section on Augustine; expanded discussions of Continental panpsychism, scientific arguments, Nietzsche, and Whitehead; and a new section on Russellian monism. With this edition, Panpsychism in the West will be continue to be the standard work on the topic.