The Integral Information of Pan-Proto-Psychism

Prompted by this click-bait headline on Pan-Psychism from Philip Goff in Aeon magazine.

“Panpsychism is crazy, but it’s also most probably true.”

“… physics tells us nothing about the intrinsic nature of the entities it talks about, and indeed that the only thing we know for certain about the intrinsic nature of matter is that at least some material things have experiences.”

As recently as last Wednesday my own position came up when I was talking about the evolution and nature of consciousness. Whatever nonsense(*) is talked about how the observer-effect influences physics – collapse of the wave function, n’all that – it remains certain that there is some “spooky” relationship between consciousness and physics. I made only a passing reference, but clearly it rang bells with the audience in the discussion it started. [(*) Be great if people could simply remember that Schroedinger’s cat was only ever a thought experiment intended to demonstrate how nonsensical it appears!]

It’s partly a problem of human metaphors that precede understanding in physics generally, physics as a model that works without deep understanding, but let’s stick with the specifics of this problem.

Panpsychism is a common suggestion, though it’s not always clear what is meant. It’s not necessary to suggest that highly developed consciousness itself underlies the real physical world, that might indeed be time for the men in white coats with the straitjacket, though obviously it will always underlie our subjective model of it. Consciousness itself, evolved and distributed unevenly throughout sentient species, is however only one metaphor away from the forces and other effects “sensed” by and between other otherwise non-sentient physical objects. Whatever physical objects “have” it’s quite different to our own experience of advanced intelligent consciousness, but nevertheless related it seems. There is also no need for the dualist thought that two distinct physical and psychical types of natural stuff exist and that some supernatural effect creates relationships between them.

I tend to think of the connection as a common basis in proto-consciousness, a “psychical” (non-physical) component of consciousness that is necessarily present throughout the physical world even if not generally manifested as consciousness. And this proto-conscious component is far from mysterious or supernatural. In both fundamental physics and evolved biology this common component is simply information – significant differences between points in space-time. (Points not particles notice, without any intrinsic properties of their own, but with all properties and particles, psychical or physical, deriving from information integral to these point distinctions.)

Fundamental (Shannon) information is both proto-physical and proto-psychical. Not crazy and probably true.


[Previously on Psybertron – “significant difference” as a fundamental component is a recurring theme, first used with this integral information meaning back in 2005. And IIT is an exciting recent development in the physics of consciousness. Also a different topic on the face of it but with many more of the consciousness-as-evolved-information references and links.]

Also published on Medium.

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