Might Consciousness Pervade the Universe?
The question of exactly what consciousness is has puzzled philosophers and scientists alike for millennia.
We – as in the human race – are conscious, meaning that on a day-to-day basis we perceive a great deal about the world around us. We feel – both physically and emotionally – and can not only ask big questions about our own existence, but also about the nature of existence itself.
But what exactly is consciousness ? Is it something that our brains produce or can it exist outside of complex, highly-evolved forms of life ? Could consciousness be inherent to all matter ?
Philosopher Philip Goff, author of Galileo’s Error: Foundations for a New Science of Consciousness, subscribes to panpsychism – the idea that consciousness is not exclusive to the human mind but is in fact a fundamental feature of the universe that pervades throughout the cosmos.
“This doesn’t mean that literally everything is conscious,” he told Scientific American.
“The basic commitment is that the fundamental constituents of reality – perhaps electrons and quarks – have incredibly simple forms of experience. And the very complex experience of the human or animal brain is somehow derived from the experience of the brain’s most basic parts.”
“Human beings have a very rich and complex experience; horses less so; mice less so again. As we move to simpler and simpler forms of life, we find simpler and simpler forms of experience.”
In this context, ‘experience’ is a reference to perceiving the world, either through pleasure or pain, or through seeing, hearing, smelling, touching etc.
“Perhaps, at some point, the light switches off, and consciousness disappears,” said Goff.
“But it’s at least coherent to suppose that this continuum of consciousness fading while never quite turning off carries on into inorganic matter, with fundamental particles having almost unimaginably simple forms of experience to reflect their incredibly simple nature.”