Brain Networks vs Galaxy Networks – More Evidence of Odd Similarities

When you look at microscopic pictures of neurons in the brain and telescopic pictures of the cosmic web there is a remarkable similarity which catches the eye.

Astrophysicist Franco Vazza, along with a neuroscientist colleague of his, recently published an article in Nautil.us (July 2017) describing the strange similarities in the structure and complexity of the brain and the universe. This was based on analytic studies they conducted to quantitatively compare these similarities.

Similarities in the Structure and Complexity of The Brain and The Universe

The peculiarities that they studied and presented are:

  • The number of neurons in the brain is around 100 billion. This is exactly around the number of galaxies in the universe – a 100 billion.

  • Doing a power spectrum analysis they conclude that the structural similarities between the brain and the universe are quantitatively significant. That is to say, they are not the result of human level perceptual illusions such as apophenia (though I think they actually meant pareidolia).

  • The structural similarities are not spectral in nature (like has been shown for other complex systems like clouds, tree branches, water turbulence or plasma).

  • The structural similarities are evident between the cerebellar (cerebellum) histology when observed at the scale of 0.1 to 1 mm and the cosmic web observed at the scale of ~ 100 billion light years.

  • The structural similarities are also evident between the cortical (cerebrum) histology when taken at the scale of 0.01 mm and the galactic structure on the scale of ~ 100 thousand light years.

  • The entirety of information stored in the human brain (around 2.5 Peta bytes) can just about also be stored into the distribution of galaxies in the entire universe (the estimated data capacity of which is around 1-10 Peta bytes).

The authors do bring to our attention that this does NOT mean there is a dynamic similarity between the two systems as well, especially with regards to the flow of information. This will be the focus of their future studies.

However, in the following discussion, people were suggesting this might indicate that the universe may be self-aware. As I critiqued the limitations of this (which I will discuss below), Franco Vazza gave me an insightful reply giving a sneak peek into their future article:

“That’s a perfect point! We could not write the derivation here, but according to our (still ongoing!) estimates, the Universe on the largest scales might have processed at most the same amount of information that a typical human brain can process in 0.1-1 seconds! Hence, at most, the cosmic web seems to be a “baby brain”.”

The Dynamic similarities between The Brain and The Universe

Although Franco Vazza et al. are still studying some of the dynamic similarities specifically with regards to information processing, there has been an earlier study on this phenomena by physicist Dmitri Krioukov and his team. This study was published in nature (2012). In comparing the growth dynamics and structure of the universe they found unexpected similarities to other complex networks such as biological networks (the brain), social networks and the internet:

“This equivalence suggests that unexpectedly similar laws govern the dynamics of complex networks and spacetime in the universe, with implications to network science and cosmology.”

Does this mean the cosmos is a conscious brain?

Before getting into this I want to make it clear that neither of the study authors just cited make an explicit claim of this sort.

“By no means do we claim that the universe is a global brain or a computer,” – Dimitri Krioukov

Whereas Dimitri Kriokov makes this explicitly clear, Franco Vazza has hinted at the possibility of it being a “baby brain”.

Others, however, are not so shy to make that leap. Bernardo Kastrup, a computer scientist specializing in Artificial Intelligence, makes this exact claim in support of nondualism (philosophical idealism) on his blog post and his video presentation. As he claims that the brain like appearance of the cosmos suggests that we have a second person perspective to the first person experience of cosmic inner life. Similar to how a neuroscientist has a second person perspective to our first person conscious experience.

On the other hand critics like cognitive scientist Joscha Bach (who also has a special interest in Artificial Intelligence) point towards the potential fallacies of this approach in his blog post. He points out how image comparisons can be misleading and the fundamental limitations of the amount of information processing possible by the universe, given the speed of light is minuscule compared to the size of the cosmos. The latter argument is also the one I made on Franco Vazza’s Nautilus post. The first argument, however, seems not to hold up given that a quantitative analysis was done by researchers confirming the similarity.

In a rebuttal post, Bernardo contends:

“Indeed, I feel so confident in my refutation of Bach’s straw-man arguments that I will even expose myself by speculating: the conscious inner life of the cosmos as a whole is, experientially, comparable to a brief moment of human cognition, just as Bach argues.”

