Panpsychism > Pansensitivity

Arguments for Panpsychism (or Panexperientialism, Panprotoexperientialism) 

  • The Brain Is Already Panpsychic
    If matter is mostly empty space, then what goes on in the brain already involves a form of telepathy at the microcosmic level. The fact that different regions of the brain communicate with each other means that thought is distributed through matter across space, and that matter is therefore undeniably telepathic. It sounds outrageous, but if we are being honest (waxing Simonic here), how can we say that the electrons of our brain are not transmitting our conscious experience in some way across the gaps from atom to atom and neuron to neuron?Since there is nothing to suggest that this process is remarkably different between organic molecules and inorganic molecules, it’s not much of a stretch to assume that this telepathic unity extends to all matter. Maybe the inertness or volatility of matter affects its capacity to host more significant awareness, but there is no reason to suspect that any matter is incapable of some degree of subjective participation.
  • Panpsychism would solve the hard problem of consciousness.
    Perhaps the best reason to seriously entertain the notion of  panpsychism is that it makes the hardness of the hard problem makes  sense. By locating consciousness (or awareness, experience,  proto-consciousness) at the very bottom of the ground of being, we can  reason that it is not possible to find a reason for experience itself, as all functions and substances in the universe are kinds of experiences  rather than the other way around. Experience has no function, because function itself is nothing but an experience. If the hard problem is ‘Why does feeling exist?’, the panpsychic solution is “Existence and  feeling are the same thing”.
  • The alternatives to panpsychism are no better.
    Materialism and functionalism both presume their own theoretical  metaphysics as primitive to explain the existence of feeling. Whether it  is a magical combination of substances or a particular ordering of  ‘information’ that is presumed to cause awareness to occur, the hard  problem remains the same – why should any combinations or orderings result in any ‘feelings’, ‘illusions’, or ‘interpretations’ at all? If you are going to have a universe built on determinism, you can’t really pull the rabbit of awareness out of the hat unexpectedly without having a good deterministic reason for it.
  • We have good reason to be skeptical of our naive realism when it comes to attributing consciousness outside of ourselves.
    Human beings have a terrible record of recognizing the humanity in  members of their own species, let alone sentience in other kinds of  organisms. The more we understand how perception shapes a customized reality for us rather than produces flawed reports of a universal reality, the more we must admit that we really wouldn’t know non-human consciousness if it was staring us in the face. We have no problem  assigning personality to cartoons or stuffed animals, but slow something down to an imperceptible rate, or shrink it to a microscopic size and  we find it absurd to consider that there can be experience happening. Of course, if we came across something that looked and acted like a human  brain, we would presume the same thing. Were we not ourselves familiar  with the connection between neurons and consciousness, we could never  suspect that such a connection existed.
  • Level of emergence is arbitrary.
    We have no problem embodying our body – identifying personally with  every part of it. The cells of our nervous system are made of ordinary  organic molecules, performing ordinary molecular functions. Since we have experiences, feel, and make sense of the world, it is only a question of what level this capacity arises. Does it require a brain? Many organisms survive quite well without brains. Does it require cells?  Cells are nothing but organizations of molecules. Given the  functionally superfluous nature of consciousness, there is really no  advantage that any level would have over any other as far as explanatory  power. Why does an intelligent community like the brain make any more  sense than an intelligent community like the immune system as a  candidate for sentience? Some postulate microtubules and quantum  fluctuations, which is possible too, but no closer to answering the hard  problem.
  • The Enlightenment has given us a new cognitive bias.
    Functionalism relies on complexity, evolution, and randomness like a  holy trinity of wishful thinking. The power of the machine has proved so  seductive that the very mention of qualities associated with them is  held up as a talisman to ward off the specters of vitalism and animism.  Emergent properties are conjured to fill the gap between hydrogen and  humans while unexplained holes in physics are swept under an  increasingly bulging carpet of dark energy, dark matter, virtual  particles, decoherence, etc. Panpsychism or panexperientialism can tie  up all of these loose ends and point the way to a new theory of cosmos  rooted in sense as well as mechanism.
  • Pansensitivity is better than panpsychism or panexperientialism.
    Not all awareness implies a biological quality awareness of awareness, but all that can be considered to ‘exist’ in any way does so because it is present in some sense (literally, some sense modality must present ‘space’ or ‘time’, ‘matter’ or ‘energy’, etc.) What exists relates to itself through sensible perspectives and juxtapositions: participatory expressions of aesthetic experience – not abstractions. Bypassing the anthropomorphic connotations of terms like experience and psyche, pansensitivity implies a weaker hypothesis: that at the foundation of all phenomena, there is at least more than a total absence of awareness.
  • Sensitivity is beneath and beyond mind.
    The mind is only the aspect of self that thinks. It is a verbal-cognitive sense modality, possibly specific to Homo sapiens. When the mind thinks about the self, it thinks of the mind, but this is an incomplete understanding. The mind cannot move the mouth to eat, cannot imagine a new color. The mind thinks that it does not feel and that its efforts emerge from a plenum of pure semantic entitlement. If we seek a more objective understanding however, we find that all of the mind is on loan from the self, from sensory-motive foundations which extend to eternity.
Multisense Realism comes to the same kinds of conclusion about awareness that others who favor panpsychism/panexperientialism have, especially Galen Strawson’s view, summed up here:

