The Subject(s) of Panpsychism: A Phenomenology of Empty, Extended, and Doubled Selves – University of Copenhagen

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The Subject(s) of Panpsychism: A Phenomenology of Empty, Extended, and Doubled Selves

CFS Lecture by Jennifer McWeeny, Ph.D., Editor Simone de Beauvoir Studies, Associate Professor of Philosophy, Worcester Polytechnic Institute.

Abstract

The Subject(s) of Panpsychism: A Phenomenology of Empty, Extended, and Doubled Selves

Panpsychism implies that consciousness is everywhere. However, if consciousness is not confined to certain kinds of living bodies, then a problem arises as to how to demarcate the subject of experience. Who or what experiences in a panpsychist universe? Moreover: Do experience and subjectivity necessitate one another? Must all experience be experienced by a subject? As a means to answering these questions, I consider three types of experience that, while perspectival, nonetheless seem to call into question the connection between experience and the first-person perspective or a sense of ownership or “mineness.” First, I look to phenomenological accounts of “double-consciousness,” which are experiences of, as W.E. B. Du Bois describes, “having two consciousnesses in one body” that surface in contexts of oppression like racism, sexism, and colonialism. Second, I offer an interpretation of two kinds of ownerless consciousness discussed in classical Indian philosophy that have resonance with contemporary conversations about “extended” and “empty” minds: sŒk·in (witness consciousness) of Advaita VedŒnta and the Buddhist concept of anŒtman (no-self). I argue that we can account for these diverse phenomena with a view of subjectivity that locates the subject of experience in the operation of a “body schema,” a notion that Merleau-Ponty conceives of as a continuously updated organizational system that yields awareness of a body’s location in space. In the end, experience does require a subject, but the boundaries of these subjects are more permeable and dynamic, more bodily and historical, than we have previously thought.

The event is open to all. Everyone is welcome!