Such a claim appears to be consistent with what Franco’s speculative suggestion is as well (of the cosmos being a “baby brain”).

My personal criticisms and speculations

Criticisms

I think we can safely say that the cosmic inner life of Bernardo isn’t the same as the conscious human experience (as I think he also agrees). This is because although there seems to be a structural similarity between the two, they are not dynamically equivalent. The dynamic similarity presented by Dimitri Krioukov is of structural evolution and not of information processing. Franco Vazza is working on the information processing type of dynamic similarity but in this, their speculation is that the amount of information processed may be equivalent to 0.1-1 sec of brain processing.

I suspect that given the enormous distances between galaxies (hundreds of thousands to few million light years) any change brought about by their intercommunication would be tiny as compared to the local changes that would have occurred in them. For example, the size of the universe is ~ 100 billion light years, this means a communication between one end to the other (at light speed) would take a 100 billion years. This is 7 times the whole life of the universe itself, hence before the communication is made much more would have happened locally. This would limit the signaling to have any meaningful impact on the morphology. Compare that to the brain, the speed of communication (action potentials) is very fast as compared to its size, hence the communication is having meaningful impacts on the morphology.

Speculations
The following is extremely speculative and represents my personal ponderings rather than opinions. For the most part these haven't been validated in mainstream science.

Given that the biggest obstacle to the universe being able to process information like the Brain seems to be the maximum speed of communication i.e. the speed of light, is there a way to overcome this?

Hypothetical ways to do this may be:

  • By use of Tachyonic Antitelephones – These are based on a hypothetical particle in theoretical physics called the ‘Tachyon’ which can travel at speeds faster than the speed of life and hence enable communication into the past.
  • If Psi research in Precognition is true as I discussed in my previous post. It would allow us to imagine a paradigm in which information can be communicated transcending the barriers of time and causality.
  • Quantum entanglement could be utilized for instantaneous communication. This does not seem possible (as far as mainstream physics is concerned) as I did criticize in the Nautilus post. This is because quantum entanglement is based on random chance. However, I do see one way in which it could be possible, that is if some of the research in taking the mind outside the body is true. This will be a discussion for a later post.

So what do you think? Do the similarities in structure, complexity and specific dynamics of the Universe and Brain convey something profound?

Do we even need our brains ? – Some Scientists aren’t so sure

Once during a discussion, a respectable someone (who I won’t name) suggested to me:

“I believe the seat of the self is the heart. Not the brain!. I laugh at these scientific notions stating consciousness is in the brain. I believe in the future scientists will also accept the true seat of the self is in the heart..”

He went as far as suggesting we ‘think’ with the heart as well. Out of respect, I refrained from saying anything in person, but inside I was thinking “that’s ridiculous!” This person is very invested in eastern Yogic, Sufi, and Buddhist ideas. Which gave me some perspective on his views, but all the same (being a man of science myself), I rejected them entirely. Though I have high respect for such (Buddhist) ideas myself when they lead to rejecting empirical evidence they fail for me greatly.

This person then suggested that there was evidence to support his claim. He referenced to stories of normal people who on brain scans were found to have no brain in the skull, only water! Again I was thinking that’s preposterous. Probably some anecdotal stories which get exaggerated as Chinese whispers.

I was greatly surprised and humbled when I found out that those stories were actually with some merit!

In Dec 1980, Roger Lewin published an article in the Journal ‘Science’, titled: “Is Your Brain Really Necessary?” [1]

This article was based on case studies (hundreds of them) done by British Neurologist, Professor John Lorber on patients with hydrocephalus. Particularly focusing on one case. The case of a university student who had an IQ of 126 and had gained a first-class honors degree in mathematics, and was socially completely normal. But on doing a brain scan they found he for all practical purposes did not have a Brain!

The anatomy of the brain - containing its mechanism and physiology, together with some new discoveries and corrections of ancient and modern authors upon that subject - to which is annex’d a (14784527925)
Inside the skull, with no brain tissue

Instead of the normal 4.5 cm cortical thickness, he only had about a 1mm thin layer. The rest was just CSF (Cerebro Spinal Fluid) which is practically water. This had likely happened due to a slow displacement of the cortex outwards (and against the skull) because of increasing pressure and quantity of the CSF fluid. This meant that the deeper, more primitive, structures were relatively more intact (although still under pressure to shrink and likely not normal either).

