Free «Emergentism and Panpsychism» Essay Sample

Consciousness is the most familiar phenomenon for humans with two distinct processes. The first is the neutral process in the brain and the second is the conscious experience. The relationship between the two poses a challenge for the scientific world to provide a satisfactory explanation. Two different concepts Emergentism and Panpsychism attempt to provide an explanation for this phenomenon while triggering another debate. Panpsychism states that consciousness is a fundamental property for all the matter in the world while Emergentism says it is something that emerges at a certain point as a result of a complex matter process. Emergentism provides a popular solution for the dilemma the scientific world faced about the explanation of consciousness. However, if the theories of Panpsychism are found to be true, the fundamental property, as it says, the consciousness should become a part of the causal chains of the world making it a part of our investigations of the physical world.


Emergentism is based on the theory in the inorganic substances that when two components are combined together to form a third substance. The combined substance doesn’t show just the properties of those two components, which were combined (Crane 2001). A good example of this is ‘water’ and how it has got completely different properties compared to oxygen and hydrogen, which were combined to form it. It was John Stuart Mill who proposed the idea of Emergentism back in 1930. He goes on to state that all organized bodies also comprises of different parts and the phenomena of life, which happens in the result of the combined effects of these parts. It does not bear any similarity to the effect that it would have produced, if they were considered as mere physical agents. Emergentism is connected to the consciousness as it is sometimes said that ‘consciousness’ is an emergent property of the brain or philosophy of mind.

Emergentism contrasts with reductionism as it says that a system comprised of small parts will have some properties that are unique and are not found in the components or parts it was made of (Crane 2001). Such properties are more complex and cannot be reduced to  its constituent components. Basically, a property of a system can be called ‘emergent’ when it is unique or different from the properties of its components. Emergent properties of a complex system are not predictable even after knowing the features and laws of the components that the system is made of.

According to John Stuart Mill, the emergent properties are not subjected to the law of ‘Composition of Causes’, which is the law of nature for the physical systems. It basically means that if there is a particle A on which two forces X and Y are acting, the total effect of these forces on the particle A is the same as the effect on particle from Force X followed by the action of Force Y. According to Mill, emergent properties are not just the sum of the properties of its components, but amounts to more than that. This is the mechanical mode of actions, but in chemical mode of actions do not conform to the laws of ‘composition of causes’.  If an element and compound are combined, the resultant reaction is not the same as each element of the compound acting separately. So, these effects correspond to ‘heteropathic laws’ while the former mechanical mode is ‘homopathic laws’. Emergentism is based on heterpathic laws and Mill believed that since heteropathic laws existed in chemistry and biology it is possible to reduce psychology to physiology (Crane 2001).


Panpsychism is the view point that all the matter in the Universe has a mental aspect or that the ‘mind’ is a fundamental feature of the world, which exists throughout the Universe. The term ‘Panpsychism’ is originated from the word ‘Pan’ and ‘Psyche’, which mean ‘throughout’ and ‘soul’ respectively. So, basically Panpsychism says there is a ‘mind element’ in every material in the Universe (Seager & Hermanson 2012). It is actually a philosophical theory that says everything in the Universe, including the inorganic materials, have some sort of a ‘consciousness’.  According to Nagel, Panpsychism treats consciousness as a feature of the world, which attempts to encompass both the mental realm and the material realm in a single comprehensive framework, in a way that fundamentally connects the two (Seager & Hermanson 2012). Both of these realms are central to many aspects of philosophy, but Panpsychism lies at a unique intersection of the two, where mind is seen as fundamental to the nature of existence and being.

Different scientists who studied Panpsychism have slightly different views on their theory on this subject even when they all agree to the fundamental concept of Panpsychism. George Berkeley (1685-1753) believed that nothing exists unless it was consciously experienced. With this theory, he came to the conclusion that all material objects are systems of possible conscious perceptions and so, it is incoherent to believe that all matters are mind-independent. Going forward with this theory, existence can be described as minds and their experiences. He takes it even further to say there is a single consciousness that organizes the consciousness of all finite matters of the Universe with mutual interaction, but while giving the illusion of independent material world. It has to be noted that Berkeley didn’t believe the material objects possessed consciousness themselves. This thought is unlike the views of Wilhelm Leibniz or Baruch Spinoza, who believed there was correspondence between the order of the material world and the mental order.

William James’s idea of Panpsychism came from his view of ‘neutral monism’, which said that reality is neither physical nor mental, but it has a distinct and inherent character, which can be regarded as either physical or mental and be based on the different viewpoints.

There are different arguments to favor Panpsychism, analogical arguments, intrinsic nature arguments and genetic arguments. Genetic arguments say that the rise of Panpsychism may be due to certain claim that emergence is strictly impossible. According to Nagel’s Panpsychism, Emergentism cannot rise to the status of metaphysical relation and Nagel also denied reductionism, which makes it impossible to identify mental properties in complex systems.

