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Panpsychism, Synchronicity Reinterpreted

I think like most people, the idea of inanimate objects having consciousness to be a prospect that at best seems hard to swallow.  I don’t rule it out as impossible, but I think that something else is going on.

Objects in the Anthrocosm – In the last century, physics has been whittling away at naive realism to an almost perverse degree. For most sane adults during waking hours, the conditions of our experience are defined to a great degree by moving our body around in the context of solid objects, yet after the revelations of quantum mechanics, we are increasingly being put upon to accept that not only is this not exactly as it seems, it is exactly the opposite. Rather than solid bodies separated by a void of space, science sees a universe where the void is filled with staggering amounts of energy. Vacuum fluctuation. Virtual particles. Not to mention dark matter and dark energy, black holes, and a host of wave-particles that challenge the notion of existence.

Likewise, contemporary physics assures that solid matter itself is almost completely empty space (99.999999999999%), and that any residual substance is really more of charged, spinning tendencies to exist that tend to occur probabilistically. Despite many good theories and interpretations, the transformation from this microcosmic un-world of overflowing vacuums and particles spun out of nothing but charge into the familiar human scale world remains an open question.  The hard problem of matter is the same as the hard problem of consciousness. Why should there be any experience or events or wavefunction collapse at all?

This is where panpsychism comes in as well. The puzzle of the extent to which we, as human beings are qualified to pass judgment on what is or is not a being is questionable. Indeed, the human race has had an abysmal record of recognizing its own common humanity even within its own species, let alone other organisms. When it comes to understanding inorganic systems, some of which are quite complex (imagine some of these growing in time-lapse over thousands of years), our intuitions about them may be no more accurate than our view of our own world is in matching the underlying physical reality.

Sample Rate – As with most things in physics and in consciousness, frequency and scale are critical. A crystal looks static to our naked eye, but we know they grow over time. A rock looks like a generic non-entity, but we know that it is part of vast mineral deposits that have accumulated in the Earth’s crust over geological spans of time. What we see as human beings would be like an instantaneous snap shot in the ‘life’ of the Earth as a whole, which itself might appear even more majestically Gaian at 1000 human year frames per second. By the same token, to something on a bacterial scale, our body might appear as a vast ancient landscape of somatic canyons and cellular rivers.

I would stop short of claiming any kind of ‘Horton Hears A Who’ full-scale anthropomorphism though. I would not discount our sense that despite the recurring themes of isomorphism in nature, we never encounter an exact re-run. Ants and bees have their sophisticated civil colonies and perform many human-like functions, but they don’t appear to be building any satellite dishes or microwave ovens. There are differences that seem to go beyond aesthetics or phylogenetic prejudice. It seems absurd and it seems like there is a good reason that it seems that way. That isn’t a logical argument, but it is the argument that makes sense to us nonetheless. It isn’t so clear cut when we get into deciding what or who we should feel comfortable eating, but there too, individual sense seems to have a way of guiding us eventually to more sane practices.

One of the most fundamental metrics that we use to determine what is ok to eat vs pet vs makes friends with has to do with size and frequency. People have generally liked to eat animals with four legs that are smaller than an elephant and larger than a rat, which are also slower than a hummingbird. Things that are very large and change slowly, like a mountain, are hard to relate to as a subject. With our complex, fast organic nervous system, very few things in the natural world could probably relate to us as a subject.

Our native conscious awareness sampling rate probably ranges between 10 Hz and 0.001 Hz, but if I’m right, it is perception which ultimately defines time and not the other way around. This is not to say that if we feel time is slowing down that other things will act like they are slowing down too compared to each other, but that our lives are made up of moments of our conscious attention which expand and contract the now as they relate to our inner narrative. Significance distorts the density of experienced time, not only in the moment but in the recollections and reverberations, the retelling and rehearsing. To signify is to present in figurative deceleration (increasing metaphorical mass or import with more cycles per second to saturate qualia more deeply), and to re-present with reflected luminosity (longevity, intensity, and recursiveness in memory).

Top Down Influence – My conjecture is that sense-motive experience may originate not only through ordinary feed-forward causation from the past to the present, but that awareness is also drawing us forward from outside of time (or outside of our time). If we think of the cosmos one level as a single gigantic moment, (and there is nothing to make us suppose that it doesn’t exist as that outside of our human frame of reference), then our being embedded in that moment requires that our lives be shaped in some way by the larger agendas as well as the smaller ones. Just as our bodies are enveloped by the biosphere, atmosphere, solar system, and galaxy, so too our ~100 yr lives are nested within larger cycles which correspond not only to astrophysical frequencies, but cultural, social, and personal frequencies.

