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Panpsychism

by on January 19, 2020

Panpsychism

by Marco M. Pardi

Our normal waking consciousness, rational consciousness as we call it, is but one special type of consciousness, whilst all about it, parted from it by the filmiest of screens, there lie potential forms of consciousness entirely different. We may go through life without suspecting their existence; but apply the requisite stimulus, and at a touch they are there in their completeness, definite types of mentality which probably somewhere have their field of application and adaptation. No account of the universe in its totality can be final which leaves these other forms of consciousness quite disregarded.” William James. The Varieties of Religious Experience: A Study in Human Nature. 1902

All comments are welcome and will receive a reply.

CAVEAT: If you are a convinced and confirmed believer in Materialist Scientism and are unwilling to consider the matrix of Science and Philosophy you might find your time better spent elsewhere. However, I encourage everyone to provide their comments. Those who wish to explore a broader context before or while reading this piece are referred to my earlier piece, The Case for Animatism. This may be found by clicking on the Uncategorized link and paging down to the earlier entries.

This post is being written in response to the following article:


Does Consciousness Pervade the Universe? – Scientific American

Most readers of this column know that my early childhood years were spent as a POR – Prisoner Of Religion. Born into a strict Roman Catholic family, I knew nothing else. But not knowing a system of thought by name did not mean not having a system of thought, and my system of thought began as I took the words of the Catholic catechism seriously and began to feel there were internal problems.

Before we get to those problems lets reconsider a couple of other terms: Science, Philosophy, and Panpsychism. The term science is relatively new. Derived from the Latin scientia, meaning knowledge, it first appeared in very limited circles (according to some) in the 17th century and remained quite obscure up into the 20th century. Throughout history the people we now call scientists were known as philosophers, not scientists. Even today, American universities still award the Ph.D. – Doctorate of Philosophy, in even the “hard” sciences such as physics. During the same period the field of Philosophy itself fell into a lesser repute as the drive toward Materialism eclipsed the value of thought.

We could say this was an expected development in the quickly developing separation of formal religion, a belief system, and the “facts on the ground” emphasis of emerging science.

Philosophy, on the other hand, derived from the Greek philosophos – lovers of wisdom. Mainly applied to questions of the nature of knowledge, it is first recognized in the PreSocratics of Greece in the 600s B.C.E. Although investigations into how one knows what one knows, even quantitatively, would seem fundamental to all science, philosophy has largely yielded the study of materially measurable things to the emerging sciences which weigh their value by external results.

Panpsychism is also a relatively new term, perhaps crafted to deflect the wrath of the Fundamentalists among us. The concept to which it applies goes far back in history under the name pantheism, the claim that God is everywhere, in everything. The dominant forms of monotheism (one God) reject pantheism. The central grounds for such rejection appear to be the desire of the monotheists to fashion a God which has a personal identity including gender, a set of personal preferences and a will to bring them into being, and a locality to which believers can aspire after death. Gaining the acceptance of such a God then enables the power brokers of monotheistic systems to proclaim they, and they alone, know and can interpret the will of this God. – meaning power over the people at large.

It is credibly argued that even systems portrayed as polytheistic, such as the Hindu tradition, are truly monotheistic in that the various lesser gods are simply incarnations or manifestations of the ultimate and one god Atman. But Atman is nowhere near as defined and constricted as the God of monotheism; “Atman” can be considered a means of expressing the oneness of omniscience, omnipotence, and omnipresence. Any attempt to define and localize this would be considered mistaking an incarnation/manifestation for the whole.

Looking back at those three omnis, do they sound familiar? They should. They are foundational to the God of Western monotheism. They are foremost in the catechism answers to the question, Who and what is God?

My childhood was pretty solitary, though that was fine with me as it afforded me more time to observe the flora and fauna of my world by day and read about them by night. And, the mantra, omniscience, omnipresence, and omnipotence lay behind my eyes.

Years later, as a student of Anthropology, I learned about Ethology – the study of animal behavior, William James – known as the Father of American Psychology, Alan Watts – at one time the foremost interpreter of Eastern philosophy, B.F. Skinner – the Behaviorist who thoroughly trashed the overly convenient concept “instinct”, early and modern gatherer-scavenger-hunter populations, domestication, and the inherent mysticism in the art of early Man.

