Panspychistic Noumena:

Infinite and Finite Modes of Consciousness

I. The Abstract

Physicalism, the doctrine that all things are physical in nature poses a major problem in the philosophy of mind, how does the non-experiential give rise to the experiential, the non-conscious to the conscious. Panpsychism, the view that all things exhibit some degree of consciousness or experientiality may be an answer to this problem. In contemporary philosophy, panpsychism might be seen as an absurd claim, the notion that everything is composed of consciousness is considered ridiculous not only in philosophy but elsewhere in academia as well. Alternatively, I believe it necessary that physicalism must entail panpsychism, ubiquitous consciousness, or omnipresent experiential phenomenon because physicalism must account for this experiential phenomenon by appealing to the physical, or the parts that make up the aggregates we attribute to creating consciousness.

II. Benny Spins’ Substance: Monism through the Lens of Spinoza

Thales of Miletus, regarded as the first western philosopher by many and possibly the father of all western thought, engaged in epistemic contemplation, positing the idea that all things were constructed of one substance; water. Democritus, one of the presocratic atomists, speculated the entirety of the universe originating from a single substance; atoms, that which is uncuttable. And in the seventeenth century, the philosopher Benedict Spinoza’s ontology proposed everything was also a single substance, composed of one thing; God, or the entirety of being. When one hypothesizes about what the origins of the cosmos is, and it is thought of originating as a singular substance, where it’s pervasiveness is intertwined in the fabric of reality, and the quintessential nature of being is an emanating force contained within the whole, one is dabbling with the philosophical position known as monism.

When Spinoza uses the traditional conceptions of God, that which is self caused and that which is an infinite substance to advocate for God’s existence, he attempts to disprove the conception of God in his time. In this sense, God cannot be anthropomorphized, but can be considered all of being. This necessarily entails that this one substance is all that is and could be, and Spinoza makes distinctions using terminology about how this substance is made manifest, which I will draw upon for my own views. First Spinoza says that this substance is made of attributes, which he defines as, “that which the intellect perceives as constituting the essence of substance,” and secondly, modifications (modes), “that which exists in, and is conceived through, something other than itself.” Finally, substance is defined as, “that which is in itself, and is conceived through itself; in other words, that of which a conception can be formed independently of any other conception.” (Spinoza)These distinctions and the linguistic framework is how I will argue my position, but a few examples are necessary to elucidate the practical usage of such terms. This substance has an infinite amount of attributes, two of which can be known, one of which is extension, humans and animals are examples of finite modifications and laws that govern these bodies would be considered infinite modifications. The other attribute we can know of is that of thought, where ideas, such that of a circle are finite modifications and I will argue that consciousness, at least in some way, is an infinite modification of this attribute.

What is a river? Perhaps a manifestation of the substance, a finite mode through the attribute of extension, made of many other finite modes. Fish, plantlife, and reptilian life, other modes, compose the river; modes contained within modes, or organisms contained within organisms.(Lord) Human beings are composed similarly, an aggregate made of smaller aggregates, mechanical organs in the body. Gastrointestinal microbiota create an ecosystem within. In Spinoza’s philosophy, it is necessary that if God has these infinite attributes then all the things contained within God also contain those attributes. The fish, the rocks, and the plantlife in the river must have these attributes, including thought. This entails panpsychism. For Spinoza, the only way to understand God, or being, is through science and philosophy, and by utilizing the advancements in science we can see how these modes of consciousness exist.

III. Strawson’s Physicalism: Realistic Monism

Galen Strawson, in his paper, ‘Realistic Monism,’ argues that physicalism entails panpsychism, that it is in some way necessary for the explanation of consciousness, the major problem with the physicalist doctrine; the inability to account for the ‘what it’s likeness’ of consciousness itself. Stawson defines physicalism as, “The view that every real, concrete phenomenon in the universe is physical,” and I agree with this definition. (Strawson, 3) Rather than a purely materialist account of the universe, the evolution of this ideology, physicalism, accounts for such infinite modifications of the substance, such as gravity or thermodynamics. There seems to be a level of intimacy with our own conscious, subjective experience, that the general thesis of physicalism answers inadequately, and in some cases, physicalists are willing to deny such phenomena even exist. Rather than deny this experience that we are so personally related to in the most private way, it is necessary that this experiential, subjective phenomenon be addressed as physical phenomenon itself. (Strawson, 4)

In our conscious experience we notice many parts, made of aggregates or ultimates, and these modes constitute the manifestation of a singular substance. It seems as though the fundamental nature of this substance, or the universe, is spatio-temporal in nature. (Strawson, 9) This suggestion is reminiscent of Immanuel Kant, possibly the most important philosopher of the modern era, and is important for the plausibility of panpsychism.

