Pigliucci vs Kastrup on Panpsychism

I have a lot of time for Massimo (Pigliucci) and have found Bernardo (Kastrup) at least interesting and provocative recently in his speculative output. A fascinating “flame-war” broken out on Twitter since Massimo published a “scathing” criticism of a recent Bernardo paper. A paper with an amazingly click-baity “question” for a headline it has to be said.

Sadly, the latter is playing his objection to the criticism to the gallery, including Deepak Chopra, so hard to sort out content from the flak. Anyway the topic is (or isn’t) pan-psychism, so with my interest in pan-proto-psychism – the same fundamental information underlying both mind-stuff and physical stuff – I thought I’d capture paper, critique & rebuttal for later archaeology.

Paper: The Universe is Consciousness.
(And the SciAm article with the click-baity question headline.)

Critique: Does the Universe Suffer from Multiple Personality Disorder?

Rebuttal: The Remarkable Criticism of Massimo Pigliucci.

Denying that his thesis is panpsychism gets off to a bad start in the executive summary of Bernardo’s original paper:

“there is only cosmic consciousness”

That looks the epitome of pan-psychism to me, even if not “bottom-up” whatever that means (presumably pan-proto-consciousness?)

And, I’m guessing from Massimo’s choice of headline we’re dealing with some analogy too far in multiple universe’s as multiple “conscious personalities”. Certainly “multiple personality disorder” doesn’t appear in Bernardo’s summary but is introduced by the SciAm headline writer.

Oh well, time to read.


[Post Note: The dialogue continues:]


[Post Note: And more “attack and defence”:
Susan Schneider disses panpsychism (after Chalmers) in SciAm.
And Bernardo needs to defend it. Beginning to see this whole thing as just another broad vs narrow definitional argument – the same perennial philosophy runs through all sides. People who overclaim universal consciousness are “woo” and those who are “meh, that’s just how it is” are ignored – meantime professional critics stoke differences over “mysteries” and “unproven” arguments as click-bait. Yawn.]

17 thoughts on “Pigliucci vs Kastrup on Panpsychism”

  1. At the risk of sounding pedantic , could I persuade you to review you use of the term “mind-stuff”. The term was coined by WK Clifford , in 1879 , to refer to the fundamental experience from which mind and stuff (matter) are derived.

    Given this provenance , your usage implies “the same fundamental information underlying both mind-stuff and stuff-stuff ”

    I value the term mind-stuff and I think it merits more rigorous use to preserve its integrity.

    Sorry to rant.

    Now I can go back and read the content


  2. I now look forward to reading Kastrup’s paper in full and I’d relish an online debate between them.

    Confirmation bias , my constant companion , is delighted to see Pigliucci making a tit of himself.

    Here is WK Clifford , in 1879 , offering a simple summary of one such concept. Pigliucci should note the last paragraph.

    “The universe, then, consists entirely of mind-
    stuff. Some of this is woven into the complex
    form of human minds containing imperfect re-
    presentations of the mind-stuff outside them,
    and of themselves also, as a mirror reflects its
    own image in another mirror, ad infinitum.
    Such an imperfect representation is called a
    material universe. It is a picture in a man’s
    mind of the real universe of mind-stuff.

    The two chief points of this doctrine may
    be thus summed up : —

    Matter is a mental picture in which mind-
    stuff is the thing represented.

    Reason, intelligence, and volition are pro-
    perties of a complex which is made up of
    elements themselves not rational, not intelligent,
    not conscious.

    Note. The doctrine here expounded appears
    to have been arrived at independently by many
    persons ; as was natural, seeing that it is (or
    seems to me) a necessary consequence of recent
    advances in the theory of perception. Kant^
    threw out a suggestion that the Ding-an-sich
    might be of the nature of mind ; but the first
    statement of the doctrine in its true connection
    that I know of is by Wundt Since it dawned
    on me, some time ago, I have supposed myself
    to find it more or less plainly hinted in many
    writings ; but the question is one in which it is
    peculiarly difficult to make out precisely what
    another man means, and even what one means
    one’s self.

    Some writers (e.g. Dr. Tyndall) have used
    the word matter to mean the phenomenon plus
    the reality represented ; and there are many
    reasons in favour of such usage in general.
    But for the purposes of the present discussion
    I have thought it clearer to use the word for the
    phenomenon as distinguished from the thing-in-
    itself “

  3. No problem. Blog posts are not rigorous as far as defined terms are concerned. I’m usually more liberal with “scare quotes” – core terms are always up for discussion (and definitions – like all species – only exist with hindsight – after Dennett.)

  4. That’s cool . They’re all metaphors at best .
    But , since “the question is one in which it is peculiarly difficult to make out precisely what another man means, and even what one means one’s self”, I wince at the corruption of Clifford’s lovely plain-language coining which avoids Heisenbergish jargon.

    I’ll get over it.

    And you’re right. A dialogue would be preferred to a debate, despite Pigliucci’s manner, which cries out for comeuppance.

  5. Two thoughts on Kastrup’s paper .
    I wonder how robust Hofstadter’s “Strange Loop” theory of bottom-up pan-psychism will appear in light of this stance.
    And I suspect that a more perfect match for JS Haldane’s philosophy , of layered abstractions from a unitary experience , would be hard to find.

