Neuroscience & Mind Icon Neuroscience & Mind

Egnor Considers the Confession of a Panpsychist

David Klinghoffer


Durham University philosopher Philip Goff poses the question, “Could Electrons Be Conscious?”

The answer, according to Professor Goff: Yes.

People still laugh when I say I think electrons are conscious. But intellectual fashions are changing quickly, and I’m quietly confident that my gamble on panpsychism will pay off in the end.

This is a job for philosophical neuroscientist Michael Egnor. Panpsychism is not to be laughed at, he explains at Mind Matters. Dr. Egnor concludes:

[P]articles like electrons and larger inanimate things aren’t conscious because they have no sense organs, and thus have no access to forms external to themselves. They cannot think about anything because they cannot sense their environment and cannot access information external to them. Consciousness presupposes content and subatomic particles, like all inanimate things, lack access to content.

Panpsychism is essentially a confession of the manifest inadequacy of materialism to explain the mind. In that respect, it is worthy of consideration. But, for the reason I’ve given, it is not true. Panpsychism does, however, provide an impetus to explore what consciousness is and what enables it.

To sum up, Aristotle’s answer to panpsychism is that consciousness is the ability to grasp forms via the sense organs. Things that lack sense organs can’t be conscious. I think he got that pretty much right.

Panpsychism is not a joke at all but a sincere and heartfelt “confession” that, in explaining the mind, or explaining it away, materialist orthodoxy doesn’t have the answers. From a philosopher like Goff, that’s of great interest. Read the rest at Mind Matters.

Image credit: Photo by Zoltan Tasi on Unsplash.