Is physicalism an outdated paradigm

The end of physicalism? Patrick Spät on gradual panpsychism

Evolutionary history of religion (s)

Once again a nice blog surprise: For the 300th blog post from “Nature of Faith” there was a congratulatory email from the philosopher Patrick Spät, whose “Man does not live from the brain alone”I wrote a review here some time ago and it also met with a great response in other media.

Of course, I did not miss this online contact opportunity and asked Patrick Spät for a web interview - and to be available to questioners and discussants for ten days. And he said yes!

So here is the web interview with Patrick Spät on the subject Panpsychism vs. Physicalism.

1. Dr. Late, especially in the blogosphere, I keep coming across “physicalists”. They claim that we are all just a collection of atoms, but take this view with emotional excitement and great missionary zeal. And they also seem very motivated to influence the mind and consciousness of others. Do you have an explanation for this very contradicting behavior? Where do atomic clusters get feelings, motives, spirit, consciousness and pleasure in arguing?

This is probably due to the exaggerated belief in science that we have experienced for three centuries: Natural science seems to have the omnipotence to disenchant the cosmos, life and ultimately humans, i.e. to reduce all of this to mathematical-physical models and thus literally explain it do. The physicalist cannot explain to us why there are thinking beings at all who can ask questions and have a world view.

Of course, scientific findings have their validity, but their area of ​​validity is limited - namely to mathematical equations. Such gray formulas are abstract, while the colorful life is concrete: When I shrink as in the movie “Die Fliege” and fly around in your brain, then I see electro-chemical signals. But I don't "see" how it feels for you when you are drinking the most delicious wine of your life - only you can experience that for yourself. And it is absurd that there will ever be a book that fully explains the feeling of love. We are not washing machines whose functions we could describe in full in a manual.

Panpsychism tries to do justice to both the physical - that is, scientifically measurable - aspects as well as the spiritual: There are physical-material and there are spiritual properties that always appear together at the root of reality. At the very bottom, for example, with atoms, there are simple spiritual properties. But that doesn't mean that an atom is in pain when I do nuclear fission. It is only when a thing is sufficiently complex in material terms that its spiritual side also takes on more complex forms. Therefore only humans and some animals such as chimpanzees, magpies or elephants have self-confidence. I believe that there is a gradual order in nature that is the result of evolution. Mind and body form an inseparable symbiosis that takes on increasingly complex forms.

2. What else can panpsychism do that physicalism cannot?

First, panpsychism gives the spiritual the place it deserves: the spiritual is part of the world; not a mystery, but a natural phenomenon like charge, mass and spin too. However, panpsychism takes into account that the spiritual is clearly separated from the physical: the concrete throbbing and throbbing that you feel when you cut your finger cannot be captured by formulas. The mind is mind - no more and no less.

Another problem faced by the physicalist is that he claims that everything, really everything, is purely physical in nature. But he cannot even begin to explain what matter is is: The natural sciences show how matter behaves, but not what it really is according to its essence. If the chemist tells you that sugar is C.12H22O11, then that is correct, but only half the battle: Because the taste of sweetness also belongs to this world, since its experiencing consciousness is undoubtedly part of the world.


Dr. Patrick Spät, whose book success “Man does not live from the brain alone” was recommended by Harald Lesch, among others.

3. Are there real differences between gradual panpsychism and emergentism?

Definitely! The physicalist - and emergentism is only one variant of this worldview - must banish the spiritual one hundred percent from the world. For him there is only bare matter at the foundation of the world, which we can fully describe with our formulas. The emergentist believes that mental properties suddenly “emerge” from the purely material brain. With that he naturally believes that we can win gold from straw: The universe should consist of pure matter, then the living beings come and nothing to me, it “pops” and the spirit is there. The emergentist cannot explain how this hocus-pocus is supposed to be possible. Gradual panpsychism, on the other hand, claims that the body of a living being acts as an “amplifier” and bundles and intensifies the simple mental properties - which are rooted in the foundation of reality. If there is any form of emergence here, it is very weak. And above all, it is understandable where the tree of consciousness comes from: from the seed of the fundamental spiritual. Gradual panpsychism cannot quite clarify what these simple mental properties look like in concrete terms - we cannot have a coffee chat with atoms.

4. A nice joke is circulating on Twitter: "An emergency - we need a philosopher!" How do you react?

An English proverb spontaneously pops into my head: “When all is said and done, more is said than done”. Philosophers try to interpret the world. And good theory is best practice here and there. But our world is full of acute emergencies that we will not solve with mere theory chat. So I think the irony of the Twitter saying is pretty justified. Also in view of the many alibi philosophers who are invited to talk shows, but who are often very tentative instead of putting their fingers in the wound. Theories, including panpsychism, of course, can perhaps leave their mark on the fringes of collective consciousness. A lot would be gained from that, because I believe that the exploitation of humans and the planet have a good part of their roots in the physicalistic worldview.

Thank you for this web interview, Dr. Late - and for the fact that by the nature of faith you are still available for ten days for the online debate! May your book be found under many a Christmas tree!

* I dedicate this blog post to the philosopher Stephan Schleim, whose brainlog had inspired me at the time to include more philosophical books in the reading pile and who is now also on scilogs.com.

Dr. Michael Blume studied religious and political science and did his doctorate on religion in brain and evolutionary research. University lecturer, science blogger & Christian-Islamic family man, author, among others "Islam in the Crisis" (2017), "Why Anti-Semitism Threats Us All" (2019) & "Conspiracy Myths". Has also experienced and survived a lot in crisis regions, representative of the state government BW against anti-Semitism. For many years he has blogged weekly on "Nature of Faith" in order to make religious studies accessible and open to discussion.