Papers on Panpsychism

A lot of my work has been about panpsychism, the idea that (roughly) everything is conscious. More carefully put, modern panpsychism is the idea that some incredibly simple version of our own conscious experience is one of the fundamental properties of our universe’s matter, just like mass, charge, and spin, and that human beings inherit our complex consciousness from the intricately-related consciousness of our many material parts.

This contrasts on the one hand with ‘dualism’, the idea that matter is entirely unconscious, so something special and immaterial has to be added to make humans, and with ‘physicalism’, the idea that matter is entirely unconscious, and human consciousness is just an intricate arrangements of those unconscious goings-on.

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy has a good entry on panpsychism here, and Philpapers has a bibliography on it here.

I wrote a review of a recent volume of papers on the topic:  “Panpsychism, Contemporary Perspectives” (edited by Godehard Brüntrup and Ludwig Jaskolla, available here)

The most obvious worry about panpsychism is that it’s crazy. More carefully put, it is radically in conflict with the intuitive judgements most Western people would make about what is and isn’t conscious (e.g. that horses are conscious but algae isn’t). In particular, it seems like it might undermine the case for veganism, if it implies that animals and plants are both conscious.

Jed Buchanan and I published a paper on this issue, arguing that our intuitive judgements can be kept, but should be interpreted as tracking how similar to our own consciousness a being’s experiences are: “Panpsychism, Intuitions, and the Great Chain of Being” ​

But most of my work has focused on various aspects of the ‘combination problem’. This is the worry that having a trillion very simple minds isn’t enough to get you one complex mind, and that therefore panpsychism can’t explain human consciousness.

Five papers of mine address specific aspects of the combination problem.

Here are some presentations I’ve given on topics related to panpsychism and the combination problem that don’t have associated papers:

Finally, my doctoral thesis, from back in 2015, examines this problem (and partially shares the name of my book, though with a different subtitle): “Combining Minds: A Defence of the Possibility of Experiential Combination”