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Pan-awareness: Building a bridge between panpsychism and Vedanta. Anand Rangarajan Dept. of Computer & Information Science and Engineering Univ. of Florida. Overview. Phenomenology Meditative phenomenology Pan-awareness ontology Ontology of subjects

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pan awareness building a bridge between panpsychism and vedanta

Pan-awareness: Building a bridge between panpsychism and Vedanta

Anand Rangarajan

Dept. of Computer & Information Science and Engineering

Univ. of Florida

  • Phenomenology
    • Meditative phenomenology
  • Pan-awareness ontology
    • Ontology of subjects
    • The combination problem
  • Topologies
    • Hierarchical frames
  • Conclusions
meditative phenomenology
Meditative Phenomenology
  • Mindfulness: Awareness completely focused at center of phenomenon.
    • One pointedness, no split mind.
  • Non-referential awareness: Awareness zooms out and is radically decentered.
    • Pure consciousness event (PCE), nirvikalpa samadhi.
  • Fundamental awareness/content distinction
  • Hindu and Buddhist philosophical schools: longstanding debate over interpretation.











Fundamental nature of awareness/content distinction

(Aurobindo, 1985, Wilber, 2000)

reductive explanation
Reductive Explanation
  • Logical supervenience reductive explanation
  • Almost everything is logically supervenient on the physical (Chalmers, JCS 2:3, 1995).
  • Exceptions are:
    • Experience
    • Physical laws
    • Indexicality
  • Panpsychism, dualism, idealism etc. cannot be summarily dismissed.
why panpsychism
Why panpsychism?
  • “It’s logically possible”, - says Prof. Analytic Philosopher with a contemptuous tone
  • Marginal view but upheld by Leibniz, James, Whitehead, Russell, Hartshorne, Griffin, Fechner
  • Fundamental approach to consciousness problem
  • Affinity with Vedanta, Vajrayana, Hua-Yen
  • Recent resurgence – Seager, Strawson, Rosenberg
  • Agree with Strawson (JCS, 6:4, 1999): When awareness present, a subject exists.
  • When I am aware, I am.
  • Fundamental level:
    • Subjects.
    • Intersubjective exchange of content.
  • Awareness NOT cognitive.
  • Reminiscent of pan proto-psychism.

Subjects and intersubjective

network modeled as directed


Phenomenology rides on topology. Connection directions indicate

propagation of influence.

Issues of spacetime metric etc. set aside for now.

the combination problem
The Combination Problem
  • How does phenomenology add up?
    • What about awareness of “mid-level subjects” [James 1890, Seager - JCS 2:3]?
    • Intersubjective phenomenal content at mid-level?
  • Quantum coherence etc. suggested as objective criteria.
  • Ontology of subjects as a way out?
william james on combination problem
William James on combination problem

“Where the elemental units are supposed to be feelings, the case is in no wise altered. Take a hundred of them, shuffle them and pack them as close together as you can (whatever that might mean); still each remains the same feeling it always was, shut in its own skin, windowless, ignorant of what the other feelings are and mean. There would be a hundred-and-first feeling there, if, when a group or series of such feeling were set up, a consciousness belonging to the group as such should emerge” (James, 1890)

awareness and content
Awareness and content
  • James’ confusion between awareness and content
  • Subjects: Ontologization of awareness
  • Feelings don’t “add” up but what about subjects?
    • Compound subjects (Whitehead, 1928).
    • Leverage “Atman = Brahman”?
structure of awareness
Structure of awareness

One-pointedness mode

Decentered mode

Phenomenological clue to combination problem

Bypass issue of existence of topology prior to phenomenology

combination principle
Combination principle?
  • Awareness binds configuration of lower level subjects
  • Binding can range from one-pointed focus to a decentered zoomed out focus.
  • Binding is dynamic: Tacit spacetime assumptions [Rosenberg thesis, 1997].
  • Leads to a hierarchical topology of subjects

Topology connects higher

level subject with lower

level subjects – possibility

space [Rosenberg, 1997].

Momentary awareness –

combination of

lower-level subjects.

Bypass spacetime issues

subject topologies
Subject topologies


“The Many become One and are increased by One”

(Whitehead, 1928)

subject topologies contd
Subject topologies (contd.)

Emergence model

“More is different” ( Philip Anderson, 1972)

subject topologies contd17
Subject topologies (contd.)

“The One and the Many create the Few”

panpsychism and vedanta
Panpsychism and Vedanta
  • Regardless of Advaita, Visistadvaita or Dvaita (Tattvavâda) orientation, Vedanta philosophies implicitly tell a combination story
  • All agree on the PAN aspect of awareness
  • Main difference – ultimate nature of subjects – irrelevant here.
  • Potential meeting ground (Griffin and Smith, 1990).
  • Awareness/Content distinction fundamental
  • When I am aware, I am
  • Awareness all the way down: Pan-awareness
  • Combination problem for panpsychism
  • Compound subjects but not compound objects
  • Topology of subjects
  • Different Vedantas can still play role
  • Swami Sachidananda, The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, Integral Yoga Pub., 1990.
  • Arthur Deikman, “I”=Awareness, JCS, 3:4, 1996.
  • David Chalmers, The Conscious Mind, Oxford Univ. Press, 1996.
  • Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Lotus Press, 1985.
  • Alfred North Whitehead, Process and Reality, Free Press, 1928.
  • Galen Strawson, The Self, JCS, 4:5-6, 1997.
  • Gregg Rosenberg, A Place for Consciousness in the Natural World, Ph.D. thesis, Univ. of Indiana, 1997.
  • Ken Wilber, Integral Psychology, Shambhala, 2000.
  • David Ray Griffin and Huston Smith, Primordial Truth and Postmodern Theology, SUNY Press, 1990.
  • William James, Principles of Psychology, 1890, Dover, 1955.
  • William Seager, Consciousness, Information and Panpsychism, JCS, 2:3, 1995.
  • Bertrand Russell, The Problems of Philosophy, Oxford Univ. Press, 1988.
  • Barry Dainton, The Gaze of Consciousness, JCS, 9:2, 2002.
  • Eliot Deutsch, Advaita Vedanta, Univ. of Hawaii Press, 1969.
  • Christian de Quincey, Radical Nature, Invisible Cities Press, 2002.
  • When I am aware, I am.
  • Combination problem: Clues from phenomenology.
  • Awareness operator - higher-level subjects.
  • Distinction between ontology and representation.
  • No a priori commitment to dual-aspect theory.
  • Probabilistic hierarchical model with emergent constraints.
  • Migraine headaches: Reliable and repeatable phenomena.
  • Two distinct modes of awareness:
    • Awareness concentrated at center of migraine.
    • Awareness detaches and is decentered.
  • Oscillation between modes.
  • Loss of awareness.
  • Hargens’s [JCS, 8:12 (2001)] taxonomy:
    • Intersubjectivity as spirit. Transcendental.
    • Intersubjectivity as context: Mesh.
    • Intersubjectivity as resonance:
      • Worldspace. Ontological: Empathy, Zelig.
      • Worldview: Epistemological: Culture.
    • Intersubjectivity as relationship:
      • It-It, I-It, I-I.
  • Taking van Gulick’s [JCS, 8:9-10] distinction between ontology and representation seriously.
  • Different from most standard ontologies.




Phenomenal content

Compound subject

Momentary awareness





Part/whole relation