Consciousness Isn’t Self-Centered – Issue 82: Panpsychism – Nautilus

… how does felt experience arise out of non-sentient matter? The Australian philosopher David Chalmers famously termed this the “hard problem” of consciousness.1 Unlike the “easy problems” of explaining behavior or understanding which processes in the brain give rise to various functions, the hard problem lies in understanding why some of these physical processes have an experience associated with them at all. And the fact that the hard problem has persisted for so many decades, despite the advances in neuroscience, has caused some scientists to wonder if we’ve been thinking about the problem backward. Rather than consciousness arising when non-conscious matter behaves a particular way, is it possible that consciousness is an intrinsic property of matter—that it was there all along?

This notion sounds crazy, but the question has been seriously posed. It falls under the category of theories referred to as panpsychism, which entertains the possibility that all matter is imbued with consciousness in some sense. If the various behaviors of animals can be accompanied by consciousness, the thinking goes, why not the reaction of plants to light—or the spin of electrons, for that matter? Panpsychism postulates that consciousness is embedded in matter itself, as a fundamental property of the universe. And while the term has been attached to a wide range of ideas throughout history, contemporary panpsychism describes reality very differently than the earlier versions, and it is unencumbered by any religious beliefs. Modern panpsychism is informed by the sciences and fully aligned with physicalism and scientific reasoning.
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