Thinking About – Consciousness and Panpsychism

Thinking About – Consciousness and Panpsychism

Well that’s not such a big topic for a blog post is it…

I was listening to the Rune Soup podcast the other day. His guest is someone I’ve heard speak before and I always find his viewpoints fascinating, and that is Dr. Rupert Sheldrake. He was essentially there to promote his new book Science and Spiritual Practices (I’ve just ordered it in hardback to take a proper look) and of course one of the topics that came up was ‘what is consciousness?’ It’s a fascinating philosophical question and is a major stumbling block for many in the materialist scientific community who seem quite happy to conclude that it is just chemical and electrical whatsits (a proper scientific term that, whatsits) firing in a ball of meat we call the brain. It’s reassuring that there are scientists for whom this is not a good enough explanation, and they are therefore continuing the conversation and research. Dr. Rupert Sheldrake is one of those. He’s quite a controversial figure, with many scientists calling his work ‘pseudo science’.

In other words, he won’t just shut up and tow the party line.

Keep going Mr Sheldrake.


There seems to be a growing number of materialist scientists for whom the electrical ball of meat theory is also beginning to show weakness. To take a small step away from that theory, some are now using the term ‘Panpsychism’ to describe how they are viewing consciousness.

Panpsychism is:

In philosophy, panpsychism is the view that consciousness, mind or soul (psyche) is a universal and primordial feature of all things. Panpsychists see themselves as minds in a world of mind.

It’s not a new idea. In fact it’s a very ancient one that was popular for a long time, until the rise of ‘logical positivism’. The recognition of the very hard problem of defining consciousness has brought it right back. It’s a good place to start the discussion again.

But back to the discussion on the podcast.

So according to Panpsychism, consciousness is within everything. From the whale all the way to the electron. The human mind, being one of the greatest concentrations of electrons on the planet, makes us aware of our own consciousness. At least by our own definition of what makes consciousness. This struck me as very Animistic. That everything has consciousness – from the pebble to the mountain, from the raindrop to the ocean. Replace consciousness with the word Spirit and it’s getting very close to the way I know many Pagans view things.

But then he went on.

He said that this really was just phase one of the discussion – the door had simply been opened. Because if an electron held consciousness, and the human brain was one of the most intricate conglomerations of electrons on Earth, we then must eventually look away from the Earth. If the electron is conscious. Then the Sun must also be conscious. And because it is so huge, much much bigger than a human brain, maybe the Sun is aware of what is happening on the Earth. If the Sun’s electrons are conscious, then the Universe must also be conscious. The Earth is also conscious.


This is something ancient religions, spiritualities, and indigenous peoples have been saying for thousands of years. It’s something I know many of the readers of this blog also believe. We might not express it in exactly the same way, but that’s it. For some years now I have heard the Sun dismissed as simply a giant ball of gas. Well I guess it is. But it has always been so much more to me.

I like the fact that some scientists are beginning to explore these areas again, not just Dr. Sheldrake. Of course some in materialist science will dismiss it all as woo, as is their want. In the mean time rituals will be held, chants will be sung, candles lit, prayers made, consciousness made one with consciousness. A chalice of wine held aloft to the full moon, and the moon is aware of those rituals on Earth. White candles lit in honour of the snowdrop, and the returning Spring at Imbolc, and the Earth is aware of those acts too.

Dr. Sheldrake’s book is arriving tomorrow.

I can’t wait to dive right in.

15 responses to “Thinking About – Consciousness and Panpsychism”

  1. Wow, what a way to start a new year – Consciousness. I made me sit back & think about how I perceive consciousness in relation to my Pagan beliefs. I have always known that by consciousness I mean Spirit & I can’t conceive of a World without it Tom amoeba to the whole Universe, known worlds & worlds yet unknown to us here on Earth. You certainly know how to kick start the year Damh & long may you continue, thanks be to the Gods.

  2. I have no doubt all things are conscious, it’s a part of the reason why I dislike veganism. There is no doubt that the consciousness is not in the meat of the brain, because, for example, my mother’s brain was dead on 16th December, as was her body. My family were not told until the next day, due to confusion at the hospital. On the night she died, I woke up certain that she was in my room. Her consciousness was free to come and find me and say goodbye.

