From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search

Hylopathism, in philosophy, is the belief that some or all matter is sentient or that properties of matter in general give rise to subjective experience. It is opposed to the assertion that consciousness results exclusively from properties of specific types of matter, e.g. brain tissue.

Etymology and specific definition[edit]

The term is relatively uncommon even in philosophical discussion, and is often erroneously equated with panpsychism despite notable differences between the two views that are evident in the etymologies of the two words: "panpsychism" derives from the Greek pan, "all", and psyche, "soul" or "mind" (the terms consciousness and experience being preferred in philosophy), and implies the sentience of all things; hylopathism derives from hylo-, which is translated either as "matter" or "wood" depending on its context, and whose English equivalent is hyle, and pathos, "emotion" or "suffering" (and, by extension, experience).[citation needed] Hylopathism is thus not necessarily a belief in the universality of sentience, but rather in the derivation of sentience from matter.

Hylopathism in popular culture[edit]

Author Philip Pullman, in his popular and controversial series His Dark Materials, builds on what is arguably a hylopathistic explanation of consciousness insofar as "Dust", which is referred to throughout the series, is made up of "conscious particles" that "don't interact" with other things except in producing consciousness.[citation needed] One character, Mary Malone, calls them "shadows". Pullman relates these fictional particles to dark matter.

"Our particles are strange little devils," she says, "make no mistake.... You know what? They're conscious. That's right. Shadows are particles of consciousness. You ever heard anything so stupid? No wonder we can't get our grant renewed."[1]

The ideas offered in Pullman's series are not identical with hylopathism, since only certain particles cause consciousness, rather than some property of all matter. Hylopathism is, however, a closer approximation than panpsychism, since Dust is depicted as permeating all matter, although it does not give rise to consciousness in all objects in the same way.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Pullman, Philip. The Subtle Knife, pp. 77–78 of the U.S. box set version., pp. 92 UK edition.