Wednesday, October 04, 2023

Ernst Bloch and Cosmic Purpose

Further to a previous post which touched on the subject, I have been thinking some more about the speculative materialism of Ernst Bloch. Bloch contended that there is a striving, subjective aspect in nature which drives it towards what is 'not yet' and portends the possibility of a future utopia. The influences on Bloch upon which he based these ideas include Aristotle, Avicenna, Giordano Bruno, Schelling and Hegel.

Of course, to the modern mind brought up with a materialistic scientific world view it is hard to make any sense of the notion that material reality has utopian tendencies, or indeed any purposive attributes at all. If what goes on in nature is ultimately determined by the laws of physics, how could there possibly be any room for a utopian drive to play a part in what goes on? Further, how could material reality as a whole have the propensity to strive towards anything in the first place?

Saturday, July 08, 2023

Postone and Panpsychism

 Here is a link to an article by me which was published in 2022 in Capitalism Nature Socialism. The paper explores panpsychism through engagement with the work of social theorist and historian Moishe Postone. This is the abstract for the article:

Friday, April 29, 2022

Vital Materialism and Historical Materialism Encounter Panpsychism

Here is a link to my recently completed Master's thesis on social theory and panpsychism. It explored the relations between Jane Bennett's vital materialism, Marxism and panpsychism in the context of contemporary ecological crises. Below is the abstract:

Saturday, January 16, 2021

Aesthetic evolution

 This post will look at some of the potential implications for evolutionary theory of two books for the general reader, both published fairly recently. These are The First Minds: Caterpillars, Karyotes, and Consciousness by Arthur Reber and Richard Prum's The Evolution of Beauty: How Darwin's Forgotten Theory of Mate Choice Shapes the Animal World - and Us.  If the central arguments of these two books are accepted and juxtaposed with each other, the implications for evolutionary theory are very deep. 

Monday, April 29, 2019

Panpsychism and the exchange abstraction

In Money and the Early Greek Mind, Richard Seaford argues that the invention of money and coinage was instrumental in the development of concepts of the universe as an impersonal, abstract system. Arguments in a similar vein were made by the German Marxist Alfred Sohn-Rethel, who argued that the origins of Kant’s idea of the transcendental subject and of the foundations of scientific abstraction can be traced back to the introduction of coined money in ancient Greece.

The purpose of this post is to explore the relations between money, abstract thought and panpsychism.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Cosmopsychism and social evolution

Cosmospychism is the view in contemporary analytic philosophy that the universe is a conscious subject, from which human consciousness is derived or grounded. The aim of this post is to offer some speculations, on the assumption that cosmopsychism is the case, about the possible effects that a cosmopsychic subject might have on the course of development of human societies.

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Twilight of the Idols and the Cosmic Mind

"The concept of the “beyond”, the “true world” invented in order to devaluate the only world there is - in order to retain no goal, no reason, no task for our earthly reality! "     Nietzsche, Ecce Homo

In Twilight of the Idols and other works, one of the key critical targets of Friedrich Nietzsche is the dichotomy often posited by philosophers between a “true” world and the supposedly illusory or deficient apparent world that is felt, sensed and experienced. Nietzsche argues that the disparagement of the apparent world in favour of the “true” world is unjustified, unproductive and unhealthy. The “true” worlds upon which he aims he sights  include the barren atomistic world of materialist science, the spiritual world existing beyond the body posited by various religions, and the world of abstract ideation of idealist philosophies of the day.

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Cosmopsychism and evolution

Thomas Nagel’s book Mind and Cosmos has been widely criticised for, amongst other things, suggesting that Neo-Darwinism is insufficient to explain the diversity of life forms and their attributes, including humans endowed with consciousness, reason and values. Nevertheless,  I think the book contains some interesting speculations on consciousness, the implications of panpsychism for a naturalistic world view and the possibility of teleological principles influencing the course of events in the universe.

