Intelligent Design Mind Naturalism

Is panpsychism replacing materialism?

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Proponents of two leading theories of consciousness are trying to develop tests for their models, in a hitherto baffling field:

Why does the Integrated Information Theory (IIT) model depend on panpsychism?

To understand why the IIT model entails panpsychism, observe that, at this point, conscious has become a technical term. To say that electrons are conscious does not mean that electrons have opinions, as is often assumed.

It only means that they can produce quantum collapses. On that view, human consciousness is a huge and immensely complicated system that can produce quantum collapses.

The model (and IIT in general) need panpsychism because they require consciousness, seen in this sense, to be a feature of most of the universe:

Previous attempts to solve the measurement problem by appealing to consciousness have run into a major problem: if classical reality requires the presence of conscious humans, how did the universe evolve classically to the point where human consciousness appeared? The new idea avoids this because IIT doesn’t limit consciousness to biological beings. The universe could have begun as a quantum system and continued evolving quantum mechanically until matter first became able to integrate information. This consciousness then started to collapse quantum reality, creating the sort of classical reality we experience today.


That doesn’t mean that the universe is itself a conscious being, just as it doesn’t mean that electrons have opinions, only that consciousness is a non-material element in our universe, present to varying degrees in varying entities. — News, “Will we soon be able to test theories of consciousness?” at Mind Matters News

Takehome: Panpsychism, in the form of Integrated Information Theory (IIT), is a much more serious competitor to dualism and idealism than materialism could hope to be. Panpsychists are not trying to claim that consciousness is merely an illusion. They may be wrong but they aren’t ridiculous.

23 Replies to “Is panpsychism replacing materialism?

  1. 1
    doubter says:

    Panpsychism whether in the form of IIT or not is still erroneous as far as I am concerned, because it still doesn’t accommodate the paranormal, in particular the very large body of evidence for psychical phenomena such as veridical NDEs, verified reincarnation memories, verified mediumistic communications, veridical at-death communications (ADCs), and it goes on. Some form of interactive dualism fits this data very much better. Panpsychism just seems to be an unsatisfactory last-ditch effort of materialist science to grudgingly deal with the consciousness problem without really giving up materialism – to have their cake and eat it too so to speak.

  2. 2
    William J Murray says:

    Doubter said;

    …to have their cake and eat it too so to speak.

    That’s exactly what it is. What does “evolving” even mean in this context? What is “evolving,” how is it “evolving?” Informational potentials don’t evolve, they just exist as such until selected and processed into experience. If subatomic entities have been “experiencing” processed potentials “prior to” human consciousness, so what? Humans can still select informational potentials and experience them factually as irreconcilably opposing states. Human observation can change states regardless of temporal or spatial distances.

    People just don’t want to own up to the ramifications of the evidence: reality is experiential in relationship to the individual; it does not and cannot cause a conscious individual because it is the individual that is the cause of reality.

    At least, that’s what the evidence to date indicates.

  3. 3
    Jack says:

    Doubter: “Panpsychism whether in the form of IIT or not is still erroneous as far as I am concerned because it still doesn’t accommodate the paranormal, in particular the very large body of evidence for psychical phenomena such as veridical NDEs, verified reincarnation memories, verified mediumistic communications, veridical at-death communications (ADCs), and it goes on.”

    Moreover, it cannot even define what consciousness is, nor account for its unity.

    If you don’t know what something is, you cannot explain how it is.

    Consciousness is the primary fact of my existence. It has an ineffable quality and unity that defies definition let alone explanation. Just try to describe the difference between the conscious experience of red and green. It can’t be done.

    Logic and reason require language to express. Science depends on logic and reason, and therefore is dependent on language. Nobody can use words to describe the difference between red and green. This clearly indicates that consciousness is outside of the purview of what we call “science.”

    It is something… other.

  4. 4
    Jack says:

    “only that consciousness is a non-material element in our universe, present to varying degrees in varying entities”

    There is no evidence (scientific or otherwise) that consciousness is “in” the universe at all. Any more than I am “in” a movie when I’m sitting in a movie theater watching a movie. All that can be said of consciousness is that is attached to, or associated with, or interfaced with, the universe at some level.

  5. 5
    bornagain77 says:

    as to:, “it is the individual that is the cause of reality.”

    “Not even wrong”
    – Pauli

    Although an individual, via their free will, is not just a passive observer of reality, (Zeilinger), this is still a very far cry from scientifically establishing that any individual human is the ’cause’ of reality. A VERY far cry!

  6. 6
    MikeW says:

    “Nobody can use words to describe the difference between red and green.”

