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.”

I have previously discussed similar ideas in previous posts on this blog here, here and here. I think the authors make a good case for panexperiential holism as a cogent form of panexperientialism that circumvents the combination problem, on the obvious basis that if “human selves are to be understood as relatively stable experiential patterns within the big experiential subject”, then there is no combination problem.

One point of possible disagreement I have with Jaskolla and Buch is their view that physicalism is superior to panexperientialism in respect to parsimoniousness, whilst panexperientialism is superior in respect to coherence. My view is that although panexperientialism multiples the number of individual things which are experiential, as it does not posit a class of entities that are devoid of experience, it actually applies Occam’s razor more efficiently than physicalism and is more parsimonious.

The authors are part of a “group of philosophers, mathematicians and physicists working on ontology and metaphysics” from Munich with an interest in panexperientialism. This is the group's website. Looks like they have a very interesting conference coming up in June this year.

It is good to see that there are concentrated pockets of researchers seriously working on panexperientialism these days, which is where real advances and refinements are likely to be made in the field. I think the main barriers restraining panexperientialism from being widely accepted as a viable explanation of consciousness have been cultural and institutional, rather than logical. It seems these barriers are gradually being eroded.

Perhaps this erosion will be accompanied by an expansion in the intellectual regions which can safely be ventured into and explored using a panexperientialist framework. Which leads me on to the second theme of this post..


Given the above and other argumentation discussed on this blog I think that it can be said that panexperiential holism is at least as rational, coherent, plausible and logical as physicalism as an explanation of consciousness. In short, there is no rational reason not to accept that panexperiential holism may be the best explanation there is.

Given this, the issue that arises is what does this mean for other beliefs, contentions and phenomena which hitherto have been regarded by many, including myself, as irrational or kooky. I am referring to things such as telepathy, psychokinesis, quantum mysticism, all forms of new age ideas, religious themes, astral projection and so on. Under a physicalist outlook many of these beliefs can be dismissed outright, but if the Universe is a single, internally connected experiential being, the realms of the possible seem to expand enormously, and what may have looked prima face irrational no longer is. Much of what I am saying here could also be applied to other forms of pan experientialism, but the issue seems to me more acute in relation to panexperiential holism.

So, what to do if a rationally based metaphysics appears to lend support to putatively irrational and loopy ideas?

I think the answer here lies in a focus on science and empirical investigation. The arguments for panexperientialism are essentially philosophical arguments which are not significantly contingent on the findings of science. However, any empirical claim which is based on panexperientialist assumptions can be subject to the same investigative rigour as any other empirical claim.

Essentially this entails being open minded and skeptical at the same time. Where this differs from ‘standard science’, is in relation to the assumptions that are brought to bear in any empirical investigation. For instance, a claim of psychic phenomena may be dismissed by a skeptically minded person on the basis that there is a very remote chance of fraud having occurred. This may be accompanied by the assertion “such fraud may seem unlikely but it is more likely than the fundamental foundations of physical science are wrong”. If panexperiential holism is accepted as a real possibility, then the latter assumption has no validity and it may be more rational to assume the psychic event has occurred.

To give another example of the above approach, Richard Tarnas is a philosopher and cultural historian who wrote the best-selling Passion of the Western Mind , which outlines the history and intellectual development of the modern world view.

When I read that Tarnas’ latest book Cosmos and Psyche, deals with the subject of astrology and the “uncanny correspondence between the movement of the planets and the timing and character of historical events“ my immediate reaction was to dismiss it as the work of a new age crank. However, more investigation told me that this work deals with archetypal astrology, which does not imply that planetary events “cause” earthly events, but that they are both part of an underlying cosmic pattern. Such a position could be consistent with panexperientialist holism, in which the unity of consciousness of the Universe means many postulated forms of ‘cosmic connections’ could have rational coherence.

None of this is meant to say that I accept the conclusions of Tarnas’ book (which I have not read). However, as the conclusions of the book are consistent with a rational and reasonable model of consciousness, it is not rational or reasonable to dismiss the claims made out of hand . Rather, to make an assessment of his thesis would involve a thorough examination and assessment of the empirical claims made in the book regarding the linking of planetary and historical events.

To sum up, extraordinary claims do indeed require extraordinary evidence. However, if one accepts that panexperiential holism is a viable explanation of consciousness, then perhaps the threshold of what should be considered extraordinary is lowered. free web page counters


wigal said...

Hey there, a friend of mine gave me the hint that you discussed our talk from the TSC 2010. My name is Ludwig Jaskolla and I wanted to thank you for your effort. It is awesome to hear that there are some people out there discussing the possibility of panexperiential holism. Thx!

Justin said...

Hi Ludwig
Thanks for the comment. I agree it would be great for panexperiential holism to get more currency within the philosophere - not the least because I think it presents the prospect of generating real synergies between Eastern and Western systems of philosophy.

wigal said...

If you are interested, I could send you our whole paper. I just realized that the one you found on the net, is just an extended handout for the TSC.

Let me know, whether you are interested.