Panentheism.  Revisionism.  Anarchocapitalism.


David Ray Griffin

[link to CV]


Essays by Me

Essays by Others

From Psychoscience: Journal of the Institute for Psychoscience, 2009. This is the revised and updated version of the text of “Science, Naturalism, and the Mind-Body Problem,” Chapter 6 of Griffin’s Religion and Scientific Naturalism: Overcoming the Conflicts, State University of New York Press, 2000.

 Panexperientialism: How It Overcomes the Problems of Dualism and Materialism

David Ray Griffin


1.   Problems Created by Eliminative Materialism

The Source of the Problem: The Modern View of Matter

The Theological Basis for the Modern View of Matter

The Predictability of the Present Impasse

2.   Dualism’s Difficulties 

Popper and Eccles

H. D. Lewis

Geoffrey Madell

3.   Materialism’s Mysteries

Searle on the Scientific Impossibility of Freedom

Kim and Searle on the Efficacy of Mentality for Bodily Behavior

The Emergence of Consciousness: Searle’s Position

The Emergence of Consciousness: Nagel’s Position

McGinn on Mind-Matter Mystery

Swinburne’s Supernaturalism

McGinn’s Fideism

The Neglected Alternative: Panexperientialism

4.   Temporality and Panexperientialism

5.   Nondualistic Interactionism

Panexperientialist Emergence

Two Modes of Creativity

The Relation between Efficient and Final Causation


     The mind-body problem is: How can we explain the relation of our conscious experience to our bodies, especially our brains, so as to do justice simultane-ously to two sets of beliefs: our science-based beliefs about the world, including ourselves, and our com-monsense beliefs about ourselves?

     I am here defining “commonsense beliefs” as those beliefs that we all presuppose in practice, even if we deny them verbally. Denying them verbally involves self-contradiction, because we are implicitly affirming something that we are explicitly denying. In my book on the mind-body problem, Unsnarling the World-Knot,1 I refer to such beliefs as “hard-core commonsense beliefs,” in order to distinguish them from other beliefs that are sometimes considered common sense, even though they are not common to all peoples and can be denied without self-contradiction. This other kind of common sense can be called “soft-core.”

     Three of our (hard-core) commonsense beliefs are our presuppositions (1) that we have conscious experience, (2) that this conscious experience, while influenced by our bodies, is not wholly determined thereby but involves an element of self-determining freedom, and (3) that this partially free experience exerts efficacy upon our bodily behavior, giving us a degree of responsibility for our bodily actions.

     In the first three sections of this essay, I show the neither materialism nor dualism can do justice to these hard-core commonsense beliefs. In the final section, I show how the process philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead, thanks to its panexperientialism, which involves pantemporalism, can overcome the weaknesses of both dualism and materialism.  


1. Problems Created by Eliminative Materialism

      It has been widely thought that science implies the falsity of one, two, or even all three of the above-mentioned commonsense beliefs.

     Many scientists and science-based philosophers, accordingly, have sought to eliminate these beliefs from their worldviews. As John Searle says, “the general form of the mind-body problem has been the problem of accommodating our commonsense and prescientific beliefs about the mind to our general scientific conception of reality.”2

     But this “accommodation,” as Searle points out, often results in the outright elimination of our commonsense beliefs. Indeed, one of the major movements in philosophy in recent decades has been “eliminative materialism.” Recognizing that these three commonsense beliefs do not fit within the reductionistic, materialistic worldview that has become associated with the science, some material-ists recommend their elimination from the repertoire of respectable beliefs. But this recommendation creates problems.

     One of these problems is that these commonsense beliefs are presupposed in our moral life. We pre-suppose that other human beings, like ourselves, have conscious experiences and thereby intrinsic value—value for themselves. This presupposition stood behind, for example, Kant’s dictum that we are to treat other human beings as ends in themselves, not merely as means to our ends. Our ethical life also presupposes that we have a significant degree of freedom and that, furthermore, our freedom to make choices exerts causal efficacy upon our bodies, so that people are, at least generally, responsible for their bodily behavior.

