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Contemporary Philosophy


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Mind That Abides: Panpsychism in the new millennium by David Skrbina (Advances in Consciousness Research: John Benjamns Publishing Company) Panpsychism is the view that all things, living and nonliving, possess some mind like quality. It stands in sharp contrast to the traditional notion of mind as the property of humans and (perhaps) a few select ‘higher animals’. Though surprising at first glance, panpsychism has a long and noble history in both Western and Eastern thought. Overlooked by analytical, materialist philosophy for most of the 20th century, it is now experiencing a renaissance of sorts in several areas of inquiry. A number of recent books - including Skrbina’s Panpsychism in the West (2005: MIT) and Strawson et al’s Consciousness and its Place in Nature (2006: Imprint Academic) - have established panpsychism as respectable and viable. Mind That Abides builds on these works. It takes panpsychism to be a plausible theory of mind and then moves forward to work out the philosophical, psychological and ethical implications. With 17 contributors from a variety of fields, this book promises to mark a wholesale change in our philosophical outlook.

In the Diamond Sutra it is written: "Mind that abides nowhere must come forth." Mind indeed seems to abide nowhere, yet it does undeniably come forth.' Mind is real enough for each of us, yet it seems to dwell nowhere in the physical world. We are tempted to say that mind 'resides in the brain; but when we ask how and why it resides there, and when we look for specific processes or structures that might give rise to specific mental qualities, we are at a loss. We think it resides in the 'higher animals,' but we are less certain here than with ourselves. We have convinced ourselves that it is absent in the lesser forms of life, and in the nonliving, but cannot know this for certain, and we are unable to explain when, and why, it allegedly drops from existence. To judge from the failures of philosophy of mind and cognitive science of the past years to locate the 'seat of consciousness' or the correlates of mind, one could almost be excused for believing that mind abides nowhere — indeed, nowhere at all.

The moral of the sutra, I think, is this: Mind comes forth even from those places where it seems to abide not. In the least likely of places, in the most inanimate and the least organic — even there, mind comes forth. So in a sense we end up with the para­doxical conclusion: Mind, perhaps, abides everywhere. This in fact was the intuition of the great Eastern philosophies, as it has been for many of the deepest thinkers in the Western tradition. Nearly 2,500 years ago Empedocles promised that by holding such a view before oneself, and contemplating it "with good will and unclouded attention," that it would yield great things. I intend to take him at his word.

If we allow the possibility that this may be a panpsychic cosmos in which we dwell, a variety of new approaches to age-old questions of mind and consciousness open up to us. If mind is universal, it clearly must have general qualities or characteristics that are extrapolations from those with which we are intimately familiar. More precisely, our experience of mind must be a refined or specialized instance of some univer­sal phenomena. Hence we may do well to deemphasize the quest for the specifically human embodiment of mind, and look instead to more fundamental features of exis­tence. We might try to discern and articulate those aspects of our own minds that may be candidates for universal mental properties. At the very least, we will no longer be brought to a screeching halt when some tentative theory of mind suggests that it may be ubiquitous. Panpsychism is no reductio; rather, it may well be an indication that one is on the right track, that one is getting to the root of this thing we call mind.

At the outset I want to dispel three common misconceptions. First, panpsychism is not idealism. The fact that all things have mind, or instantiate mind, or embody mental states, is not the same as saying that things are mind, or that mind is the ultimate reality, or that the physical is reducible to the mental. Certainly one can be both a panpsychist and an idealist — names like Schopenhauer, Royce, and Bradley come to mind — but there is no necessary connection. In fact the vast majority of panpsychists were not (and are not) idealists.

Second, panpsychism is not dualism. Dualism holds that there exist two funda­mental substances, typically matter and mind; it tells us nothing about how widespread such mind must be. As with idealism, it clearly is possible to be a panpsychist dualist —one need only argue that all objects possess, or interact with, a corresponding imma­terial mind or psyche. Such a position, however, is rare within philosophical circles; nearly all panpsychists are nondualist.

Third, panpsychism is not supernaturalism. The reference to 'psyche' should not lead the reader to think that we are contemplating immortal souls or spirits in all things. Even less should it suggest a commitment to a theological position of any sort. Panpsychism resides quite happily in a naturalistic, monistic, and even physicalist cosmos.

Today, most philosophers of mind have migrated to monistic worldviews. Consequently, both 'mind' and 'body' are nothing more than different manifestations or modifications of the same unitary substance. Hence the relation between mind and brain (or body, or matter) must be one of fundamentally like entities. This minimizes problems of causality, but it also entails that the one reality must, in some essential way, be either mind-like itself, or must possess an innate power to produce mind. The former is explicit panpsychism. Mind could be a fundamental attribute of reality, along the lines of mass, charge, spin, and quanta. Or perhaps the one monistic reality is at once physical and mental — a kind of radical identity theory. But even in the latter case, it is hard to see how a single underlying reality could have such power without exhibiting some mental qualities in its own right; this would yield a kind of implicit or `proto' panpsychism.

But anti-panpsychist monists have an alternative — they can claim that mind `emerges' from an utterly non-mental substrate. Putting it simply: At some point in the past there was no mind, and today there is, therefore mind must have emerged from no-mind. This is the standard view. It is widely held, but rarely defended. And for good reason — it is deeply problematic.