Strawson suggests that there are two principles in which the physicalist needs to reconcile.

  1. “Physical stuff is, in itself, in its fundamental nature, something wholly and utterly non-experiential” (Strawson, 11)
  2. “Experience is a real concrete phenomenon and every real concrete phenomenon is physical” (Strawson, 12)

Principle one is a foundation in the physicalist doctrine, yet physicalists will simultaneously hold that principle two is true as well, where these two principles are completely incompatible, an instance of cognitive dissonance.

Ultimately Strawson goes on to suggest that proto-experientiality, or, “intrinsically suited to constituting certain sorts of experiential phenomenon in certain circumstances,” (Strawson, 21) leads to micropsychism, or the idea that atomic particles, the parts of the aggregates that we constitute reality of the one substance, must have consciousness. Strawson ultimately rejects the first principle, the principle most physicalists subscribe to, and suggests that the two principles are irreconcilable for real physicalists.

IV. Critique of Pure (Phenomenal?) Consciousness:

Since the conception of consciousness has changed throughout time, I find significance in distinguishing between types of consciousness. The philosopher Ned Block philosophically discerns between two types of consciousness, phenomenal (P) consciousness and access (A) consciousness, which we could identify as modes of conciousness. Panpsychism, for me, concentrates primarily on phenomenal consciousness, “what makes a state phenomenally conscious is that there is something ‘it is like’ to be in that state,” (Kim, 273) or the qualitative properties of experience itself. Whereas (A) consciousness, “is poised for direct control of thought and action,” (Kim, 278) the conception of consciousness the general public has. (A) consciousness allows an agent, whether it be illusory or not, to isolate, and accelerate processes in the neural network for the sake of control, where (P) consciousness is deterministic, in the sense that a state of being cannot be controlled, but is in stasis from moment to moment within the laws of physics, the infinite mode of consciousness. A formal breakdown of the argument as a hypothetical syllogism:

1. If physicalism is true, then experiential phenomena must be accounted for physically.

2. If experiential phenomena must be accounted for physically, then all physical things must have protoconsciousness.

3. If all physical things must have protoconsciousness, then the fundamental level of reality has protoconsciousness.

4. If the fundamental level of reality has protoconsciousness, then micropsychism is true.

5. If micropsychism is true, then panpsychism is true.

C. If physicalism is true, then panpsychism is true.

Phenomenal consciousness is what Kant may call empirical consciousness, but there is another level of distinguishing, for phenomenal or empirical consciousness comes in a matter of degree. Kant says, “Now from the empirical consciousness to the pure consciousness a gradual alteration is possible, where the real in the former entirely disappears, and a merely formal (a priori) consciousness of the manifold in space and time remains, thus there is also a possible synthesis of the generation of the magnitude of a sensation from it’s beginning, the pure intuition = 0, to any arbitrary magnitude.”(Kant) This pure intuition of space and time, the spatio-temporal, must be found in all things, for at the fundamental level all things experience space and time, and must be built into the subatomic particles for there to be a pure intuition, protoconsciousness, or proto-phenomenal properties. Proto-experientiality itself.

When Kant says, “the real disappears,” there is a subtle implication leading to his transcendental idealism, where access to the actual, the thing in itself, becomes abstractly virtual in nature, a mere representation of the actual, or the noumenal. Without complete access to the actual (Noumena) due to the limitations of our sense perception, all there is access to is the phenomenal. Contemporary physics and neurobiology seems to confirm this hypothesis, as there are massive limits to our sense perception, a further understanding of monism through science.

Phenomenal consciousness must necessitate micropsychism, for there must be some pure state of proto-experientiality in the spatio-temporal context in the fundamental level of reality. “So if experience like ours emerges from some- thing that is not experience like ours, then that something must already be experiential in some sense or other. It must already be somehow experiential in its essential and fundamental nature, however primitively or strangely or (to us) incomprehensibly” (Strawson, 24)

V. (P) Consciousness as an Infinite Modification: Panpsychism

When I suggest that consciousness in some way is an infinite modification of the attribute of thought, this is what I suggest. (P) consciousness is the ubiquitous infinite mode, the parts of the aggregates contain a purity of consciousness closer to zero. “The intrinsic/concrete/categorical features of matter which physical science remains silent on account for the existence of consciousness. The problem of consciousness, the difficulty seeing how consciousness fits into the physical word, is the result of our not taking into account these “hidden” features of the physical world.” (Goff) This entails that if micropsychism is true, and I believe it to be at least plausible, then panpsychism is true.

