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Panpsychism, in philosophy, is either the view that all parts of matter involve mind, or the more holistic view that the whole universe is an organism that possesses a mind (see Pantheism and Panentheism). It is thus a stronger and more ambitious view than hylozoism, which holds only that all things are alive. This is not to say that panpsychism believes that all matter is alive or even conscious but rather that the constituent parts of matter are composed of some form of mind and are sentient.

Panpsychism claims that everything is sentient and that there are either many separate minds, or one single mind that unites everything that is. The concept of the unconscious, made popular by the psychoanalysts, made possible a variant of panpsychism that denies consciousness from some entities while still asserting the ubiquity of mind.

Panexperientialism, as espoused by Alfred North Whitehead is a less bold variation, which credits all entities with phenomenal consciousness but not with cognition, and therefore not necessarily with fully-fledged minds.

Panprotoexperientialism is a more cautious variation still, which credits all entities with non-physical properties that are precursors to phenomenal consciousness (or phenomenal consciousness in a latent, undeveloped form) but not with cognition itself, or with conscious awareness.

In relation to other metaphysical positions

Panpsychism can be understood as a form of idealism - the metaphysical view that says the fundamental constituents of reality are mental (a view that holds that matter is dependent on minds, or that only mental qualities exist- a type of substance monism). However, whereas Berkeleyan idealism holds that matter exists only in the mind, panpsychism holds that all material entities have minds — and an existence of their own, independent from human observers. In any case, panpsychism is not a form of substance dualism.

Eliminative Materialism, the view that there is no such thing as mind, but only matter- is incompatible with panpsychism.

Materialism, the view that ultimately there is only matter, is compatible with panpsychism just in case the property of mindedness is always attributed to matter. However, most thinkers who take a materialist or physicalist approach to the mind-body problem only attribute mind to certain highly-organised beings, and attribute it in virtue of their structural, functional and behavioural attributes. This means that once a brain falls below a certain level of functioning (in death or perhaps deep coma) there would no longer be a mind associated with it. Panpsychists often reverse the physicalist's belief that the mental emerges from the mechanistic operation of matter. Instead, they say, mechanical behaviour is derived from primitive mentality of atoms and molecules — as are sophisticated mentality and organic behaviour, the difference being attributed to the presence or absence of complex structure in a compound object. So long as this inverted emergence, the derivation of non-mental properties from mental ones, is in place, panpsychism is not a form of property dualism.

No form of panpsychism attributes full, human-style consciousness to the fundamental constituents of the universe therefore all version need a certain amount of emergence — that is, weak emergence, in which more sophisticated versions of basic properties emerge at a higher level. No version of panpsychism requires strong emergence, in which high-level do not have any low-level precursors or basis, and instead emerge "from nothing". Indeed, avoidance of strong emergentism is one of the motivations for panpsychism. "Strong emergence, if it exists, can be used to reject the physicalist picture of the world as fundamentally incomplete. By contrast, weak emergence can be used to support the physicalist picture of the world".[1] Thus, "weak emergence" would be incompatible with any non-physicalism, such as psychism (including panpsychism); whereas "strong emergence" would support non-physicalism, such as psychism (including panpsychism). Furthermore, because "strong emergence" has a holistic outlook, it is particularly amenable to universalist holistic panpsychism ("one single mind that unites everything that is" as "universal soul" etc. of Neo-platonic metaphysics).

Hylopathism argues for a similarly universal attribution of sentience to matter. Few writers would advocate a hylopathic materialism, although the idea is not new; it has been formulated as "whatever underlies consciousness in a material sense, i.e., whatever it is about the brain that gives rise to consciousness, must necessarily be present to some degree in any other material thing". Similar ideas have been attributed to philosopher David Chalmers. However, there are also varieties of monism that don't presuppose (like materialism and idealism do) that mind and matter are fundamentally separable. An example is neutral monism first introduced by Spinoza and later propounded by William James. Panpsychism can be combined with this view.

Panexperientialism, panprotoexperientialism, and panprotopsychism

Panexperientialism or panprotopsychism are related concepts. Alfred North Whitehead incorporated a scientific worldview into the development of his philosophical system similar to Einstein’s Theory of Relativity. His ideas were a significant development of the idea of panpsychism, also known as panexperientialism, due to Whitehead’s emphasis on experience, though the term itself was first applied to Whitehead's philosophy by David Ray Griffin many years later. Process philosophy suggests that fundamental elements of the universe are occasions of experience, which can be collected into groups creating something as complex as a human being. This experience is not consciousness; there is no mind-body duality under this system as mind is seen as a very developed kind of experience. Whitehead was not a subjective idealist and, while his philosophy resembles the concept of monads first proposed by Leibniz, Whitehead’s occasions of experience are interrelated with every other occasion of experience that has ever occurred. He embraced panentheism with God encompassing all occasions of experience, transcending them. Whitehead believed that the occasions of experience are the smallest element in the universe--even smaller than subatomic particles.


