physicalism portrays the world as comprised of creative, experiential,
physical-mental events. I will lay out the basic ideas of this
position by taking these four terms in reverse order.
All the world’s actual
entities in the fullest sense are momentary events. These are all
spatiotemporal events with a finite inner duration, ranging perhaps from
less than a billionth of a second at the subatomic level to a tenth or
twentieth of a second at the level of human experience.
individuals, such as electrons and minds, are temporal societies
(sometimes called “world tubes”) of such events. There is no dualism,
accordingly, between purely spatial and purely temporal actualities; all
unit-events are spatially and temporally extensive.
Each such event has
both physical and mental aspects, with the physical aspect
always prior. The physical aspect is the event’s reception of the
efficient causation of prior events into itself. This receptivity can,
with Whitehead, be described in terms of the notion of “physical
prehension,” a mode of perception more basic than sensory.
An event originates
with a multiplicity of physical prehensions, each of which has two
aspects: an objective datum (which corresponds to what Chalmers
[1995, p. 216] calls the “physical aspect” of information) and a
subjective form (which corresponds to what he calls the “phenomenal
[or experiential] aspect”). In its physical pole, then, an event repeats
the forms of energy imposed upon it by the past universe, the only
difference from materialist physicalism at this point being that these
forms of energy have subjective as well as objective aspects.
arises with regard to mentality. Every unit-event (as distinct from an
aggregational event) has a mental aspect, and this mentality involves an
element, however slight in the most elementary events, of spontaneity or
self-determination. Although the event’s physical pole is given to it,
its mentality is its capacity to decide precisely what to make of its
given foundation. Its physicality is its relation to past actuality; its
mentality involves its prehension of ideality or possibility, through
which it escapes total determination by the past.
Each event is
experiential from beginning to end, which means that, in distinction
from usage reflecting dualism, the “mental” is not equated with the
”experiential” nor the “physical” with the “vacuous”: an individual’s
mentality is simply its experience insofar as it is self-determining.
Also, to say that all
unit-events have (or are) experiences is not to say that they all have
consciousness, which is a subjective form of experience that arises, if at
all, only in a late phase of a moment of experience. Its arising requires
an adequate content, the contrast between a proposition and an alternate
To use the language of
“intentionality” (in the sense of aboutness): very elementary events, by
virtue of synthesizing prior events and possibilities into rudimentary
analogues to propositions, have incipient intentionality; somewhat
higher-level events, complex enough to form propositions, have
proto-intentionality; while only very high-level events are sophisticated
enough to contrast propositions with alternative possibilities, thereby
enjoying what Whitehead (1978, pp. 266-7) calls “intellectual prehensions,”
which alone have the subjective form of consciousness.
With regard to the
remaining of the four terms in the opening definition, creative, I
have already stated that each event is, in its mental pole, self-creative,
deciding precisely how to respond to the efficient causation exerted upon
it. The second dimension of an event’s creativity, which comes after its
self-determination, is its efficient causation on subsequent
events, by which it shares in the creation of the future. This position,
it should be noted, prevents mental experience from necessarily being
merely epiphenomenal or close to it (which is suggested by the statement
by Chalmers [1995, p. 217] that experience might have only “a subtle kind
of causal relevance”). The event does not necessarily simply pass on
exactly what it had received from prior events.
In the case of
higher-level events with more mentality, the event’s efficient causation
may be based significantly upon its self-determining mentality, as when
our decision to raise a hand causes the hand to raise. In this version of
panexperientialism (in distinction from that suggested by Chalmers, in
which most of the causal efficacy seems to be exerted by a purely
“physical” [in the sense of “vacuous”] aspect of the basic processes),
all causation is exerted by experience, with distinctively mental
experience playing a greater role in more complex experiences. We can
thereby do justice to the power really manifested by human decisions.
In any case, the
transition from self-creation to efficient causation betokens another
distinction to be made with regard to each unit-event. Each such event
exists first as a subject of experience, with its physical and
mental poles. But then its subjectivity perishes and it becomes an
object for subsequent subjects.
