Common convention holds consciousness as an awareness of one’s own existence. Consequently, many are reluctant to attribute this to many non-human animals, let alone particles.
But simple form of experience really could exist in even some of the universe’s smallest inert objects known to man, Dr Philip Goff, deputy director of philosophy at Durham University has announced.
He thinks very complicated consciousness of the human or animal brain could somehow be built from the consciousness of these very basic building blocks.
He told Express.co.uk: “This doesn’t mean we’re thinking particles have very complicated experience like a human being has – they’re not sitting there having existential angst.
“As we get simpler and simpler forms of life, we find simpler and simpler forms of experience.
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“Perhaps at some point the lights switch off and consciousness disappears, but for the panpsychists that continuum of simple of consciousness fading while never quite going out continues into inorganic matter until we reach the fundamental building blocks of matter which have, on this view, unimaginably simple forms of experience.”
The theory of panpsychism (pan means ‘everything’ and psyche ‘mind’) is actually a resurrection of an idea stretching back to the ancient Greeks.
Dr Goff supports the controversial theory because it revolves what is sometimes called the problem of consciousness.
He said: “The philosopher David Chalmers famously called the hard problem, which I think is roughly the idea of how consciousness fits in to our scientific worldview, how what we know about ourselves from the inside, fits together with what science tells us about the brain and the body from the outside.
“If you study neuroscience – the science of the brain – you learn about your own of firings and action potentials.
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“And overall, this story of very, very complicated electro chemical signalling – that’s what the brain is, according to our most up-to-date science.
“But what you won’t learn about on the face of it are things like feelings, experiences, emotions.
“In fact, it seems on the face of it the whole story of the brain that we get from neuroscience could go on completely in the absence of experience.
“And so we’re left with this mystery of why does consciousness exist at all.”
“And I think panpsychism gives us a way of solving this problem and a way of bringing these two stories together.”
He believes for all its richness, physics is confined to telling us about the behaviour of matter about what he does.
And physics tells us absolutely nothing about what philosophers like to call the intrinsic nature of matter – what matter is, in and of itself.
The author of Galileo’s Error: Foundations for a New Science of Consciousness, said: “So it turns out there is this huge hole in our scientific story of the universe.
“We learn from physics a lot about what matters does – its behaviour – but we don’t know what it really is. So there is this huge hole: the proposal of the panpsychist is to fill that hole with consciousness.
“But matter as it were, from the inside – in terms of its intrinsic nature – is constituted as forms of consciousness, therefore, it’s this beautifully simple, elegant way of bringing together what science tells us from the outside and what we know about ourselves from the inside.”
“This theory entails consciousness is much more widespread than we previously thought and almost all physical systems have some amount of consciousness even if only very small.”
He believes there remains much resistance to panpsychism because the conventional scientific approach does not do very well with respect to consciousness because our current scientific approach was designed to ignore consciousness.
Dr Goff said: “Galileo was a key moment in the scientific revolution, with Galileo’s declaration that mathematics is to be the language of science.
“The new scientists had a purely objective, quantitative vocabulary.
“But Galileo understood very well you can’t capture consciousness in these terms because consciousness is subjective, not objective, consciousness is qualitative, not quantitative, just in the sense that it involves qualities.
“What we forgotten, I think, is that it was never designed to be a complete story of everything.“