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Darwinian Biologist Resists Learning to Live with Panpsychism

Denyse O'Leary
Photo: Cat's Eye Nebula, by NASA, ESA, HEIC, and Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA).

Jerry Coyne, a traditional Darwinian evolutionary biologist and author of Why Evolution Is True, is having a hard time understanding why anyone would even consider taking panpsychism seriously. His bafflement over the growing acceptance of the idea that every living thing (or everything) is conscious to some extent may shed light on some new features of the changing science landscape.

His jumping off point is a recent three-way debate/discussion, sponsored by MindChat, between panpsychist philosopher Philip Goff, naturalist theoretical physicist Sean Carroll, and physicalist philosopher Keith Frankish, who views the mind as an illusion created by the brain — or, as Coyne puts it, “a trick of the biological mind.”

So, Panpsychism Is “Bunk”?

Coyne, as a metaphysical naturalist (nature is all there is), is quite sure that panpsychism is “bunk” and that Carroll won the debate:

I watched only until an hour and 45 minutes in, so I can’t tell you what happens in the rest of the discussion. But if you watch up to that point, and listen to Sean’s eloquent and patient explanations, and see the sweating panpsychist professor try to prop up his crumbling ideas, you will not be any more enamored with panpsychism than you were before. In other words, you’ll see that it’s a theory without substance.

JERRY COYNE, “DO ELECTRONS BEHAVE DIFFERENTLY WHEN THEY’RE IN BRAINS? SEAN CARROLL TAKES PHILIP GOFF APART ON PANPSYCHISM” AT WHY EVOLUTION IS TRUE (NOVEMBER 12, 2021)

But speaking of theories without substance, a commenter, “Maximillian,” writes to note that Carroll is a proponent of the multiverse, itself a contested idea, deemed unfalsifiable. The commenter also points out a fact that Coyne appears reluctant to take into consideration:

Maximillian: Integrated information theory (which strictly speaking is not panpsychist in Goff’s sense) is currently a leading contender for a theory of consciousness. According to IIT, consciousness is what it “feels like” when information is processed. If that turns out to be the case, then it is within the realm of possibility that the arrangement of physical matter in patterns unlike the biological brain might lend conscious experience to other entities that current scientific theories do not comprehend. In fact, if IIT is correct, physical fields could in principle be conscious. But that is a big if.

“MAXIMILLIAN” (NOVEMBER 15, 2021) AT JERRY COYNE, “DO ELECTRONS BEHAVE DIFFERENTLY WHEN THEY’RE IN BRAINS? SEAN CARROLL TAKES PHILIP GOFF APART ON PANPSYCHISM” AT WHY EVOLUTION IS TRUE (NOVEMBER 12, 2021)

Yes, that’s right. Integrated Information Theory (IIT) is a “leading contender for a theory of consciousness.” Would it likely be a leading theory if cranks, kooks, and charlatans were driving the bus?

Read the rest at Mind Matters News, published by Discovery Institute’s Bradley Center for Natural and Artificial Intelligence.