Panpsychism and Beyond

Panpsychism has to be true. No other explanation for the fact of consciousness makes any logical sense whatsoever. What’s kept hush-hush among respectable intellectuals these days is that panpsychism being true implies some form of animism, the idea that all things that exist have a distinct spiritual essence and agency, is also true.

Which makes perfect sense. Consider not just the usual arguments bandied back and forth, but also the often-overlooked argument for animism and panpsychism from human intuition.

Instead of Everyone being wrong, maybe Everyone is right?

Consider that animism, necessarily panpsychist, is the primordial form of faith, or, better yet, worldview, far predating religion as we understand it. It’s the universal form of worldview too; children in every culture go through the earliest stages of their lives with a fundamentally animist mentality. Even the “higher” religions, that invent a divide between man and god, between our world and the world of the spiritual, still tend to regard our plane of reality as being animated in some way by the divine.

The consensus among “experts” is that every small child and almost every culture that ever existed is completely and totally wrong about this, but all other things being equal should we not assume that our intuition is perceiving the world correctly? Is perceiving reality as it actually exists? Obviously some aspects of reality are counter-intuitive, but in the absence of any strong evidence that this aspect of reality is counter-intuitive, and in the presence of strong logical arguments and reasoning suggesting that spiritual reality is indeed exactly what our intuition says it is, the idea that the world is fundamentally inert rather than enchanted starts to look pigheadedly stupid.

The Inescapability of Esotericism

That doesn’t mean the world is enchanted in the exact way e.g. Christians believe it is; for what it’s worth I feel myself drawn much more toward the Pagan perspective. Nevertheless the fact of enchantment suggests all faiths are seeing something real, even if it’s an incomplete or even distorted picture, as in the famous parable of the blind men and the elephant.

This is literally esotericism and perennialism, but when one gets down to it one must either believe almost everybody else is totally wrong or accept esotericism is true. For understandable reasons many great thinkers throughout history have found the latter to be much less of a stretch than the former, and so tend to be esoteric in their beliefs.

The unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics: a Clue to the Nature of Reality?

It gets even fancier when one thinks about Max Tegmark’s mathematical universe hypothesis. Related: what is often described as the “unreasonable” effectiveness of mathematics for describing the world we live in, and even for making predictions of future scientific discoveries.

For example, black holes were predicted by the mathematics of relativity theory, yet scientific consensus assumed such a weird object couldn’t possibly exist in our reality…until it was proven beyond all reasonable doubt there really were such things, just as the mathematics implied. The discovery of black holes was driven by the few scientists that had the courage to believe in their own math.

Similarly, as I understand it (fair warning: I’m no expert on the topic) Einstein’s discovery of special relativity is derivable from Maxwell’s equations discovered many decades earlier, and indeed the fact of time dilation was derived from Lorentz’s equations, again decades earlier, but everyone assumed it was so weird and freaky it couldn’t possibly be real, until Einstein’s discoveries explained it. Albert Einstein’s feat in large measure was having enough courage to believe what his mathematics were telling him.

Mathematics: the Language of God after all?

Tegmark’s hypothesis, which henceforth I’ll call mathematicalism, is appealing because it neatly explains why mathematics is so effective: the universe is not just described by mathematics, it is mathematics, i.e. mathematical structures are the basic building blocks of all reality. Mating mathematicalism with panpsychism, the implication is that the fundamental building blocks of mind, of consciousness, of spirit, are also mathematical. That’s not nearly as weird an idea as you might think; mathematics traditionally was (is?) considered the language of God.

Tegmark’s Ship runs into the Gödel Shoals!

Mathematicalism holds that the reality we see is an approximation of these most basic mathematical structures, but it has been suggested that mathematicalism is inconsistent with Gödel’s incompleteness theorem; Tegmark himself has conceded this presents a serious problem for the idea the universe is mathematical, or even the more restricted “computable universe hypothesis”. For all we know the two may be reconciled in some fashion, but my hunch is that mathematicalism throws us off the scent.

Mathematics: not Fundamental, but rather an Approximation of an even deeper Aspect of Reality?

The unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics demands some kind of explanation, but what if reality (or, rather, the part of it we live in) is still an approximation of deeper mathematical structures, but mathematics itself is an approximation of mind, of psyche, of spirit, of thought? Gödel’s incompleteness theorem suggests the possibility that mathematics, physics, and existence itself is infinite and cannot ultimately be described mathematically, which in turn per panpsychism suggests the possibility that mathematics and reality, all the matter we see and the energy we feel, are emanations of spirit, frozen spirit if you will, analogous to how per Einstein matter is frozen energy.

