DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-N079-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved July 14, 2024, from

3. Consciousness in panpsychism

But how can consciousness have that kind of structure? The simplest hypothesis is that there are innumerable interacting centres of consciousness which are the inner being of nature’s ultimate physical units; that there are definite lines of possible influence between them, either connecting them immediately or through ‘intervening’ ones; and that the ‘geometry’ of these lines is more or less adequately represented by what we conceive of as their spatial or spatiotemporal relations (or those of complexes including them), while a description of any particular physical process is thus a purely structural account – supplemented by an indication of how it is liable to affect our own perceptual experiences – of the way in which these possible influences have become actual.

However, there are various alternative paths which an attempt to understand the world panpsychistically may take. In particular, there are alternative accounts of how the over-all or dominant consciousness of a human being (such as is calling itself ‘I’ when one speaks) or animal fits into the scheme. The hypothesis just described suggests that the laws which govern the interaction of such a dominant centre of consciousness with the lower-level centres of consciousness which constitute its body, and via that with other things, are distinct from those which govern those interactions between lower-level centres of consciousness which constitute more ‘purely physical’ processes both within its body and in nature at large. This has a certain kinship to dualism since, though mind and matter are ultimately the same kind of ‘stuff’, fresh laws of interaction apply where centres of consciousness of a higher level than those present throughout nature come into operation (see Dualism §5). Also it is likely to conceive the spatial location of such a dominant centre of consciousness as more diffuse than that of the physical units corresponding to the centres which it dominates. (In principle, it can recognize wholes other than animals with a similarly dominant consciousness diffusely existing within them.)

However, other forms of panpsychism try to fit our consciousness into a world of interacting centres of consciousness whose structural description remains solely that of universal physics. These have some kinship with ‘double aspect’ conceptions of mind and brain. Various further versions of panpsychism are possible too, all sharing the claimed advantage of conceiving the mind–brain relation as a relation between things which are of the same generic kind. Actually, panpsychists have tended to develop their theories on the basis of an event or process ontology rather than that of individual continuants which endure through a certain length of time, so that for them the natural world in its inner being consists of innumerable streams of interacting experience rather than of interacting sentient continuants. Panpsychism is also sometimes associated with some form of absolute idealism according to which all things are included in one all-embracing consciousness in a manner which displays itself as their containment in a single spatiotemporal system.

Citing this article:
Sprigge, T.L.S.. Consciousness in panpsychism. Panpsychism, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-N079-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
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