Quite a while ago – coincidentally shortly after a contemplation seminar for which I’ll take the advanced level in a week – I thought about spirituality, religion, philosophy and how my understanding of people, the world and the universe fits into that.
In my original blog post, inspired by the film “Interstellar”, I named my “discovery” Spiritual Gravity.
Recently, I stumbled upon something that remarkably resembles my spiritual gravity theory – Panpsychism.
This theory essentially states that the entire universe might have some kind of semi-conscience. This is nothing new to many spiritual theories but in science it is still a hotly debated topic. Despite my artistic and psychological background I’m still mostly a natural scientist at heart and I was really excited to learn that there are scientific models to support my “Spiritual Gravity”!
In psychology and neighboring fields, it is not even fully defined what “consciousness” is and where it comes from. The search for the basic definitions of consciousness and what has it and what doesn’t, leads to – as Christoph Koch puts it in a comprehensive and well written article on this subject – “panpsychism, modified for the 21st century, being the single most elegant and parsimonious explanation for the universe I find myself in.” Over the centuries the meaning of consciousness has been continuously challenged and revised, from religious constructs like the “human soul” to the psychological model of “self-awareness”.
Scientifically, there seems to be no reason to attribute consciousness to the human mind but not to other complex systems; after all, key attributes of consciousness like self-reflection, using and creating tools, play, supporting others, communication, lying, cheating and creative problem solving can be found in countless creatures, from insects to fish, birds and mammals, and even plants.
Starting in physics, the basic question that leads to a panpsychism model is the property of quantum particles whose behaviour seems to be dependent on an observer. Depending on how they are observed, for instance in the famous double-slit experiment, they “choose” to behave like a wave or a particle. Even more curious is that this also holds true for observations of light that left a star millions of years ago; it could be said that observing it now changes how the particle behaved when it left its home before life developed on earth. The Copenhagen interpretation states that everything exists in all its possible states at once until it is observed and “collapses” into one chosen state. It is obviously very unintuitive to extend this principle to larger bodies and thus there might be physical laws that hold true for some phenomena but not for others. But how does a particle “choose” to be a particle rather than a wave and, most curious of all, how does it know that it is being measured?
Panpsychism explains this behaviour elegantly by taking the quotation marks out of the choosing. It states that there might be universal laws setting the foundation to develop consciousness in complex systems, like the brain – but also systems like the universe.
It sounds questionable at first, maybe, but once you dispose of incense waving, chakra invoking biases and allow the existence of “gradual” consciousness, it is not at all implausible. There are some observed phenomena that would be neatly explained by a theory of complex system consciousness, like Parenago’s Discontinuity, the faster movement of cooler stars compared to their hotter counterparts; coincidentally the threshold falls onto a temperature level that enables the formation of molecules within the stars, making them essentially more complex systems. If the GAIA satellite currently mapping the galaxy confirms this movement pattern outside the centre of the galaxy panpsychism is one of the few elegant theories able to explain the observations. It would even solve the question about “dark matter”, which cannot be measured other than in the theories it is used to explain.
I will refrain from citing the material in the articles I found but rather invite you to read them yourself and draw your own conclusions – and I’d, of course, be happy if you shared them in a comment or two.
Personally, with this new scientific-spiritual influx of information, I’m very much looking forward to my contemplation seminar that originally gave rise to my Spiritual Gravity Theory !
Another recommendation for a more entertaining read touching consciousness, philosophy and physics that deeply impressed me is the “Three Body Problem” by Liu Cixin. One idea appearing in this book is the increasing complexity of particles in higher dimensions. Alien technology allows for “unfolding” a particle to lower dimensions so it can be programmed like software – in higher dimensions these particles gain a complexity that resembles that of our universe with equal chances to develop self-aware, intelligent life. Who knows, maybe we exist in a proton and our universe ends when giant, low-dimensional aliens decide to smash us to bits in their particle accelerator!