Panpsychism – Ultimate (Un)Certainty?


The Ultimate (Un)certainty?

If the physicists are right, the only thing we can be certain of is uncertainty.
Buckminster Fuller – Architect
The Management apologises for any inconvenience.
God’s Final Message To The Universe
in Douglas Adams’
‘The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy.’

Throughout our discussion so far, we have deliberately kept away from exploring pan-psychism as an ‘explanation’ for how human consciousness arises, or as a ‘mechanism’ for describing how dowsing as a whole might ‘work’.  The pan-psychist idea initially seemed to us not to be ‘testable’ in any controlled way that we could imagine but, more importantly, we could never quite match the idea with any kind of direct experience that either of us could identify personally.

Even so, the belief that everything in the universe is in some way conscious has had remarkable staying power, for more than 2000 years. Today, we can find a surprisingly large number of professional scientists and philosophers who continue to take the idea more than half seriously.   So, while initially we chose to stay with the general idea of materialistic ’emergentism’ – the idea that consciousness somehow emerges from the physical substance of the brain – as a ‘best fit’ theory, we also noted that back in 1986 the Nobel Prize winning physicist David Bohm had written:

“That which we experience as mind … will, in a natural way, ultimately reach the level of the wave function and of the ‘dance’ of the particles.  There is no unbridgeable gap or barrier between any of these levels. … … in some sense, a rudimentary consciousness is present even at the level of particle physics” (See Bohm’s book ‘Wholeness and the Implicate Order’ 2002)

More recently the British philosopher Professor Galen Strawson – a panpsychist himself –has written that:

‘The issue of emergence of mind is important because it is the mutually exclusive counterpart to Panpsychism: either you are a Panpsychist, or you are an Emergentist. Either mind was present in things from the very beginning, or it appeared (emerged) at some point in the history of evolution. If, however, emergence is inexplicable (our italics) or is less viable, then one is left with the panpsychist alternative. This line of reasoning … is the (panpsychist) ‘argument from Non-Emergence.’

So Strawson directly challenges those who implicitly endorse emergence, as we have done with our discussion of Douglas Hofstadter’s ideas about it. He asks, “Does this conception of emergence make sense?”, and answers, “I think that it is very, very hard to understand what it is supposed to involve. I think that it is incoherent, in fact, and that this general way of talking of emergence has acquired an air of plausibility for some … simply because it has been appealed too many times in the face of a seeming mystery.”

Strawson goes on to give a number of examples of would-be emergence, showing that each is not seriously intelligible.  His slogan – “emergence can’t be brute,” implies that while higher-order mind can conceivably emerge from lower-order mind, it cannot possibly emerge from no-mind. “Brute emergence,” he says, ” is by definition a miracle every time it occurs, which is rationally inconceivable.”

Strawson believes that panpsychism offers a kind of resolution to the problem of emergence, and is supported by several other arguments as well. The viability of panpsychism is no longer really in question, he says, but what does remain an issue is the specific form it might take, and the  implications arising from this question.

By definition therefore panpsychism suggests a radically different worldview, one that is fundamentally at odds with the dominant mechanistic conception of the universe.  But by challenging this worldview at its root, panpsychism may offer new and potentially very interesting solutions to some very old problems.

Because there are relatively few panpsychists in the world, almost everyone else is, by definition, an emergentist.  But, as Strawson (2006) re-emphasises, emergentism is not a forgone conclusion. In fact, it is highly dubious. His article “Realistic Monism: Why Physicalism Entails Panpsychism” presses this point, and offers the most detailed and complete version of the Non-Emergence argument to date.

In a nutshell, if people  are not panpsychists, then they necessarily believe that only some creatures can be thought to possess mind.  So, logically the vast remainder of nature must be in some real sense non-mental which in fact must include the greater part of our everyday reality.  Strawson maintains that this pure speculation: “there is absolutely no evidence whatsoever” he says in his paper, “for a non-mental component of reality.”

‘Quantum Mind’

The physicist David Bohm (another Nobel Prizewinner) viewed quantum theory and relativity as contradicting one another.  This  contradiction implied that there must be a more fundamental level in the physical universe at work somehow.  Bohm claimed that both quantum theory and relativity pointed towards this deeper theory – which he ultimately formulated in terms of a ‘quantum field theory.’  This more fundamental level was proposed in order to represent an undivided wholeness and an ‘implicate’ order, from which  the ‘explicate’ order of the universe as we experience it, arises

Bohm’s implicate order applies both to matter and to consciousness – and could even explain the relationship between them.  Mind and matter are seen as projections into our explicate order from the underlying reality of the implicate order.  Bohm claims that when we look at matter in space, we can see nothing in either concept that helps us to understand consciousness.

Importantly for our context, in trying to describe the nature of consciousness, Bohm discussed the experience of listening to music.  He believed the feeling of movement and change that make up our experience of music, derive from both the immediate past and the present – both being held in the brain together.  The musical notes from the past are seen as transformations rather than memories so that notes that were implicate in the immediate past are seen as becoming explicate in the present.  Bohm viewed this as consciousness ’emerging’ from the all-pervasive implicate order, rather than from physical brain structures.