Following some of the paths which Nagel’s work opens up, the aim of this post is to offer some speculations on the implications of the form of panpsychism known as cosmopsychism for views about the evolution of life. Cosmospychism is the view that the universe is a conscious subject, from which human consciousness is derived or grounded. For the purposes of this post I will be assuming that cosmopsychism is plausible ( meaning that it is has a rational basis and is not wildly improbable).

Friday, February 16, 2018

Evolution, Subjectivity and Purpose

[edit December 2018: This post is based on a paper by me recently published in Cosmos and History.]

'I think there is a bomb lodged in the foundations of science that may be about to go off. It is a bomb that Charles Darwin inadvertently set ticking, William James exposed for all to see - and which 20th century thought has done its best to try and bury.'

So wrote organic chemist and author Graham-Cairns Smith nearly twenty years ago. The bomb which he was referring to is William James'  evolutionary argument for the causal efficacy of consciousness (hereafter, ‘the evolutionary argument’). Although no bomb has gone off since Cairns-Smith's words, the issues the evolutionary argument present for scientific materialism remain.

Thursday, February 08, 2018

Hope, Panpsychism and Utopia

Two of the principal concerns of German philosopher Ernst Bloch (1885 - 1997) were the concepts of hope and utopia. Bloch argued that a future utopia, whilst not a certainty, was a distinct possibility. Integral to this argument was the view there was a dynamic subjectivity  inherent in the natural world.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Towards an appreciation of indigenous spirituality

Like many people in the modern world today I believe there is much of value to be learned from indigenous spirituality and religions, particularly from their reverence towards and relationship with the natural world.

 However, like many others I suspect, my westernised mind often struggles with ways to make sense of these traditions without an almost automatic characterization of them as 'nonscientific', 'animistic', 'superstitious' or 'irrational'.

Below are some rough ideas and arguments I have found helpful in providing an entry point to appreciating indigenous spirituality. I hope to flesh these out further in the future:

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

On Non-experientiality

Galen Strawson has written another insightful, pithy and entertaining article on panpsychism titled "Mind and being: the primacy of panpsychism".

There is a lot in the article. Just one thing I would like to highlight in this post is Strawson's critique of the assumption of the non-experiential  nature of reality. Here is an excerpt:

"   '..why not suppose that the basic nature of concrete reality is non -experiential rather than experiential?’

Why suppose that its non-experiential—either in its basic nature or in any respect at all?

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Ernest Becker on the interiority of things

I recently came across the passage below from Pulitzer Prize winning writer Ernest Becker (author of 'The Denial of Death"). It is from the Introductory paragraphs to chapter 4 of "The Birth and Death of Meaning".

 I quote the passage not for the strength of its argumentation (which I think is a condesation of some of the arguments of Gustav Fechner), but as an example of an innovative interdisciplinary thinker who was influenced by panexperientialism:

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Friday, April 20, 2012

Nagarjuna, metaphysics and the limits of language

I have recently enjoyed working my way thorugh Jay Garfield's "The Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way", which is an alaytical philosopher's translation ond interpretation of the principal work of one of  Buddhism's most influential philosphers, Nagarjuna.

One of the principal things I took from Nagarjuna in this work is the basic inadequacy of language to grasp the ultimate nature of reality, as nicely summarised by David Loy in  this  article:

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Mind Dust interviews

The Mind Dust website has a series of interview clips with various philosophers on the topic of panpsychism taken at a conference in Munich last year.

Includes questions answered by Galen Strawson, David Chalmers, William Seager, Gregg Rosenberg, David Skrbina and others. Most clips go for roughly 1 to 3 minutes and are well worth a look. free web page counters

Friday, August 19, 2011

Does Secular Buddhism entail rejection of Rebirth?

In recent times there has been interest in the congruence of some of the core concepts of buddhism and consciousness studies. Concepts such as impermanence and the lack of a permanent, enduring self have been argued to be consistent with modern findings of neurosicence and physics. It has also been suggested that the methods of introspective investigation and insight utilised in buddhist practices could be useful in developing a first-person methodology for studying consciousness. For instance, in her book "Consciousness: An Introduction", author and consciousness researcher Susan Blackmore devotes a chapter to buddhism and meditation as exemplars of "first person" aproaches to consciousness.