     We have a serious conflict between science and our moral practices, accordingly, if science stands in conflict with these beliefs, as many believe. For example, Francis Crick, in The Astonishing Hypothesis: The Scientific Search for the Soul, wrote: 

The Astonishing Hypothesis is that “YOU,” your joys and your sorrows, your memories and your ambitions, your sense of personal identity and free will, are in fact no more than the behavior of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules.  As Lewis Carroll’s Alice might have phrased it: ‘You’re nothing but a pack of neurons.’ . . . The scientific belief is that our minds—the behavior of our brains—can be explained by the interactions of nerve cells (and other cells) and the molecules associated with them.3

This position, which stands in contrast with “the religious concept of a soul,” says Crick, puts science “in a head-on contradiction to the religious belief of billions of human beings alive today.”4

     The problem created by the recommendation that we eliminate our threefold belief in the reality, self-determination, and causal efficacy of conscious experience cannot, however, be reduced to simply a problem between science, on the one hand, and religion and ethics, which would allow the typical modernist response: So much the worse for religion and ethics! This facile solution is not possible, because this threefold belief, rather than belonging uniquely to a religious or even ethical outlook on life, is part of our hard-core commonsense beliefs, which are presupposed in practice by all human beings in all their activities—including their scientific activities.

     This threefold belief cannot be eliminated from our repertoire of beliefs because, even if we deny it verbally, we will inevitably continue to presuppose it in practice. For example, the recommendation by a philosopher that we eliminate this threefold belief presupposes (1) that we consciously understand the recommendation, (2) that we can freely choose to accept the recommendation, and (3) that our bodily actions, such as our “speech acts,” can henceforth be guided by this free choice.

     The denial of this threefold belief is, therefore, irrational, because it involves what some philoso-phers have called a “performative contradiction.” Performative contradictions arise, as Martin Jay has put it, “when whatever is being claimed is at odds with the presuppositions or implications of the act of claiming it.” Such contradictions, philosopher John Passmore pointed out, are irrational in the strongest possible sense, because they are self-refuting: “The proposition p is absolutely self-refuting, if to assert p is equivalent to asserting both p and not-p.”5

     Eliminative materialists are recommending that we replace commonsense beliefs, or what they like to call “folk beliefs,” with what they consider scientific beliefs. “Folk astronomy,” for example, held the earth to be the center of the universe and thought of the sun and all the stars as revolving around the earth. Included in this folk astronomy was the idea of literal “sunrises” and “sunsets.” This commonsense or folk belief has now been replaced by a more scientific understanding. By analogy, they suggest, “folk psychology” thought in terms of conscious experiences, beliefs, volitions, and so on, but it is now time to replace these commonsense beliefs with truly scientific conceptions, according to which the whole universe, including human activity, is to be explained in terms of a materialistic framework, in which there is no room for such beliefs. 

     The problem with this suggestion is that it subsumes under the rubric of “commonsense beliefs” two entirely different kinds of beliefs—which I have distinguished as hard-core and soft-core common-sense beliefs. Searle pointed to this equivocation in saying that eliminative materialists “claim that giving up the belief that we have beliefs is analogous to giving up the belief in a flat earth or sunsets.”6

     The eliminative approach to reconciling our science-based beliefs with our (hard-core) common-sense beliefs, accordingly, does not work, because it involves a self-contradiction between two types of beliefs: those contained in the theory and those inevitably presupposed in practice, including the practice of advocating eliminative materialism.


The Source of the Problem: The Modern View of Matter

     In spite of the fact that eliminative materialism is self-contradictory, its emergence as one of the major responses to the mind-body problem is a significant development. The recent period has been very important for the discussion of the mind-body problem for two reasons. First, partly due to the idea that the relation of a computer to its “software” provides a model (sometimes called “functionalism”) for thinking of the relation between a brain and its mind,6 there has been a veritable explosion of interest in the mind-body problem. Second, arguably the most important result of this ferment has been a growing realization that, given the modern assumption about the nature of matter, no solution that does justice to our commonsense assumptions is possible.  

     The modern assumption about matter is that it, at least in its most elementary forms, is wholly devoid of experience (sentience) and spontaneity. Given this assumption, there are two options: dualism and materialism. According to dualism, the mind is (1) numerically distinct from, and (2) ontologically different in kind from, the body. The dualist’s mind, being distinct from the brain, provides a locus for conscious freedom. But dualists have never been able to explain, at least if they reject supernaturalist answers, how mind and body, being different in kind, could interact.