In each enduring
individual from electrons (or quarks) to human minds, accordingly, there
is an oscillation between two modes of existence: subjectivity and
objectivity. This idea provides a solution to one of the most vexing
questions of modern philosophy and science: how can entities that are
enmeshed in the universal causal nexus, both receiving and exerting
efficient causation, be understood to have any degree of freedom? How, in
other words, is final causation compatible with efficient?
In some forms of “panpsychism,”
such as those of Leibniz, Spinoza and Bernard Rensch (1960; 1976), the
mind with its final causation and the brain with its efficient causation
are said to run along parallel with each other, without interacting. In
the case of Spinoza and Rensch, this conclusion is required, because they
regard the mind and brain as numerically identical. Panpsychism as such
has sometimes been rejected by interactionists (Popper & Eccles, 1977, pp.
53-5, 71, 516) on the mistaken assumption that all forms of it imply this
kind of parallelism.
Indeed, one of the
problems with the term “panpsychism” is that, besides suggesting a too
high-level form of experience to be attributed to all individuals, the
term “psyche” also suggests that the most fundamental entities of the
world are enduring individuals. That doctrine makes it difficult to see
how the various individuals, with their internal final causation or
self-determination, could exert efficient causation on, and receive
efficient causation from, other such individuals—as with the Leibnizian
“windowless monads,” whose apparent interaction was explained in terms of
The idea that the
ultimate individuals are momentary experiential events—which the term
“panexperientialism” better suggests—avoids parallelism and thereby any
appeal, explicit or implicit, to a deus ex machina. Each event
begins as an open window, as it were, into which stream the influences
from the past world; this is its physical pole. Then the window is shut
while the event exercises whatever capacity for self-determination it may
have; this is its mental pole. At that point its moment of subjectivity
comes to an end and it becomes an object, exerting efficient causation on
others - or rather, in them, having aspects of itself prehended
(This is the way of
explicating the twofold existence of events suggested earlier: rather than
being “simply located,” each event prehends aspects of the past into
itself and then gets aspects of itself prehended into future events.)
In any case, this idea
of momentary events, which are first subjects and then objects, allows for
final causation, or self-determination, to be exercised between the
reception and the subsequent exertion of efficient causation. Being fully
enmeshed in the universal causal nexus does not render genuine
self-determining activity impossible.
This same idea also
provides a way of thinking of the relation between the temporal (or
durational) aspect of the events and the purely spatial appearance of the
world: as subjects, events enjoy an inner duration; as objects, however,
they are purely spatial. An event cannot be prehended until its moment of
subjectivity is finished, because it is nothing fully determinate until
its moment of self-determination is completed. By the time it can be
perceived, accordingly, it is purely spatial. This is one reason,
at least, why sensory perception presents us with a purely spatial world.
In the above sketch of
the basic ontology of panexperientialist physicalism, I have referred to
various levels of events, pointing out that consciousness can appear only
in very high-level ones and suggesting that these would also have greater
freedom. The obvious question, of course, is how, assuming physicalism,
higher-level actualities could evolve. The answer to this question will
bring out how this form of physicalism allows for downward causation based
on self-determining freedom.
is unable to affirm freedom because it must regard all large things as
analogous. Appearances to the contrary, humans and other animals must be
thought by analogy with rocks, billiard-balls, and computers. Even if an
element of ontological indeterminacy be allowed at the quantum level,
accordingly, it cannot provide the basis for attributing any freedom to
human behaviour: Just as, by the “law of large numbers,” all indeterminacy
is canceled out at the level of the billiard ball, the same must be true
in humans and other animals. The crucial role played by this idea is
plain in some recent discussions of downward causation (Kim, 1993, pp. 77,
95, 96, 101, 103, 168) and freedom (Lycan 1987, pp. 113-4; Searle, 1984,
pp. 86-7, 93-4).
