TSC 2023


I’ve been accepted to give a Concurrent Talk at TSC 2023, in Sicily. The conference website is HERE (external link)

My talk

Subject Discipline: 1. Philosophy

Primary Topic Area: [01.12] Free will and agency

Secondary Topic Area: [01.04] Ontology of consciousness


Pan-idealism: a novel metaphysical position that is consistent both with libertarian free will and contemporary physics

Physicalism does not allow for libertarian free will. This motivates the search for alternative metaphysical systems that do so, and which are consistent with contemporary physics.

The ontology proposed here, pan-idealism, combines panpsychism with idealism: Our universe consists of a multitude of centres of experience that can perceive one another. They are also agents, in that they have a specific freedom to act, based upon their immediate experiences. Every individual physical entity – a photon, a molecule, a bird, a human, is such a mind. (Most agents are extremely primitive: they cannot reason; moreover, they merely possess alternative possibilities rather than full free will.)

In pan-idealism, the entirety of physics is secondary, and thus the mind-body problem is now to explain physics in wholly mentalistic terms, rather than vice-versa. This is done by taking the physics of the world to be identified in terms of the combined perceptions of all agents, where the combination is made in the best manner possible. This mentalistic conception of physics – as being entirely secondary and dependent on the mental – is valid, at least in principle, because we have no epistemic access to physics except through our experiences. There is no physical causation in pan-idealism. Instead, dynamical physical laws are secondary: they reflect changes in the percepts of each given agent (over its subjective time). There is thus no question of causal overdetermination.

Pan-idealism can be shown to be consistent with just those interpretations of quantum mechanics where the collapse of the wavefunction is real and describable in physical terms. These include GRW, Pearle’s CSL, and Penrose and Hameroff’s OR theory.

Agents are identified in pan-idealism by maximally factorising Psi, the wavefunction of the universe. Each such factor is the physical manifestation of an agent. This fits well with our intuitions of an agent in terms of the holistic character of its behaviour. The dynamics of the universe is as follows: Each agent attempts to act by landing all its particles in the future, in ignorance of what any other agent will do. Psi describes the given agent’s propensities to act. It also provides the given agent with information about what other agents are most likely to do. Reconciliation is done at the level of particles rather than agents. Any attempted localisation, that appears in the future light cone of any other attempt, fails. The remaining localisations are successful, leading to a global collapse of the wavefunction into an amended one, Psi-prime. The new wavefunction factorises in a slightly different manner, leading to a somewhat modified factorisation into agents. This solves the combination problem for pan-idealism. This process view, of the evolution of the universe as it comes into being over time, is consistent with our intuitions about ourselves as agents, whose goals are often in conflict with those of others.

Robert Kane’s physicalist theory of libertarian free will can be adapted to pan-idealism; this removes the problem of how a person’s chain of Self-Forming Actions gets started.


Panpsychism, idealism, pan-idealism, libertarian free will, quantum mechanics, objective reduction

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