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At Mind Matters News: A Darwinian biologist resists learning to live with panpsychism

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Jerry Coyne makes two things quite clear: He scorns panpsychism and he doesn’t understand why some scientists accept it:

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 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.”

News, “A Darwinian biologist resists learning to live with panpsychism” at Mind Matters News (November 22, 2021)


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

[But as a commenter points out to him (more here) a widely accepted consciousness theory, Integrated Information Theory (IIT), is panpsychist… and it gets better… ]

Panpsychism — of which there is a number of varieties — is not a dualist viewpoint. It assumes that consciousness is present in some sense in all of nature (Christof Koch) or at least in all or most living entities (Bernardo Kastrup). It is most fully present, to date, in humans. Whereas naturalism is reductive (human consciousness is an illusion or a spandrel, for example) panpsychism is expansive. It doesn’t claim that electrons (or socks) have opinions (contra the jokes) but that our own ability to have opinions is a natural, gradual, and quite real development of the components from which we are constructed.

The difference here may seem a subtle one. But Coyne’s reaction shows that it is significant: The naturalist says, “Human consciousness developed simply because it helped primates hunt better” or “Human consciousness developed as a byproduct of other changes in the brain.” The panpsychist says, “Human consciousness is an inevitable development, given the greater complexity of the human than of the hydra, which experiences it at a primitive level”).

The panpsychist must do more to account for our human consciousness than that, of course. But he is free of the need to explain it away. Meantime, here’s a question worth thinking about:

Why do we assume that all science advances will support naturalism? [That hasn’t happened in neuroscience.] More.


Takehome: The differences between panpsychism and naturalism are subtle but critical. As panpsychism’s popularity grows, insight will be better than rage and ridicule.

You may also wish to read: Philosopher: Panpsychism is not in conflict with physics at all. Responding to criticism from physicists Sabine Hossenfelder and Sean Carroll, Philip Goff points out that panpsychism is not a dualist perspective. Philip Goff sees panpsychism (consciousness pervades all nature) as offering a simpler view of physics than dualism, with fewer gaps than materialism.

2 Replies to “At Mind Matters News: A Darwinian biologist resists learning to live with panpsychism

  1. 1
    AaronS1978 says:

    Again what is the brain fooling when it creates the illusion of consciousness? This is so absolutely absurd

    He never stops and reflects on the fact if consciousness was just an illusion then why the hell did it evolve and nearly everything we see that is alive?

    If consciousness was some useless illusion it would’ve been evolved out long ago

  2. 2
    Origenes says:

    Under materialism & panpsychism, the “I” consists of, is determined by, countless elementary constituents. This creates an insurmountable problem for self-control, free will & rationality.

    If the “I” does not control itself, but is instead controlled by something other than itself, such as countless elementary (conscious) constituents, then acts such as ‘I understand’, and ‘I choose’ become utterly meaningless.

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