As I absorbed the writings, works, and discoveries in these fields and many more I was surprised only because I found myself so often thinking, But, of course. And I was concerned that so few were waking to the realities that have always been around us. For example, the common phrase, Dumb animals. At its best I realized it referred to the fact that no non-humans speak like us. At its worst it attacked the intellect of these non-humans. Now we have copious data on the songs and languages of whales, dolphins, wolves, a myriad of others, and even cows. Now we have data clearly showing us how plants communicate. Humans live in darkened sensory bottles with only narrow band width vision, hearing, smell, and taste. Our instruments have helped us uncork those bottles but it is our minds which must expand to accommodate what there is out there to experience. Many remain asleep.

As I read about early gatherer-scavenger-hunter groups and their modern descendants and closely examined their art work and symbolism I felt I understood the dramatic shift from their view of non-human animals to that of the populations who adopted pastoralism and agriculture. GSH groups, whether early or current, must understand the minds of the animals on which they prey. Although not commonly a prey species, the common crow provides an example any hunter will recognize. When approaching a murder of crows feeding in a field you will recognize at least one who is not on the ground feeding but rather on a nearby tree or some other vantage point. This crow is on sentry duty, providing the crows on the ground a warning when someone approaches. What the competent observer will note is that the sentry will sound the alarm much faster if the intruder has something in his hand. Show your open hands and the sentry will allow you much closer. I very much doubt many people are even aware of that. Yet, similar devices are found in other species as well. Hunters who intend to remain among the living must learn how their prey thinks.

Wait, what?!?! Animals think?!?! How unscientific!!!”

The artwork and the folklore of the GSH groups clearly and plainly tell us the respect, even reverence they felt for the non-human animals around them. Across the planet we see depictions of therianthropes, a pictorial blending of human and non-human figures apparently depicting shamans communing with the non-human animals important to the survival of the band. A famous example is “The Sorcerer” in the cave at Les Trois Freres in France. Less well known are the depictions of shamans of the Kalahari San Bushmen with eland antelopes. We know from modern accounts of the reverence the hunter extends to the soul of the animal he has killed. Contrast this with the attitudes of pastoralists and agriculturalists; very quickly the animals being herded, flocked, and eventually domesticated became insensitive commodities to be bred, traded, or slaughtered at the whim of the “owners”. I have personally witnessed utter brutality inflicted upon “dumb animals”. To this day I wonder about the psyche of the young children who raise domesticated animals, bond with them as treasured companions, and send them to slaughter. Using a logic I cannot fathom, they justify this as a means of food production.

I think the herding and domestication of animals laid the groundwork for the materialist separation of Man from all the rest of the natural world. This ethic is simply unknown among GSH populations. Interestingly, the Western monotheistic traditions enshrined this separation in their fundamental scriptures during this same period. But in so doing they formalized a fundamental contradiction: In creating and describing their God they invoked the three omnis; omnipotence, omniscience, and omnipresence. This made it impossible to say God is in one act but not in another. While believers may piously point to some “godly” act they are not thereby able to dismiss other acts as “ungodly”. While believers may claim the possession of some “divine spark” (the original meaning of the word inspiration) they cannot deny it to any other form of existence, seen or unseen. The very act of such selective disposition is a glaring pronouncement of Materialism, based on the premise that qualities can be quantified and selectively distributed according to some presumably “divinely inspired” writ. Consciousness is one such quality.

In seeking alternatives to the Materialist dogma some have looked to Asian philosophies. Yet here, too, the tendencies of the Western “Cafeteria Catholic” (picking and choosing among the doctrinal pronouncements on offer) are evident. For example, the well known dichotomy of the Yin/Yang. The contrast of the interwoven Light and Dark is obvious. But what seems less obvious to the Western dabbler is the meaning inherent in the symbol: the interweaving of the elements is captured in the concept, Hsiang Sheng, “mutually arising”. I am what I am by virtue of everything I am not; I am where I am because everything else is where it is. I am, then, as a manifestation of Atman, an At Once expression of Allness – “past, present, and future, that which was, that which is, and that which is becoming”. In Alan Watts’ terms, Consciousness is the river, forever flowing away yet always coming back, and never the same. It does not reside in only a select species.

No, don’t expect to come upon me sitting in my garden talking to a rock. But please be accepting of my proclivity to see you in context.