   Materialism, according to which nothing nonmaterial or nonphysical exists, says that the mind is in some sense identical with the brain. While readily admitting that this “identism” could not be reconciled with our commonsense beliefs about freedom, most materialists in earlier times were confident that they could at least explain how conscious experience can be identical with the insentient neurons comprising the brain. In recent decades, however, many materialists gravitated toward eliminative materialism, which, by denying the reality of experience, denies that there is anything to explain, or else agnostic materialism, which says that, although we cannot deny the reality of experience, we will never be able to explain how it arises. Both views are admissions of defeat, saying that we cannot reconcile our scientific with our commonsense beliefs.


The Theological Basis for the Modern View of Matter

     The assumption behind this whole discussion is that the modern view of matter, according to which its ultimate units are devoid of experience and spontaneity—henceforth called the “mechanistic” view of matter—is a scientific belief. But this mechanistic conception of matter is not scientific in the sense of being based upon empirical facts. It had its origin, instead, in theory, especially in a theory that was used to support three theological ideas: the existence of a supernatural deity, the view that Christian miracles were genuinely miraculous because they required supernatural intervention, and the immortality of the soul. 

     It is this last use of the mechanistic idea of matter that is especially relevant to our present concerns. This mechanistic idea proved useful in the 17th and 18th century against those who advocated mortal-ism—the doctrine that when the body dies, so does the soul. The view of matter as inert, wholly devoid of any experience and spontaneity, was used against the mortalists to argue that there is obviously something in us—which we call our “mind” or “soul”—that is different in kind from matter. If the human soul is different in kind from the matter composing the body, the fact that the body decays at death is no reason to think that the soul will also cease to exist.

     This argument is used to this day. For example, John Hick, in a chapter defending dualism as a basis for belief in life after death, says: 

Intuitively, it seems odd that of two realities whose careers have been carried on in continuous interaction, one should be mortal and the other immortal. But it also seems, intuitively, odd to deny that of two independent realities of basically different kinds, one might be capable of surviving the other.8   

     This dualistic solution to the threat of mortalism, of course, created another problem, which was how mind and body, if they be wholly different in kind, could interact. Matter was said to occupy space in an impenetrable way, mind was not. Matter was said to operate entirely by efficient causation of a mechanical type—by pushing and being pushed—whereas mind was said to operate by final causation—being moved by intangible things such as ideas and ideals. How minds could affect bodies composed of matter was as mysterious as how such bodies could affect minds.

     The unintelligibility of mind-body interaction is usually considered the basic problem of Descartes’ dualism, to which he admitted having no solution. In a recent reinterpretation of Descartes’ dualism, however, Gordon Baker and Katherine Morris have argued convincingly that this unintelligibility of dualistic interaction was not something that Descartes only grudgingly admitted. Rather, it was part and parcel of his position, which was that mind and body can influence each other only because this relationship has been ordained by God.9

     This appeal to divine omnipotence to render the mind-body relation somewhat intelligible was more explicitly made by subsequent thinkers.  Male-branche, bringing out explicitly the “occasionalism” or “occasionalist interactionism” that Baker and Morris show to be Descartes’ real position, said that mind and matter could not really interact. They appear to interact because God causes them to do so: Upon the occasion of my hand being on the hot stove, God causes me to feel pain; then, upon the occasion of my decision to move my hand, God causes my hand to move. Closely related is the doctrine of “parallelism,” according to which God, in creating the world, had preordained that mind and body would run along parallel with each other, only appearing to interact. Some theists, such as Thomas Reid, held the more straightforward view that God, being omnipotent, could simply make unlike things interact. 

     In the seventeenth century, the fact that dualism required an appeal to God to explain the (at least apparent) interaction of mind and body could be considered a point it its favor, because it provided evidence for the existence of a supernatural deity. Speaking of Descartes’ version of this appeal to God, Baker and Morris wrote:   

It is ironic that one common criticism of Des-cartes’ dualism points to the a priori impossibility of his explaining mind-body interaction. This is precisely his doctrine, not a problem for it.10 


The Predictability of the Present Impasse

     Although Baker and Morris are surely correct historically, from the standpoint of more recent sensibilities it seems unfortunate to have to appeal to supernatural power to explain something that seems so natural. William James illustrated the change in sensibilities by commenting derisively, in relation to Descartes’ view: “For thinkers of that age, ‘God’ was the great solvent of all absurdities.”11 This new sensibility, with its unwillingness to accept supernaturalist solutions to philosophical problems, began developing in France in the eighteenth century, with the result that the mind-body relation became the mind-body problem. In his article on the soul-body relation in the Encyclopaedia, for example, Diderot said of soul-body interaction that it is “a fact which we cannot put in question but whose details are completely hidden from us.”12 This agnostic admission of inexplicability would become increas-ingly prevalent. 