    On the contrary, Opponent Process Theory (OPT) has a lot to say about the perceived differences of Red and Green qualia. For example, Red and Green are opposing colors. In the perceived color space, you can’t move gradually from Red to Green by mixing with any of the colors. From Red, you can move gradually and smoothly to any of Yellow, Blue, White, Black or Neutral Gray. Then from any of Yellow, Blue, White, Black or Neutral Gray, you can move gradually and smoothly to Green. But not directly from Red to Green. The other opposing colors are Yellow-Blue and White-Black. The only color without a known opponent is Neutral Gray. You can move gradually and smoothly from Neutral Gray to any of the other known colors.

    OPT works in conjunction with Trichromatic Theory and neural network theory to provide a full theory of color vision. Trichromatic Theory explains how the rod and cone receptors in the retina detect different wavelengths of light. The neural network theory explains how the brain’s neurons convert the signals from the rods and codes into channels of information to the visual cortex. OPT helps to explain how the visual cortex converts this information into perceived color qualia within the conscious mind.

  7. 7
    doubter says:


    OPT helps to explain how the visual cortex converts this information into perceived color qualia within the conscious mind.

    I doubt very much that this theory or any other for that matter actually explains the true nature of the subjective conscious experience of these colors – the theory just maps out the physical neuronal processing of rod and cone data from the retina.

    Of course, the brain controls how physical light frequencies of the various colors are processed. Since the self, subjective consciousness, is an immaterial entity that in life is intricately enmeshed in the brain’s neuronal structures, it is limited in its color perceptions to those physical rod and cone data processing outputs.

    The theory can’t show and explain the actual transformation of nerve impulses in a neural net into subjective experience (they are in totally different existential categories). If you claim it does, then please explain.

  8. 8
    MikeW says:

    Doubter@7, we know that the color space relationships between perceived color qualia are independent of the brain’s neural network, because the relationships hold regardless of whatever signals are coming from the rods and cones and from the neural network, and even if there are no signals coming from them at all. For example, there is a well-defined Orange quale half-way between the Red and Yellow qualia, which is independent of any relationships between light wavelengths, or any of the rod/cone/neuron signals. This relationship is completely perceptual, and can be described and shared and agreed upon by multiple individuals.

    It’s similar to the relationship of the number 2 being half-way between 1 and 3. There’s no evidence that this numerical relationship is intricately enmeshed in the brain’s neuronal structures, although one could unreasonably hypothesize that to be the case. Rather, it’s more straightforward to assume that the numbers 1, 2, and 3 have independent, intrinsic relationships of their own that we learn about and store in our memories.

    The same is true for color qualia. A high-color-acuity observer can distinguish perceptual distances between about 10 million different color qualia. It seems unreasonable to hypothesize that all of the possible distance combinations between them are hard-coded into the brain’s neuronal structure. If that kind of hard-coding existed, certainly it would have been observed by now. Rather, it’s more reasonable to assume that the perceptual color distances exist within an independent color space that all observers are accessing and experiencing, and then storing in their memories.

    So OPT can’t totally explain the transformation of nerve impulses into subjective experience, but it can help explain it by measuring and characterizing the subjective experience. But that’s all any theory can do. As any theory progresses, we can learn more, but we can never fully explain scientifically the ultimate source of any phenomenon.

  9. 9
    MikeW says:

    Doubter@7, it may be true for you that no materialistic theory can explain your conscious experiences, but the ElecroMagnetic (EM) field theories neatly explain all of my conscious experiences. (Note EM field theories are not part of the bogus IIT theory.) For example, they explain the “binding problem” of how my brain’s multiple neuron channels interact in parallel with a single conscious experience. They also explain the “hard problem” of how my brain accesses and perceives sensory qualia. For example, in the theory, the EM field has an intrinsic “color” property (similar to its “charge” property), that manifests itself in my brain. When my brain’s neurons send a “Blue” signal to my visual cortex, it orients a section of the EM field so that the property “Blue” is integrated into my conscious EM field. That “Blue” property interacts with some of my output neurons to complete my mental experience.

    The EM field theories also explain (1) why non-biological devices and machines are unable to detect colors and other sensory qualia, (2) why external EM devices don’t normally conflict with my consciousness, (3) why some finely-tuned external EM devices have been shown to affect conscious thoughts (although at this point in only a crude and disruptive manner), (4) why epileptic seizures don’t invoke conscious intellectual content, and (5) why split-brain patients normally continue to have single conscious experiences.

