Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Dr. Bee attacks panpsychism

Sabine Hossenfelder writes in Nautilus:
I recently discovered panpsychism. ...

Can elementary particles be conscious? No, they can’t. It’s in conflict with evidence. Here’s why.

We know 25 elementary particles. These are collected in the standard model of particle physics. The predictions of the standard model agree with experiment to best precision.

The particles in the standard model are classified by their properties, which are collectively called “quantum numbers.” The electron, for example, has an electric charge of -1 and it can have a spin of +1/2 or -1/2. There are a few other quantum numbers with complicated names, such as the weak hypercharge, but really it’s not so important. Point is, there are handful of those quantum numbers and they uniquely identify an elementary particle.
She is responding to some pro-panpsychism articles in the same online magazine, such as here.

No, she is not correct. An electron is not determined by its quantum numbers. It also has position and momentum. More importantly, it also has whatever info its wave function attempts to capture.

There is some debate about whether the wave function fully characterizes everything about the electron. Dr. Bee believes in superdeterminism, and under that theory, the answer is certainly not. Superdeterminism requires that electron behavior is predicted by long-ago events that are not captured by the wave function.

Entanglement imposes another problem for saying the electron wave function is everything. The combination of these views lead to several paradoxes.
With the third option it is indeed possible to add internal states to elementary particles. But if your goal is to give consciousness to those particles so that we can inherit it from them, strongly bound composites do not help you. They do not help you exactly because you have hidden this consciousness so that it needs a lot of energy to access. This then means, of course, that you cannot use it at lower energies, like the ones typical for soft and wet thinking apparatuses like human brains.

Summary: If a philosopher starts speaking about elementary particles, run.
She lost me here. It seems to me that an electron could have an internal state with a tiny bit of consciousness. I know this sounds goofy, but I don't think she disproved it. She believes in superdeterminism, and that is much goofier.


  1. Dear Roger,

    Nautil.us are laggards. May be because of the .us ? [Ummm...?]

    Please see:

    Also, we discussed it at your blog, here:

    Earlier, I also discussed it at my blog:

    and, at:


    PS: May be time to highlight this all at my blog, once again!

  2. You're right. Nautilus also just had a stale article on usage of the term "quantum supremacy".

    The panpsychism is a little different in that it simultaneously has several articles in favor of panpsychism.