Friday, February 04, 2011

Panexperiential Holism and its implications

I came across this interesting little article by Ludwig Jaskolla and Alexander Buch regarding panexperiential holism. This is the thesis that:

“there is exactly one entity - the Universe itself. This entity can be
adequately described as being essentially
(i) an objective matter of fact,
(ii) objectively structured, i.e. not completely homogeneous,
(iii) a subject of experience and
(iv) exemplifying experiential content.”

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Strawson on Nietzsche's Metaphysics

Galen Strawson has delivered what looks like a very interesting paper on Nietzsche's Metaphysics at the recent Nietzsche on Mind and Nature conference. Here is an abstract of his presentation:

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Panpsychic Marxism?

In the wake of the Global Financial Crisis and the apparent inherently crisis-prone nature of capitalism, I have been doing some reading of Marxist theory. Hence, I thought it worthwhile to explore some of the relations between panexperientialism and Marxism.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Nietzsche's Naturalism

Brian Leiter's draft paper "Nietzsche's Naturalism Reconsidered" is an engaging look at the issue of "whether and in what sense Nietzsche is a naturalist in philosophy". Leiter contends that perhaps the most worrying obstacle in reading Nietzsche as a philosophical naturalist is his doctrine of the Will To Power and the "crackpot metaphysics" that some interpretations of this doctrine may imply.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

A Case for Intelligent Design?

In this post I aim to have a go at the heresy of presenting a case for the plausibility of intelligent design as a factor in biological evolution (although ID of an atypical, non-supernatural sort).

Friday, August 08, 2008

The Goldilocks Enigma

Paul Davies recent book "The Goldilocks Enigma" is a fascinating exploration of why the universe seems to be "just right" for life. Interest in the fine tuning issue (which is related to the anthropic principle) has received something of a revival in recent years, primarily because of the attention paid by some physicists to the view that our universe has an improbably appropriate amount of dark energy to allow galaxies to form and hence life to evolve. In this post, I aim to evaluate possible solutions to the fine tuning problem from a panexperientialist perspective.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Forthcoming Book

I noticed on this blog that David Skrbina, author of the highly regarded "Panpsychism in the West", is editing a new book on panpsychism due out in 2008 or 2009.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Thoughts on "The Ecological Self"

Further to my last post, I've recently read Freya Mathew's book "The Ecological Self" (also partially available on Google books). In this post I'll give a brief outline of the book and make some comments on it. There is not much by way of other reviews I could find to link to (which is not to say the book has been without influence- it is frequently referred to in environmental philosophy texts and the like).

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Does Physicalism entail Cosmopsychism?

The increase in interest in panexperientialism (which I use synonymously with the term panpsychism) in recent years has focused mainly on a micropsychic form, in which microepxeriential events at the most fundamental level of nature are the basis from which human experience is constituted. However, another strand of panexperientialism imputes an overarching experience at the level of the universe as a whole.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Panpsychism at Tucson 2008

Panpsychism appears to have featured significantly in the recent Tucson Towards a Science of Consciousness 2008 Conference, to the extent that this reviewer remarks that "Pansychism is no longer crazy - it's the norm".

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Property Dualism - micro, macro and mystery

Fiona Macpherson in this article contends that Galen Strawson’s proposed panpsychist solution to the mind-body problem is no less of a mystery than other proposed solutions.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

The Will to Power, Life and Parsimony

Richard Schacht’s well-regarded book “Nietzsche” does a fine job of presenting Nietzsche’s philosophy, including his cosmology of the Will to Power, in a thorough and systematic manner. In this post I want to address a possible objection to the conception of the Will to Power and Schacht’s analysis of it.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Molnar, Merleau-Ponty and Pan-Intentionality

Steve Esser has an interesting post on his blog examining the late philosopher George Molnar’s claim that “something very much like intentionality is a pervasive and ineliminable feature of the physical world.”

