Will We Ever Understand Consciousness?

Why compromises like panpsychism aren't the way forward

There is an arguably bizarre theory in philosophy today—gaining momentum in both academia and popular culture—called ‘panpsychism’. It has many variants, but the most recognizable one posits that elementary subatomic particles—quarks, leptons, bosons—are conscious subjects in their own right. In other words, the idea is that there is something it feels like to be an electron, or a quark, or a Higgs boson; their experiential states are allegedly an irreducible property of the particles themselves, just like mass, charge or spin. According to this theory—which has been openly embraced by influential mainstream figures, including reductionist neuroscientist Christof Koch—our complex conscious inner life is constituted by an unfathomable combination of the experiential states of myriad particles forming our brain.

I understand the urge to circumvent the failures of mainstream materialism, according to which matter is all there truly is (experience

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Ryan Leonard 21 April 2021

I have recently enjoyed a revival in analytic philosophy. This is an interesting one.

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Rob Manning 19 February 2021

We already fully understand consciousness; science just doesn’t care to see it because it is more of an experiential phenomenon than it is a proveable one. The closest we can get to proving what consciousness is, is via quantum mechanics; more specifically, via the heisenburg uncertainty principle. The brain does not create consciousness. The biochemical goings-on of the brain are a by-product of consciousness: the body’s reaction to consciousness. Everything is fully explained by Dr. David R. Hawkins’ research in the levels of consciousness. His research even explains why science, and all but 4% of the world’s population, cannot understand, or believe, what consciousness is: they are not ready (they have an inadequate level of consciousness).

Jesse Redman 12 April 2020

According to this theory, elephants should be smarter than humans and the Earth even smarter. Or, more sentient. Doesn't make sense.

Matt Keyes 3 February 2020

...wish I could edit posts :)

The question regarding the definition of consciousness is also important. For example, how does a tree "know" how to grow? How does a crystal "know" its crystalline structure? I would argue those are forms of "consciousness" although very different from our consciousness as humans, of course

Matt Keyes 3 February 2020

It seems what is overlooked in this argument is that consciousness doesn't have to be complete at a microscopic level. The disconnect is that materialism tends to compartmentalize everything yet tries to maintain an emergent sense of reality from other "levels" of discrete particles. I think this takes more of a jump than looking at things in a more holistic way.

In other words, elements of conciousness have to exist at smaller levels that combine to form what we define as "experience". Thus, at some fundamental level, consciousness exists in everything and appears when those disparate parts combine together. An individual particle (or quantum wave collapse if you like) does not have to have "experience" as we know it, but, when joined together with a virtual infinite number of others, produces "experience" at a larger level. In this view, the elements of consciousness are ubiquitously everywhere and in everything.

John Flagg 10 January 2020

I agree with most of Dr. Kastrup's critique of panpsychism. I've done a good deal of reading on the subject and it has always struck me that panpsychism is something like "idealism lite". A lot of bright people who recognize the severe limitations of physicalism but can't quite let go of it seem to be turning to panpsychism as the least radical alternative. A bibliography and references would be good here. I know there are several recent articles by David Chalmers assessing the current state of panpsychism. As Dr. Kastrup points out, the basic idea seems to be to keep the concept of what is known as "emergentism" which contends that consciousness/mind somehow "emerges" from the complex combination of physical entities, an idea which, in its strictly physicalist rendition is patently absurd. Putting panpsychism into the mix, though, while arguably solving the "hard problem of consciousness" (Chalmers' term) gives rise to its own hard problem, the hard problem of combination. I frankly don't see why the combination of fundamental entities of awareness into more complex compound awareness should be a problem. But it does seem to be considered one of their main difficulties by panpsychists themselves. Anyway, I've been a card-carrying idealist ever since I did my thesis on the poetry of Percy Bysshe Shelley, a quintessential Neoplatonist if ever there was one. Only for a long time I didn't really realize this or act on it. Thanks in part to Dr. Kastrup's recent book "The Idea of the World" I'm now trying to work out the specifics of exactly what being an idealist entails. And for all the reading I did on the subject of panpsychism, I think I was never terribly happy with the idea of adopting it for myself as my basic philosophical perspective -- largely for the reasons Dr. Kastrup outlines in this article, I think....