The reason why
materialist physicalists must think of all part-whole relations as
analogous is that their basic entities or processes, being vacuous, are
unable to give rise to higher-level actualities. Because these entities
have no insides, all their relations to other things must remain external
to them, so that all their associations must be thought to be merely
aggregational collections. The idea that no higher-level actualities
emerge lies behind the dictum that all causation in “macro-objects,” be
they rocks or human beings, must be reducible in principle to the
causality of the subatomic constituents (Kim, 1993, pp. xv, 96, 99;
Searle, 1984, p. 93).
unit-events of panexperientialist physicalism, by contrast, are internally
constituted by their appropriations (prehensions) of aspects of the other
events in their environments. Certain combinations of enduring
individuals allow for the emergence of higher-level individuals, with the
resulting totality being what Hartshorne (1972) has called a “compound
The momentary events
constituting the higher-level enduring individual have more mentality,
thereby more capacity for self-determination, than the more elementary
ones. They also have more power to exert efficient causation, allowing
for the “global control” of behaviour, to which Chalmers (1995, p. 212)
refers, by virtue of which the higher-level series of experiences can be
called the “dominant” member of the compound society.
The most obvious
examples of compound individuals are animals with central nervous
systems. But this kind of part-whole relation should also be attributed
to any entity seeming to respond as a whole with a degree of spontaneity
to its environment. Single-celled organisms, such as amoebae and neurons,
accordingly, could be supposed to be compound individuals, having a unity
of experience over and above that of their constituents.
The same might be true
of organelles, macromolecules, ordinary molecules, atoms, and even those
enduring individuals that had, prior to quarks and gluons, been called
“elementary.” These are empirical matters; the important philosophical
point is that, with the idea of compound individuals, we can lodge our
evident consciousness, freedom, and power in a high-level, full-fledged
The notion that
individuals have physical prehensions, by which they internally take
account of their environments, means that sensory perception is a
higher-level, derivative kind of perception. Although its products tend
to be so overwhelming as to lead many to the conclusion that it is our
only kind of perception, the nonsensory kind is (by hypothesis) going on
all the time. On this basis, we can explain how we can perceive normative
values and “Platonic mathematical truths.” Assuming the reality of this
more primordial, presensory kind of perception also means that reports of
religious and paranormal experiences need not be dismissed a priori.
A final difference
between materialist and panexperientialist forms of physicalism is brought
out by the way in which the latter allows for downward causation from the
mind to the body. The difference in question can be approached by
reflecting upon the recent statement by Penrose (1994, p. 23) that
“somehow the structure of the physical world is rooted in mathematics” and
that this fact is “a very great mystery.”
In some of the
Renaissance naturalisms that resulted from the revival of mathematical
Platonism, each unit of nature was understood in such a way—perhaps as a
microcosm of the whole—as to be capable of embodying mathematical
patterns. Although the so-called scientific revolution of the latter
seventeenth century retained the emphasis on mathematics, its adoption of
the Democritean view of matter made nature’s units seem intrinsically
incapable of embodying mathematical patterns. This fact necessitated—or
allowed—the aforementioned explanation of the “laws of nature” in terms of
With the transition to
the fully materialistic worldview, the Divine Imposer was dropped, but the
notion of vacuous bits of matter “obeying” external laws was retained.
Even Chalmers (1995, p. 210) seems to accept this view, referring to the
universe as “a network of basic entities obeying simple laws.”
Interestingly, he speaks of this position as “entirely naturalistic,” even
though it is, we could say, implicitly supernaturalistic. In any case,
materialist physicalists (e. g. Kim, 1993, p. xv) assume the bottom layer
of nature—that studied by physics and chemistry—to consist of vacuous
particles whose movements are totally governed by external laws.
It is the assumption
that this bottom layer is entirely autonomous, closed to any influence
(“interference”) from higher layers, that makes it necessary to assume
that, even if we had minds capable of an element of self-determination,
our bodily behaviour could not be influenced by them: our bodily behaviour
must (in principle) be fully understandable in terms of “the laws of
physics and chemistry.” Even Chalmers (p. 210) believes it necessary to
hold to this dogma, assuring his readers that his view does not allow
experience to “interfere with physical laws” which are said to “form a
of that dictum makes it puzzling how he can attribute to experience even
“a subtle kind of causal relevance,” but it does explain why he thinks of
this suggestion as irrelevant to a “scientific theory”—as distinct from a
more inclusive philosophical theory [p. 217]. One implication of my
argument about hard-core common sense is that we cannot rest content with
such a bifurcation: there is no higher criterion for any theory, whether
it be called “scientific” or “philosophical,” than adequacy to those
beliefs that we inevitably presuppose in practice.)