    Of course, whether any of the EM field theories are actually true is another question, although they have made predictions that have been verified and replicated, and they haven’t been falsified yet. The theories are in their early stages, so a lot of work remains to try to fully verify them.

  10. 10
    doubter says:


    What I just can’t get past is the basic Hard Problem – absolutely none of the measureable properties or elements or parameters of EM fields are in the existential space of subjective experiences, thoughts, intentionality, etc. in consciousness. The latter subjective elements of consciousness are ineffable and immaterial. It’s laughable to suggest that you can physically measure a quale. Therefore, how can subjective experiences of qualia be somehow one and the same as, or part of, or consist of, these “conscious” EM fields or their workings?

    Secondly, I have to once again bring up the inability of the EM theory or any other materialistic theory of consciousness to account for the very large body of evidence for the independent existence of the human spirit as ultimately an immaterial entity separate from the brain. Examples of these psychical phenomena for which there is a lot of empirical evidence are veridical NDEs (many occuring while the brain was dysfunctional presumably along with its EM fields), verified reincarnation memories, verified mediumistic communications, veridical at-death communications (ADCs), and the list goes on.

  11. 11
    Jack says:

    MikeW: “On the contrary, Opponent Process Theory (OPT) has a lot to say about the perceived differences of Red and Green qualia. For example, Red and Green are opposing colors. ”

    What you’re acknowledging is that red and green differ. “Red is not green.” This is the implicit in the point, so bravo for perceiving the obvious.

    Beyond saying “red and green are not the same in every way”, words can’t describe the difference. The best anyone can say is “they seem to share some property (visual), but red is not green.”

    Hope that helps.

  12. 12
    doubter says:


    …in the theory, the EM field has an intrinsic “color” property (similar to its “charge” property), that manifests itself in my brain. When my brain’s neurons send a “Blue” signal to my visual cortex, it orients a section of the EM field so that the property “Blue” is integrated into my conscious EM field. That “Blue” property interacts with some of my output neurons to complete my mental experience.

    This portion you described of the EM theory caught my attention. It seems to be saying that somehow the brain’s conscious EM field has a new formerly unknown magical property somehow closely related to our blue quale – a new “property” of the EM field that is found nowhere in the Standard Model of physics, which only recognizes a certain number of physical properties to an EM field. This new “blue” property of the field is presumably not physically measureable, but is conjured up in order to attempt to explain color qualia like the experience of the color blue. If the claim is that because it is just some special modulation of known EM field properties, and in principle it may become physically measureable sometime in the future, then the Hard Problem strikes again.

    If scientific hypotheses and theories can arbitrarily postulate unmeasurable substances and qualities in order to explain phenomena, then that is akin to being able to invoking any imaginable magical things – that would be the end of science. This reminds me of the old episode of the popularity of “phlogiston” to scientifically explain heat, cold, etc. It was a magical substance postulated in order to come up with an explanatory theory. It did explain some things, but still turned out to be a figment of human imagination.

  13. 13
    MikeW says:

    Jack@11, actually I’m saying much more than simply that “Red is not Green”. All of the basic colors (White, Black, Red, Green, Yellow, Blue, Gray) are different. But the difference between Red and Green goes beyond that. Red cannot be mixed with Green in any ratio to form a continuous sequence from Red to Green. But Red can be mixed with any of the other basic colors to form a sequence between them. For example, Red can be mixed with Yellow to form a sequence from Red to Red-Orange to Orange to Orange-Yellow to Yellow, with many additional hues between each of those. That can’t be done with Red and Green. The only way to go from Red to Green is to first mix Red with any of White, Black, Yellow, Blue or Gray colors, and then mix the resulting White, Black, Yellow, Blue or Gray color with Green.

    The same opposition difference holds between White-Black and Yellow-Blue. That is, there is no way to move from White to Black without going through one of Red, Green, Yellow, Blue or Gray. And there is no way to move from Yellow to Blue without going through one of White, Black, Red, Green or Gray.

    The Opponent Color Theory (OCT) neatly explains the color oppositions based on a spherically symmetric dimensional model. In the model, Red and Green are on opposite sides of a single Red-Green dimension. Then, much like the surface of the Earth, in which you can’t travel from the North Pole to the South Pole without passing across the Equator, similarly in 3D color space, you can’t travel from Red to Green without passing through White, Black, Yellow, Blue on the “equator” or some combination of them.

    One of the successes of OCT is in understanding color blindness. When genetic defects or retinal damage cause only two channels of information to be passed from the retina to the visual cortex, the brain can only display two of the three color dimensions. In most cases of this condition, the brain decides to suppress the Red-Green dimension, so that the person cannot distinguish between them.