As we go up the atomic ladder, we find higher levels of consciousness due to a complexity of organization. Supervenience maintains the physicalist doctrine, while suggesting a difference in degree of (P) consciousness. There appears to be a clear hierarchy that we are accustomed to, such that the question of consciousness escapes us, where there is a certain level of acknowledgement of consciousness when it comes to animals, where most species exhibit a level of both (P) and (A) consciousness, but botanical life escapes our primitive definitions, yet they move and experience pleasure and growth like many other living beings. An example of (P) consciousness where (A) consciousness = 0, a simple hedonistic pleasure principle in action, the floral’s growth is a metaphysical and epistemological rhizome of consciousness full of motion, where there is no center.

The entirety of systems are corrupted by the sensory data of the human species, seemingly incapable of escaping the subjective phenomenon of experience, where other animals don’t have the level of access consciousness and linguistic framework to question such ontology. If there is a clear hierarchy of consciousness in what we understand, such that botanical organisms experience phenomenon and insects experience more, we can deduce that there are instances of limited sense perception and focus, a temporal stasis in particular instances, a limit to a things phenomenology.

(P) consciousness is then, not only ubiquitous, but similar to that of cybernetics, a form of control and communication of organisms and machines through feedback loops designated to isolate and accelerate modes through the spatio-temporal complex. This isolation and acceleration leads to proto-experientiality of subatomic particles, which in the least have access to traversing and experiencing space and time, (P) consciousness = greater than 0, for there must be a certain likeness or state to be these particles, even if (A) consciousness=0. This is how physicalism and panpsychism are synonymous.

VI. Critique of Pure (Access?) Consciousness

The question now becomes, if physicalism necessitates panpsychism through (P) consciousness, what is the account of (A) consciousness, and how does it fit in? Access consciousness, what some call the ‘ghost in the machine’, or the finite mode of thought, comes in degrees, similar to (P) consciousness. Kant suggests, “that judgments of experience must contain necessity in the synthesis of perception,” (Bax) in which case (P) consciousness represents the perception, and alternatively, the judgement, that which the agent experiences and exerts its will over, represents (A) consciousness.

Avicenna’s flying man, a being with no senses, a body without organs, or a person who has yet to experience anything (a deprivation chamber), seemingly has no (P) consciousness. This necessarily entails no (A) consciousness, since (P) consciousness is a prerequisite for (A) consciousness. But, is it appropriate to suggest that this person has no state of being? Our intuition tells us there must be something it is like to be in the state this person is in, this natural instinct is the pure intuition of Kant. This spatio-temporal complex is then (P)=more than 0 while (A)=0, and if we can imagine this, it seems plausible through the multiple realizability principle that all molecules experience a state of being as well.

(A) Consciousness appears to be a mystery or the mystery that drives people to extreme or absurd views, Strawson also suggests this, he says, “Experiential phenomena cannot be emergent from wholly non-experiential phenomena. The intuition that drives people to dualism (and eliminativism, and all other crazy attempts at wholesale mental-to-non-mental reduction) is correct in holding that you can’t get experiential phenomena from P phenomena”(Strawson, 24), If (P) consciousness is ubiquitous, an infinite modification of substance, then (A) consciousness, that which gives us a certain level of awareness and is finite, must be an emergent property of (P), or the parts that make up (P).

VII. (A) Consciousness as a Finite Modification: Emergentism

If (P) consciousness is omnipresent and ubiquitous, then the experiential does not emerge from the non-experiential, but emerges from the experiential, yet there still appears to be an explanatory gap. Jaegwon Kim calls all emergence ‘brute’, and possibly implying some kind of mystical element, which I find inaccurate. Liquidity is a natural phenomenon that emerges from H2O molecules. H2O molecules do not individually have the property of liquidity, but the amalgamated system of molecules has liquidity. Strawson says, “The difference between macro- experiential and micro experiential phenomena, that the notion of emergence begins to recover some respectability in its application to the case of experience. For it seems that we can now embrace the analogy with liquidity after all, whose pedagogic value previously seemed to lie precisely in its inadequacy. For we can take it that human or sea snail experientiality emerges from experientiality that is not of the human or sea snail type, just as the shape-size-mass-charge-etc. phenomenon of liquidity emerges from shape-size-mass-charge-etc. phenomena that do not involve liquidity.” (Strawson 27)

