In this series, we will begin to look at philosophical frameworks which articulate a worldview in which:
- All things are connected (Holism).
- Mental or experiential properties most fundamentally underlie (Idealism) and/or pervade (panpsychism) all aspects of existence.
- Everything is alive (Vitalism).
- Some form of non-idealistic monism may be true, such as neutral monism (mind and matter emerge from something that is explicable in terms of neither) or dual-aspect monism (mind and matter are two aspects of something more fundamentally that possesses the properties of both).
Most of us “woo” types are familiar with these and related ideas, but many are unfamiliar with their historical and intellectual roots. This first article of the series will focus on these and related perspectives that have arisen in the history of Western philosophical thought, which was, for most of its history, much friendlier to these ideas prior to becoming eclipsed by modern mechanistic materialism. What is of interest to me with respect to these ideas, of course, is that I believe they become increasingly plausible in light of the reality of remote viewing, whereas they had previously been considered purely armchair speculation or bizarre or both.
Intriguingly, panpsychism has recently seen a resurgence in the modern, Western philosophical arena as a compelling alternative to both this materialism and also the dualism that has emerged as a competitor since the time of Descartes, according to which mind and matter are two fundamentally different substances. Materialists, on the other hand, tend to teach that mind supervenes upon inert, non-conscious and non-living matter, from which it emerges (matter, configured in a certain way in the brain, eventually gives rise to consciousness) or in more extreme cases such as eliminative materialism, that mental or experiential properties simply do not exist.
Panpsychism and related views can be observed in Western thought as early as in the work of ancient Greek philosophers such as Anaxagoras and Thales, hundreds of years before Christ. Of the latter’s worldview, Aristotle stated that “some say a soul is mingled in the whole universe — which is perhaps why Thales thought that everything is full of gods.” Anaxagoras, for his part, insisted on the impossibility of something fundamentally novel such as mind emerging from a certain combination of matter, on the grounds that “everything is in everything”, and therefore insisted that mind is a fundamental property of the universe. Such views hold obvious interest to those of us involved in remote viewing since it is clear that mental or experiential properties pervade all of reality. Apart from such a worldview, it would be hard to imagine how remote viewing could even be possible.
Although I cannot rule out the possibility of some form of materialism or physicalism being true, it must nevertheless be the case that, at the very least, mind and/or experience pervades all things on some level, and this at least rules out the possibility of mechanistic materialism which envisages a universe full of “dead” matter. Indeed, philosopher Galen Strawson advocates a form of physicalism that he describes as panpsychist, inspired by Arthur Eddington, who stated “ “If we must embed our schedule of indicator readings in some kind of background, at least let us accept the only hint we have received as to the significance of the background — namely that it has a nature capable of manifesting itself as a mental activity.” From this perspective, it follows that although materialism or physicalism might hypothetically be true, it would entail that “matter” as we conceive of it today has to have fundamentally different properties than is commonly understood, and would have to be paired with some kind of vitalism (life pervades everything) or panpsychism (mind and/or experience pervades everything in some way or on some level) or some combination of both.
Premodern approaches to the mind and spirit in Western thought, oftentimes influenced by Neoplatonism (which, contrary to popular belief, is not crassly dualistic in the manner that Cartesian dualism is) were eventually overtaken by the worldviews of Galileo, Newton and Descartes whose purely mathematical approach to reality left little or no room for the meaningfulness of subjective experience, apart from Descartes’ dualism, which ultimately appears as little more than an unconvincing ad hoc attempt to preserve religion in the face of a more or less thoroughgoing mechanistic approach to reality. For Galileo and Descartes, a distinction emerged between primary qualities, said to inhere as properties in matter itself (e.g., shape, motion, size), and secondary qualities (the qualia of the five senses) which were relegated purely to subjective experience.
Panpsychism should not be seen as a doctrine of that is mutually exclusive with respect to forms of monism such as idealism (Josiah Royce) or neutral monism (William James), but can be seen as a component of these worldviews. As someone who adheres to panpsychism, I understand this as a minimalistic perspective that offers an ontology that provides an intelligible account of how something like remote viewing can be possible, without dogmatically committing to a particular doctrine of being (monistic or otherwise) that attempts to characterize the manner in which mind pervades all things, or what this all-pervasive mind is actually like (simply because I do not know). Despite the emergence of this new paradigm, panpsychism saw a resurgence among many important 19th century scientists and philosophers, such as Gustav Fechner, F.C.S. Schiller, Ernst Häckel, Wilhelm Wundt, Eduard von Hartmann, Frederich Paulson, Morton Prince, and Rudolf Hermann Lotze.
These thinkers oftentimes articulated their variants of panpsychism in very different ways. For example, Fechner and Royce did not extend mental properties to small bits of matter (perhaps calling into question their status as panpsychists), but saw microscopic entities as building blocks of mental properties, from which a kind of world-soul constructs entities with mental properties. This understanding of panpsychism entails that not everything possesses mental properties per se, but something more fundamental than non-mental forces does possess mental properties and constructs entities with mental properties from these non-mental properties. Charles Hartshorne, an important student of A.N. Whitehead, described this form of panpsychism as “synecological,” which he distinguished from “atomistic” panpsychism. More recent philosophical terminology describes the first as constitutive cosmopsychism (which sees all facts as grounded in a cosmic-level consciousness) and the latter constitutive micropsychism.
Since then, analytic philosophers have gradually expanded our taxonomy of panpsychism into ever subtler, more rarefied forms. For example, “Panexperientialism” is the view that conscious experience is fundamental and pervasive whereas “pancognitivism” is the view that it is thought that is fundamental and pervasive. The contemporary philosopher David Chalmers distinguished between “constitutive panpsychism,” which is a class of panpsychism according to which the consciousness of organisms are not fundamental, but arise from more fundamental kinds of consciousness at the micro-level, vs. non-constitutive panpsychism, which teaches that the consciousness of organisms is among these fundamental realities. The most common form of constitutive panpsychism is known as “constitutive micropsychism,” which teaches that all of reality is grounded in and produced by consciousness at a micro-level.
More recently, some “emergentist” panpsychists have argued for micro-level conscious causal properties combining to give rise to greater, macro-level forms of consciousness. From this perspective, brain cells (and perhaps the chemicals which constitute them) possess a more elemental and primitive form of subjectivity, and these brain cells and chemicals combine to generate a macro-level human subject. Things become more puzzling when we begin looking at philosophical doctrines whose names imply a kind of debt to panpsychism without necessarily describing themselves as such. For example, advocates of “panprotopsychism” articulate a form of “proto-consciousness” that is fundamental and pervasive; a proto-consciousness which they see as possessing some elements of consciousness or experience, but which is too experientially primitive to count as authentic “consciousness.” These proto-psychic elements, they suggest, combine to give rise to more authentically “conscious” subjects in the form of sentient organisms such as humans. This proto-consciousness, furthermore, is described as possessing “protophenomenal properties.”
Ultimately, I do not dogmatically commit to any of these forms of panpsychism, although I do think that constitutive cosmopsychism, or some form of it, is likely true. I believe at the very least that either the universe as a whole is conscious or that some more fundamental consciousness underlies the universe. The universe itself may likewise be conscious in its parts, deriving this consciousness from the aforementioned macro-consciousness, or maybe possessing such property in their own right. What is important, however, is that some form of subjectivity clearly seems to connect all elements of reality in a way that each point in space and time from all other points in space in time, as philosopher-scientists such as Gottfried Leibniz and David Bohm have argued (although the former was an idealist and the latter, a dual-aspect monist), and as we see will in subsequent entries in this series.
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