Panpsychism and Classical Theism

If any being possesses omniscience, then panpsychism of a kind is true. Why, then, is panpsychism often discussed as unusual, niche, or an alternative to Christianity?

Here are two ways in which a special kinds of panpsychism can be distinguished from Christianity:

  1. Some panpsychists will argue that material has consciousness. This direction of relation seems to contrast with the Christian story where agency is prior to creation.
    1. I’ve seen this defended with a kind of quasi-evolutionary or behavioral-emergentist argument that basically goes as follows: Humans are intelligent and aware of many qualia such as colors, taste, smell, and so on. Animals are so to a lesser extent, plants to a lesser extent, and microbiota to a lesser extent. So, conciousness follows the evolutionary path, and therefore we need not expect conciousness absent material.
    2. Several problems come from this view. I’ll discuss three. First, evolution itself already has problems in the origin of biological life. The panpsychist will face similar problems to the degree that they lean on this story. Conciousenss in plants, animals, and organisms is far more plausible than conciousness in rocks, molecules, atoms, and quarks.
    3. Second, some animals aware of qualia that aren’t observable to humans, and indeed some plants and microbiota. So it’s not clear that the growth in degree of conciousness tracks the evolutionary story very well. Why do we think the visual or scent experience of a fly is related to a conciousness of a lower degree? It seems to reduce down to intuition pumping on evolution or a red herring where intelligence rather than qualia is the key indicator.
    4. Third is the radio theory of consciousness. See more details about what this is at the end of the article. Under this theory, a mind might be highly capable before any communication device exists for it, and the communication device might evolve independently. The observational-behavioral result would seem equivalent: An animal behaves subject to the constraints of their bodies, but their mind is not obviously impuned. How does the panpsychist discriminate between this theory and the evolutionary account which would claim that degrees of conciousness are growing over time? I think the pure panpsychist should be happy to grant that their theory would be compatible with either option.
  2. Some panpsychists will argue that the consciousness associated with various materials is distinct, in contrast to the meme of omniscience as panpsychism, which would hold that at least one consciousness permeates all material.
    1. The problem here is both a lack of demonstration and a double standard: The panpsychist only directly observe their own experience, and yet they do not posit other humans are philosophical zombies. So, they grant that all people have consciousness without direct observation, they grant consciousness of rocks and base molecules without observation, and yet they want to reject the possibility of omniscience as consciousness without direct observation.
      1. I think the lurking and dubious assumption in this approach to panpsychism is a rejection of multiple layers of consciousnesses with respect to a single material region. There can be no singular omniscient consciousness, they suppose, because my material brain is already associated with my own consciousness, so it cannot also be used by another consciousness. This is actually a powerful lurking claim made with no evidence, and it seems to run into various issues despite having various advantages. Four issues include:
        1. Multiple personality disorder
        2. The concepts of social or cultural conciousness, or other concepts of aggregate agency and conciousness
        3. Arguments for omniscience
        4. The burden of proof for a complicated emergence of consciousness loss or transfer on the part of material under some conditions. That is, if my brain were decomposed into molecules the panpsychist would hold that they are each conscious. When they are combined, this camp of panpsychist seems to say that their original state isn’t merely accompanied by a new aggregate consciousness, but further, the aggregate consciousness displaces the prior lower consciousness of the individual parts. I have seen no demonstration of this sort of thing and it is a rather advanced claim to make with no evidence. The null hypothesis would be: We can see the human consciousness and we believe in the innate primitive consciousnesses, so let’s hypothesize that they all exist rather than supposing some additional process by which the lower consciousnesses cease.
      2. I suppose there is an exception to the accusation of double standard within this group if a panpsychist of this kind were to argue that their consciousness alone is real and it permeates all material; I’ve never met such a self-deifying solipsist-panpsychist, and I think that view can be easily shown as absurd.

It is important to note that either of these camps involves many other assumptions compared to panpsychism per se. In order to defend mere panpsychism, it would be advantageous to minimize the number of assumptions, commitments, theses, and assertions. If you are seeking to defend panpsychism, why not embrace Christianity as an option?

A chat with GPT-4 about the Radio Theory of Consciousness:

My Prompt:
There is a theory in the philosophy of mind that makes an analogy between human minds and radios or transmitters. In this theory, a person with a damaged brain might have a damaged ability to communicate between mind and body. What is this theory called, or what are some academic references?

ChatGPT Response:
The theory you’re referring to is often known as the “Radio Theory of Consciousness” or the “Transmission Theory of Consciousness.” The central idea is that the brain acts like a radio, “tuning” into consciousness rather than producing it. Just as a broken radio might fail to tune into a radio station but doesn’t negate the existence of the broadcast signal, damage to the brain might impede conscious experience without proving that the brain is the source of consciousness itself.

One of the most famous proponents of a view like this was the psychologist and philosopher William James. He suggested that the brain might act as a filter or transmitter for consciousness, rather than its originator. Similarly, the philosopher and parapsychologist Frederic W. H. Myers proposed a similar idea in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, where he likened the brain to a transmitter of consciousness.

More recently, scholars such as David Chalmers have delved into the “hard problem of consciousness,” though Chalmers doesn’t endorse the transmission theory per se. Nonetheless, discussions around the hard problem highlight the complexities and challenges inherent in understanding the relationship between the brain and consciousness.

If you want to read more about these ideas, consider the following references:

James, William. “The Principles of Psychology.” 1890.
Myers, Frederic W. H. “Human Personality and Its Survival of Bodily Death.” 1903.
Kelly, Edward F., et al. “Irreducible Mind: Toward a Psychology for the 21st Century.” 2007. This book looks at a range of phenomena that challenge the mainstream neuroscientific view of consciousness and revisits ideas similar to the transmission theory.
Keep in mind, however, that the majority of neuroscientists and philosophers of mind today believe that consciousness arises from brain activity. The transmission theory is more of a fringe view, but it remains an intriguing concept in the broader discussion of the nature of consciousness.


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