  14. 14
    MikeW says:

    Doubter@12, I agree that EM theory can be compared with phlogiston theory, but neither of them are “magical”. All new scientific theories hypothesize something new, but what makes them scientific rather than magical is that they relate to existing generally observable phenomena that can be systematically observed, measured and investigated.

    In the case of phlogiston, the measurable effects related to the theory were falsified, so the theory was abandoned. That may also turn out to be the case for EM theory, but so far all of its predictions that can be measured have been confirmed, and work is continuing on testing its other predictions.

    The hypothesized EM color property has an interesting similarity to the SU(3) spherical symmetry of the strong nuclear force of the Standard Model. That similarity is what caused Gell-Mann to name the force between quarks as a “color force” mediated by a “color charge”. Of course, there are significant differences between them, but the similarity is intriguing.

    The EM color property is not part of the current Standard Model, because it is not an elementary particle nor a force between particles. Rather, it’s a (theoretical) property, similar to “charge” or “spin” or “polarization”. We don’t know the source of any of these properties, but we don’t consider them “magical” if they can be systematically observed and measured.

    Right now the only way to observe and measure color qualia, or any sensory qualia for that matter, is with biological brains. EM theory explains why current non-biological devices and machines cannot observe them. The reason is because of the sophisticated technology within brain cells that is not currently available outside of biology, including homochirality and chiral-induced spin selectivity. But if that technology can be appropriated from biological cells to non-biological devices, then those devices may one day be able to observe, measure and report on them. And work is proceeding on that front right now.

  15. 15
    doubter says:


    It occurs to me that your hypothesized “color” property of the EM field would have to be supplemented by some large number of other subjective experience “qualia properties” of your conscious EM field. These would be all the other subjectively experienced properties or elements of consciousness, such as emotions – fear, anger, sadness, joy etc., other properties of light perception such as brightness level – darkness and illumination, sound perception such as loudness, audible tone, etc., pain and pleasure, and it goes on. Many of these have physical causes but the essence of them is immaterial and only in consciousness.

    They all share the same ineffable properties of qualia in being immaterial aspects or elements of subjective consciousness and in another entire existential realm than physical properties. They just can’t be reduced to physical properties.

    So, in addition to still ultimately running into the Hard Problem, the EM field theory is burdened with the necessity of conjuring up a great number of additional postulated ultimately physical properties of the EM field that can only be decoded by the biological brain – a large degree of complication that unfortunately runs afoul of the Occam’s Razor principle. Is it reasonable or plausible that the brain’s EM field could have so many presently undetectable and unmeasureable properties?

    It seems to me that interactive dualism or even IIT panpsychism would have considerably less of an explanatory complication.

  16. 16

    Definitions of words do matter a lot for efficient, logical thinking.

    The panspychists appear to want to define non-material as being still factual.

    This is not a smart way of defining. All what can be established as fact, the substance of that should be defined as being “material”.

    As distinct from what is subjective, like beauty, the substance of which should then be called “spiritual”.

    Otherwise, you will be running into confusion that beauty would be a matter of fact in the consciousness, which is irrational.

  17. 17
    MikeW says:

    Doubter@15, you make a good point that there are other subjective qualia experiences besides visual “color”. Actually, IIT (without the panpsychism) attempts to characterize them within a “geometry of integrated information”. Balduzzi’s article below is a good summary of what they’ve got so far. (See Fig. 15 for a graphical view of the geometry.)

    It appears that color qualia appear in 3 dimensions, sound in 1-2 dimensions, texture/form in 1-2 dimensions, pain/itch in 1 dimension, and taste/smell in 2-3 dimensions. As you suggest, amplitude (e.g. brightness, loudness, painfulness, etc.) is an additional factor in all of the qualia. (It’s interesting that the number of sensory qualia dimensions appear to be similar to the number of compactified higher dimensions in string theory. But that association may be, dare I say, speculative?)

    EM field theories can account for all of the sensory qualia. But the theories are fairly new, so they concentrate on color and sound, since those geometries are the most studied and understood. So the EM field not only turns blue when you view the sky, but it also hums Middle C when you press that key on your piano. As I’ve stated elsewhere, the reason why “Blueness” and “Middle C” haven’t been detected by non-biological devices is also fully explained by EM field theory.

    Emotions (fear, anger, sadness, joy, etc.) are more complicated than direct sensory experiences, so they probably involve complicated interactions between neurons and the consciousness. For example, music appreciation starts with the audible tones from the (theoretical) EM field, but the sequences and modulations are appreciated by a combination of neurons and consciousness. So I haven’t seen any EM theory article that attempts to deal with that, or with other emotions.

