We ended last time with the theory of panpsychism formulated as monadology and now must examine what justification exists for its assertion. Allow me to start with this extended quote by the German physicist, philosopher, and experimental psychologist, Gustav Fechner (1801-1887):
“I stood once on a hot summer’s day beside a pool and contemplated a water-lily which had spread its leaves evenly over the water and with an open blossom basking in the sunlight. How exceptionally fortunate, thought I, must this lily be which above basks in the sunlight and below is plunged in the water – if only it might be capable of feeling the sun and the bath. And why not? I asked myself. It seemed to me that nature surely would not have built a creature so beautiful and so carefully designed for such conditions, merely to be an object of idle observation…I was inclined to think that nature had built it thus in order that all the pleasure which can be derive from bathing at once in sunlight and in water might be enjoyed by one creature in the fullest measure.”5
This is not mere wistfulness on Fechner’s part, rather he believes panpsychism is the “best, clearest, most natural, and most beautiful account of the facts of the universe.”6 Biologist Wilfred Eade Agar (1882-1951) seems to agree admitting that while there is “no coercive demonstration” of panpsychism, it “leads to a more consistent and satisfying world picture than any of the alternatives.”7 William James offers added support arguing that evidence from psychology and his study of religious experience establishes a “formidable probability in favor of a general view of the world almost identical with Fechner’s.”8
Beyond such observations are two general arguments: (1) genetic and (2) analogical. Genetic arguments come down to the premise that mental facts can be casually explained only in terms of other mental facts. German philosopher, Friedrich Paulsen (1846-1908), believes a newly developing life could not create feelings out of nothing any more than the matter composing living things could come from nothing. Biologist Conrad Hal Waddington (1905-1975) offers a more extended argument: “Something must go on in the simplest inanimate things which can be described in the same language as would be used to describe our self-awareness.” Although we know nothing of its nature, we are forced to accept it by “the demands of logic and the application of evolutionary theory.”9 The phenomenon of self-awareness is a ‘basic mystery’ because it cannot be constructed theoretically from our current science, but we know it exists from experience. Thus we can infer that the mode of our experience “evolved from simple forms which are experienced by non-human things.”10
(final continuation next post)
5Edwards, Paul (editor), The Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc. & The Free Press, 1972. Volume 6, page 22.
6Ibid., page 23.
8Ibid., page 24.
9Ibid., page 26.
2 Replies to “ULTIMATE REALITY AND THE MEANINGFUL LIFE – PANPSYCHISM (continued)”
I am unmoved by arguments, past and present, in support of Panpsychism. Goff, Seth, possibly Kastrup and others have been promoting this notion which strikes me as on the metaphysical fringe. I have held that metaphysics is one of Dennett’s intuition pumps. That I will continue to support, whether DD does or not. I just can’t bridge the gap between atomic structure in inanimate objects, and consciousness in animate ones. Good luck, though!
I waited until finishing the section on panpsychism before responding. I agree with you that the arguments for this theory are unconvincing and counterintuitive. Nonetheless the practical philosopher should think through any possibility endorsed by multiple conscientious thinkers, so I devoted three posts to it. Rather than seek absolute truth, it seems to me that we are best advised to act as much as possible to integrate all such possibilities into a final approach to ultimate reality. Thus I also plan to look at several philosophers’ and theologians’ viewpoints recognizing that they too may be flawed. I am not sure that either Schopenhauer’s belief that will or Laozi’s belief that Tao describes ultimate reality is more demonstrable than panpsychism, yet they deserve consideration as well. Are we not seeking that nuance of truth behind all well-thought out beliefs?
At the end of the day, I suspect the essence of truth underlying panpsychism is that energy underlies even the most basic substances and in those cases, energy is entirely (or nearly so) physical and not mental. However with increasing complexity substances develop by degrees a mixed physical and non-physical energy we define as mental energy or consciousness. That discussion however must wait until later blogs.