Everything, even a rock, has some degree of consciousness


Yeah, but a few thousand years ago we didn’t have much of an idea of heat either. Ancient philosophers “proved” that heat was an illusion by pointing out you could move you hand from cold water to room temperature water and it would feel warm. Later on we refined that idea. Still, those people meant basically the same thing by “hot” as I do. I just grasp the concept better because I have scientific inheritance.

I guess for me there’s the word question and then there’s the question of what just is. If there is something (I just assume there is) and that something included consciousness (this seems likely) then consciousness is made of something or has some fundamental form. Maybe it’s more like heat, which is the panpsychism perspective, I guess. But maybe it’s more like a car. We don’t say iron ore has any car or carness in it, even though we might use the iron in there to make steel to make a car part out of. A thing only becomes a car when it it is sufficiently complete.

With the competing guesses:

  1. Everything contains a small amount of consciousness which can be aggregated into what we think of as a consciousness (panpsychism); OR
  2. It’s only “consciousness” if it’s built just so. onsciousness isn’t present the parts.

I can see why (2) seems more likely.


I’m barely nscious half the time.


either you or someone here has shared this before, and that was totally what I was thinking of, too.

apparently, there is evidence that plants communicate with other nearby plants via networks of fungi mycelia. so if information can pass that way, it seems reasonable that other more basic networks could exist anywhere electrons exchange orbit, say.


I agree completely. And if the author had a new conception of consciousness which encompasses everything we think of consciousness and is scalable, then we’d have something else to talk about. But he doesn’t.


I suspect that heat is not the only important thing; complexity (or entropy?) plays a role too. One could hypothesize that the more complex something is, the more likely it has a degree of consciousness. For example, our cats have smaller brains and definitely don’t have the degree of cognition humans do, but it seems to me (though I can’t prove it) that they have a significant degree of consciousness very much on the emotional level (but they can reason a bit too – ah, the mouse must be on other side of that door kind of thing, but without words). And there’s a whole spectrum of brain power in animals from small to big. At what point consciousness may come into play is a real mystery, one that I don’t know how we can ever solve. I don’t think I’m killing a sentient being when I step on an ant, but I’m not absolutely sure.

I suspect rocks aren’t complex enough, and don’t have the rapidity and complexity of chemical reactions and/or electrical activity to have the requisite processing power. Of course, there may be stuff going on at the quantum level, that we can only guess. But why would would a material that is basically just rows of identical atoms or molecules have that degree of complexity? Periodic oscillations perhaps. And how do we measure it? At least our cats are right there at dinner time, so cat consciousness seems plausible.


Well, I’m going to give him credit and say that maybe he does but that it’s beyond the scope of this piece. Or at least there is the seed of an idea there. I mean, even just speculating that such a thing could be true seems worth doing to me.

Anyway, there was a post a few months back in which someone said they did in fact have a scalable definition on consciousness they were eager to have people try on for size:

Apparently in his model one consciousness plus another consciouness = one* consciousnesses. So the theoretical underpinning is out there somewhere.

[In my original typing of this post I said one consciousness plus one made two consciousnesses. That’s not much of a statement. The point is supposed to be that under the theory presented in the podcast consciousness was something that could be mathematically defined, and under that definition a complex consciousness could be divided into small consciousnesses and consciousnesses could combine into larger ones.]


To my mind, the craziest assertion out there, is “only human beings can have consciousness”. But its a convenient assumption to make, because once you observe sentience in crows or bees or cats, then its a slippery slope down from there.

If a reliable way to listen for consciousness is invented, we should first apply it to political candidates before checking out rocks and ice.


Oh I see what this is about now.

“Consciousness” is like citizenship. There are privileges associated with it, and an endless debate about who should be included and who should not.

As recently as 1999, it was commonly stated that babies could not feel pain until they were a year old


Heat is a good analogy. Heat in a gas is a random motion of the atoms. However, suppose you have one atom moving in space. Does it have a temperature. Not really. It has a velocity, and that depends on your frame of reference. Only when you have some collection of gas atoms that interact so they reach some sort of thermal equilibrium does the concept of temperature establish itself. I would imagine that intelligence is some more complicated emergent property of some complex systems.

We have some examples of intelligence, but it is hard to be sure what the envelope of all intelligent systems is. The world telephone system, or the magnetic fields within the sun are complex systems with some sort of persistent phenomena that could allow for some sort of memory, though what on earth they might think about is anyone’s guess.

Science usually involves naming and describing things even when you don’t understand them. As you get experience, you modify your definitions or discard them for better ones. What I do find difficult is this sort of sweeping assumption that consciousness is a single property, and applies of everything to some degree. There’s a heck of a lot of assumptions there (not you, the original article), and it doesn’t seem to achieve anything.


Ludo: Sure. Rocks friends.


Rather, panpsychism is a scientific research programme in its own right.


A scientific research programme develops theories to explain observed phenomena, and then carries out experiments to test those theories.

Panpsychism is a theory that provides explanations, but the explanations are for things that aren’t real. There is no observed phenomena that requires the tenets of panpsychism to understand, because there is no evidence that “basic physical entities” (molecules, atoms, subatomic particles) have consciousness. And there is no way to test any of the assertions of panpsychism, because its assertions involve ideas and concepts that have no physically tangible basis.

This isn’t science. It’s the same new age special pleading wankery peddled by people who believe in feng shui and aura reading.


So basically shinto?


This bit irked me:

At the end of the day, ‘common sense intuition’ should have little sway against a view which pulls its weight theoretically. The view that the world is (more-or-less) round; that we have a common ancestor with apes; that time slows down the faster you move – all of these ideas were or are wildly counter to common sense, but clearly that counts little, if at all, against their truth.

Of course, the first two are not “wildly counter to common sense”, at least not to anyone who’s seen a ship coming over the horizon or knows what an ape looks like.

And while the third is counter-intuitive, it’s the natural mathematical consequence of the fact that the speed of light is constant for all observers (as found by the Michelson-Morley experiment and required by Maxwell’s equations), and has been repeatedly backed up by experiment.

The consciousness of rocks, by contrast, is not required or implied by anything else and has zero experimental evidence to support it.


“Everything, even a rock, has some degree of consciousness”

Everything? If this year has taught us nothing…


I read the article carefully and I still can’t tell you what clear, physical observations lead to the idea that inanimate matter might have consciousness. (Nor did I see any sort of useful explanation for what “consciousness” means.)

This article’s ideas were akin to the stoner inspiration that quantum mechanics depends on an observer, so physics must somehow be linked to minds. Which of course demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of what “observer” means in a quantum mechanical context.

Zero evidence was presented that suggests panpsychism in any useful way. It’s a non-falsifiable assertion, like an infinite number of other possible non-falsifiable assertions. As such, its effective probability approaches 0.


Well, I was not really trying to assign rights & privileges. Perhaps it was a poor example.

I’m amazed that it was ever assumed that babies don’t feel pain. However, at least I don’t remember experiencing any, and I had an inguinal hernia at 6 weeks. But it’s been a while.


If we consider that “having consciousness” is not binary but analog, and that animals can have varying levels of it, then the slippery slope at least is understandable. But it does lead to moral quandaries, like the stepping on an ant business I mentioned above:


Ah consciousness - we all take it for granted but we’ll miss it when it’s gone.


Of course, free will doesn’t act like that. If, of course, it exists.


This is an interesting read.