A key goal of naturalism/materialism has been to explain human consciousness away as “nothing but a pack of neurons.” That can’t work:
Last Monday, writing about a classical atheist naturalist who was attacking panpsychism, I reflected on the difficulties with which panpsychism presents him. Briefly, naturalism, often called “materialism,” posits that nature is all there is. Panpsychismdoesn’t dispute that. But the panpsychist also thinks that consciousness is real — present in all nature (or all living nature) but especially developed in humans.
The naturalist is hostile to the panpsychist because one of his underlying bedrock assumptions is that human consciousness will, in due course, be explained away. If it is not disposed of as an illusion, then it will be explained away as an aid to survival among early humans or perhaps as a spandrel (in evolution theory, a useless accompaniment of useful traits). So what we thought was our means of understanding the world is just another part of the world. It’s not a place we can stand that gives us some insight.
Despite the weight of a science establishment behind it, over many decades, that approach has just not caught on. It can’t. Because, for one thing, it ends the pursuit of science as a road to understanding.
On that view, there is nothing that understands. It’s just what happened on the African savannah hundreds of thousands of years ago when the human species learned to hunt better.
Or maybe not.
A friend has asked me to account for why I think panpsychism is a growing trend in science. Here are some observations…
➤ Panpsychism eliminates the crudities of Darwinism. For example, if consciousness is assumed to be a natural development in the most complex life forms, human consciousness would have happened, whether it improved survival or not. Darwinian controversies on the topic become pointless or anyway, much less significant. Perhaps that’s why a classical Darwinian, who needs to see human consciousness as a simple but controversial accident, views panpsychism with hostility.Denyse O’Leary, “Why panpsychism is starting to push out naturalism” at Mind Matters News (November 29, 2021)
Takehome: Panpsychism is not dualism. By including consciousness — including human consciousness — as a bedrock fact of nature, it avoids naturalism’s dead end.
You may also wish to read: A Darwinian biologist resists learning to live with panpsychism. Jerry Coyne makes two things quite clear: He scorns panpsychism and he doesn’t understand why some scientists accept it. The differences between panpsychism and naturalism are subtle but critical. As panpsychism’s popularity grows, insight will be better than rage and ridicule.