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Strawson reviews

Two good reviews of Galen Strawson et al’s “Consciousness and it’s place in Nature” by Jerry Fodor and Leo Stubenberg have come out recently. They raise some issues which I’ve discussed in previous posts.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Feelings and fitness

I have been reading Sean Carroll’s book “Endless forms, Most beautiful”, which tracks recent progress in the field of evolutionary developmental biology. One of the themes of the book is the pivotal role of 'genetic switches’ within the genome, which determine when and where in the course of development of the embryo genes will be expressed. The activation of these switches is itself determined by proteins which themselves had been translated as a result of the action of other switches and so forth. Carrol writes:

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

The Many and the One?

One of the most problematic issues in panexperientialist theories is how purported centers of experience at the microexperiential level relate to each other and to human consciousness at the macroexperiential level. A related issue is whether there is one, all embracing experience which encompasses the whole Universe.

Implausibility and Irrelevance

Further to my previous posts re recent work of Galen Strawson and Gregg Rosenberg, The Journal of Consciousness Studies has an issue devoted to Strawson’s paper (a good discussion of which can be found here in Steve’s Guide to Reality - also the JCS discussion forum has lots of interesting posts in response to the paper), and the online journal Psyche has a symposia devoted to Rosenberg’s book.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Experience and the subject

I’ve noticed on the net that recent work of Gregg Rosenberg and Galen Strawson on panexperientialist themes seems to be generating more responses to the topic from mainstream analytical philosophy, which on the whole I think has hitherto often regarded the subject as something the absurdity of which had already been established, or for which one’s intuitions that this were the case were sufficient.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Bridging the gap

In this interesting paper, Peter Carruthers and Elizabeth Schechter (‘C & S’) argue that the case for panpsychism expounded by Galen Strawson (previously discussed here and here in this blog) fails to close the explanatory gap “between description of the physical and functional properties of the human body and brain, on the one hand, and consciousness described in phenomenal and experiential terms on the other”.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

From Fundamentality to ubiquity

In a paper entitled "Realistic monism: why physicalism entails panpsychism" (linked on this page and previously mentioned on this blog here), Galen Strawson argues against experience being an emergent phenomena on the grounds that ‘If it really is true that Y is emergent from X then it must be the case that Y is in some sense wholly dependent on X and X alone, so that all features of Y trace intelligibly back to X ’. He contends that this does not apply in relation to the supposed emergence of experience from wholly non-experiential matter.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Experience debate at the Infidel's Forum

Here is the link to an interesting on-line forum discussion I came across (on 'Panpsychism vs Materialism'). The Infidel Guy is an atheist radio announcer.

The discussion contains a number of posts by philosopher Christian de Quincey, author of Radical Nature.

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Thursday, September 08, 2005

Strawson on Physicalism and Panpsychism

Philosopher Galen Strawson has recently presented a paper entitled “Why Physicalism entails Panpsychism”. Part of Strawson’s argument focuses on the incoherence of the concept of the emergence of consciousness from insentient physical processes. This argument of course is a common one against emergentism, but it is good to see a comprehensive critique of it presented by a prestigious analytical philosopher.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Agar, Embryology and Evolution

Australian Cell biologist Wilfred Agar (1882 to 1951 biography here) described his book, “A Contribution to the Theory of the Living Organism” (published 1943) as his most important contribution to biological theory. Yet the book has had a negligible impact on his field, probably because of the vast distance between the foundational assumptions of biology which he proposed and those with which mainstream biology operates. Nevertheless, I think Agar makes some seminal contributions not only to alternative foundational assumptions for biology, but also in the application of these assumptions to embryology and evolutionary theory.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Occam and Epicycles

A commonly expressed criticism of panexperientialism is that it is overly extravagant and violates Occam’s Principle that explanatory entities should not be multiplied unnecessarily . Thus, it is said, the cost of a panexperientialist explanation of human consciousness is the uneconomical view that experience extends into regions where it is not required and serves no explanatory function.

Monday, April 25, 2005

Feeling feelings - Or not?

In previous posts in this blog there has been a tension between two interpretations of the way in which we may experience the world. The tension is between whether in our conscious experience we directly experience the feelings and emotional form of our body parts and the external world, or whether the brain is responsible for constructing these feelings. By ‘directly’ I do not mean without mediation, but that conscious feelings are the result of feeling other feelings.