This case was well documented and has been greatly debated, including in the original article. The leading explanation seems to be of neuro-adaptation (which has also been called a cop-out). Nevertheless, it still remains difficult to explain away such observations. As Emeritus Professor William Reville states [2]:

“I certainly cannot explain Lorber’s observations, except to note that in some cases the brain shows itself to be amazingly adaptable and capable of servicing the body in a manner equivalent to the familiar “normal” brain, even though its volume and structure is remarkably compressed and distorted.”

Lorber’s other interesting observation was that this isn’t a unique finding either. In fact, in his studies, 50% of people with more the 95% of the cranium filled with CSF still have an IQ greater than 100![1]

Now I don’t know why this hasn’t shaken the field of neurology as it should have. I, on the other hand, find it earth shattering.

Perhaps neuroadaptation can explain some take over of functions. But surely having a 50 to 150 grams brain (and only a millimeter thick cortex) compared to the normal 1.5 Kg brain should have huge impacts on cognition. Our neurological theories usually associate the cortex with specialized areas of processing e.g. sensory cortex, motor cortex, auditory cortex, visual cortex etc. Some other functions include abstractions, calculation, sequencing, memory etc.

Blausen 0102 Brain Motor&SensoryApparently, it seems all these specialized areas get compressed and mushed into a millimeter thick layer and still function properly. Although there is no mention of the morphological changes in this article. Other and more recent research suggests there is extensive axonal, cytoskeletal and synaptic damage with hydrocephalus. There is relatively less neuronal death. However secondary changes are observed in neurons as well. [3][4][5]

There is such great damage to the communication apparatus yet still normal levels of intelligence and cognition! Does this not beg some reflection on our current direction of understanding? Most of our theories center around communication and signaling having a central role.

The reduced space would also reduce the ability to form new interconnections between neurons, as the shape of the cortex changes to a flatter one. These new interconnections are a fundamental basis for how we generally understand brain activity and how we explain learning and memory.

Take for example Grid Neurones which have been experimentally shown to be located in the entorhinal cortex and which along with Place Neurons (the discovery of which earned the 2014 Nobel prize in Medicine and Physiology) constitute the navigation system within animals and humans [6][7]. The mechanics of Grid neurons are complex but an essential component is their ‘Modular Organization’ (a good article describing this can be found here). This is an example of the ‘spatial’ organization of neurons having a specific and integral purpose. Now I wonder what happens when these also get compressed and distorted in shape, how should it still be possible to have a working navigation system?

If we consider that the 1 mm thick brain is still fully responsible for all the cognitive, conscious and subconscious processes then at-least we have to concede that all these processes (including consciousness) are much simpler and should be easier to explain. The brain then shouldn’t be immensely complicated. This view would also lend support to the idea (which is my personal intuitive inclination as well) that consciousness has more to do with the specific configuration into which a human brains develop rather than being dependant on any specific structural parts and/ or complexities of specialized areas.

Overall this article made me much more malleable in my views. And it goes to show how sometimes especially in social sciences we are biased towards deriving conclusions based on population or summated data. By finding the best fit or a generalizing principle from a collection of individual data, where as overlooking the significance of the individual data itself.

Does that mean we Think with our Hearts?

This still sounds like a ridiculous conclusion, after all the heart as we know is mostly made up of cardiac muscle tissue.

However humbled away from my previous staunch opinions I tried to dig a little into such murky waters and found some very interesting things.

An article published in 2003 in The Guardian suggested, based on anecdotal evidence, a concept of transplanted memories. Apparently, such memories occur in some heart transplant patients. Who develop new tastes or have a change of personality, which are similar to the original heart donor.

A few other concepts of interest are also suggested in the same article. Firstly of the ‘Auerbach Plexus’ functioning as a second brain in the gut. Which may govern emotional responses or ‘gut feelings’. Secondly of the idea that neuropeptides, which are found in the whole body, give a sense of ‘self’ and are carriers of our emotions and memories.

