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

CFS Lecture by Jennifer McWeeny, Associate Professor of Philosophy, Worcester Polytechnic Institute.


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 workshop is free and open to all, no registration is needed.
Everyone is welcome!