The belief that inanimate objects, like rocks and tableware, contain consciousness is quickly picking up steam among respected philosophers and scientists.
As science and philosophy crash against the problem of human consciousness, many are embracing a philosophy called panpsychism. Speaking to Quartz, Phillip Goff, a philosophy professor at Central European University in Budapest, says that panpsychism holds out the belief that,
Consciousness is a fundamental feature of physical matter; every single particle in existence has an “unimaginably simple” form of consciousness, says Goff. These particles then come together to form more complex forms of consciousness, such as humans’ subjective experiences. This isn’t meant to imply that particles have a coherent worldview or actively think, merely that there’s some inherent subjective experience of consciousness in even the tiniest particle.
The author of the Quartz article, Olivia Goldhill, asserts that “consciousness permeates reality. Rather than being just a unique feature of human subjective experience, it’s the foundation of the universe, present in every particle and all physical matter.” She then goes on to point out, “This sounds like easily-dismissible bunkum, but as traditional attempts to explain consciousness continue to fail, the ‘panpsychist’ view is increasingly being taken seriously by credible philosophers, neuroscientists, and physicists, including figures such as neuroscientist Christof Koch and physicist Roger Penrose.”
The problem for these “credible philosophers, neuroscientists, and physicists” who take panpsychist seriously is, as Goldhill points out, “The materialist viewpoint states that consciousness is derived entirely from physical matter. It’s unclear, though, exactly how this could work.” She cites philosophy professor David Chalmers who noted, “It’s very hard to get consciousness out of non-consciousness.”
Materialists (anti-theists) have a problem. There is no material explanation for why humans have consciousness. According to the Catholic philosopher Edward Feser in his book Philosophy of Mind, materialists believe that “the material world is causally closed … nothing outside it – nothing non-physical – would seem capable of having any causal influence on what happens in the universe.”
Continuing, Feser hones in on the problem of human consciousness (mind) for materialists: “But then the mind … would be incapable of having any effect on the body; and yet it seems obvious that it does.”
While this is an academic discussion on one level, there is another level that directly affects our ethics. The Judeo-Christian worldview and ethics that undergird Western society have as part of their core anthropology the recognition of a distinction between humans and the rest of the creation. The dignity and worth of humans, all humans, is rooted in the fact that we are created in the image of God. Take that away, and society’s ethics will drastically change. Either rocks and tableware will be afforded similar rights as humans, or humans will see our rights taken away. I mean, if there is no real ontological difference between humans and rocks, there’s little reason to treat fellow humans any better than you do the unwanted rock in the middle of your flower bed.
For generations, atheists have been asserting that there is nothing immaterial about humans — no consciousness (mind) and definitely no soul. The assumption has been that science will eventually be able to explain human consciousness. That has failed to happen.
In response, as the article in Quartz lays out, materialists are now simply dodging the problem by claiming that consciousness permeates everything. Please note that there is no scientific evidence for this claim. At all. Panpsychism is a faith claim. Instead of acknowledging that they are wrong and admitting that humans have an immaterial aspect, atheists are embracing another error.