We are enmeshed in a multi-speed anthrocosm, which extends internally as the personality, mind, subconscious, and unconscious psyche. The deep unconscious seems to merge with the transpersonal, foreshadowing with intuition, apprehension, enthusiasm, etc. Luck. In this way, panpsychism follows not as a kind of charge in matter but as a charge in experience. That charge is significance, working, as mentioned above, by saturating qualitative depth using apparent temporal deceleration (giving you more time to prevaricate before getting on the doomed plane, etc), figurative luminosity (spiritual ‘glow’, ‘shine’, ‘light’, etc), and other signifiers which ring out with earvurm-like reverberation.

Synchronicity – What all this means to me about synchronicity is that what you might interpret as fate or God communicating with you (known as ideas of reference as a symptom of schizophrenia or delusional mania) is actually about the gears of your life, so to speak, meshing with the gears of all other beings on all other scales of time – some of which are, relative to your conscious mind, insisting from ‘the future’. This is not so much a communication as a sensitivity to the rhythms of sentience pushed into overdrive.  Not to say that synchronicity, as a meaningful coincidence, can’t be a valid persuasion to the conscious mind, but that it isn’t necessarily a sign that you are on the right track or are being guided intentionally. It can often be just the opposite, leading to many catastrophic decisions which defy common sense.

How I think it might work is that the relation between repetition, variation, and augmentation are what make signalling and significance possible. From reproductive success in biology to things like celebrity (the etymology of celebrate links notions of praise, popularity, and frequency) and beauty, we are programmed to pay attention to superlative sense experiences. We concentrate on what is concentrated already. For us to allow novelty into our awareness, as when a long term cycle of our life is ending or beginning, it tends to happen through synchronous foreshadowing. No just coincidence that you notice but coincidences that you notice that you notice more than usual.

We can still think of this as God whispering in our ear if we like, or angels protecting us, or meaningless noise, but if I’m on the right track, we can also look at it as the chime of an inner clock striking a new hour.  If we listen for every chime, every tick of the clock, we court madness. If we dismiss it altogether, we won’t know what time it is and may not appreciate the full richness of our own narrative and its connection with the events of the world.

A deja vu experience, even as a neurologically caused event, has the phenomenological experience that is the same thing as synchronicity. Like an acoustic vibration that surrounds us, the larger inertial frames of our perception (our lifetime, family history, evolution, etc) can resonate through resonance from either the future or the past. Like an earthquake, the changes which have accumulated may shift under our feet, erupting in perceptions which expose some distant strata of our psyche.

Taken together, the ideas of panspychism and synchronicity can both be seen as different aspects of the how subjectivity may propagate through spatio-temporal echo. A universe of worlds within worlds which nonetheless presents the wholeness of the totality within each world must have some bleed-through among the various forms and layers.  I suggest that significance and entropy act as conductor and insulator respectively, of this capacity to experience wholeness. The experience itself can be modeled in terms of a continuum between literal (flat signal) objectivity and metaphorical (deep signal) subjectivity. In a human psyche, too much crosstalk or bleed through of this sensitivity can result in naive or magical thinking, while too much insulation can result in a lack of compassion and a dogmatic approach. At one extreme, the panpsychism of the cosmos and the synchronicity of one’s own life become too literally real, while at the other, all vitality and meaning are sequestered and compulsively denied.

  1. Jeromy Carpenter
    February 25, 2013 at 12:19 pm

    Fascinating article! Of particular interest is the bit on synchronicity, especially the paragraph where the author states that; “we can also look at it as the chime of an inner clock striking a new hour.”

    • February 25, 2013 at 1:43 pm

      Thank you! Of course, your comment comes as synchronicity right now. I forgot that I even wrote this, and it makes the perfect addition to something I’m working on…

      • Jeromy Carpenter
        February 25, 2013 at 3:56 pm

        Who are you? Where do you live? I’m in New York and my name is Jeromy. You may contact me at jeromyoc@yahoo.com if you wish or you can text me at 206-724-1072.

      • Jeromy Carpenter
        February 25, 2013 at 4:12 pm

        You’re in London, aren’t you? I can tell by the time stamp.

      • February 25, 2013 at 4:45 pm

        Actually I’m in North Carolina. My name’s Craig Weinberg. I’ll email you…

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