A criticism is that it can be demonstrated that the only properties shared by all qualia are that they are not precisely describable, and thus are of indeterminate meaning within any philosophy which relies upon precise definition. This has been something of a blow to panpsychism in general, since some of the same problems seem to be present in panpsychism in that it tends to presuppose a definition for mentality without describing it in any real detail. (What separates mental and non-mental phenomena?)

The panpsychist answers both these challenges in the same way: we already know what qualia are through direct, introspective apprehension; and we likewise know what conscious mentality is by virtue of being conscious. For someone like Alfred North Whitehead, third-person description takes second place to the intimate connection between every entity and every other which is, he says, the very fabric of reality. To take a mere description as having primary reality is to commit the "fallacy of misplaced concreteness".

Another criticism is that we have a detailed understanding of how cognitionthought, memory, etc — work in terms of the functioning and structure of the brain. If the matter that the brain is made of already has cognitive abilities simply by virtue of being matter, then cognition is somehow being done twice over.

One response is to separate the phenomenal, non-cognitive aspects of consciousness — particularly qualia, the essence of the hard problem of consciousness — from cognition. Thus panpsychism is transformed into panexperientialism. However, this strategy of division generates problems of its own: what is going on causally in the head of someone who is thinking -- cognitively of course -- about their qualia?

In the history of philosophy

The view of the world as a macrocosm in relation to man (which is a microcosm, respectively) was a staple theme in Greek philosophy. In that view it was natural to think about the world in anthropomorphic terms. The view passed into the medieval period via Neoplatonism, and became shared by Leibniz, Schelling, Schopenhauer and many others.

Idea of "animated atom" in Russian cosmism in the early 20th century.

Josiah Royce (1855-1916), the leading American absolute idealist, held to the panpsychist view, though he didn't necessarily attribute mental properties to the smallest constituents of mentalistic "systems".

The panpsychist doctrine has recently been making some kind of a comeback in the American philosophy of mind — for example, David Chalmers, Christian de Quincey and Leo Stubenberg have each recently defended it. In the philosophy of mind, panpsychism is one possible solution to the so-called hard problem of consciousness. The doctrine has also been applied in the field of environmental philosophy through the work of Australian philosopher, Freya Mathews.

In the psychoanalytic tradition

Carl Jung, who is maybe best known for his idea of collective unconscious, wrote that "psyche and matter are contained in one and the same world, and moreover are in continuous contact with one another", and that it was probable that "psyche and matter are two different aspects of one and the same thing". (orig. source unknown, cited in Danah Zohar & Ian Marshall, SQ: Connecting with our Spiritual Intelligence, Bloomsbury, 2000, p. 81). This could be interpreted as panpsychism, apparently of the neutral monism variety.

Other manifestations

Panpsychism and emergentism can be seen as alternative ways to bridge the more extreme positions of crude reductionism and crude holism. Panpsychism differs from emergentism in that according to panpsychism, even the smallest physical particles have mental characteristics. Emergentism claims that though the particles be mindless, some systems formed by them, and by nothing but them, do possess mental attributes. The human brain is a case in point.

Gaia theory, which views the biosphere as a self-regulating system, that maintains homeostasis in relation to many vital chemical and physical variables, is sometimes interpreted as panpsychism, because some think that any goal-directed behavior qualifies as mental. However, the goal-directed behavior of the biosphere, as explained by the Gaia theory, is an emergent function of organised, living matter, not a quality of any matter. Thus Gaia theory is more properly associated with emergentism than panpsychism.

The label "naive" (vs. "philosophical") panpsychism is sometimes used to mean, not a doctrine defended by any philosopher, but the attitude of primal people and children to think of even inanimate objects as sentient and/or intentional. This is the same as animism.

Panpsychism, as a view that the universe has "universal consciousness", is shared by some forms of religious thought: theosophy, pantheism, cosmotheism and panentheism.

Panpsychism also plays a part in Hindu, Buddhist and Shinto thought.

See also



Further reading

External links

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