From → Uncategorized

8 Comments
  1. Dana permalink

    Marco, I’ve long had trouble with the notion that “god” is in everything. But then, the concept of god/s has never really mattered to me personally. I lack the ability to have a belief system and I certainly don’t mind. There is nothing missing from my internal spiritual world.

    To claim that non-human animals and other Earthlings (such as trees) lack consciousness is an outrage. Those that said these sort of things to me when I was a child wound up on the receiving end of an uncomfortable interrogation (for them – never for me!).

    You and I shared a lot in common as children. I wish I could have known you then, but I suppose I do. For the most part I rarely minded being alone. Today I regard those long periods of solitude as a gift since it was during the stage when my personality was forming. I was free to explore the natural world and form conclusions from my own observations and thoughts. They’re conclusions I still hold true four decades later.

    I’ve had more “But of course” moments than I can count since I’ve met you. Sometimes I can barely fathom everything I’ve learned. This post is full of that! I’m ever grateful.

    Dana

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  2. Thank you, Dana. As you know, I consider statements like There is a god as nonsensical as There is no god.

    It is amusing that the standard social workers and child psychologists would have looked at our childhoods and ordered some kind of intervention. Fortunately, we escaped their attention, even if it was a difficult childhood at times.

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  3. Marco, when I imagine you sitting in a garden, it is as a young child conversing with Petra. We all need someone to talk to and to listen, especially when we are emotionally alone.

    Although I have attended services in many types of churches, and have long embraced the eastern philosophies, I have never been one to think of myself as religious. I might describe myself as spiritual, but that isn’t really right either.

    As a child, I attended the Baptist church on the corner near my parent’s house; more a matter of convenience than belief, and because it was what one was “supposed to do”. I was baptized, but almost immediately fell away from the church. The doctrine there limited my thought, and even at that young age that was unacceptable. I am a seeker of truth, and have found that it may be found in many venues. I found more than a little in your classes, and in our many conversations.

    Blessed be, my friend. May we spend many more years sharing the truths we find.

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    • Thank you so much, Rose. I found myself sitting in that garden with Petra as you so wonderfully brought me there.

      I have often wondered if someone did somehow stumble upon truths long ago, such as the Hindu idea of a universe which expands and contracts in cycles (an idea gaining ground in “science” today), and the omni concept of a conscious universe (another idea quickly gaining ground in “science”). I feel I can see how these ideas, and others like them, were threatening to those in the West who intended to build a secular Empire called a religion, and so they perverted them as much as they could. Still the nuggets survived, likely because the religion creators did not recognize them for what they were.

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      • The conscious universe, that great pool of knowledge from which we all draw that information which we simply know without reason, has been a part of my belief system for more years that I can recall.

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        • Thank you, Rose. I think you are quite fortunate in that you are describing a long standing realization that so many seek in momentary enlightenment.

          You have played a formative role in my realizations and, yes, “May we spend many more years sharing the truths we find.”

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  4. From Lory (Japan). “What an insightful post! I love to read about Consciousness, because it is something I often think about. To me Consciousness pervades indeed everything, including atoms and sub-particles, but the degree of Consciousness or the `kind` of Consciousness might differ . Marco, if you don`t talk to rocks, I do, lol, as I talk and give names to all my plants and trees, which by the way often show up in my dreams with answers. And I am a firm believer, as you are, that animals not only have consciousness, but intelligence and a way of `thinking` and communicating that is simply different than ours.

    One of my first rebellious moments against dogmatic religion ( my school was run by Catholic nuns) was when our religion teacher said that animals have no intelligence and no soul. To me, who had basically been raised with dogs always around me and as my best friends, this was preposterous, and more than that, completely UNTRUE.

    I remember, even as a ten-year-old, I tried to argue, but the answer was always the same. It had been written or said so, and so it was. I did not have any right to question dogmas. I am happy that science is finally catching up and hope that belief systems will follow up too. Change of perspective is sorely needed.

    By the way, I am glad to know you are recovering well and are already writing again. I am sorry I cannot come here more often, but my eye pressure is not low enough yet, so I have to cut on my `online time`. I am so glad though to have found this post, and of course to be in touch again. THANK YOU!”

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  5. Thank you, Lory. Actually, I have talked to rocks – when I stubbed my toe. But that’s another story.

    I completely agree with your perspectives and have shared them for as long as I remember.

    I’m looking forward to better news about your eyes.

    Like

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