     The fact that the mechanistic doctrine resulted in this impasse, however, has not led many thinkers, especially in the English-speaking world, to question it. Forgetting that this view of matter was originally adopted for primarily theological reasons, scientists and philosophers simply accepted it as “the scientific view” and therefore as beyond question. Other views were impatiently dismissed with such epithets as “mystical,” “anti-scientific,” and “implausible.”

     However, given our present historical under-standing, we can see that the dead-end reached by both dualists and materialists was predictable. The fact that materialism’s attempt to overcome dualism has failed should be no surprise, because the mechanistic view of matter was formulated partly to show the need for a mind or soul different in kind from the body’s constituents. Likewise, the fact that the interaction of conscious experience and brain processes cannot be rendered intelligible within a naturalistic framework should be no surprise, because the mechanistic view of matter was formulated partly to show the need for a supernatural agent to explain this (apparent) interaction. 

     The above points will now be illustrated by some recent discussions of the mind-body problem.  In the next section, I look at dualism as exemplified by three prominent exponents in recent decades: Karl Popper, H. D. Lewis, and Geoffrey Madell. In the third section, on materialism, I examine the positions of John Searle and Colin McGinn.   


2. Dualism's Difficulties

     The strength of dualism, in comparison with materialism, is that, by speaking of the mind as numerically distinct from the brain, it provides a basis for explaining two major features of our experience: its unity and its freedom.

     With regard to the unity of consciousness, some materialists candidly admit this to be a problem for their identification of the mind with the brain. Thomas Nagel, for example, says that “the unity of consciousness, even if it is not complete, poses a problem for the theory that mental states are states of something as complex as a brain.”13

     Eliminative materialists try to avoid this problem by saying that the unity of experience is an illusion. Daniel Dennett, for example, says that the head contains billions of “miniagents and microagents (with no single Boss)” and “that’s all that’s going on.”14 If that were a correct description, however, even the appearance of unity would be a mystery. John Searle is more candid: Besides including “unity” as one of the “structures of consciousness” (which he illustrates by pointing out that one can have experiences of a rose, a couch, and a toothache “all as experiences that are part of one and the same conscious event”), he admits: “We have little understanding of how the brain achieves this unity.”15  

     Dualists avoid this problem by saying that the mind is a full-fledged actuality, numerically distinct from the brain. John Eccles, for example, said that “the unity of conscious experience is provided by the self-conscious mind, not by the neural machinery.”16 

     With regard to the other major feature of our conscious experience, the freedom that we all presuppose in practice, the dualist position is again superior to materialism. Materialists find it difficult to affirm freedom because, if there are simply billions of microagents, but no overall “Boss,” we could not make self-determining responses to the influences upon us. Dualism, however, says that, besides the billions of microagents constituting the brain, there is another agent, distinct from the brain, which we call the mind or soul. Being a single individual, it provides a locus for the freedom we all presuppose.

     This freedom, furthermore, is usually not limited to the power to determine our own mental states. Dualists generally also attribute to the mind the power to influence its body.

     Those dualists who do not attribute this power to the mind are known as epiphenomenalists. They maintain that, although the body can influence the mind, the mind is simply a nonefficacious byproduct of the brain, with no power to influence the brain in return. Although epiphenomenalism was at one time quite prevalent, most philosophers nowadays reject it, saying that the efficacy of conscious experience for bodily behavior is too obvious to deny. William Seager, for example, observes that this efficacy “presents the aspect of a datum rather than a disputable hypothesis.”17 And John Searle, including “the reality and efficacy of consciousness” among obvious facts about our minds, says that it is “crazy to say that . . . my beliefs and desires don’t play any role in my behavior.”18

     Most dualists agree, as shown by the fact that “dualism” is usually equated with “interactionism,” according to which mind and body act on each other. 