A God by any other Name

Admittedly this maps virtually one-to-one with the traditional view that mathematics is an emanation of the mind of God, but if the traditional view happens to make more sense why not roll with it? Though it’s worth noting this line of reasoning doesn’t prove the existence of God as such, let alone the Christian (or any other particular) concept of God, only that existence has a spiritual substrate; once again we come to animism. Of course you could, as in pantheism, panentheism, and pandeism, view this spiritual substrate as being one and the same with God.

Even more speculatively, mind being the most fundamental aspect of reality, with everything else being an emanation of psyche, suggests that spirit predates energy, matter, and all other aspects of reality, and indeed in some fashion must have created our universe. Now we’re getting to truly peppy levels of divinity.

Many-Worlds Interpretation of Quantum Physics: it makes too much Sense!

If spirits created our universe, the question arises: might there be others? Within this philosophical framework it’s a possibility, and for what it’s worth bleeding-edge scientific theories tend to posit the existence of a multiverse. Where it gets really crazy is that the physical existence of an infinite number of alternate universes is implied by quantum physics!

This of course is the famous “many-worlds interpretation” of quantum mechanics, which holds that every possibility that can physically happen does happen, and each possible outcome splits off into its own universe. Many-worlds contends that in the scenario of Schrödinger’s cat the universe splits into one branch where the cat is alive and another branch where the cat is dead, neatly explaining why we only ever see the cat either alive or dead, not simultaneously alive and dead. Even more compellingly, the mathematics of the many-worlds interpretation are actually simpler than the more conventional view, which as far as I understand it have to add in terms to keep the universe from splitting! The cautionary tale of those who had not the courage to follow their own math to its conclusion if the result seemed too weird would seem to apply; most likely, the universe does split into many worlds, and this will eventually be acknowledged as a scientific fact.

Many-Worlds and Panpsychism

The simplest explanation is that the spiritual aspect of reality splits off too in the same fashion as the material aspects, but I can’t help but wonder if psyche can penetrate the barrier between these quantum realities. Are there entities out there whose minds can bridge these gaps between quantum realities? Can they exist in multiple quantum universes simultaneously? And if so, do they perceive the world as much like the Copenhagen interpretation of Schrödinger’s cat: a world where a cat can be simultaneously alive and dead? And even more speculatively: could we humans in principle access such a mode of existence?

Science-Fictional Inspiration

Sounds like fodder for a science-fiction story, and indeed this is all inspired by the concept in string theory that gravity is the only force that can penetrate all dimensions of the multiverse and exert its power over multiple “branes” (or universes). M theory contends that every force is local to our universe, except gravity, which is shared, explaining how gravity is such a relatively weak force.

Mass audiences are familiar with these concepts via the 2014 film “Interstellar”, which additionally features multi-dimensional entities, speculated to be human beings from the far future, that can only interact with our world through gravity. For them time may be just another dimension, a hike up a hill going into the past, a descent into a ravine going into the future. In “Interstellar” this presented such a serious problem for them interacting with our world they had to construct a “tesseract” inside a supermassive black hole and bring the protagonist there to do it for them.

My own concept is much wilder, not to mention more speculative, but whatever.

Panpsychism and the Afterlife

If panpsychism is true, then it’s obvious human beings have souls. Which raises the question: when a man dies, what happens to the soul? Animism is universal, but belief in an afterlife is not; many cultures believe a man’s soul dies with his body. On the other hand, belief in an afterlife is very common across cultures, and children who can recognize physical death are apparently hesitant to conclude that means the end of self, will, or emotion. Near-death experiences, which have certain universal features across all human cultures and are true perceptions of reality so far as we can tell (i.e. patients unconscious and on the brink of death can nevertheless often perceive their surroundings completely accurately, defying all materialist explanation), strongly suggest the soul does not perish with the body.

Related question: does the soul reincarnate after death? If the soul can persist after the death of the body and indeed leave the body and its vicinity, as near-death experiences tell us, then it’s not much of a stretch to assume it can get a new body at some later date. Obviously if reincarnation is true the identities of the dead are erased, or perhaps suppressed, when they are reborn as new people. There are many possibilities for the exact mechanism, which I won’t get into here.

I would note also that reincarnation must happen to some extent if the soul can decay or be destroyed at some point after death, and if spirit is conserved in the same way matter and energy are; old souls would be recycled into new souls just like new stars are made from the ashes of old exploded stars.

Conclusion

I could offer some more scattered thoughts, but I think that about covers it. This whole piece has a very speculative air to it, but I believe all this to be true. I’ve never really gotten into my view of spirituality and religion before, and today I finally felt up to sharing it, at least a part of it anyway, with the world.

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