The Dilemma of an Electron
i
Illustration by Bohdan Butenko
Science

The Dilemma of an Electron

Do Elementary Particles Have Consciousness?
Łukasz Lamża
Reading
time 17 minutes

The possibilities are roiling and frothing – depending on which option prevails, the particle will be either attracted by an atom and ultimately bind itself to it, or will opt instead for freedom.

Children do it all the time: they talk to toys, objects, clumps of dust. So do poets, for that matter. Even adults, sensible people, sometimes curse treacherous keys that have wilfully misplaced themselves, or pat a loyal car that has successfully started despite subzero temperatures.

But childhood, poetry and annoyance are one thing, whereas measured consideration of any and all evidence for or against such a view is quite another issue. In the latter case, those who quite seriously conclude that all matter in the universe can feel, think and be conscious are not merely eccentrics – they are panpsychists.

A metaphysical glitch

On the face of it, the hypothesis is simple, even childishly so: everything has consciousness; everything thinks and experiences. But panpsychism is one of those ‘isms’ that is easier to say than to defend, explain, or even understand.

The most honest thing would probably be to say that panpsychism is kind of like a hangnail on one’s finger – a tiny little problem that may turn troublingly pathological if you keep picking at it obsessively. In this case, the ripple in our otherwise healthy and smooth picture of the world is the question of the mind’s place within it. Most philosophers agree, even today, that this problem has yet to be resolved.

The thing is that the mind is kind of… odd. When we look around, we intuitively start reconstructing what is called the external world, which consists of cups, chairs, clouds, atoms, planets, galaxies and everything else. All of these objects have a couple of nice features in common – they have mass and a specific location in space, and they interact physically through pushes and pulls. Even if we add somewhat more problematic creations (such as light or a magnetic field) to this merry group, it will still be a consistent set of

Information

You’ve reached your free article’s limit this month. You can get unlimited access to all our articles and audio content with our digital subscription. If you have an active subscription, please log in.

Subscribe

Also read:

Cassandra ’72
i
“Kasandra”, Evelyn De Morgan, 1898. Photo in public domain
Science

Cassandra ’72

Were the Predictions of World3 Accurate?
Łukasz Kaniewski

The year 1972 saw a number of extraordinary events in the history of computer technology. Atari launched its first popular computer game, Pong. Intel released an eight-bit processor known as 8008. Evan Williams, one of the founders of Twitter, was born. What else? Perhaps the fact that following a week of tedious calculations, World3, a program developed by MIT scientists, came to the conclusion that the rapid collapse of our civilization would begin in 2040.

These findings were the basis for the book Limits to Growth, commissioned in 1972 by the Club of Rome. This was one of the best-known positions of the early 1970s. It argued that scarcity of resources, a growing population, and the postponement of dealing with the issues of waste and pollution would lead to ecological, humanitarian and economic disaster. The collapse of civilization – World3 calculated – would occur before raw materials reserves are exhausted; it would be violent and lead to a manifold decline in world population (i.e. the extinction of the majority of human civilization).

Continue reading