It is, in any case,
this idea that has made it impossible for materialist physicalists, such
as Kim and Searle, to reconcile” science” with the obvious fact, which we
cannot deny without presupposing, that our bodily movements are
influenced by our partially free decisions.
panexperientialist physicalism, by contrast, the regularities of nature
are not due to externally imposed “laws” but are—as suggested long ago by
James, Peirce and Whitehead (Griffin et al., 1993, pp. 67-8,
224-5)—nature’s most long-standing habits—the habits of its most
elementary members, reflecting patterns that they have internalized. And,
just as our habits do not fully determine our behaviour, neither do the
habits of cells, DNA molecules, or electrons fully determine theirs.
Because the physical
poles of their constituent events are determined by the influences coming
in from their environment, their behaviour is always determined in part by
the particular environment they are in. When an electron in an inorganic
environment gets taken into a living cell, it becomes subject to different
influences. Likewise, if that cell is in the brain of a human body, it is
subject to different influences if the body is alive and awake instead of
When we make decisions,
therefore, they can affect the experience and thereby the behaviour of
even the simplest constituents of our bodies (probably by first affecting
the neurons and through them the individuals at increasingly elementary
levels). The electron in the living human body, accordingly, will behave
differently than it did in the inorganic environment, not because the
“laws of electron behaviour” have been “violated” but because it is there
subject to different influences.
Part of the reason this
idea will seem “anti-scientific” to some is the widespread acceptance of
the wholly unwarranted idea that the laws of physics and chemistry are
sufficient by themselves to explain the behaviour of all “physical
processes.” To explain the behaviour of the bodies of humans and other
compound individuals, the downward causal influences from higher members,
which may well reflect considerable spontaneity, must also be taken into
The relation of this
panexperientialism to dualism and materialism can be expressed in the
Dualism recognized an
organizational duality between two kinds of physical bodies: those
with a mind as a dominant member and those without. But it understood the
relation between these minds and their bodies as an ontological
Materialism, to avoid
the resulting problems, dropped the minds so as to have an ontological
monism. Given the conception of “matter” that it had inherited from
dualism, however, it was forced, against all appearances, also to affirm
an organizational monism, which led to even more severe problems
than dualism had.
allows us to return to the recognition of the organizational duality
(between compound individuals and nonindividualized societies of
individuals) while retaining an ontological monism. There is no
“ghost in the machine” because the body is no machine.
combine the best of both previous doctrines because of its different
conception of the underlying “stuff” of which the world is made.
Dualism assumed that
there were two kinds of basic stuff: (temporal) “consciousness” and
(spatial) “matter” (later, “matter-energy”), with embodiments of the
latter capable only of efficient causation.
Materialism tried to
work out an adequate worldview on the assumption that all things are
embodiments of the latter kind of stuff.
espoused here) agrees with materialism that there is only one kind of
stuff, but enlarges “energy” to “experiential creativity.”
Critics might be
tempted to ask how the creativity and the experience arose. But, as
Chalmers (pp. 209-10) points out, every position begins with some reality,
or set of realities, assumed to be fundamental. Panexperientialism
assumes that it lies in the very nature of things for events of
experiential creativity to occur—for partially self-creative experiences
to arise out of prior experiences and then to help create subsequent
experiences. The process by which our (sometimes partly conscious)
experiences arise out of those billions of events constituting our bodies
at any moment is simply the most complex example of this process of which
we know—and the only one the results of which we can witness from the
Should such a doctrine
be called a species of physicalism?
On the negative side,
such a proposal may seem simply confusing, given the prior association of
physicalism with materialism and therefore reductionism.
On the positive side,
however, is the fact that this form of panexperientialism shares many of
the doctrines usually said to characterize physicalism. I will mention
nine (which are based on Kim, 1993; see Griffin, 1997, Ch. 10).
