Why Panpsychism Is the Jedi Philosophy
One of the stranger philosophies currently enjoying a renewal of interest is also that of your favorite group of magical space wizard monks.
One of the most iconic elements of the Star Wars universe is the Force. That mysterious energy field that permeates the galaxy, which all lifeforms interact with but only a rare few can harness. It gives the science fiction series a mystical punch and serves to make our heroes a little more compelling. Not merely action heroes, they have a deeper connection to the cosmos they protect.
The philosophies that surround the force keep nerds up at night. Books have been written detailing both the ideas of the Jedi and Sith orders. In the films, the Jedi approach to the Force is often explained to those who have never heard of it before. Their idea is that a living force connects everything in existence, that affects all of us and can be manipulated by some individuals. It is aware of changes in the cosmos and strives to balance itself as though it were alive and thinking.
There is a name for this philosophy in real life, panpsychism.
Panpsychism is the idea that everything in the universe has some consciousness or that consciousness is a fundamental part of matter. It has precedents going back to before recorded history, and Thales, the first philosopher, hinted at it when he said: "Everything is full of gods." Other thinkers have had similar ideas throughout history, including Plato, Leibnitz, Spinoza, and Bertrand Russell. Despite the spiritual overtones of the philosophy, it has had its supporters among scientists as well.
Arthur Eddington was a British astronomer and philosopher of science; he is most famous for confirming the existence of phenomena predicted by the theory of Relativity. Eddington realized that while physics can tell us how matter will behave it cannot tell us what the nature of matter is. He concluded that as we can only know how the nature of the matter that makes up our brains and that it is conscious, it is simplest to presume that the matter outside our brains is somehow aware as well.
He argued that all matter had some form of "mind stuff," explaining that:
“The mind-stuff of the world is, of course, something more general than our individual conscious minds... The mind-stuff is not spread in space and time; these are part of the cyclic scheme ultimately derived out of it... It is necessary to keep reminding ourselves that all knowledge of our environment from which the world of physics is constructed, has entered in the form of messages transmitted along the nerves to the seat of consciousness... Consciousness is not sharply defined, but fades into subconsciousness, and beyond that, we must postulate something indefinite but yet continuous with our mental nature... It is difficult for the matter-of-fact physicist to accept the view that the substratum of everything is of mental character. But no one can deny that mind is the first and most direct thing in our experience, and all else is remote inference."
The idea that all matter might have some awareness is increasingly popular in analytic philosophy, as it does provide some answers to problems in understanding consciousness. Specifically, the "hard" problem of consciousness is addressed. That issue, the question of how consciousness can arise from unconscious matter, is quickly solved when you treat all matter as having some awareness. There are detractors, however. They often point out the difficulty in taking seriously the idea that your sofa has some form of consciousness.
The sofa, however, takes your rejection very seriously.
How do the Jedi use this Philosophy?
While only some things, notably Force-sensitive characters, can manipulate the Force; every object in the universe appears to be able to interact with the Force. Luke Skywalker can interact with all sorts of objects using the force despite those objects not being able to do likewise. The Jedi understand that they share their interaction with the Force with the entire galaxy, but also know that they, as force sensitives, interact a little differently than others.
This is not fundamentally different from how a panpsychist would understand their existence. They grasp that they are more conscious than a rock, but know that the rock has some potential for awareness as part of its essence. They share awareness in common, just as both Luke and the stones he moves on Dagobah are equally surrounded and embraced by the Force.
A view of panpsychism remarkably similar to the Force was proposed by physicists Bernard Haisch and Gregory Matloff. They suggest that consciousness is produced and transmitted through space and that any system that has a certain size or energy output could generate and emit consciousness. Their outlandish theory suggests even that stars choose to move by electing to emit a jet of hot gasses. The idea, if correct, would make all large or energetic objects in existence mentally aware, in some sense. Significant changes in such systems would then be felt elsewhere, a "disturbance in the force" if you will.
Panpsychism is a radical, bizarre, and quite plausibly accurate philosophy. The idea that all matter is somehow aware staggers the imagination. The idea that some of our favorite heroes understand and fully embrace such a view is even more incredible. But, despite its strangeness, panpsychism continues to attract supporters in the scientific and philosophic communities. Remember to keep an open mind on such strange ideas, and may the Force be with you.
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The idea of 'absolute time' is an illusion. Physics and subjective experience reveal why.