Popper and Eccles

     At this point, however, dualists encounter difficulties: Although they may affirm interactionism, they have to admit that they cannot explain how mind and body can influence each other.

     One example is provided by Karl Popper, one of the twentieth century’s most influential philosophers of science. At one time, Popper assumed that an explanation would be forthcoming, saying in an early book:  

What we want is to understand how such nonphysical things as purposes, deliberations, plans, decisions, theories, tensions, and values can play a part in bringing about physical changes in the physical world.19  

But in a later book, The Self and the Brain: An Argument for Interactionism, Popper in effect admitted failure by trying to minimize the importance of the once-urgent problem: “Complete under-standing, like complete knowledge,” he said, “is unlikely to be achieved.”20

     Insofar as Popper did try to explain how the mind’s efficacy upon its body is imaginable, he said: “I think that the self in a sense plays on the brain, as a pianist plays a piano.”21 Popper, however, had affirmed the self to be different in kind from the matter comprising the body, even accepting the pejorative description of dualism as belief in “a ghost in the machine.”22 He surely realized that a physical-physical (finger-piano key) relation can provide no help whatsoever in understanding the possibility of a mental-physical relation. 

     Subsequently, the coauthor of The Self and the Brain, John Eccles, claimed to have solved the problem in a book entitled How the Self Controls Its Brain. He was able to make this claim, however, only because he identified the problem to be solved as that of avoiding a violation of the law of the conservation of energy.23 Although Eccles recognized that “[s]elf-brain dualism demands primarily two authentic orders of existents with completely inde-pendent ontologies,”24 he ignored the conceptual problem of how two such orders of existents could interact. 


H. D. Lewis

     For another example of agnostic dualism, we can examine the position of H. D. Lewis, as articulated in two books titled The Elusive Self and The Elusive Mind. There is no doubt that Lewis, besides making a numerical distinction between the self (or mind) and the brain, thought of this distinction as involving an ontological dualism. He spoke of the importance of showing “how radical is the difference we must draw between mental states or processes, on the one hand, and material or physical states, on the other, including one’s own bodily states,” adding that the “finality of this distinction seems to me to be the essence of what is usually understood by the term dualism.”25 Explicitly aligning himself with Descartes, for whom spatial extension constituted the essence of the physical as distinct from the mental, Lewis spoke of a “non-spatial purpose” as able to “bring about a physical change.”26 He said that “the obvious divide from which dualism takes its course” is that between things with and without sentience.27

     That absolute divide was not so problematic in Descartes’ time, when it was assumed that sentient and insentient things had both been created by God ex nihilo. Given the evolutionary perspective of our time, however, this idea of an absolute line between sentient and insentient beings raises new questions.

     One of these is the question of exactly where to draw this absolute line. The most extreme view would be to draw the line at human beings, saying that all other animals are mere machines, with no feelings—the view that is usually attributed to Descartes. Most dualists draw the line much further down. Wherever it be drawn, however, it is arbitrary. Some say that sentience exists when there is a central nervous system; having such a system, however, is not an all-or-none affair, but a matter of degree. Some dualists suppose that sentience emerges with the rise of life, but where exactly is that? Are we to say that eukaryotic cells are sentient but that prokaryotic cells are not? Or, if we include the latter, what is the reason for excluding the virus, which has some of the properties traditionally used to characterize “living” things? And, if we extend sentience to the virus, then why exclude macro-molecules such as DNA and RNA, which, the early view of them as little machines notwithstanding, have been found to have remarkable organismic properties? 

     Both the evolutionary perspective and the empirical observation of the world, in short, suggest continuity, whereas dualism presupposes that at some point an absolutely new type of actuality emerged: one with experience. Dualism says: Up to that point a purely mechanistic, externalist descrip-tion can adequately account for the behavior of things, but at that point, a radically new principle of behavior suddenly comes into existence.

