Panpsychism is a philosophical movement that is growing and even beginning to gain acceptance in some scientific circles. (I locate Planetary Philosophy within the Panpsychic movement.)
Materialism: The traditional scientific paradigm of Materialism winds up with what often gets referred to as “the big problem.” If everything is just matter with no interior dimension, no mental dimension, no consciousness dimension, then how does the consciousness that we all experience every day and, in fact, that is what we know best about reality emerge out of this purely material stuff?
No Materialist scientist, no philosopher has been able to solve “the big problem.”
The Panpsychic Alternative: Well the Panpsychic alternative provides a very simple solution, by saying that all matter has two sides, a physical side and a mental side. Another way to put this is that some form of consciousness extends all the way down and all the way up through out nature.
As I put it in my paper, Toward a New Paradigm, there is a spectrum of consciousness that extends from quanta of energy on up through atoms, cells, multi-celled organisms, plants and animals, on up to us as human beings. And this spectrum extends beyond us to include the Earth, the Solar System, the Milky Way Galaxy, every galaxy, the universe as a whole, and any other universes that exist in the multiverse posited by many scientific theories.
The Spectrum of Consciousness: We human beings only participate in a relatively narrow band of that spectrum of consciousness, but that doesn’t mean that the spectrum isn’t there. With our senses, we only experience a relatively small band of the electromagnetic spectrum, but that doesn’t mean that the rest of the spectrum isn’t there.
We can use many different kinds of instruments to pick up other aspects of the electromagnetic spectrum in ways we can see and hear. We don’t hear radio waves, but, with a radio, we can hear them. We don’t see micro-waves, but our computers and televisions can receive them and make their contents available for us to see and hear.
Likewise, the mental disciples practiced by various Yogic, Taoist, Buddhist, Sufi, Kabbalistic, and Christian mystics can give us broader and broader access to different aspects of the consciousness spectrum. Mindfulness enables us to pay attention to the flow of our consciousness—to be conscious of our consciousness. Meditation enables us to tune our consciousnesses to different aspects of the consciousness spectrum.
Western Philosophical Tradition: The philosophy of Panpsychism extends all the way back historically in Western Philosophy on up to the great 20th Century metaphysical philosophers, Alfred North Whitehead and Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. It is the fourth way that is the synthesis of Idealism, Materialism, and Dualism.
According to Idealism, everything is mind, but that isn’t really true to our experience of matter in the world as an extrinsic reality. According to Materialism, everything is matter, but that definitely isn’t true to our experience either. We experience our own minds and make sense of other people’s behavior by projecting the existence of their minds. Dualism says there are two kinds of substance—two realms if you will—the mental and the physical, but then there is the problem of how these two substances interact.
Panpsychism puts the two dimensions together and says that everything has a mental dimension and a physical dimension, just as we experience ourselves as having a mental dimension and a physical dimension. Just as each of us is an integration of mind and body, so Panpsychism suggests that everything exists as a similar type of integration.
Descartes: The philosopher Christian de Quincy, in his book Radical Nature: The Soul of Matter, gives a good history of Panpsychicism from the Pre-Socratic Greek philosophers, through Plato and Aristotle and various Middle Age Christian thinkers. It was Rene Descartes who split reality by saying that there were two kinds of substances—mental substance and physical substance—that were essentially separate.
Descartes posited that mental substance was the sphere of religion and physical substance was the sphere of science. As scientists developed the discipline of putting hypotheses to the test of experimental verification and got some amazingly successful results, increasingly they abandoned dealing with Descartes’ mental substance, because it wasn’t subject to experimental verification. In the end they wound up as Materialists believing that the material world was all that there was. But, of course, that has led them to “the big problem.”
I-It and I-Thou: And it’s led us humans to a lot of other problems as well. If we see everything as just material, with no inner, intrinsic, mental dimension, we wind up relating to other people and things in an “I-It” relationship as Martin Buber put it, with the attendant lack of empathy toward other people and the natural world.
It’s time to recognize that the Universe is not made up of two substances, mind and matter, but is rather one set of realities, each with a mental dimension and a physical dimension. This solves “the big problem.” It is true to our experience. And, it opens up many fruitful lines of thought, experimentation, and action.
In the end, Panpsychicism gives us back an I-Thou empathetic world—a much more powerful stance from which to work for peace among people and peace with the Earth.