  3. Yep….Rupert Sheldrake is indeed a breath of fresh air….his explanation of Morphic Resonance was intriguing and enlightening.

  4. Wow ! I’m a tad dizzy as I see the ripples going on endlessly and the might of how we connect feels a bit over whelming after reading this …. but, you know what ? It makes sense and I shall think more consciously as I light my white candles in a few weeks time.

  5. The other day I read an article about our galaxies and the pictures looked to me like neurons in a brain–star pics always look like that to me. Made me think about how far consciousness might extend. Maybe we’re all fractals of a vast Mind.

    Whether scientific/skeptical types might believe in the consciousness of “inanimate” things or not, good things have always happened in my life when I’ve talked with the moon or the mountains, the desert or the prairies, the creek or even the asphalt under my feet. If it works and works well, I’m disinclined to doubt it no matter what others tell me.

  6. Yep, I highly recommend Rupert Sheldrake as a great thinker and champion of the spiritual! I recently attended a seminar by him on this matter and have also read his new book, where he explores seven spiritual practices in detail and their value from a scientific perspective. He is a botanist and has done some exciting and innovatory research projects on matters such as telepathy, his theory of Morphic Resonance is worth a look. Rupert’s wife, Jill Purce, does fantastic overtone chanting workshops.

  7. I Love Rupert Sheldrake mainly for his forthright views and not being afraid to stand up and be counted, even if it flies in the face of so called scientific facts.

  8. Thanks Damh,

    Excellent topic, & sounds like a valuable Book. In the future, I can see more brave souls from the scientific community; waking up & speaking out on these types of subjects (as more of them experience & study quantum physics, & the reality of this multidimensional universe). Until then, those of us who can & do experience these things, can share in many ways (on many levels), the truths of these profound realities.

    Bright Blessings on your “Book Adventures”… 🙂

  9. It all makes sense (even if the thought of the Sun being conscious is slightly alarming). Thank you for an interesting read.

  10. We had a discussion elsewhere recently which led me to some observations which might be relevant here.

    My current animistic view is that each particle of matter is imbued with “spirit”. It’s the combination of these individual “spirit particles” that give us our own unique spirit (in the same way that each cell has its own life but it’s the combination of these cells that constitutes “me”). So my concept of spirit is that it’s everywhere and that it’s aggregations of spirit that form the identifiable spirit of each entity. (Think how a crowd may have an identity and behaviour which is distinct from the identity and behaviour that would be expressed by any individual in that crowd.)

    To take an example on the physical level, I’m made up from millions of individual (but see below*) cells all derived from the same sperm and egg. These cells have “agreed” to work together to the benefit of their shared DNA – although I can’t take this co-operation for granted: cancers are what happens when cells decide to go it alone. So I see myself as a population of cells that share common DNA co-operating together and also co-operating with other cells with different DNA (all the microbes in my gut making Vitamin K etc. or those on my skin protecting me from more pathogenic microbes for example) to maintain a viable ecosystem beneficial to all of them. (*Even at cell level we’re not finished as mitochondria in each cell have their own DNA which is not like that in the cell nucleus and reproduce themselves rather than being assembled on instructions from the cell nucleus.) As an animist I accept that each of these cells and even cell components, since it has its own existence, has its own “spirit”. Despite all these individual cells living their individual lives I’m somehow aware of a single “me” that is made up from all these spirits/lives/consciousnesses.

    This spirit-aggregates view also allows me to accept that a forest may have its own spirit despite individual trees within it each having their own spirit. In the same way each pebble may have a spirit in addition to a mountain of rocks having its own spirit and, of course, the Earth may have a spirit which in turn goes on to be a component of the spirit of the solar system: as I myself am!!

  11. Did you ever read that book by Lanza on Biocentrism I recommended Damh? It pretty much is about this subject

  12. An interesting subject that I hope you will follow up on when you have read the book.

    Plato seemed to pretty much sum a lot of stuff up in his lectures on Anamnesis, dividing the understandings into Eikasia, Pistis, Dianoia, Noesis.

    Before him the Egyptian Priesthood knew each living thing was possessed of several existence emanations above and beyond the metabolic mind/body. This was described by them as Khat, Ren, Khabit, Ab, Ba, Ka, Sekhem. On close study of this there is evidence for what you are now saying here.

    I look forwards to your findings.

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