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A Discussion of Panpsychism: The Metaphysics of Consciousness

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Vassar College

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  1. Introduction
  2. Intrinsic properties of the components
  3. David Chalmers' discussion on panpsychism
  4. The distinction between cognition and consciousness
  5. The citta matra (mind only) tradition of Buddhism
  6. Conclusion
  7. Works cited

Panpsychism describes a world in which ?everything has a mind (Chalmers 298),? and everything- animal, botanical, even mineral- is conscious. In order to determine whether or not all things are indeed conscious, two problems must be addressed. A definition of what it means to be conscious must be accepted, and further, the nature of that consciousness (the mechanism by which experience is experienced) must be ascertained. Rather than actually attempting to achieve a definitive answer to these questions in this paper, several hypotheses and their critiques will be discussed.

[...] However, Chalmers guards against ascribing full- scale consciousness to these parts of the brain: should not expect to locate consciousness as a physical component of the system! His implication is that consciousness might occur only as a result of the total cooperative workings of the ?mind,' whatever that actually is (physically speaking). The central remaining problem for Chalmers is what exactly should be the defining mark that distinguishes conscious from ?sort-of- conscious.' While Chalmers formulates that ?everything has a mind,' Buddhism posits that ?everything is mind.' The Buddhist conception of ?mind-only' creates a philosophical system whose metaphysics is its psychology, and vice-versa. [...]

[...] Thus, physical properties cannot show what it is like to be conscious. Extrapolating this discussion of mental states to the ?minds' of those things which we intuitively believe to be unconscious- plants and rocks, for example- leads to a philosophical catch-22. If the nature of consciousness is the ability to have a subjective state, then for an outsider to deem something unconscious based on non-subjective data is patently invalid. If a plant were conscious, it would not have the linguistic capabilities to convey that consciousness to humans. [...]

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