NeuropeptideY 1RON
Neuropeptides may carry a sense of self, memory, and emotions

Now, in general, these do not come across as very plausible to me. At least not the extent of explaining the full picture of what we observe. However, it does seem that scientists and not eastern mystics are the ones who have suggested these ideas and/or are working on them.

I found a good article in Namah Journal (the credentials of which I’m not sure of). It goes into some detail covering much of these alternate ideas and many others [8].  It also does provide a list of references at the end to back-up the claims and hypothesizes.

To sum up, personally, I don’t know whether to accept alternate explanations or whether to look at ways in which neuroplasticity in itself might be sufficient. Either way, it does make a dent in my preconceived ideas and I am humbled by that.

So what do you think?


References
  1. Roger Lewin (12 December 1980). “Is Your Brain Really Necessary?“. Science210 (4475): 1232–1234.
  2. https://www.irishtimes.com/news/remarkable-story-of-maths-genius-who-had-almost-no-brain-1.1026845
  3. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/ddrr.94/abstract
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16848091
  5. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S030645220100166X
  6. https://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v436/n7052/abs/nature03721.html
  7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4042558/
  8. https://www.namahjournal.com/doc/Actual/Memory-transference-in-organ-transplant-recipients-vol-19-iss-1.html

8 Criticisms of Christof Koch’s Consciousness + Panpsychism

I’m watching a TEDx talk by Christof Koch ‘The Scientific Pursuit of Consciousness’. Christof Koch is a prominent Neuroscientist and says that since he was a child he had always thought that dogs have consciousness as they seem to display emotions such as hunger, anger, and anxiousness. Appalled by the Christian view that only humans have souls and go to the afterlife, he always thought there must be some place for dogs too. Tackling with these issues, he came across the ancient concept of panpsychism which he feels answers the question of consciousness.

While watching I found myself doing a running criticism in my head and thought I’d put it on paper to see if there’s anything I’m missing: (I have presented my criticism chronologically to his speech below)

He claims there are three strong arguments in favor of panpsychism:

  • Biological
  • Metaphysical
  • Aesthetic

Biological Argument for Panpsychism


Starting with the biological argument. He says that as we all have a similar brain and language ability we generally agree that each of us has consciousness. Although none of us has the ability to know the subjective experience of anyone else. Extrapolating from that we extend this to human children and Infants.

We can even extend this to some animals such as Apes, elephant, and dolphins. He argues that a lot of these animals perform certain tasks which if a human was doing we would assume consciousness.


#1. Criticism: Although generally, we can assume other humans have consciousness, it is true to say we can only truly be sure of our own consciousness. Given this paradigm, it becomes more difficult to extrapolate this to less similar organisms. We cannot easily claim that neonates have consciousness (taking the strict experience of consciousness that we feel), it would be up for debate. To extrapolate that onto animals, even smart ones is a big leap.


Describing the human brain Christof Koch says that there isn’t a significant difference in any of its constituents from that of other animals. That as far as size goes we are not unique, the size of an elephant’s or dolphin’s brain is much larger. Anatomically there isn’t a big difference either and that only an expert neuroscientist under a microscope can differentiate a human brain cell from a monkey’s brain cell etc. In fact, he states:

” Neuroscientists have been unable to identify anything singular exceptional about the human brain”


#2. Criticism: Given he is a neuroscientist I found this statement to be very shocking. A big difference is the, brain : body ratio, which is far higher in humans than any other animal. It is generally quoted as a measure of intelligence! but I’m not taking that line of argument (What difference should it make if an animal’s body is big as long as their brain is similar?).

Another area to consider is the neocortex (the latest part to evolve) which is significantly larger in humans (but also in certain dolphins, in fact even larger than humans!). The problem here is that this line of reasoning does not lend support to Panpsychism whatsoever.

Long-finned Pilot Whale (6002011771)
The Long Finned Pilot Whale has the most neocortical cells in all mammals studied so far, including humans!

To say the human brain isn’t unique hence consciousness must be more prevalent is very ambiguous. The brain is certainly unique in that it is a human brain and not that of another species. This is due to an accumulation of some unique and rare feature plus a lot of much more prevalent feature. But this exact configuration is only human.

