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.

This post will build on previous posts and will encompass consideration of what I believe are two viable forms of panexperientialism (which term I use synonymously with 'panspychism'). Micropanpsychism ('MP') holds that the fundamental constituents of nature are experiential in nature, from which human subjectivity is constituted. Cosmopanpsychism ('CP') holds that the universe itself is an experiential subject, from which human subjectivity is derived. The relation of each of these positions to Marxist theory will be considered.

Micropanpsychism and Marxism

As I see it, the major influence MP would have on Marxism is in relation to Dialectical Materialism ('DM'). DM is derived more from the writing of Engels than Marx and I suspect it lost its vitality when it became an official state doctrine. As far as I know it is is supported by few, if any, contemporary philosophers. Nevertheless, as a speculative metaphysics I think it gels quite well with Micropanpsychism.

One of the criticisms of DM is that a "Dialectics of Nature" appears to attribute agency to natural, non human events. Whilst there have been various attempts to refute this from DM proponents, from the perspective of MP there is no issue to address because MP assumes that experientiality (and by reasonable implication, agency as well) is ubiquitous throughout nature.

Thus, for example in response to the criticism of Jordan that " to describe natural processes in terms of dialectical negation or the negating force is to endow material objects withs consciousness and purposiveness which only human beings display", the micropanpsychist would reply that some form of consciouness (or 'protoconciousness') is not solely the province of human beings and is indeed a part of all natural processes. Of course, critics of panexperientialism would contend that this does nothing to bolster DM but only makes it sound as crazy and absurd as panexperientialism itself allegedly is.

Nevertheless, it is noteworthy in this regard that Lenin himself seemed to adopt some form of panexperientialism. For instance, he says here that:
" is logical to assert that all matter possesses a property which is essentially akin to sensation, the property of reflection"
and here that:
"matter is not devoid of the basic capacity for “sensation,” which provides such rich “spiritual” fruits among the higher animals."

Thus MP could be seen as lending support to DM in ways which had hitherto been regarded as detracting from the coherence of DM.

In relation to Historical Materialism, I think MP would have less of an influence. MP does allow for micropsychic experiential entities to give rise to higher level 'compound individuals' which can act with a unity of response and action in relation to their environment - for instance atoms, molecules, eukaryotic cells and animals - (see, for example, this book for a discussion of Whitehead's speculations on the issue). However, there does not appear to be any grounds to postulate an entity above that of a human being which has the necessary unity to act as a social agent in its own right. The agency through which social classes interact under MP is the result of the collective action of individual human agents, rather than a result of "class consciousness" in any literal sense.

So the influence of MP on Marxist theory would seem to be primarily as complementing DM and the "Dialectics of Nature" rather than at the level of historical and social change. Conversely, there may be much in DM that could be of relevance to the development of theoretical issues in relation to MP.

Cosmopanpsychism and Marxism

In postulating the existence of an all-embracing universal subject, Cosmopanpsychism seems at first blush to be a lot closer to Hegel rather than to Marx. For instance, in comparing his method to Hegel's, Marx says :

"For Hegel, the process of thinking, which even he transforms into an independent subject, under the name of ‘the Idea’, is the creator of the real world, and the real world is only the external appearance of the idea. With me the reverse is true: the ideal is nothing but the material world reflected in the mind of man, and translated into forms of thought".

However, whilst there may be some similarities between CP and the "absolute spirit" of Hegel there are important differences. Firstly, for CP the experiential and material are intrinsicaly codependent - the experiential does not produce the material but is the 'inner' aspect of objective material processes. Secondly, for CP the universal subject is experiential in nature, but not necessarily thinking or reasoning.

Thus, where Engels says of Hegel : "To him, the thoughts within his brain were not the more or less abstract pictures of actual things and processes, but, conversely, things and their evolution were only the realized pictures of the "Idea", existing somewhere from eternity before the world was. This way of thinking turned everything upside down, and completely reversed the actual connection of things in the world", this can be seen as consistent with CP, in that individual human consciousness under CP is largely the result of material processes in the brain. Hence, CP need not detract from Historical Materialism and the view that social being determines individual consciousness.

It is of note here as well that CP does not mean a resignation to fatalism, as CP allows for individual subjectivities to be causally efficacious. For instance, the Spinozistic model Freya Mathews put forths in her book the Ecological Self postulates that systems exhibiting self-regulation, homeostasis, equifinality (the reaching of a final state from different initial conditions) and goal-directedness can be described as self-realising. Such entities can impact on their environment, such that all is not determined by an overarching cosmic fate.

However, in positing a universal conscious subject, CP does potentially add an extra dimension to Historical Materialism. Whilst individual consciousness may be a product of the brain, CP also posits a larger consciousness that could potentially exert a "downward influence" on natural and social events. Whilst such an argument would need a lot of development, Class struggle could perhaps arguably then be seen as the outward mainfestation of the struggle of the cosmic subject to strive for higher levels of freedom, complexity, beauty or whatever. Thus, on this view while it is human beings that make history, there is also an underlying progressivity and purposiveness in nature which may influence the way in which history is made.

This is a form of Marxism which is closer to Hegel than even the most Hegelian of Marxists such as Lukacs, but it can I think nevertheless be strongly distinguished from an idealism which eschews practical action.

All of this is highly speculative of course, but to sum up, I think there are many potentially fruitful areas of interaction between Marxist and panexperientialist philosophy. free web page counters


Juan D. Arango R. said...

Very interesting concept (Panexperientialism). Do you think that the "Dust" concept from the Golden Compass can be integrated to the "informational ability" process -the essence of life. Informational ability created through the inter/exteractions between particles. Then, particles' structures create organisms which are directed by its informational ability creating meaning(information) in the process.

Anonymous said...

Did you ever take this theory further I had a similar thought myself I think it provides a "synthesis" sort of solution that dialectics search for to the divisions between the right and left brains perception of reality for instance

Justin said...

I did find some resonances with what I was thinking in this post and the work of Ernst Bloch (who advocated what he called the 'warm current' of marxism). I wrote another post this year that was inspired by Bloch: