Is it possible that things that are not alive possess conciousness?

I guess it's pretty plausible that animals like dogs or cats feel that they are alive. We humans are there to experience things that are happening to our body. What about things like iPhones, computers, shoes, tables?


Panpsychism is the position according to which all material things have consciousness. So the answer to your question depends on what kind of possibility you're thinking of.

If logical or conceptual possibility, then yes it's possible (panpsychism is not incoherent).

If you mean metaphysically, or physically, or naturally possible, then this is an open question. It might depend on what we mean exactly by consciousness (cognitive/representational abilities? Qualitative experience?) and also by "living" (autonomous subsistance? Self replication? Lineage with biological organisms on earth?). In any case there is no consensus on the question.

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    It is not an open question (in any meaningful sense of the term "open question") whether iPhones, shoes, or tables have consciousness in any conventional sense of the word "consciousness". – Rex Kerr Feb 23 '15 at 22:47
  • @RexKerr: it actually isn't as cut and dry as you think it is. The most conventional definition I know of, "Consciousness is the quality or state of awareness, or, of being aware of an external object or something within oneself." requires a definition of "aware." Especially in the world of modern software, that definition is getting fuzzier every day. – Cort Ammon Feb 24 '15 at 15:42

In Eastern philosophy, everything is pervaded with consciousness. The nature of God is ultimate consciousness, and everything that we perceive as the universe is projected out of that consciousness. Now inanimate objects do not have an objective consciousness as they do not have the facility (i.e. brain) to have an objective consciousness, but they are still permeated by the Supreme Consciousness.

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    It depends on the Eastern school in question. What you say sounds like Hinduism, but it isn't necessarily reflective of Buddhism or Taoism. – R. Barzell Feb 23 '15 at 18:09
  • @R.Barzell Yes, Hinduism. But also Mahayana Buddhism and Taoism. Not Theravedic Buddhism. – Swami Vishwananda Feb 24 '15 at 5:20
  • Actually, neither Mahayana or Taoism postulate such, although one could read those into them. However, such a reading is not universal. – R. Barzell Feb 24 '15 at 13:52

Every non-alive thing that we know about "certainly" is not conscious. (In quotes because all knowledge is tentative.)

We don't have a great scientific definition of consciousness, and philosophical definitions are disputed, but in almost every conception it has something to do with an ongoing awareness of events beyond the raw computation of their properties and immediate selection of an action.

Tables, shoes, and even iPhones and computers are right out simply because they don't meet even these minimal requirements. (Computers might if we programmed them the right way, but so far it is extremely doubtful that we're using the right algorithms to even admit the possibility.)

However, it is equally certain that non-alive things could be conscious if only because all evidence is that brains generate consciousness, and brains appear to be sufficiently well-described by deterministic properties plus stochastic noise that in principle a computational model could be made and implemented on a non-living computer.

Then one is tempted to ask: what needs to happen to bridge the gap from the "certainly not now" and the "certainly possible"? We then fall afoul of our lack of scientific understanding: we don't know what is needed (or even quite what we're talking about) biologically to the extent necessary to even hazard an informed guess about when or how we might get there computationally.


ask Daniel Dennett. he will tell you we're all just automatons that think we have consciousness.

not that i agree with him. i might be more of a fan of Chalmers.

  • Is this Dennet's position on free will, rather than consciousness? The two are different and (depending on your viewpoint) unrelated. – R. Barzell Feb 23 '15 at 13:58
  • i think it's his position on consciousness. the "...automatons that think they have consciousness" is nearly verbatim (i have to find the source). i dunno why i keep getting down-voted, but that will not change my answer. – robert bristow-johnson Feb 23 '15 at 17:59

No, no-living matter does not have consciousness since consciousness requires a "receptacle" in which the "thing" can be conscious, which is possible only if it has the capacity of manipulating ideas, thoughts, imaginaries, ... i.e. if it has a brain.

In other words, only living matter is susceptible of consciousness, but not all living things have a consciousness in the sense that we employ. Rudimentary life forms such as worms, bacteria, virus, do have a primitive form of consciousness even though they can hardly be said to be "conscious".

For Stéphane Lupasco, consciousness results from the antagonistic relativization between biological matter and physical matter. He argues that this relativization engenders a matter of a Third kind and he calls it psychic matter or quantic matter.


Stéphane Lupasco, "Le Principe d'Antagonisme et la Logique de l'Energie", mann & Co., Paris, 1951.

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