    But EM theory does deny panpsychism. The brain’s (theoretical) conscious EM field is weak and localized within the brain. So even Spock’s fingers can’t get close enough to read it.

  18. 18
    doubter says:

    I think our little debate is at an impasse. Of note is the fact that you have not once responded to my argument that the evidence for paranormal phenomena clearly implies some form of interactive dualism, and completely conflicts with EM field theories of consciousness.

    This indicates an immovable issue – you appear (like most materialists) to complacently dismiss this very large body of empirical evidence derived from many expert investigations and also laboratory experiments, presumably on the old David Hume philosophical grounds that anything that conflicts with the current established theory of the world is in principle impossible regardless of any evidence to the contrary no matter how incontrovertible. This is categorically dismissing a LOT of evidence without detailed examination, basically on materialist ideological grounds.

    Concerning this evidence, what about veridical NDEs? I would really like to see a plausible in detail debunking of the accumulated evidence in this area, for instance of the investigated cases of veridical NDEs in the book “The Self Does Not Die: Verified Paranormal Phenomena from Near-Death Experiences”, by Rivas, Dirven and Smit. A skeptical attack that would actually engage with the evidence. But rather than attempt to debunk the cases in detail, so far the best materialist skeptics have been able to do is the old David Hume argument.

  19. 19
    MikeW says:

    Doubter@18, actually I have responded on the subject of paranormal phenomena (NDEs, OBEs, psi, etc.) but will respond again. Paranormal phenomena are part of pseudo-science in that they cannot be systematically observed and replicated. That means they cannot be applied to technologies that can benefit society. So I’m not particularly interested in them, and I don’t require any scientific theory to explain them.

    As a Bible believer, my own belief on these phenomena is that they are products of (1) active imaginations, (2) con artists, and/or (3) deceiving spirits. I personally haven’t experienced an NDE or OBE, but the ones that I’ve heard or read about almost always lead people to deny some truth of Scripture, especially those that are reported by non-Bible believers. A common NDE report is that the person “saw” many people in heaven, including unbelievers. To me, that is clear evidence that the NDE was caused by (1), (2), or (3) above.

    The Bible repeatedly warns people to avoid divination and sorcery. That’s because God is the only way to Truth and Love.

  20. 20
    MikeW says:

    Doubter@15, I think Occam’s Razor is one of the strongest arguments in favor of EM field consciousness. If the EM field can explain all sensory qualia, then it greatly simplifies our understanding of those phenomena. It would be like Newton explaining apples falling and the Moon’s orbit with a single force.

    We already know that the EM field can “walk and chew gum at the same time”. Maxwell showed how the EM field can explain all electrical and magnetic phenomena. When a person walks and chews gum, the EM field is responsible for most of the heavy lifting. Indeed, the EM field is an integral part of most of our everyday experiences. That’s why the EM field is about the only thing that can solve the “binding problem” of how our brains can affect our consciousness, and how our consciousness can in turn affect our brains.

    When the Designer gave us the ability to perceive sensory experiences, he used some methodology. He certainly has the power to colorize one or more dimensions of the EM field for our benefit. A lot of the gifts He gave us are understandable with materialistic scientific theories. The ability to understand and exploit those gifts for our benefit is one of His greatest blessings. It would definitely be in character for Him to have done that with sensory qualia as well.

  21. 21
    doubter says:

    Thank you for your response on the paranormal evidence issue. Since your position is based on deep faith in Biblical fundamentalism, I guess there is little else to be said on this issue.

  22. 22
    MikeW says:

    Doubter@21, thank you for your comments and responses on conscious EM field theory. They have caused me to reflect more deeply on it, so that now I feel I understand it even better. Please continue with your comments on paranormal phenomena, especially those that can be tested and replicated by skeptics like me. I will keep abreast of, and will report on, any new successes or failures of EM theory.

  23. 23
    MikeW says:

    Doubter@21, to clarify, while I am a Bible believer, I would not call myself a “fundamentalist”. Fundamentalists tend to believe in literalistic interpretations of the Bible — for example, belief in a literal 1000 year millennium in Revelation, rather than the symbolic meaning of 1000 as a perfect number of years, which is what the writer intended. Fundamentalists also often believe in undocumented paranormal activity.

    In contrast, I believe in verifiable and replicable Bible teachings and scientific theories as the best way to establish the truth, and to use that truth for the benefit of society. In the Biblical context, I would call myself a “confessional Christian” whose confessions include the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed, the Athanasian Creed, the Augsburg Confession and the Book of Concord.

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