Focusing on the forebrain, for example, not many animals have this area significantly developed. And if it were to be considered a marker for consciousness then perhaps we could argue certain animals with large forebrains are conscious. But we cannot claim consciousness is hence universal. All we have done is included a few more to the conscious group.

 


He also argues that language is often used as an argument for consciousness. He sees this as inherently biased because as he states:

” Interestingly this excludes all other species from possessing consciousness except us.. In fact, it was meant to do that. A species has a radical desire to come on top of any ranking” (the crowd giggles to this)


#3. Criticism: This one is the hardest to digest. He kind of makes fun of this and just brushes it under the rug. My opinion is that language has a big role to play in consciousness and it is worth addressing at least. To say that it was meant to exclude other animals doesn’t answer or add anything. I for one am not a ‘speciesist’ and don’t have any beef against other animals. What I’m interested in is consciousness and if language plays a part in it or not. After all, it is a uniquely human ability and we know for certain humans are conscious.

language consciousness

I also take contention with claiming consciousness is the ‘top’ of some ranking. Why is it the top? (stating such things is speciesism as far as I’m concerned).

I’ve had a good discussion about the role of language in the comments section of Selfawarepatterns.com blog post: https://selfawarepatterns.com/2017/07/08/layers-of-self-awareness-and-animal-cognition/

In summary: Using language we can define things in the outside and inside world. What is in the ‘real’ can only be experienced, but in order to be aware of it/ think about it/ or talk about it, we need to be able to describe it. This description is the function of language. Without the use of language, what is the difference or similarity between a tree, a stone, a bird or anything else? (all of these are words of language).

 


Going on he states that there is no demarcation between us and any other animals (from worms to Apes). Hence it is ludicrous to suppose that we are exceptional in consciousness.


#4. Criticism: Except none has language. Apes have a smaller forebrain. Worms don’t even have a proper brain. So it’s not ludicrous at all. (On the other hand, it does seem ludicrous to state that the internet or an electron is conscious)

Metaphysical Argument for Panpsychism


Siding with Buddhist philosophy Christof suggests it is much more rational to assume that we are all children of nature, that all multicellular organism possess some degree of consciousness.

He sees panpsychism as a very clear and coherent intellectual framework. Starting from Descartes ” I think therefore I am” Christof asks how do we get this subjective experience?

If a larger brain such as ourselves has the feeling of a throbbing headache where did this come from if it wasn’t already present in more simpler and smaller brains.

Building from this he proposes his panpsychism view:

” All complex systems have consciousness”

” All complex systems have two surfaces. An exterior surface which is accessible to everyone and an interior surface which is subjective.”

So consciousness is imminent in the universe such that any highly organized matter will bring with it the experience of consciousness. And as per the pan-psychist view consciousness is a fundamental property of the universe. Similar to energy, time, matter etc. And in that, no further reductionism can be done. 


#5. Criticism: If Buddhism says we are all children of nature, I may agree, but does that say anything about consciousness? I doubt it does.

Meditation panpsychism consciousness

Christof Koch differs slightly here in saying that consciousness only comes with highly organized matter (in other words it is not pervasive). I still fail to see how this answers anything, it feels more like a cop out for material science.

Does he feel there is some type of matter which is NOT conscious? (which is a bit contrary to Panpsychism). If so where is the demarcation between conscious and non-conscious matter? This is a self-defeating view to have.

Why should all complex systems have consciousness? What do we mean by complex? Where is the evidence that they possess consciousness? What can we exclude as being a complex system?

An exterior and interior surface, huh? That’s saying the same thing in different words, it doesn’t explain anything further. It’s the same as saying complex systems have subjective experience. The glaring question remains – Why?? and what’s the evidence??

 

The aesthetic argument for Panpsychism


He states that these theories of Panpsychism can be very precisely explained in the language of mathematics. Using Tononi’s Integrated Consciousness Theory. Which, in summary, states that any integrated system has a degree of consciousness and this can be calculated as ‘Phi’.

We cannot see something apart from it being as an integrated whole, for example, you cannot be conscious of a cat without the integration of its colors and shapes. That is you cannot see it in black and white no matter how much you may try. This is related at the neural level via a complex process of association between many neurons. And if this integration at the neuronal level disappears for example in a seizure or during deep sleep the conscious experience disappears as well.