- Since Einstein posited his theory of general relativity, we've understood that gravity has the power to warp space and time.
- This "time dilation" effect occurs even at small levels.
- Outside of physics, we experience distortions in how we perceive time — sometimes to a startling extent.
Physics without time<p>In his book "The Order of Time," Italian theoretical physicist Carlo Rovelli suggests that our perception of time — our sense that time is forever flowing forward — could be a highly subjective projection. After all, when you look at reality on the smallest scale (using equations of quantum gravity, at least), time vanishes.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"If I observe the microscopic state of things," writes Rovelli, "then the difference between past and future vanishes … in the elementary grammar of things, there is no distinction between 'cause' and 'effect.'"</p><p>So, why do we perceive time as flowing <em>forward</em>? Rovelli notes that, although time disappears on extremely small scales, we still obviously perceive events occur sequentially in reality. In other words, we observe entropy: Order changing into disorder; an egg cracking and getting scrambled.</p><p>Rovelli says key aspects of time are described by the second law of thermodynamics, which states that heat always passes from hot to cold. This is a one-way street. For example, an ice cube melts into a hot cup of tea, never the reverse. Rovelli suggests a similar phenomenon might explain why we're only able to perceive the past and not the future.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Any time the future is definitely distinguishable from the past, there is something like heat involved," Rovelli wrote for the <a href="https://www.ft.com/content/ce6ef7b8-429a-11e8-93cf-67ac3a6482fd" target="_blank"><em>Financial Times</em></a>. "Thermodynamics traces the direction of time to something called the 'low entropy of the past', a still mysterious phenomenon on which discussions rage."</p>
The strange subjectivity of time<p>Time moves differently atop a mountain than it does on a beach. But you don't need to travel any distance at all to experience strange distortions in your perception of time. In moments of life-or-death fear, for example, your brain would release large amounts of adrenaline, which would speed up your internal clock, causing you to perceive the outside world as moving slowly.<br></p><p>Another common distortion occurs when we focus our attention in particular ways.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"If you're thinking about how time is <em>currently</em> passing by, the biggest factor influencing your time perception is attention," Aaron Sackett, associate professor of marketing at the University of St. Thomas, told <em><a href="https://gizmodo.com/why-does-time-slow-down-and-speed-up-1840133782" target="_blank">Gizmodo</a></em>.<em> "</em>The more attention you give to the passage of time, the slower it tends to go. As you become distracted from time's passing—perhaps by something interesting happening nearby, or a good daydreaming session—you're more likely to lose track of time, giving you the feeling that it's slipping by more quickly than before. "Time flies when you're having fun," they say, but really, it's more like "time flies when you're thinking about other things." That's why time will also often fly by when you're definitely <em>not</em> having fun—like when you're having a heated argument or are terrified about an upcoming presentation."</p><p>One of the most mysterious ways people experience time-perception distortions is through psychedelic drugs. In an interview with <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/books/2018/apr/14/carlo-rovelli-exploding-commonsense-notions-order-of-time-interview" target="_blank"><em>The Guardian</em></a>, Rovelli described a time he experimented with LSD.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"It was an extraordinarily strong experience that touched me also intellectually," he said. "Among the strange phenomena was the sense of time stopping. Things were happening in my mind but the clock was not going ahead; the flow of time was not passing any more. It was a total subversion of the structure of reality."<br></p><p>It seems few scientists or philosophers believe time is completely an illusion.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"What we call <em>time</em> is a rich, stratified concept; it has many layers," Rovelli told <em><a href="https://physicstoday.scitation.org/do/10.1063/PT.6.4.20190219a/full/" target="_blank">Physics Today</a>.</em> "Some of time's layers apply only at limited scales within limited domains. This does not make them illusions."</p>What <em>is</em> an illusion is the idea that time flows at an absolute rate. The river of time might be flowing forever forward, but it moves at different speeds, between people, and even within your own mind.
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Vanchurin interview:<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="539759cbfd8fcd5b6ebf14a3b597b3f9"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/bmyRy2-UhEE?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
Vanchurin on “Hidden Phenomena”:<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="18886ffd5e5840bb19d4494212f88d82"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/2NDVdNwsHCo?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>Vitaly Vanchurin speaking at the 6th International FQXi Conference, "Mind Matters: Intelligence and Agency in the Physical World." The Foundational Questions...
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