Does panpsychism claim that even mathematical entities, like numbers and functions and sets, are conscious entities? Or is it restricted to physical objects?

  • 2
    No, see SEP, Panpsychism:"The word “panpsychism” literally means that everything has a mind. However, in contemporary debates it is generally understood as the view that mentality is fundamental and ubiquitous in the natural world." "Everything" does not extend to fictions and abstractions.
    – Conifold
    Dec 19 '20 at 21:49
  • Man that's a full and complete answer! And a good one!
    – causative
    Feb 12 at 1:58
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    It could mean that in the case of Tegmark's mathematical universe hypothesis which collapses the difference between the physical and mathematical worlds. I had a long answer here which discussed the idea of relating logical/mathematical structures to experiences by generalizing the notion of the "psychophysical laws" that some philosophers with panpsychist leanings (David Chalmers especially) have speculated about.
    – Hypnosifl
    Feb 12 at 2:12
  • I don't know if there is a standard ontology of panpsychism, but as Conifold says, it generally holds that particles or relations of conscious are present in decreasing degrees in all "physical" entities, down to particle level. Nothing is fully independent of consciousness. Neither are mathematical entities, unless you are a Platonist. So perhaps the wording that equations are "conscious" is not the right way to state it. They too are formed out of and grounded in consciousness. Mar 16 at 19:47

This is a great question in that what you have asked uncovers two logical fallacies, the slippery slope argument and circular reasoning, that is located at the root of panpsychism. It does not have a clear notion of what a "thing" is. Let me clarify my point by dissecting this chain of reasoning:

  1. Everything has a mind
  2. Everything should include abstractions and fictions, otherwise it cannot be "every" thing
  3. Then abstractions and fictions too shall have consciousness.

Panpsychism proposes a ubiquitous mind, as an atomic physical/ideal particle or structure, in the natural world. If we accept the proposition that abstract concepts and fictions do not have consciousness, they become non-existent. This is obviously paradoxical as abstract concepts do exist, proven by the fact that I am writing this line.

On the other hand, if we accept that they are conscious entities -as they are part of "everything", they should be by the panpsychist perspective- we also imply they should have a physical or structural correlate of consciousness. Where in the natural world do these particles sit? Every time you make use of an abstract concept, you should also be creating "physical" or "structural" (depending on your stance between idealism or materialism) entities. This argument could be countered by proposing the entity that is created is not atomic but rather is emergent, which then implies consciousness does not have an atomic physical (or structural) correlate and falsifies the first assumption (that everything has a physical correlate of consciousness) altogether.

As you can see, if we accept that they are conscious, circular reasoning is unavoidable and as such, they should not.

  • Pansychism says that natural physical systems have minds, not including abstract ideas (so not literally "everything" in that sense). Panpsychism basically is an emergent view of consciousness, except with the criteria for emergence set very low. i.e. any system with inputs and outputs is sufficient.
    – causative
    Feb 12 at 2:01
  • Thank you for your respectful comment. While I am writing this I also questioned that point of view, but that makes the argument somewhat less concise to me. Then we should not define it as "everything" but everything that is not "emergent" or everything that is "physical". This still makes the argument blurry to me as the distinctions between what is physical and what is ideal are not agreed upon except for the common sense.
    – Ghostpunk
    Feb 12 at 20:06
  • That makes panpsychism a different perspective "in" emergentism, not something opposing emergentism. However they are commonly seem to contrast each other.
    – Ghostpunk
    Feb 12 at 20:11
  • There also is a problem concerning the nature of abstract ideas. How do we know if abstract concepts, which occur within our minds, do not have a physical correlate, i. e. do we know if ideas are not natural "physical" systems? Neuroscience shows that ideas do have an electromagnetic correlate, which is physical by common sense. These electromagnetic patterns in turn have abstract "inputs" and "outputs" as well.
    – Ghostpunk
    Feb 12 at 20:16
  • Yes, there is a physical system for the idea as it is being thought and so panpsychism would say the physical system for the thought is conscious. But what about when nobody is thinking it at a particular time?
    – causative
    Feb 14 at 3:53

I learned and heard of panpsychism from Eastern religions and Leibnitz, who as a universalist was well aware of and very interested in eastern mythology and religions. In Leibnitz later years he developed Monadology as a final summary to depict his panpsychism view using his famous monad, which I suspect is derived from the old indo-european word "Manas", very similar in meaning to English's word "Mine".

