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Panpsychism, in philosophy, is either the view that all parts of matter involve mind, or the more holistic view that the whole universe is an organism that possesses a mind. It is thus a stronger and more ambitious view than panvitalism, which holds only that all things are alive. This is not to say that panpsychism believes that all matter is alive or even conscious but rather that the constitient parts of matter are composed of some form of mind and are sentient.

Panpsychism claims that everything is sentient and that there are either many separate minds, or one single mind that unites everything that is. The concept of the unconscious, made popular by the psychoanalysts, made possible a variant of panpsychism that denies consciousness from some entities while still asserting the ubiquity of mind.

Relation to metaphysical positions

Panpsychism usually implies idealism - the metaphysical view that mind is the fundamental constituent of reality (a view that reduces matter to mind - a type of monism).

Eliminative Materialism, the view that there is no such thing as mind, but only matter- is incompatible with panpsychism. Materialism generally, the view that ultimately there is only matter, is compatible with panpsychism just in case the property of mindedness is attributed to matter. Hylopathism argues for just this attribution. But few writers would advocate a hylopathic materialism.

However, there are also varieties of monism that don't presuppose (like materialism and idealism do) that mind and matter are fundamentally separable. An example is neutral monism first introduced by Spinoza and later propounded by William James. Panpsychism can be combined with this view.

In the history of philosophy

The view of the world as a macrocosm in relation to man (which is a microcosm, respectively) was a staple theme in Greek philosophy. In that view it was natural to think about the world in anthropomorphic terms. The view passed into the medieval period via Neoplatonism, and became shared by Leibniz, Schopenhauer, Schelling, and many others.

Josiah Royce (1855-1916), the leading American absolute idealist, held to the panpsychist view, though he didn't necessarily attribute mental properties to the smallest constituents of mentalistic "systems".

The panpsychist doctrine has recently been making some kind of a comeback in the American philosophy of mind — for example, David Chalmers and Leo Stubenberg have each recently defended it. In the philosophy of mind, panpsychism is one possible solution to the so-called hard problem of consciousness. The doctrine has also been applied in the field of environmental philosophy through the work of Australian philosopher, Freya Mathews.

In the psychoanalytic tradition

Carl Jung, who is maybe best known for his idea of collective unconscious, wrote that "psyche and matter are contained in one and the same world, and moreover are in continuous contact with one another", and that it was probable that "psyche and matter are two different aspects of one and the same thing". (orig. source unknown, cited in Danah Zohar & Ian Marshall, SQ: Connecting with our Spiritual Intelligence, Bloomsbury, 2000, p. 81). This could be interpreted as panpsychism, apparently of the neutral monism variety.

Other manifestations

Panpsychism and emergentism can be seen as alternative ways to bridge the more extreme positions of crude reductionism and crude holism. Panpsychism differs from emergentism in that according to panpsychism, even the smallest physical particles have mental characteristics. Emergentism claims that though the particles be mindless, some systems formed by them, and by nothing but them, do possess mental attributes. Human brain is a case in point.

Gaia theory, which views the biosphere as a self-regulating system, that maintains homeostasis in relation to many vital chemical and physical variables, is sometimes interpreted as panpsychism, because some think that any goal-directed behavior qualifies as mental. However, the goal-directed behavior of the biosphere, as explained by the Gaia theory, is an emergent function of organised, living matter, not a quality of any matter. Thus Gaia theory is more properly associated with emergentism than panpsychism.

The label "naive" (vs. "philosophical") panpsychism is sometimes used to mean, not a doctrine defended by any philosopher, but the attitude of primal people and children to think of even inanimate objects as sentient and/or intentional. This is the same as animism.

Panpsychism, as a view that the universe has "universal consciousness", is shared by some forms of religious thought: theosophy, pantheism, panentheism, and cosmotheism.

Panexperientialism or panprotopsychism are related concepts. Alfred North Whitehead incorporated a scientific worldview into the development of his philosophical system similar to Einstein’s Theory of Relativity. His ideas were a significant development of the idea of panpsychism, also known as panexperientialism due to Whitehead’s emphasis on experience. Process philosophy suggests that fundamental elements of the universe are occasions of experience, which can be collected into groups creating something as complex as a human being. This experience is not consciousness, there is no mind-body duality under this system as mind is seen as a very developed kind of experience. Whitehead is not an idealist and while his philosophy resembles the concept of monads first proposed by Leibniz, Whitehead’s occasions of experience are interrelated with every other occasion of experience that has ever occurred. He embraced pantheism with God encompassing all occasions of experience, transcending them. Whitehead believed that the occasions of experience are the smallest element in the universe even smaller than the subatomic particles.

See also

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