I think that Strawson’s argument, very briefly, is this:

  • There is one ultimate reality to the universe (“realistic physicalism,” as he calls it).
  • Mental (that is, experiential) phenomena are a part of this monistic reality. Therefore, experiential phenomena are physical phenomena, rightly understood.
  • Radical-kind, or brute emergence is impossible; mental phenomena cannot arise from any purely non-mental stuff.
  • Therefore, the one reality and all things in it are necessarily experiential.
While many find this kind of panpsychism to be unpalatable, the brute emergence alternative has even less to recommend it. With careful consideration, the reluctance to commit to panpsychism can be overcome, particularly when the perceptual relativity which characterizes all forms of awareness is factored in.
  1. July 15, 2013 at 1:52 am

    I’ve been reading here on and off for most of the day. Must take a break. I absolutely love how coherent you have made an intuition that I have had most of my life about the nature of being. I’m no scientist and can’t articulate why I intuit certain things, but you are giving me a lot of ways to possibly understand what I sense. Thank you for taking the time to write and publicizie your MSR theory.

    • July 15, 2013 at 2:49 am

      Thank you very much. I would like it all to be laid out in a more digestible form. Hopefully it’s getting closer to that over time but I’m always split between trying to make it clear and trying to make it thorough. Really any one of the topics could have a whole library of discussion, so I’d prefer to keep it focused just on the new ideas that tie them all together.

  2. October 23, 2013 at 2:23 pm


    “Spiritualism: On what basis do some people argue that the whole universe, including rocks and trees, is conscious?

    Without ability to see, hear, smell, etc., how can something possibly be conscious? Do they think rocks are introspecting, since they obviously are not perceiving their surroundings? What are they conscious of and through what mechanism?”

    Think of it this way. How can you hear if your eardrums or auditory cortex don’t have the ability to ‘hear’? How can they make sense of what you hear if they themselves were not composed of sensitive and sense-making components? Taking it to the extreme, can we really make sense of the universe without the universe, in some sense, making sense already?

    This does not mean, however, that what is, in our experience, a rock, is feeling something on that level of description. We know that a rock is composed of countless molecules, and that those molecules can both change their configuration very rapidly or remain stable for billions of years. Any awareness related to minerals would be on a very different scale than our own.

    Perhaps all that seems to us as minerals share a single experience, or only fragments of experience when something unusual happens. The possibilities are vast and the speculation is not especially productive. The important part is to recognize that we cannot assume that what we experience of something else is a reflection of what is experienced by that thing, and that thing-ness in general may not be a condition which is primitively real but could make more sense as a confluence of perceptual relation. This means also that consciousness may not be a mechanism at all. Forms and functions may be more properly understood as the public consequence of a more primordial private appreciation and participation – of sense and motive.

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