In his view, certain higher level monad like animal soul and human rational mind with reasoning/abstracting capabilities can have consciousness. Only monad is real substance in this world and monads exist everywhere, but one person can only have one distinctive soul-monad which is self-conscious. Plants also have monads but they're of bare type without consciousness. A math entity is only a very abstract concept only found to be in human mind level monad, thus the math concept itself has no consciousness, but the containing mind has.

A computer's memory also can have math entities, but computers are material composites which can be infinitely divisible without a unifying consciousness, thus according to him, this computer can not have consciousness. it can manipulate and compute these math entities faster than any human mind, but it simply does not "understand" any meaning of its computation. And I totally agree with him on this question.

  • Computers are material composites which can be infinitely divisible 'Splain me please?
    – user4894
    Aug 13 at 22:55
  • @user4894 Per Mill Argument you can regard a however complex computer as a mill. If we imagine that there is a machine whose structure makes it think, sense, and have perceptions, we could conceive it enlarged, keeping the same proportions, so that we could enter into it, as one enters into a mill. Assuming that, when inspecting its interior, we will only find parts that push one another, and we will never find anything to explain a perception. And so, we should seek perception in the simple substance and not in the composite or in the machine. (iep.utm.edu/lei-mind/#H3) Aug 14 at 0:51
  • How does that answer my question or support your claim that computers are infinitely divisible? Surely you know they're not. Leibniz didn't know modern physics.
    – user4894
    Aug 14 at 2:10
  • @user4894 thx for ur comment and challenge. Let me use an example to illustrate. Say you don't understand a true proposition (like the proved Poincare Conjecture), you either understand it (meaning you can logically and mathematically prove it) or don't. Of course you may understand some lemma leading to it, but let's omit those prep steps here for my illustration. So understanding about something is a type of higher level consciousness which is indivisible. While any computer proof assistant deriving it can be infinitely divided at least in terms of time. As for you last proposition no idea. Aug 14 at 3:26
  • You know, I looked at the Mill story and I do not understand your post. You are aware that matter's not infinitely divisible, right? Maybe I should make sure of that. You can't infinitely divide time either, since you can't measure below the Planck time. And computers operate in discrete steps, finitely many of them for any computation. I am surely not understanding what you are saying.
    – user4894
    Aug 14 at 7:18

There are many different approaches to pansychism.

In Buddhist Yogacara philosophy, subjectivity is seen as fundamental, with all phenomena occur in the intersubjective space of shareable experiences. That is, no pure objective reality, because no one can experience that, but no pure subjectivity or isolated thinker either because that arises interactively - as illustrated in the metaphor Indra's Net. In this framework, relations between minds would be fundamental, with material experiences like geometry occuring within that, ie within the alaya vijnana, or space of mentalising/narrative possibility.

In physics, symmetries and conservation laws have been shown to be equivalent. If the set of fundamental constants has been determined by the Strong Anthropic Principle, then the symmetries and arising of minds are intimately related, and perhaps equivalent in our patch of all possible universes. That is not all mathematics being a kind of entity, but maybe E8.

  • Can I summarize that as saying it is the experiencing of phenomena (which is one thing) is all. Hence experiencing math (thinking about it etc) is what would exist?
    – Al Brown
    Aug 14 at 2:17
  • @AlBrown: Er, no..? Buddhist thought is non-dualist, so you could say there's a fundamental unit of kind or substance. But also has anatta and sunyata, no permanence to self-natures or thingnesses, and emptiness of any non-dependent origination. So 'one thing' is problematic, it essentialises, & doesn't recognise the fundamental fluidity of things, even laws of physics. I'd relate E8 in Lisi's proposal, to a 'superspace' of all different arrangements of fields. It's not all of math, just a specific hyper dimensional & quite large structure, that we could relate to the anthropic principle.
    – CriglCragl
    Aug 14 at 2:33
  • The Buddha’s suttas are not nondual. There is the conditioned, ie phenomenal world of the five skandas. And there is the unmanifest, uncreated, unborn. There is reincarnation. Anatta means not self. Means anything that can be prrceived or conceived is not self. A method. Does not mean “there is no sef, realize this fact” youtu.be/FEnb2cFWKBs
    – Al Brown
    Aug 14 at 3:30

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