Why Panpsychism need not be in contradiction to Idealism

in philosophy •  last year

The well-known writer Bernardo Kastrup, a die-hard idealist has repeatedly argued against the notion of panpsychism, even calling it a "threat". In this article I will argue that Kastrup's interpretation of panpsychism is but one among many and that there are interpretations of panpsychism possible which do not contradict idealism in the least.


Philosophers have identified panpsychism as the view that consciousness, mind or soul (psyche) is a universal and primordial feature of all things. According to Kastrup this means that matter either has consciousness or that consciousness is an intrinsic aspect of matter. Kastrup has also argued that in panpsychism consciousness is fragmented unlike the unified form it has in Idealism. Moreover, panpsychism would suggest that our enhanced consciousness is merely the aggregation of all our atomic "consciousnesses". Rocks and chairs by this definition would also have an overall consciousness.

This blackwashing of panpsychism by well-established philosophers is a threat to the beautiful coherent simple explanation to absolutely everything that a more refined and subtle interpretation of panpsychism as a fractal of consciousness can offer.

Hierarchical panpsychism of autopoietic systems

In my "Technovedanta" philosophy consciousness is ultimately unified. Kastrup metaphorically argues that consciousness is like an ocean. Human consciousness would be like a vortex and simpler biological life forms would be like wave eddies. This metaphor has its merits. The question is however why does Kastrup limit this definition to biological life forms?

In the book "A simple Explanation of Absolutely Everything" Dr. Cyd Ropp describes consciousness as a hierarchical fractal which is also unified, but in which every sufficiently self-sustaining i.e. autopoietic phenomenon is endowed with a form of consciousness. In my book "Technovedanta, part 2: A Panpsychic Theory of Everything" I disclose a very similar teaching. From photons to atoms, from molecules to macromolecules, from cells to organisms, at every level of a meta-system transition we find autopoietic entities, which are able to react to their environment. They can receive stimuli and provide an output. In this philosophy every autopoietic system is a kind of vortex to speak in the terminology of Kastrup. I have argued that all these systems have a kind of toroidal force field around them, which aids in the integrative process of their becoming aware of influences from outside or inside. But these toroids are fractals of toroids. The very minute awareness of a cell is not really sensed by us, nor is our overall consciousness the sum of these minute "consciousnesses". Rather there is a big toroid or vortex that is sensed by us as our individual or self-consciousness, but this field is surrounded by minute consciousnesses of our cells that align themselves along the chreodes of our higher consciousness. Similarly our toroid aligns to a higher form of consciousness. And yet all these consciousness-toroids are unified as they are made of or rather reside in the ocean of consciousness.

Is it not true that the orbitals of atoms are such toroids? And aren't these toroids by their shape and nature ideally fit for the self-reflective, self-referential and integrative nature of consciousness? Is the toroidal forecfield in autopoietic systems from atoms, to molecules to cells to organisms not an indicator of a degree of self-involvement? Is the ultimate nature of manifested reality not a self-involved ueber-Ego as an expression of the underlying consciousness at every level thereof?

In this way there need not be a dichotomy between panpsychism and Idealism. Note that I do not state that a chair a rock or a bimetal experiences an overall consciousness: Such aggregated objects have no autopoietic behaviour at the macro level, only their molecular or atomic constituents have.

It's life Jim but not as we know it 

(quoted from a chapter in Technovedanta)

Life may either be:

1. a property which emerges from the structured and functionalised aggregation of macromolecular entities such as DNA,RNA, proteins, lipids etc. or

2. a property which is already present at one or more lower aggregation levels.

As it is easier to show 2. than 1. Let's start to see if "manifestations in functions such as metabolism, growth, reproduction, and response to stimuli or adaptation to the environment originating from within the organism" are present at a lower aggregation level.

At the macromolecular level many of these functions can indeed be recognised:

Wikipedia defines metabolism as "the set of chemical reactions that happen in living organisms to maintain life. These processes allow organisms to grow and reproduce, maintain their structures, and respond to their environments. Metabolism is usually divided into two categories. Catabolism breaks down organic matter, for example to harvest energy in cellular respiration. Anabolism uses energy to construct components of cells such as proteins and nucleic acids"

Admitted, the definition is given here too much on the cellular level, but if we equate living organism with macromolecule and ignore the definitions which are by definition only intended for life as commonly defined at cellular or organism level only, it is fair to reduce the term metabolism to the capability to construct and breakdown and to harvest energy and to dispose thereof.

Macromolecular entities capable of growth, aggregation, clustering do exist. Prion proteins and other proteins involved in brain diseases all share this property. Construction cannot be denied.

Self/splicing RNA and protease enzymes that are capable of degrading other macromolecules, but also themselves have been demonstrated. Breakdown cannot be denied.