VIII. Objections and Responses: The Noumenal

There is no empirical confirmation of panpsychism, a direct attack on my view and some may assume I’m contemplating some kind of mysticism or wizardry, a philosophical sacrifice to an epistemic and ontological pentagram. This accusal rejects premise (2) of my argument, that all physical things have protoconsciousness. This is not a fair rejection of the argument, because it seems that there is no empirical evidence that this type of protoconsciousness doesn’t exist. I also find that this rejection presupposes a kind of epitome of epistemic grandeur, that we already empirically know all there is know, yet science continues to shift paradigms and the future may hold greater secrets, as it once did for Democritus and his hypothesis of the uncuttables. It is entirely an assumption that particles don’t exhibit protoconsciousness, just as we consider space and time fundamental levels of reality, it could be possible that finding consciousness or ubiquitous experientiality as a part of the fundamental level of reality could help us answer some of the hard problems of consciousness.

Some philosophers, like Thomas Nagel might suggest that panpsychism is the only view that can avoid the problem of emergence (Goff). But I think that by synthesizing panpsychism and emergentism, it allows for us to hypothesize ways that consciousness could exist and how we can gain new perspectives about consciousness. For me, it becomes possible when we distinguish between types of consciousness and understanding how a monitstic view, such as that of Spinoza and his breakdown of attributes and modes.

A behaviorist, such as Daniel Dennet might suggest that our qualitative properties of experience, or qualia, might be illusory. Some more radical views may say that consciousness itself is an illusion. I think this view is absurd, to deny the one thing that we have such high levels of intimacy with that we know its existence first hand. But I think there might be some truth to this in a different respect. Just as there are limits to what can be known about reality, there must be a limit to what can be known about consciousness. Not that consciousness doesn’t exist but just like what we experience of reality is phenomenal, our own experience of consciousness is phenomenal as well.

Since systems of modes are (A) conscious (necessarily having (P) consciousness), and all consciousness is subjective in nature, that there must be an observer of the first person, we can’t know directly if something is experiencing consciousness. This is the limit of consciousness, the noumenal aspect where we cannot gain an objective understanding of consciousness. These feedback loops of acceleration and stasis are unobservable from the third person, the state of being gone before its realization into the actual, always a state of virtuality. Without adhering to eliminativist principles about consciousness, it’s more about the limits of what can be known about consciousness. The question of how consciousness arises is different than what consciousness is.

IX. Conclusion

By distinguishing between types of consciousness and synthesizing views, I think the new form of panpsychism becomes plausible. An attempt to reconcile physicalism, panpsychism and emergentism in one view, where the transcendental idealism and Spinoza’s ontology serve as an epistemological and metaphysical foundation, in hopes to fuse together the epistemic behemoth Kant, with the metaphysical mammoth Spinoza. Panpsychism might be considered a bizarre view, but there are many philosophers who still defend it today, including Strawson, Goff, and Chalmers; all who hold great influence in the dialogue of the mind.

X. Bibliography

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Chalmers, D. J. (n.d.). Panpsychism and Panprotopsychism. Retrieved from http://consc.net/papers/panpsychism.pdf

Curd, P. (2020, June 22). Presocratic Philosophy. Retrieved August 11, 2020, from https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/presocratics

Deleuze, G. (2007). Spinoza: Practical philosophy. San Francisco: City Lights Books.

Goff, P., Seager, W., & Allen-Hermanson, S. (2017, July 18). Panpsychism. Retrieved August 11, 2020, from https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/panpsychism/

Kant, I., & Hutchins, R. M. (1987). Critique of Pure Reason. In Great books of the western world, volume 42: The critique of pure reason ; The critique of practical reason ; The critique of judgement. Chicago: Encyclopedia Britannica.

KIM, J. (2019). PHILOSOPHY OF MIND. ROUTLEDGE.

Pangaro, P. (n.d.). Cybernetics. Retrieved August 11, 2020, from https://www.pangaro.com/definition-cybernetics.html

Spinoza, B. (1997). Spinoza: Ethics(R. Elwes, Trans.). MTSU Philosophy WebWorks Hypertext Edition.

Strawson, G. (2006). Realistic Monism: Why Physicalism entails Panpsychism. Retrieved from https://web.ics.purdue.edu/~drkelly/StrawsonRealisticPhysicalism2006.pdf