Panpsychism And The Universality of Consciousness

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i has a conscious

To what extent do animals share our sense of consciousness? Some of our Disinfonauts may enjoy this piece by Scientific American’s Cristoph Koch.

I grew up in a devout and practicing Roman Catholic family with Purzel, a fearless and high-energy dachshund. He, as with all the other, much larger dogs that subsequently accompanied me through life, showed plenty of affection, curiosity, playfulness, aggression, anger, shame and fear. Yet my church teaches that whereas animals, as God’s creatures, ought to be treated well, they do not possess an immortal soul. Only humans do. Even as a child, to me this belief felt intuitively wrong. These gorgeous creatures had feelings, just like I did. Why deny them? Why would God resurrect people but not dogs? This core Christian belief in human exceptionalism did not make any sense to me. Whatever consciousness and mind are and no matter how they relate to the brain and the rest of the body, I felt that the same principle must hold for people and dogs and, by extension, for other animals as well.

It was only later, at university, that I became acquainted with Buddhism and its emphasis on the universal nature of mind. Indeed, when I spent a week with His Holiness the Dalai Lama earlier in 2013 [see “The Brain of Buddha,” Consciousness Redux; Scientific American Mind, July/August 2013], I noted how often he talked about the need to reduce the suffering of “all living beings” and not just “all people.” My readings in philosophy brought me to panpsychism, the view that mind (psyche) is found everywhere (pan). Panpsychism is one of the oldest of all philosophical doctrines extant and was put forth by the ancient Greeks, in particular Thales of Miletus and Plato. Philosopher Baruch Spinoza and mathematician and universal genius Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, who laid down the intellectual foundations for the Age of Enlightenment, argued for panpsychism, as did philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer, father of American psychology William James, and Jesuit paleontologist Teilhard de Chardin. It declined in popularity with the rise of positivism in the 20th century.

Read the full article at Scientific American.

8 Comments on "Panpsychism And The Universality of Consciousness"

  1. I can’t help but feel that if more people laid down their neat little words, terms and rationales derived-not-arrived at, and took the time to sense their environs with far less self-deception and fear, they’d be pleasantly surprised at how many lifeforms offer and enjoy communication with us in varying forms.
    Panpsychism though? I’m leaning towards believing it has it’s roots in an ancient projection. ‘Mind’ as I am capable of conceiving it seems to me one of many flavours surging through reality soup. Although this is before I’ve listened to the Manly P. Hall lecture that was posted up today which I think may be relevant to further considerations.

    • mannyfurious | Jan 1, 2014 at 10:55 pm |

      Yeah, my initial reaction was that the primary difference is that they don’t use language and symbols and concepts the way we do. Other than that, I imagine their consciousness is not all that different from our own.

      • Right, I imagine ‘mind-soup ingredient’ being strained into different physical molds, limiting/expanding my interaction with it. Studies into biology back this up. I had an interesting conversation with a mushroom network recently which allowed me insight into their magnificent intelligence. I think they find it interesting how much more isolate as beings we can be compared to them who live their/it’s lives in multitude.

        • Kevin Leonard | Jan 2, 2014 at 7:19 pm |

          Your mushrooms dialogue does point to another fundamental difference between humans and others who ahare this planet, according to many philosophers and mystics. That is the separate sense of self, the ego. There may be a debate on whether the other animals which pass the mirror test also have an ego, but for most of the other non human animals that pass that test, the sense of community seems much stronger. This would correspond to Ken Wilbur’s pre-personal stage of identification with the tribe.

          • A cursory glance at Mr Wilbur’s wiki tells me his book is next on my reading list, thank you!

  2. The fact that he kicked off his article with an Alan Watts quote is beyond awesome. Another gem from the man:

    “All I’m saying is that minerals are a very rudimentary form of consciousness; whereas other people are saying that consciousness is a complicated form of minerals.”

    So, this speaks more to panpsychism and there being a spectrum of which consciousness is expressed.

    That being said – and to broaden the scope a bit – the quote Koch provided has much deeper implications than a quick reading (or his interpretation) suggests. It is saying nothing less than, rather than the limited way we view and define systems as separate from each other (as “insides” and “outsides”), the whole of life constitutes one seamless, mutually supportive/dependent organism-environment continuum (where seemingly individual manifestations of consciousness are still expressions of the entire system, like bubbles being obvious/concentrated/surface representations of the all-permeating heat in boiling water).

    Here, again, is Watts (with a variation on the “inside-outside” continuum):

    And here:

    “When an organism starts looking as if it were pushing its environment around, it simply means that the environment/organism, the total field, is changing itself.

    You learn to see that there is simply one behavior pattern working, which we will call the organism-environment, and if you understand that, you understand that YOU are this totality organism-environment, and so you are moving with it in the same way that all the organs of your physical body are moving together.

    But we try to pretend, you see, that the external world exists altogether independently of us. That’s the whole myth of the independent observer, of man coming into a world into which he doesn’t really belong, and that it’s all going in there and he has nothing to do with it, but he just arrives in here and sees it as it always was. But that’s a joke and people could only feel that way if they felt completely alienated and did not feel that the external world was continuous with their own organism. You bet you the external world is so continuous with your own organism: the whole world is human because it’s humaning.”

    To put it in another way, the whole of reality/existence is the sufficiently complex system that makes consciousness possible. Is consciousness universal? Well, if you believe that you are conscious, then you believe the universe is; literally the entirety of it needs to exist to support “you.” We (and other “complex organisms”) might be the conscious tip of the iceberg, but you don’t poke your head out of the water without the rest of the berg beneath you lifting you up.

    Of Course the Universe is Conscious (article from a blog called Raptitude)

    “We must see that consciousness is neither an isolated soul nor the mere function of a single nervous system, but of that totality of interrelated stars and galaxies which makes a nervous system possible.” – Watts

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