Panpsychic Inquiry

What Is Panpsychic Inquiry?

Please note: for a fuller exploration of living cosmos panpsychism visit Learning how Land Speaks on Substack

Panpsychism is a perspective in Western philosophy that, unlike the materialist perspective that has dominated Western civilization in the modern era, allows us to see the whole earth, and indeed the whole cosmos, as alive, with ends, meanings, agency and intelligence of its own. Some kind of ‘innerness’ or mental principle is as fundamental to the nature of reality as matter is: we are part of a world that has depth as well as structure, meaning as well as form. In Thomas Berry’s words, this is a community of subjects, not a collection of objects.

In the living cosmos panpsychic view, the world and its beings is not only sentient, but also communicative. The world can be understood as a community of subjects, reaching out to each other in mutual contact and communication, co-creating a ‘poetic ecology’: the fundamental erotics of being touched by the world and touching it in return. The world is responsive, and we humans bring to it – or can bring to it, if we choose – an attention that calls it forth on a new expressive plane, a plane of meaning and not merely of causation.

Co-operative Inquiry Exploring Panpsychism

Over the past four years, with colleagues and in association with Schumacher College, I have extended the humanist focus of co-operative inquiry to explore this perspective, seeking collaboration between humans and our kin in the more-than-human world, working mainly with Rivers. We are asking questions of the kind,
What would it be like to live in a world of sentient beings rather than inert objects? How would we relate to such a world? And if we invoke such a world of sentient presence, calling to other-than-human beings as persons, might we elicit a response?

In the words of writer Amitav Ghosh In The Nutmeg’s Curse: Parables for a Planet in Crisis, ‘What does it mean to live on Earth as though it were Gaia—that is to say, a living, vital entity in which many kinds of beings tell stories?’

Of course, we do live in such a world, although modern culture tragically fails to acknowledge this. The following video explores the relationship between panpsychic experience and co-operartive inquiry with examples


The core group associated with this stream of inquiry includes philosopher Freya Mathews who articulates living cosmos panpsychism; biologist Andreas Weber whose “poetic ecology” regards feeling and expression as necessary dimensions of the existential reality of organisms and of life; ecologist Stephan Harding whose Gaia theory provides us with an understanding of Earth itself as a self-regulating complex system, a great planetary organism, essentially an animate being; and Sandra Wooltorton whose place-centred ecology recognises all beings – living creatures and also rock, cloud, mountain and river – not as other but as kin, as family. The collaboration draws together several continuing streams of work, one starting point being the Voicing Rivers project that viewed rivers as living, culturally and socially engaged beings, and continuing through a series of online co-operative inquiries sponsored both privately and by Schumacher College in Devon, England. At the time of writing, over fifty human persons and maybe sixty Rivers across the planet have participated in inquiries, some of which have lasted for six intensive weeks, one of which has continued with the same core membership for over three years.

The Dance of Inquiry gives one account of the relationship between co-operative inquiry and panpsychism. I will be developing these webpages over the next few months, and adding illustrative material through the Panpsychic blog.