First, all events have
a physical aspect; there are no purely mental events.
Second, when events
also have a mental aspect, the physical aspect is always prior.
Third, some events
(namely, aggregational, nonindividualized events) have no mentality
Fourth, most events do
not have consciousness.
Fifth, all events are
spatially as well as temporally extensive and have a determinate
Sixth, all events have
energy that can interact with the energy embodied in the entities studied
Seventh, all events
exert efficient causation.
Eighth, all events are
causally conditioned by antecedent events, and some events (aggregational
ones) are fully determined thereby.
Ninth, all causal
efficacy is exerted by physical events (as defined in the first, second,
fifth, sixth, seventh and eight points), so that the “physical domain” (as
thus defined) is closed to outside influences; dualism and supernaturalism
are thereby excluded.
Even with all these
agreements, the differences with physicalism as hitherto understood are
significant enough to make debatable the suggestion that this form of
panexperientialism can be called a version of physicalism.
What is not debatable
is the propriety of the position’s name with regard to the mind-body
relation in particular: nondualistic interactionism.
It is interactionism,
in that the mind is numerically distinct from brain, both influencing and
being influenced by it. But it is not dualism, in that the mind is
different only in degree, not in ontological kind, from the neurons
comprising the brain (and the more elementary individuals comprising the
If nothing else comes
of this essay, I would hope to see an end to the twofold assumption that
interactionism necessarily involves dualism, and that dualism and
materialism, therefore, constitute the only forms of realism.
1 One of the central problems of
Leibniz’s doctrine is alluded to in the final words of the above quotation
from Kant (which were replaced by the ellipses): “the only question that
remains being how in general a communion of substances is possible.” Kant
was referring to the Leibnizian doctrine that all “monads” are
“windowless,” meaning that they cannot perceive or influence each other.
2 I had completed this essay prior to
the appearance of William Seager’s excellent article in this journal, in
which he defends a version of panpsychism (albeit with “great
diffidence”), providing various considerations that, he now believes,
“ameliorate its implausibility” (1995, pp. 279, 283n).
3 As will become increasingly evident,
my position draws heavily on that of Alfred North Whitehead. While I have
tried to keep this essay relatively free of Whiteheadian technical terms,
I have developed my position much more fully as an explication of
Whitehead’s philosophy in
4 This account, which agrees with the
dictum that “consciousness is always consciousness of something,”
is an account of ordinary consciousness. Whether there can be
extraordinary states of consciousness that are contentless is another
Adler, Julius, & Tse, Wing-Wai (1974), “Decision-making in
bacteria,” Science, 184, pp. 1292-4.
Beloff, John (1962), The
Existence of Mind (London:
MacGibbon and Kee).
Beloff, John (1994), “Minds and machines: A radical dualist
perspective,” Journal of Consciousness Studies. 1 (1), pp. 32-7.
Bohm, David, & Hiley, BJ. (1993), The Undivided
Universe: An Ontological Interpretation of Quantum Theory (London
& New York: Routledge).
Campbell, Keith (1984), Body and Mind, 2nd ed.
University of Notre Dame Press).
Čapek, Milič (1991), The New Aspects of Time: Its
Continuity and Novelties (Dordrecht
& Boston: Kluwer Academic).
Chalmers, David (1995), “Facing up to the problem of
consciousness,” Journal of Consciousness Studies. 2 (3), pp.
Easlea, Brian (1980), Witch Hunting, Magic and the New
Philosophy: An Introduction to Debates of the Scientific Revolution
Highlands, NJ: Humanities Press).
Goldbeter, A. & Koshland, D. E., Jr. (1982), “Simple
molecular model for sensing and adaptation based on receptor modification
with application to bacterial chemotaxis,” Journal of Molecular
Biology, 161, pp. 395-416.
Griffin, David Ray
(1997), Unsnarling the World-Knot: Consciousness, Freedom, and the
Mind-body Problem (Berkeley & Los Angeles: University of California
Griffin, David Ray, et
al. (1993), Founders of Constructive Postmodern Philosophy: Peirce,
James, Bergson, Whitehead, and Hartshorne (Albany:
State University of New York Press).