  6. (Still not had time to read and digest the sources beyond summary paragraphs.) Talking of language, you are using “bottom-up pan-psychism” for what I call “pan-proto-psychism”. ie The universe is not filled-with / built-on consciousness itself, but it is evolved from the same proto-psychic elements – information / significant-differences. Like Pigliucci, I reject metaphors – like “universal personality” – that suggest the “woo” of all pervading consciousness, without (intelligent) life.

  7. I’m using “bottom-up pan-psychism” as it’s used in Kastrup’s paper. Hofstadter’s Strange-Loop and Clifford’s “locked in little miracles of self-reference” would fit the bill.

    The beauty of Kastrup’s view is that it provides an analogue of “universal personality” , a metaphor , if you will , drawn from empirical research . We can now model this”woo” inducing concept rationally rather than poetically , mythically or mathematically.

    Kastrup may not be right, but he’s given us “alter-natives” our best alternative to Cosmic-Slop.

    There was no woo in JS Haldane. He was woo-less to a fault.

    A nice model , based on an individual personality of a type that was well established in the public imagination even before it had any physiological verification , should make the conceptual leap a bit easier. And less spooky.

  8. I’m sure you’re right – but “personality” as a metaphor simply carries too much baggage to avoid being branded “woo”. (All metaphors die eventually and we wonder what all the fuss was about – but it’s a matter of how we get there.)

  9. Fair enough ,Ian .

    But to that , I’ll quote JBS Haldane’s “Possible Worlds” once more.

    “”We have learned to think on two different lines—one which enables us to deal with situations in which we find ourselves in relation to our fellow-men, another for corresponding situations with regard to inanimate objects. We are pretty nearly incapable of any other types of thought. And so we regard an electron as a thing, and God as a person, and are surprised to find ourselves entangled in quantum mechanics and the Athanasian Creed. We are just getting at the rudiments of other ways of thinking. A few mystics manage to conceive of God as such, and not as a person or a substance. They have no grammar or even vocabulary to express their experience, and are generally regarded as talking nonsense, as indeed they often do.”

    Kastrup has provided us with , if not another line to think on , at least a branch line that’s now had its integrity checked.

    I too avoid anything which smacks of theism and won’t have a bar of woo , but I don’t find this instance at all intimidating.

    And if we map “universal personality” onto a scientifically understood process we can further abstract this to the mathematical metaphor by which we grasped that process itself. The woo and personality of our initial conception are thus reduced to a mathematical analogue of an empirically verified experience.

  10. It might be helpful to look at this through the lens of the MOQ.

    Intellectual pan-psychism

    Social Multiple personality disorder

    Biological The neurological correlates of the above.

    Inorganic. The matter of which the above is composed

    And also, in terms of Haldane’s Abstractions.

    Religious Experience. (Dynamic Quality )

    Psychological Multiple personality disorder

    Biological The neurological correlates of the above.

    Mathematical The abstract equations which model the above

    I’ve made no attempt to be accurate or syntactically correct in these broad brushstrokes .

  11. But this is where our views depart? In mapping to the MoQ I can’t see pan-psychism mapping to “intellect”. Proto-(bottom-up)- psychism is the significant difference in the undifferentiated continuum from which all others emerge, the DQ. Consciousness per se is what separates the biological from the social. Ever broadening the definition of the psychic seems to devalue its use?

  12. We’re “out where the buses don’t run”. We need to agree on the possibility of motion , before we conjure-up routes and timetables.
    That would be the role of Kastrup’s analogy with the neurology at play in multiple-personalities , if the analogy holds and more detailed parallels can be drawn.

    ” Ever broadening the definition of the psychic seems to devalue its use?”
    It works well enough when we broaden the definition of “the material” . Fields ? Metaphors ?

    Again Ian , thanks for the responses.

  13. I’d ordered this book a few weeks ago . It arrived today , and I read the back cover and knew I’d have to share it with you.
    Classic woo.

    “Schrödinger’s world view is that there is only a single consciousness of which we are all different aspects.
    He admits that this view is mystical and metaphysical and incapable of logical deduction. But he also insists that this is true of the belief in an external world capable of influencing the mind and of being influenced by it.”


  14. I engaged Bernardo on his online forum on this topic of panpsychism for over a year. I would say, to oversimplify, that he believes that his idealism view allows for a greater place for the transcendent aspect of consciousness than panpsychism. He has on rare occasions admitted that with just slight modifications, he would accept “top down” (consciousness given priority over matter) panpsychism.

    I think his insistence is more a matter of the politics of scientific debate than a fundamental philosophic difference.

  15. Hi Bruce, I’d forgotten this dialogue (via Haldane etc.) had started with Kastrup’s pan-psychic model. I did subsequently read his “The Idea of the World”. I get your “alter-natives” point now – but I still find taking Kastrup literally is a metaphor too far. I found his naming of all “patterns of information” as conscious “alters” was just a word-game. They are undoubtedly components of conscious being, but to call them “thoughts”, seemed to be the whole language trick. Most collected (and linked) thoughts here http://www.psybertron.org/archives/13255

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