If true, we should be able to say, very roughly, when mind emerged, where it emerged, and why it emerged. The evolutionary emergence of mind on the Earth, some millions (or billions?) of years ago would have been a monumental event in our his­tory, and the emergentist should be able to give us some very general idea of when, and in which organism(s), this feature first came to be; this is the historical aspect of the issue. Secondly, considering the range of organisms that exist on the planet today, the emergentist should be able to give us a compelling explanation of which entities possess mind, and which don't. This is the phylogenic question: where should we draw the line between enminded and unminded beings? Finally there is what I call the onto-genic question: when, for example, in the development of the human fetus does mind appear? The emergentist must hold that the fertilized egg has no mind, and that the newborn baby does — so, when in the course of those nine months did mind magically appear? To claim that it gradually ramps-up will not do; the emergentist is commit­ted to an absolute jump at some point in the fetus' development, from zero mind to mind. Truly a magic event. As it happens, emergentist philosophers are utterly at a loss when it comes to these very basic and very important questions. Lacking rational justification, emergence is accepted simply as a matter of faith.

Some are prepared to go further and claim that this alleged brute emergence of mind — mind from mindless matter — is not only problematic, it is incomprehensi­ble. This fact was recognized already by Epicurus, who argued that human will could not emerge from deterministic atoms, and therefore that atoms themselves possessed a small degree of will (hence, panpsychism). Telesio, Patrizi, Gilbert, Campanella, Fechner, Paulsen, Clifford, Strong, Teilhard, and Wright all used versions of the same argument on behalf of panpsychism.

More recently Galen Strawson has reiterated this point in a most forceful way. The notion that mental experience can emerge from a wholly non-mental, non-experiential substrate is, he says, nonsense: "I think it is very, very hard to understand what it is supposed to involve. I think that it is incoherent, in fact..." (2006:12). Emergence works for almost everything in this world — liquidity, life, Homo sapiens —because the relevant properties already exist in matter. Emergence can, and does, hap­pen all the time; but "it can't be brute." Under the standard physicalist view, there are no relevant properties in matter that would allow mind to emerge.' In fact precisely the opposite: matter is explicitly devoid of mind and experience, we are told. Hence the emergence of true mind becomes an inexplicable miracle. Rather than accept mir­acles, we might be better served by dropping the crude physicalism and looking for panpsychist alternatives.

For many philosophers, both past and present, both East and West, panpsychism thus stands as the more viable option. But this is not enough. Panpsychism simply claims that the components of the world have some inherent experiential or mind-like qualities. This is a long way from an understanding of the human mind, let alone mind as a universal property. Hence the central aim of this book: to move ahead on the subject of panpsychism, to take it seriously, and to try to flesh out more complete theories of mind. Such a step, by experts from various fields, is unprecedented. It is long overdue.

The advent of this renaissance and re-emergence of panpsychism as a serious field of study calls for a broad-based approach. The contributors to this volume cut across a wide range of disciplines, and address the topic from a diversity of backgrounds. Panpsychism has vast implications for many areas of thought, and thus it is precisely such a diversity of ideas that we need at this moment.

Following a concise historical overview of panpsychism, Part One examines ana­lytical and scientific approaches to the topic. It begins with Strawson's soon-to-be clas­sic, "Realistic monism," a piece gratefully reprinted from the Journal of Consciousness Studies.' This is followed by an excerpt on his ‘sesmet' theory of subjective experience. After Strawson we have a number of new arguments and analyses of panpsychism —from quantum theory, neurobiology, analytical philosophy, and quasi-idealism.

Part Two incorporates four essays that specifically focus on the process philo­sophical approach. Whitehead, Russell, Hartshorne, and Griffin, among other process thinkers, have been the dominant carriers of the panpsychist tradition in the past century,`and this line of thinking is as lively and productive as ever.

Part Three encompasses a range of more purely metaphysical approaches to panpsychism. It covers phenomenological concepts, eco-philosophy, Eastern philosophy, and classical dual-aspect theories.

It is our hope that this collection of ideas and theories will launch panpsychism into the third millennium with vigor and promise, as befitting such a venerable con­ception of mind. For this momentous rededication, I think we could have had no better collection of contributors than those that follow.

Table of contents:  Contributors  Acknowledgements & dedication Introduction 1. Panpsychism in history: An overview By David Skrbina Part I. Analysis and science 2. Realistic monism: Why physicalism entails panpsychism, and on the Sesmet theory of subjectivity By Galen Strawson 3. Halting the descent into panpsychism:  A quantum thermofield theoretical perspective Gordon G. Globus  4. Mind under matter By Sam Coleman  5. The conscious connection: A psycho-physical bridge between brain and pan-experiential quantum geometry By Stuart R. Hameroff and Jon Powell  6. Can the panpsychist get around the combination problem? By Phil Goff  7. Universal correlates of consciousness Stephen Deiss 8. Panpsychism, the Big-Bang-Argument, and the dignity of life By Patrick Spät Part II. Process philosophy  9. Back to Whitehead? Galen Strawson and the rediscovery of panpsychism By Pierfrancesco Basile  10. Does process externalism support panpsychism? The relational nature of the physical world as a foundation for the conscious mind By Riccardo Manzotti  11. The dynamics of possession: An introduction to the sociology of Gabriel Tarde By Didier Debaise 12. Finite eventism Carey R. Carlson Part III. Metaphysics and mind 13. Zero-person and the psyche by Graham Harman 14. "All things think:" Panpsychism and the metaphysics of nature By Iain Hamilton Grant 15. 'Something there?' James and Fechner meet in a Pluralistic Universe  By Katrin Solhdju 16. Panpsychic presuppositions of Samkhya metaphysics  By Jaison A. Manjaly  17. The awareness of rock: East-Asian understandings and implications  By Graham Parkes 18. Why has the West failed to embrace panpsychism? By Freya Mathews  19. Minds, objects, and relations: Toward a dual-aspect ontology by David Skrbina

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