Bohm also saw the movement, change or flow, and coherence of experiences such as listening to music, as a further manifestation of the implicate order.  Quoting the Swiss Psychologist Jean Piaget, Bohm stated that studies show that young children have to learn about time and space.  This is not because these things are part of the explicate order, but because the children have a “hard-wired” understanding of movement, which is part of the implicate order.  He compared this “hard-wiring” to Noam Chomsky‘s theory that grammar is “hard-wired” into young human brains.

A major weakness in Bohm’s hypothesis is said to be verification.  In his writings, Bohm never proposed any specific means by which his propositions could be tested or falsified – falsification generally being the acknowledged test of whether ideas and theories can be held to be scientific.  Nor did he propose any kind of neural mechanism through which his “implicate order” could emerge in some way relevant to consciousness.  However, we are tempted to wonder whether something like Hofstadter’s ‘Strange Looping’ might be such a mechanism – and perhaps might also provide some kind of answer to Strawson’s arguments for panpsychism.

A Quantum Basis For PanPsychism?

Over the past 15 years or so the British theoretical physicist, Sir Roger Penrose, and the American anaesthesiologist, Stuart Hameroff, have collaborated to produce the theory known as Orchestrated Objective Reduction (Orch-OR) – which is actually about how (or perhaps even whether) quantum interactions can be processed in the brain.  The authors initially developed their ideas separately, and only later collaborated to produce Orch-OR in the early 1990s.  Their ideas were reviewed and updated by them in late 2013.

Originally, Penrose lacked a detailed proposal for how quantum processing could possibly be implemented in the brain until Hameroff read his work, and suggested a means by which this might be possible.

The discovery of quantum vibrations in microtubules – tiny sub-components of cells, involved in both nucleic and cell division and in intracellular transport – by Anirban Bandyopadhyay of the National Institute for Materials Science in Japan, in March 2013,  – apparently confirms the hypothesis of the Orch-OR theory.

Subsequently, a paper entitled ‘A quantum physical argument for panpsychism’  by Shan Gao of the University of Australia appeared in the scientific literature – and  is now published as an Amazon Kindle book –for which the abstract reads:

‘It has been widely thought that consciousness has no causal efficacy in the physical world.  However, this may be not the case.  In this paper, we show that a conscious being can distinguish definite perceptions, and their quantum superpositions, while a physical measuring system without consciousness cannot distinguish such quantum states.’

The possible existence of a distinct quantum physical property of consciousness may have interesting implications for the science of consciousness as a whole.  In particular, it suggests that consciousness is not emergent, but is a fundamental feature of the universe.  This may – so the argument runs – provide an actual quantum basis for panpsychism.

And So??

A simple addition to the ‘Mediation’ elements in the formulae of the Morphic Message labels (e.g. ‘Mediated by helpful Panpsychic Energies”) turns out to have an immediate, substantial and highly positive effect on the perceived sound from any equipment – including  loudspeakers – to which the label is attached.   In fact, this is so effective that we have no hesitation at all in providing a sample that readers can download and copy.  Please see the ‘Do It Yourself‘ page on this site, where full instructions on using and applying the labels can also be found.

Even so, we would properly be accused of astonishing self-deception if we were to claim that this demonstration proves either that the morphic messaging system has been satisfactorily explained so far, or that panpsychism is the correct theoretical basis for making sense of how dowsing ‘works’!

When we stand back ourselves, and consider the processes involved in making and using a ‘morphic label’, they seem so unlikely that we cannot help but think of them as the absolutely Ultimate (Un)certainty.

The only real fact is that despite all our elaborate theorising, we actually have no real idea as to how :-

  • Writing complicated messages on a computer,
  • Then making the messages into three-layered images on the same computer,
  • Then collapsing the images into a single layer, so that only the top layer is visible,
  • After which, printing the finished images onto ordinary plain paper,
  • Which is  stuck onto miscellaneous hifi components with commercial ‘blu-tack’-
  • Can possibly convey any information at all, let alone pass it on to affect what people hear when a loudspeaker is vibrating with a musical signal.

But that is exactly what seems to happen regularly and obviously.  The effects can be heard by anyone nearby, even those who have no idea at all what the messages on the labels might actually mean.

The best answer we can suggest so far comes from the physicist Dean Radin’s elegant little book, ‘Entangled Minds – Extrasensory Experiences In A Quantum  Reality.’  Radin  suspects (and indeed quotes Mullah Nasreddin to back up his argument) that what we often call psychic phenomena may be perfectly natural abilities.  These are abilities that everyone has as a child, but which we then choose to ignore, or are simply encouraged to dismiss by scientists dedicated – like Nasreddin’s deliberate and allegorically perverse choice – to looking in entirely the wrong places, because ‘that’s where the light seems to be.’

This has been our (first) attempt to look fairly carefully into some selected shadows.  There are obviously many more  to be explored.


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Bill Kenny and Nigel Twinn 2015

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