#6. Criticism: I agree that we only perceive things as an integrated whole and integration as we understand it does take place in the brain. I find this to be interesting and feel it may teach us something about consciousness. But does it fully account for consciousness?

1604 Types of Cortical Areas-02

The stance here is to find a generalizing principle (integration). But what of the specific configuration of the human brain areas. What about our unique ability to use language (as discussed above). What about unconsciousness, there are many integrated processes happening within our brain that we are not conscious of.

So why should integration equate to consciousness?

Taking an analogy: If we take away the bonds between carbon atoms we cannot have a diamond and it is only through having bonds between carbon atoms that we can get a diamond. So is what makes a diamond, the carbon bonds only? Because carbon bonds can also form graphite and graphene. It is rather the specific configuration that makes it a diamond.

 


Using the theory he attempts to tackle Qualia. For example colors, Christof says that according to the integrated Theory:

every color (or any other qualia) is associated with a specific geometry in a ‘hyper dimensional qualia space’. It is this geometry itself which is the experience of consciousness. We don’t Experience the outside world but only states of our brain (this geometry is that state).

He lends further support to this theory by taking the example of the cerebellum. The cerebellum has 2/3rds of the total brain neurons but even if it was to be destroyed it would not affect consciousness at all. This he postulates is because the anatomy of the cerebellum is very simple compared to rest of the brain. In the rest of the brain, the connections are much more complex and integrated.

Furthermore, this theory is being used clinically to assess the level of consciousness for Comatose patients!.


#7. Citisicim: Here again I see another baseless claim. The geometry triggered in hyperdimensional ‘Qualia space’ is what we perceive as the perception? Other than being a statement with no backing I don’t see any value in it. When one uses the same word (Qualia) to describe itself, you know we are getting nowhere:

Q: What is a flower? Ans: “it is a flower in a field of flowers”.

Inverted qualia of colour strawberry

The cerebellum argument, in fact, goes against the original claim of integration being integral to consciousness. Because, although minor, there is still a significant amount of integration that happens in the cerebellum (yet apparently no consciousness).

The notion that this is being used clinically is alarming as well because potentially very significant decisions can be based on this theory. The theory itself I feel is unsubstantiated. I have mixed feelings to the extent that it can serve the purpose of reducing anxiety and aiding decision making which in itself is something to consider. The soundness of these decisions is another issue.

 


There is no distinction whether the integration takes place in brains or Silicon circuits. Any other integrated matter such as computers and more importantly the Internet which has in total to the order of 10∧19 transistors (much more than the synapses in a human brain), could be conscious and it is interesting to think about this.


#8. Criticism: This notion is similar to the global brain hypothesis which I touched upon in my post on Cybernetic Epistemology. Following on from my above criticisms this claim is another extrapolation from a baseless theory. It, in fact, serves as evidence against the theory because as far as we know the internet is NOT conscious and we are. Even though we can only truly know our own consciousness we all still agree other humans are conscious, this is based on our own evidence. But what evidence do we have for the internet being conscious? None.

This in a way shows what happens when we try to cop out material sciences. We should, in fact, conclude that as the internet is an integrated system and it is not conscious, integration alone cannot in itself explain consciousness.

 

Do share your thoughts in the comments section below 🙂

Panexperientialism Vs Panpsychism Vs Animism – Outlined in a Table

I have been doing some reading and research around these ideas and it seems that Panexperientialism is often confused with related ideas of Panpsychism and Animism that have been around for a long time. For the sake clarity I have attempted to summarize the differences in the table below (further explanations, especially with regards to Panexperientialism, can be found below it):

[table id=1 /]

Panpsychism

Panpsychism is the view that everything in the universe is conscious. That everything from the smallest such scale as quantum particles to the largest such as galaxies and in fact the whole universe possesses consciousness.

Panpsychism can be thought of as an umbrella term and sometimes Panexperientialism is thought of as being within this umbrella. Panpsychism is a philosophy based on the notion that you cannot arrive at consciousness without consciousness being fundamentally present, to begin with.

That is to say that, no matter what you do with materials that are supposed to be inert (as scientific materialism proposes), no matter how complex they get or any structure they arrange in, you can never arrive at consciousness.