Proteins that harvest energy directly from light (rhodopsin etc.) have been demonstrated. Otherwise enzyme proteins harvest energy from redox reactions etc. The disposal of energy is self-evident from self-degradation or catalysis of reactions by enzymes.

So a form of proto-metabolism at molecular level (because macromolecules are molecules after all) can be demonstrated. Growth in the form of aggregation, clustering, concatenation or even polymerisation etc. can also be acknowledged.

Reproduction, generation of offspring with the same characteristics as the parents is more difficult. Disease prions transform healthy prions into diseased prions and thus are capable of a rudimentary form of reproduction. Viruses are reproduced by their hosts. DNA and RNA under the right conditions can achieve a certain level of reproduction. Note that asexual reproduction, which is quite common in the animal and plant kingdom, in fact is merely the result of the growing of the original species, which then splits off identical offspring. Smaller molecules are of course not capable of reproduction by themselves, but then again, reproduction is not necessarily vital to survival. The restriction of life to entities which are capable of active self-reproduction is a very narrow and arbitrary one. A definition given by scholars.

What is a more interesting definition of life as it is much closer to the concept of consciousness, which is the ultimate reality of being, is the notion that a life being is capable of response to stimuli or adaptation to the environment originating from within the organism.

Proteins and DNA do react to the environment in response to stimuli from the environment. Enzymes engage in different types of catalysis dependent on the stimuli from the environment. DNA duplexes separate in individual strings in response to stimuli from the environment. It can even adapt by virtue of mutation.

Smaller molecules will dependent on the parameters of the environment engage in a reaction or fail to do so if conditions (stimuli) are not right. The ability to react also depends on the inner parameters of the entity, its conformation, its energy content (molecular orbitals) etc.

So characteristics of proto-life are already present at the lower aggregation levels even if we follow the narrow scholar definitions. For the moment I will not repeat this analysis in the same level of detail at the next aggregation levels (atomic and subatomic) as it is not my purpose to give an exhaustive theory. I just want to shed doubt on the preconceived paradigms that there would be something such as inanimate nature.

Shortly, particles do exchange energy and sub-particulate matter (neutrinos etc.) So far as to metabolism. Bombardment of large nuclei results in the falling apart in smaller nuclei. So does radioactivity. So far as to reproduction. Fusion of nuclei results in aggregated larger nuclei. So far as to growth. Particles do react to stimuli from the environment: electromagnetic fields, absorption and expulsion of photons, repulsion, attraction etc.

It could be argued that atomic and subatomic particles are not capable of intelligent behaviour. Basically this amounts to the hypothesis that as long as behaviour is an automatic predictable algorithm, it is not intelligence as we know it.

Particulate entities cannot be said to behave as automatons. That would presuppose that given a set of exact parameters you can predict the behaviour of the particle. At this level you cannot. Quantum mechanics shows differently.

So why would we limit the definition of life to biological systems? Because we have no imagination? Because we equate panpsychism with a kind of naive animism?

Do Photons communicate with us?

The experiments of the researcher Dean Radin have shown that if test subjects focus their attention to a given outcome in the so-called double slit experiments, indeed a statistically relevant deviation is shown in the direction of the intended outcome. In a variant of the double slit the test subjects have to either to focus on the photon arriving at the slit or not and depending on their being mentally observed or not they statistically more often form a normal pattern than the interference pattern when they are not observed. If we humans influence the photon's behaviour with our consciousness, the photon somehow senses our influence and reacts thereto. Does that then not mean that even photons have a minute form of consciousness? 

According to a definition Idealism is a system of thought in which the objects of knowledge are held to be in some way dependent on the activity of mind.

But need the cause and the effect not be of the same nature as Samkhya philosophy established thousands of years ago? 

I can imagine that Kastrup could argue that our consciousness somehow prepares a chreode for the photon, but other experiments where the human observer is replaced by an apparatus based observation deny that. Somehow the electromagnetic particles of the observation apparatus are then also capable of a kind of consciousness based influencing.

How does Kastrup see the influence of consciousness on these so-called inanimate phenomena of nature? Can these ideas live a life of their own?


The prejudice that idealism and panpsychism would be mutually exclusive at least needs a serious re-evaluation. A hierarchical system of panpsychic autopoietic entities as suggested by me and Dr. Ropp does not contradict the notion that we and every autopoietic form is some way dependent on the activity of an über-mind a unified syntellect consciousness at the basis of reality.

I hope you have enjoyed reading this article, even if you may not agree. Please upvote and resteem!

By Technovedanta a.k.a Antonin Tuynman, author of "Is Intelligence an Algorithm?"

Image from Cyd Ropp's book "A Simple Explanation of Absolutely Everything".

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This is truly excellent work. I love your line of reasoning and the analogies. Well done.


Thank you Sean-King.