If we observe closely, the most straightforward analogical argument for Panpsychism says that even the simplest and tiniest matter exhibit behavior that is closely related with ‘mentality’ in humans and animals. Another more promising analogical argument involves the relation of consciousness to information with the aid of quantum physics. It says that if consciousness is a new fundamental property of matter, it is natural that this new property will violate all the current basic principles about the fundamental properties as it was not included while those principles were initially developed. Consciousness is not reducible or emergent, but it is a new fundamental property of the matter, and thus it is giving Panpsychism a new quantum basis.

Pros and Cons of Emergentism & Panpsychism

It is difficult to achieve a real integration of Emergentism and Panpsychism as there is an essential separation of consciousness and matter in the present scientific world. Nevertheless, it is also the only two views that can achieve such an integration, which brings us to the debate of whether it is something what emerges from mere matter or it is a fundamental property of the matter (O'Connor and Wong 2012).

The theory that favors Panpsychism argues that the matter with consciousness can distinguish the non-orthogonal single states while those without consciousness cannot. Even if it feels possible, if consciousness is emergent or reducible the matter with consciousness should also follow fundamental physical principles such as the principle of energy conservation. Evidently, it violates proving the point that consciousness cannot be emergent, but it is a fundamental property or feature of matter as it is stated by Panpsychism. The main problem with this theory is the lack of visible evidence to support it. Admittedly, it can be argued that there may not be any signs of consciousness at the simplest level even when it exists and may be very difficult to see them just like gravitation, as well.

A major argument in favor of Panpsychism is that there is a critical thread of continuity among all things, which is related to the consciousness and there is no argument that higher-order systems do have ‘mind’ or ‘consciousness’ and then the higher-order mind must compose of lower-order minds or components of it.

There is a clear lack of evidence for the fundamental entities to possess any consciousness characteristics. None of the inorganic materials or even the protons or electrons exhibits such characteristics at all. When we have scientific explanations for the behavior of these particles, it is even hard to imagine that such particles have a consciousness element. Until and unless there is clarifications for these doubts, it is easier to believe in Emergentism, because there is more clarity and evidence of its ideas.

Why do Emergentism Is Better than Panpsychism?

Till not long ago, the general belief was that consciousness or nature of mind was an entirely different and distinct feature from physical nature of any substance. Even at those rare occasions when mind interact with the physical nature, it was a very difficult task to understand it and explain it under the fundamental principles of physics. Now when we have the concepts of Emergentism and Panpsychism it seems possible to achieve such integration.

Emergentism is easier to argue and prove as there are experiences in the nature to show how a system or a material are made up of different components and differ in the manner in which it behaves (Crane 2001)  Panpsychism is difficult to explain or show in terms of evidence(McLaughlin, Beckermann & Walter 2009). These two theories or concepts are the main two options for explaining consciousness or the ‘mind’ naturalistic or non-reductive manner within the framework of ontology. They also offer more acceptable or satisfactory approach to explain consciousness, which is offered by idealism and dualism. Emergentism argues that the basic physical entities including the electrons, protons, or even the ultimate attributes such as quarks or leptons or bosons do not contain mental attributes, but a combination of this brain has a mental consciousness, but Panpsychism argues that everything has a mind or consciousness. Basically, an Emergentist believes that an amoeba made up of electrons and quarks have a mind or consciousness (Crane 2001). The electrons and the quarks make up the amoeba while believers of Panpsychism believe even in the matter that electrons and the quarks has ‘consciousness’ element like amoeba (McLaughlin, Beckermann & Walter 2009).

So, as per Emergentism the consciousness emerges in a system at a level of complexity while Panpsychism says it is inherent even in the tiniest material of which the system is made. (McLaughlin, Beckermann, and Walter, 2009); (Crane 2001). The problem the Emergentism faces is that it needs to explain the point of complexity at which the consciousness emerges in a system. Even if we argue for Panpsychism that a mental element is present in the fundamental entities it remains to be explained how ‘mental or conscious’ state will arise the essential problem to Emergentism, which faces that the matter seems to have consciousness. According to Panpsychism, there is a mental feature for every fundamental element of nature. It starts to show the ‘consciousness’ only at a certain complex state, which is more of the Emergentism approach. The approach says there is no mental attribute to the fundamental entities, but the ‘consciousness’ emerges at a certain level of complexity. So, we can argue that Panpsychism faces its own problems of emergence, which was raised as a ‘combination problem’ by William James.

The predominant scientific view of the world, which finds it difficult to accept the theories of Idealism and Dualism makes Emergentism the winner over Panpsychism. All the modern physicalistic theories also support the emergence of mind even though none of them have given a satisfactory explanation for consciousness (Loewer &Gillett 2001). Until and unless there is a satisfactory explanation there is a possibility for Panpsychism, but with the existing theories and lack of direct bearing on any scientific work or test to support it. It still remains to see how it can gain over Emergentism.


Emergentism and Panpsychism can be argued as two different ways of explaining consciousness in the frame work of ontology. While one says it emerges at some point of complexity of the system the other say it is present in the tiniest part of the system. What is actually needed is a true integration of Emergentism and Panpsychism. 


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