Hunting Zombies

The zombie trail is a well-trodden path, so I thought I might venture out myself:

The logical possibility of a zombie world -in which humans behave identically to the way they do in the real world but in which conscious experience is absent- is often used in antiphysicalist arguments to show that consciousness does not supervene on or is not entailed by the physical facts of the world.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Evolutionary Psychology and Experience

The application of Sociobiology (the study of the evolutionary basis of behaviour) to humans has received a boost in recent times through the rise of Evolutionary Psychology (‘EP’). EP has numerous critics, from accusations of genetic determinism to claims it uncritically reflects prevailing political values (in much the same way that Social Darwinism and the ‘survival of the fittest’ reflected the values of 19th Century industrialised capitalism). Yet, human beings are part of the natural world and their must surely be a place for explaining human behaviour as the outcome of evolutionary processes.

Monday, March 28, 2005

The Primary Qualities

I have been reading DM Armstrong’s book “Perception and the Physical World’, in which he proffers a defence of direct realism, based on a definition of perception as the acquiring of knowledge, or the inclination to believe, particular facts about the physical world by means of the senses. On the whole I found his thesis unconvincing, due to the insufficient attention paid to the phenomenal feel of sensations and to neurophysiology (which is understandable considering the book was written more than 40 years ago).

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Hearing colors and seeing sounds

Synaesthesia, is a rare condition in which a stimulus received in one sense organ causes an experience in another. For example, in colored hearing, sound and vision may mingle: the different tones of words and letters can involuntarily evoke distinct and vivid colors.

Cells and Sympathy

Charles Hartshorne espoused the view that our cells and our conscious selves feel each other through sympathy. For example, here is a quote from this article:

"Take the case of pain. We have this feeling if certain cells of ours undergo damage. But if the cells have their own feelings, they can hardly enjoy being damaged. So what is our suffering but our participating in their suffering? Hurt certain of my cells and you hurt me."

Monday, January 17, 2005

The Philosophy of Smell

Whitehead argued that theories of consciousness often flounder because they explain what is most primitive and basic in terms of what stands out most clearly and distinctly. In contemporary times, a similar argument could be made that attempts to explain or understand experience in terms of it's more complex accomplishments (such as thought, computational ability, cognition, or language) are starting at the wrong place.

Perception in the Lower animals and beyond

This post will primarily be concerned with the question of whether the brain, sense organs and nerve cells are necessary for perception.

Friday, December 31, 2004

Whitehead's Theory of Perception

Whitehead’s theory or perception is integral to Whiteheadian panexperientialism. In particular, his analysis of ‘perception in the mode of causal efficacy’ lays the basis for the generalisation of elements of directly experienced feeling to the whole of nature. His theory of perception can also stand on its own and be fruitfuly utilised by other forms of panexperientialism, which may not be sympathetic to other aspects of Whitehead’s thought.

Whitehead, Abstruseness and Emotion

One of the barriers to the wider appreciation of the philosophy of Whitehead has been the denseness, difficulty and near impenetrability of some of his writings. Secondary commentaries on Whitehead are also often weighed down with technical, obscure and arcane terminology and argumentation.

In my view, Whitehead’s cosmology can be usefully understood as a characterisation of the world as an ocean of interplaying emotions. The best method of comprehending this may often be with an aesthetic frame of mind, rather than with the logician’s scalpel.

Thursday, December 30, 2004

The Placebo Effect

Here is a (fairly crudely argued) essay I wrote in 1992, which sparked my interest in all things panexperiential:

Mind, Body and Affect: A Reconceptualisation of the Placebo Effect

It is commonplace to say that the placebo effect and related phenomena constitute a nexus at which the natural and social sciences converge. Like psychosomatic disorders, ‘Voodoo Death’, Culture-bound reactive syndromes and so forth, the placebo effect provides valuable material for interdisciplinary research. Yet the inherent mind-body dualism of all the sciences has hampered such research to date. The purpose of this paper is to put forward an alternative conceptual model for analysing these phenomena.