Panpsychism is sometimes stated as: All matter is conscious

What is meant by matter here? For example Philip Goff said:

The basic commitment is that the fundamental constituents of reality — perhaps electrons and quarks — have incredibly simple forms of experience

He included only fermions and not bosons, is this common in panpsychist philosophy?

  • 2
    From context in Goff's The Case For Panpsychism, he means ponderable matter, of which electrons and quarks are fundamental constituents. The reason for excluding fields (and hence photons and other bosons) seems to be caution about evidence. While we observe ponderable creatures that are uncontroversially conscious (humans), we do not observe even animals made of electromagnetic fields and the like. If we were to come across such creatures, as in Star Trek, Goff would presumably extend "subjective experience" to bosons too.
    – Conifold
    Sep 13, 2021 at 19:41
  • I’m voting to close this question because it amounts to scientific speculation Sep 14, 2021 at 4:58
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    @SwamiVishwananda How is "do panpsychists commonly hold X?" either scientific or speculation? OP is not asking anything about X itself.
    – Conifold
    Sep 14, 2021 at 8:40
  • @SwamiVishwananda, given the actual fact of consciouseness, this question is way less speculative than eg a question about the many worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics where no such fact holds
    – Nikos M.
    Nov 4, 2021 at 17:30

4 Answers 4


I wouldn't read too much into that. He refers to "the fundamental constituents of reality," which would include all types of particles. Electrons and quarks are only given as examples. If he meant to exclude bosons, he would have said so.

In the interview where he said this, he goes on to say:

And the very complex experience of the human or animal brain is somehow derived from the experience of the brain’s most basic parts.

Bosons, such as photons, are necessary for the physical function of the brain. Thus, if his premise is that consciousness of the brain is derived from the consciousness of its functional parts, he would have to include photons as functional parts and therefore having some simple consciousness.


I suspect he may be excluding photons, which don't experience time. Other force carrying bosons like gluons also seem very simple.

There are many flavours of panpsychist, and more serious modern proposals like OrchOR focus on specific properties of fundamental phenomena, typically systems capable of generating complex behaviour.

Buddhism or at least the Yogacara school can be argued to be panpsychist, but places things like particles within mind. For Buddhist thought 'unencumbered' awareness has a deep universality.

  • OrchOR isn't panpsychism, nor is it credible! The brain is too warm to be a quantum computer. Also, advances in neural networks, like GPT3 or AlphaStar, show that quantum entanglement is not necessary to produce highly complex cognitive functionality.
    – causative
    Sep 13, 2021 at 18:22
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    The link provided in this answer seems to have a very dubious grasp of physics. Also, I note, for what it's worth, that this answer misspells the words "panpsychism" and "panpsychist". Sep 13, 2021 at 23:06
  • @causative: Hossenfelder in her criticism, says "Orch OR is panprotopsychist in its assumptions". Tegmark had to retract the claims in his paper on OrchOR being unworkable: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/… The idea quantum states just can't influence biology is ludicrous, when chlorophyll production is one of many examples of en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quantum_biology
    – CriglCragl
    Sep 13, 2021 at 23:14
  • @DanielAsimov: Is that really the level of your engagement? 🙄
    – CriglCragl
    Sep 13, 2021 at 23:18
  • @CriglCragl That one of Tegmark's earlier criticisms was inaccurate does not prove the theory right; the same article mentions that the proposed mechanism yields coherence far below the 25 ms proposed. In your link on photosynthesis, it says photosynthesis might (unproven) involve coherence on the time scale of 60 femtoseconds, again far below what is proposed for Orch OR.
    – causative
    Sep 13, 2021 at 23:28

If electrons are conscious I would think photons are conscious entities as well in order to preserve a principle of mental conservation which may be the flip side of matter-energy conservation. Photons can become particle / anti-particles pairs which can then annihilate back to photons. The mind of the photon becomes the minds of the electron positron pair. The physical conservation is backed by mental conservation. What is the inherent nature of particles? Possibly they are minds - subjective points of view on their local environment.
see panpsychism and real mental causation and scientific animism

  • Photons are their own antiparticle. Do you mean positrons? Or protons? Why would there be a 'principle of mental conservation'? The principle of conservation of information (basis of the blackhole paradox) seems more to the point. Discussed the issue of our bias towards narratives from points of view here: 'Is the idea of a causal chain physical (or even scientific)?' philosophy.stackexchange.com/questions/70930/…
    – CriglCragl
    Sep 16, 2021 at 12:45

Almost all positions of panpsychism claim that an aggregate of objects does not constitute a distinct experience by itself. This position is not a contradiction, as long as the objects themselves can have experience. For example, one does not think of a group of people as a distinct conscious entity apart from the actual people themselves.

Excluding bosons from having this attribute, does not invalidate the claim of panpsychism, nor invalidate any consciousness conservation law, if there is such (whatever the case).

For example a Cooper pair of electrons behaves as a boson, while at the same time it is an aggregate. On the other hand, a photon can also be expressed as a kind of interaction between an electron and a positron.

So aggregates behave as bosons and bosons may be aggregates, thus it is dubious whether it consists of a separate experience apart from what the electrons themselves may have.

Note that there are conditions, under which an aggregate, can be a distinct conscious entity, eg all biological organisms, humans among them, are types of aggregates. So this claim is not absolute.

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