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

  • 4
    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, 2020 at 21:49
  • Man that's a full and complete answer! And a good one!
    – causative
    Feb 12, 2021 at 1:58
  • 4
    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, 2021 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, 2021 at 19:47
  • Suggested tag and links.
    – J D
    Dec 13, 2021 at 17:15

5 Answers 5


No. In panpsychism, the fundamental stuff of the universe is matter-consciousness. Mathematical entities are immaterial. They are abstractions that can be used by conscious entities. At the fundamental level, I prefer awareness to consciousness.


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, 2021 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, 2021 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, 2021 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, 2021 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, 2021 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, 2021 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, 2021 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, 2021 at 3:30

It generally does not. According to panpsychism consciousness is intrinsic to matter, it is in rocks or rivers. The more advanced forms of the human-level of consciousness arise due to complex combinations of particles and their specific properties intrinsic to matter (i.e. spin, charge, mass).


mathematical entities, like numbers and functions and sets, are conscious entities

Can be metaphysically speculated under idealist panpsychism where ideas are themselves, conscious agents. I do not recall a variant of panpsychism that asserts just that, however, I find Donald Hoffman's conscious agent theory close.

Namely, Don Hoffman proposes that all experience in so-called reality is constructed by qualias which are themselves, agents. Those agents (i.e. the qualia of red apple) degrade from complex agencies down to simple binary agents at Planck scales. Agents are networked through Markov's kernels and operate via state transitions.


Mathematical ideas are not conscious. However there is a craving to hold on to numbers and mathematics in general. Craving gives rise to grasping. Grasping gives rise to becoming(a Mathematician). Becoming gives rise to birth of ,numbers , mathematical equations , concepts and understanding. However given the birth , the mathematician and mathematical ideas are subject to ageing and death.

Therefore ideas of maths take birth ,and, they age ,and ,they die. If there is a craving left while dying ,then there is a rebirth of mathematician and the related ideas.

Panpsychism doesn’t mean that the numbers themselves are alive. It takes a mathematical mind to become conscious of numbers. Not everything conscious is capable of discerning mathematical ideas.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .