“There is a continuum of cosmic consciousness.” – William James.

In the last two blogs we examined two possibilities for a cosmic consciousness: (1) decoherence of the quantum physicist and (2) non-organic consciousness emerging from cosmic structures. This leaves a last form for consideration, panpsychism defined by Dagobert Runes as “a form of metaphysical idealism, of which Leibniz’s theory of monads is the classical example, according to which the whole of nature consists of psychic centers similar to the human mind.”1 In effect, the panpsychist asserts that every component of the material world has a kind of consciousness.

While panpsychism appears in different guises throughout history, it seems logical to begin our discussion with the more developed thoughts of the philosopher-scientist Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz. The solution to the mind-body problem, that is how a non-material mind can control a material body, is, according to Leibniz, that all matter is endowed with a ‘substantial form’ analogous to a mind. For the simplest matter this “mind,” which he calls a monad, is only capable of “perception,” but through perception all matter expresses what goes on in the universe. This is demonstrated by the fact that all material substances have a degree of elasticity and of hardness which mirror what they encounter in the world. But the monad also reflects the law of continuation of the series of its own operations, its history, and its future as well as a primitive force akin to Aristotle’s entelechy which is combined indissolubly with its primary matter.2 Extension of primary matter and aggregation of monads leads to higher level consciousness and derived forces or vis viva as for example in animals and humans.3

Monadology then is “the theory that the universe is a composite of elementary units…the real atoms of nature, the elements of things… the substance of a monad must be conceived as force, as that which contains in itself the principle of its changes. The universe is the aggregate, the ideal bond of the monads, constituting a harmonious unity.”4 Here we have our third concept of universal “consciousness” – particulate “minds” aggregated into cosmic consciousness. The theory appears interesting, even credible, but we still need to consider if there is evidence to support it.

(continued next post)


1Runes, Dagobert D., Dictionary of Philosophy. Philosophical Library, New York, 1960, page 223.

2Leibniz’s thoughts are by no means unprecedented. Hindu philosophy breaks substances into prakrti  (matter) and purusa (spirit or consciousness).

3Edwards, Paul (editor), The Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc. & The Free Press, 1972.   Volume 4, pages 422-431.

4Runes, Dagobert D., Dictionary of Philosophy. Philosophical Library, New York, 1960, page 201.

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