Hence consciousness must be fundamental and everything must have a consciousness of its own. Implied in here is that there is a subjectiveness to being anything, e.g. an electron. That there is something like to be a bat and there is something like to be a mountain (although there are nuances here).

This is an interesting concept and is gaining a lot of popularity recently with many eminent philosophers and scientists starting to warm up to this philosophy. I intend to discuss this in more detail in a separate post.

Animism

Animism is a spiritual concept and it is the oldest known belief system in the world. It is much similar to Panpsychism although slightly different. This is the belief that everything, including inanimate things, has a spirit. The sea has a spirit, so does the wind, the forest, the rocks and the moon etc.

In a way, there is an implied uniqueness to each of these spirits and an identity. This is different from Panpsychism where the focus is on consciousness only. That at an elementary level it should be similar and pervasive for all things (i.e. there is no uniqueness). Although in Panpsychism as well, there can be various arrangements and aggregations for this consciousness. In itself, it does not imply a purposeful consciousness of say, the river as would be considered in spiritual animism. Panpsychism would rather view the river as an aggregation of many smaller consciousnesses.

Panexperientialism

The term Panexperientialism was coined by Philosopher David Ray Griffin in the 1970s, to capture Whitehead’s metaphysical world view.

Panexperientialism does not claim that inanimate materials, be it molecules or rocks, have a consciousness or have a spirit. It does not make any claims to consciousness at the quantum level either. Although one could derive theories within its metaphysics of how consciousness could be arrived at. I feel it’s best to read Alfred Whitehead’s original ideas to get a clearer picture of what his philosophy was. A good paper to read is ‘PANEXPERIENTIALIST PHYSICALISM AND THE MIND BODY PROBLEM’ by David Griffin. For a quick overview, you can read the Alfred Whitehead page on Wikipedia.

I have tried to summarize Panexperientialism here:

In essence, Whitehead states some very clear and obvious facts which have been denied by classical scientific materialism. That is that the assumption that a material thing continues to be the same throughout time is false.

In materialism, we believe that fundamentally things remain the same and any change is only secondary. For example, “Sarah became obese after steroid treatment”, here we assume Sarah has an identity which continues to be the same throughout time and any change (obesity) is a secondary thing. That’s why we say ‘Sarah’ became obese, assuming Sarah remained the same.

This assumption although useful for language does not have any justification on its own. Rather it would be truer to say that things are always in a state of change.

The thin Sarah and the obese Sarah are in reality fundamentally completely different. This isn’t only because she became obese, in fact looking at it more closely we realize, most of her cells would have been renewed after some time. Even more fundamentally all the molecules in her body have changed in many variables, for example, that they are not at the same place or time anymore.

So what makes Sarah, Sarah ?. It is, in fact, an abstract idea we have imposed. In fact, we can see that all identities are abstract metaphors we assign to them.

So an electron is not a stationary, brute, defined material which travels in space and time and which only reacts to external forces (secondarily to it being an electron first). Rather it is something that is constantly changing in an unpredictable way, in relationship to other similar changing things.

It is the interaction they have with each other as a whole which defines them. An electron has an unpredictable nature you can call this a creative nature which is bound within the limits created by all the other unpredictable things. Hence they define each other and give meaning to each other. In fact, it is only relative to each other that they exist because if something does not interact with anything else then it cannot be observed in any way, hence it could be thought of as not existing at all.

This is the concept of Panexperientialism which proclaims that nothing is inert, that no material has only external causes acting on it, as is the view of scientific materialism. Rather everything has a will of its own, an unpredictable nature of creativity/ possibility and that it exists in relationship to everything else in a state of flux.

This experiential flow exists in the moment of time and as the moment of time moves on the previous moment can be seen and measured. In a way, it has become concrete, because it is now in the past.

This begs the question, who is experiencing ? as an experience must have a subject, hence subjectivity and consciousness?

To make his position clear Whitehead coined the term ‘Prehension’. Prehension in short means unconscious experience. Whitehead divides this further into two types 1. Physical Prehension (causal efficacy) 2. Conceptual Prehension (presentational immediacy), More on this can be found in Whitehead’s writings and on his Wikipedia page.

 

I hope this was helpful. Don’t forget to leave a comment below.