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Think Tank

Panpsychism: "The Most Satisfying Explanation for the Universe"

"I grew up Roman Catholic, and also grew up with a dog," the neuroscientist Christof Koch told Wired in a recent interview. "And what bothered me was the idea that, while humans had souls and could go to heaven, dogs were not suppose to have souls."

Koch has found a way to resolve this issue through his research, which proposes that consciousness - one of the most enigmatic concepts in brain science - is to be found in complex systems all around us. Therefore a dog, or a smaller animal like an earthworm, or even the Internet, all possess consciousness. Whether the Internet can go to heaven or not is a different question. 

This idea, known as panpsychismhas many different versions in philosophy. Koch, the chief scientific officer at the Allen Institute for Brain Science, does not see consciousness everywhere. For instance, a black hole, a heap of sand, a bunch of isolated neurons in a dish - they have no consciousness.

However, if the individual components of complex systems are integrated well enough, Koch says that is where consciousness emerges. And this idea, Koch says, is "the most satisfying explanation for the universe."

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