Griffin, Donald R.
(1992), Animal Minds (Chicago:
University of Chicago Press).
Hameroff, Stuart R. (1994), “Quantum coherence in
microtubules: A neural basis for emergent consciousness?,” Journal of
Consciousness Studies, 1 (I), pp. 91-118.
Hartshorne, Charles (1972), Whitehead’s Philosophy:
Selected Essays, 1935-1970 (Lincoln:
University of Nebraska Press), pp. 41-61.
Hartshorne, Charles (1991), “Some causes of my intellectual
growth,” in The Philosophy of Charles Hartshorne: Library of Living
Philosophers, XX, ed. Lewis Edwin Hahn (La
Salle: Open Court).
Honderich, Ted (1987), “Mind, brain, and self-conscious
mind,” in Mindwaves: Thoughts on Intelligence, Identity, and
Consciousness, ed. Colin Blakemore & Susan Greenfield (Oxford:
Honderich, Ted (1993), How Free Are You? The Determinism
Oxford University Press).
Kant, Immanuel (1965), Critique of Pure Reason,
trans. Norman Kemp Smith (New York:
St. Martin’s Press).
Keller, Evelyn Fox (1983), A Feeling for the Organism:
The Life and Work of Barbara McClintock (New
Kim, Jaegwon (1993), Supervenience and Mind: Selected
Philosophical Essays (Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press).
Religious Origins of Modern Science: Belief in Creation in
Seventeenth-Century Thought (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans).
Lowe, E. J. (1995), “There are no easy problems of
consciousness,” Journal of Consciousness Studies, 2 (3), pp.
Lewis, H. D. (1982), The Elusive Self (London:
Lycan, William G. (1987), Consciousness (Cambridge,
MA: MIT Press).
Madell, Geoffrey (1988), Mind and Materialism (Edinburgh:
The University Press).
McGinn, Colin (1982), The Character of Mind (Oxford:
Oxford University Press).
McGinn, Colin (1991), The Problem of Consciousness:
Essays Towards a Resolution (Oxford:
Nagel, Thomas (1979), Mortal Questions (London:
Cambridge University Press).
Nagel, Thomas (1986), The View from Nowhere (New
York: Oxford University Press).
Penrose, Roger (1994), Interview (with Jane Clark),
Journal of Consciousness Studies, 1 (I), 17-24.
Popper, Karl & Eccles, John C. (1977), The Self and Its
Brain: An Argument for Interactionism (Heidelberg:
Robinson, William S. (1988), Brains and People: An Essay
on Mentality and Its Causal Conditions (Philadelphia:
Temple University Press).
Rensch, Bernard (1960), Evolution Above the Species
Level (New York:
Columbia University Press).
Rensch, Bernard (1976), “Arguments for panpsychistic
identism,” in Mind and Nature: Essays on the Interface of Science and
Philosophy, ed. John B. Cobb, Jr. & David Ray Griffin (Washington,
DC: University Press of America).
Seager, William (1991), Metaphysics of Consciousness
(London & New
Seager, William (1995), “Consciousness, Information, and
Panpsychism,” Journal of Consciousness Studies, 2 (3), pp. 272-88.
Searle, John R. (1984), Minds, Brains and Science: The
1984 Reith Lectures (London:
British Broadcasting Corporation).
Searle, John R. (1987), “Minds and brains without
programmes,” in Mindwaves: Thoughts on Intelligence,
Identity and Consciousness,
ed. Colin Blakemore and
Susan Greenfield (Oxford:
Searle, John R. (1992), The Rediscovery of the Mind
MA: MIT Press).
Swinburne, Richard (1986), The Evolution of the Soul
Whitehead, Alfred North (1967a), Adventures of Ideas
(New York: Free
Whitehead, Alfred North (1967b), Science and the Modern
World (New York:
Whitehead, Alfred North (1978), Process and Reality,
Corrected Edition, ed. David Ray Griffin & Donald W. Sherburne (New
York: Free Press).
David Ray Griffin Page