     Lewis affirmed this view, while recognizing its difficulty, writing: 

In the long history of our planet, . . . a point must have been reached where, out of dispositions of non-sentient physical matter, there emerged—how or why need not concern us now—an entirely new ingredient of sentient existence. . . .  The question just when . . . is one we must leave mainly to the scientist. . . .  It may in some cases be exceptionally difficult to draw the line. . . .  The philosopher as such cannot settle this.  He can only affirm . . . that at some point response and behavior ceases to be reasonably explicable without recourse to some element of at least sentient existence. . . . [I]t is new and incapable of being accounted for plausibly in the same terms as the physical explanation which was exhaustive up to that point.28  

This same sudden appearance of sentience that occurred at some point in the evolutionary process, Lewis said, must also be posited in relation to every human being: “One has no reason to suppose that an unfertilised ovum or the sperm which reaches it has any kind of sentience. . . . But at some point, presumably before actual birth, it must happen.”29    

     Besides the problem of exactly where to draw the absolute line between the insentient and the sentient, there is a second problem—the insoluble problem of how the emergence of the sentient out of the insentient could occur. Lewis admitted that he had no answer, saying, simply: “The mystery of how the change comes about is another matter.”

     In addition to these problems involving emergence, furthermore, there is the original problem of how, once the mind or sentience has emerged, it can interact with its wholly insentient bodily members. Like Popper, Lewis sought to belittle this problem, which he did by appealing to Hume’s understanding of causation.  Hume had said that, given an empiricist approach to defining terms (according to which all concepts, to be intelligible, must be rooted in our immediate experience), we have no understanding of causation as real influence, according to which one thing or event actually brings about another. Our notion of causation, Hume maintained, is exhausted by the idea of “constant conjunction,” meaning that one kind of event, which we call the “effect,” constantly comes right after another kind of event, which we call the “cause.” Given this understanding of what the concept “causation” means, Hume added, we have no basis upon which to dictate a priori what kinds of events can be linked in cause-effect relations.

     Lewis sought to exploit this point to minimize the damage done to dualism by the fact that it speaks of causal interaction between unlike kinds of things. He first stated the problem, writing: 

How does the mind send its message to the body, and how does the body instruct the mind? These are, of course, questions to which no answer is ever given, the alleged ‘transactions’ ‘remain mysterious’, as Ryle puts it. . . . The conclusion we are expected then to draw is that the influence of distinct mental processes on physical ones, and vice versa, is a wholly fictitious one.29  

“There is, however,” Lewis then added, “little in these arguments or their implications to cause us serious anxiety.” With an appeal to Hume, he said: “We find that things behave in a certain way.”30

     Pointing out that the difficulty of understanding dualistic interaction is based on the acceptance of the assumption that “like is caused by like,” Lewis wrote:  

Descartes himself could get out of the difficulties presented by his special views about causation by insisting that God could cause anything he liked to be related. There is not, in any case, any need for us to follow Descartes at all points in order to accept the substance of his interactionist theory.31    

     Lewis could avoid this resort to supernaturalism, he believed, by his resort to the Humean analysis of causation, which allows us to avoid the assumption that cause and effect must share “a common nature”: 

We do not in the last resort explain causal relations, except in the sense of unfolding in greater detail the way things do in fact behave. To seek for an explanation of causal relations . . . , to try to pass to some level beyond that of the way in which we find in fact that things do behave, is to follow the wildest will o’ the wisp; and no philosopher should be so led astray today. . . . All we can say is that the state of our minds influences our bodies in certain ways, and that the state of my body affects my mind. Why this should happen we do not know. . . . We must be contented to accept what we find.32  

     On this basis, Lewis claimed that causal relations between mind and body create no more problems than do causal relations in general. “The alleged influence of mind on body, then, is indeed remarkable. But in a way so are all other causal relations.”33

     Accordingly, he suggested, “there is nothing in the last resort more perplexing or astonishing about my mental processes affecting the movements of my body than about a flame consuming the paper to which it is applied.”34 In response to Bernard Williams’ criticism of Descartes’ position, Lewis argued:  

We may indeed admit that there is “something deeply mysterious about the interaction which Descartes’s theory required between two items of totally disparate natures. . . .” But it is no more mysterious than many other things which we find in fact to be the case, and it is somewhat unfair for this reason to speak of “the obscurity of the idea that immaterial mind could move any physical thing.” “Obscurity” . . . suggests that there is something which should be made plain. But there is a limit to explanation and a point where we just have to accept things as we find them to be.35

     At most, Lewis said, the mystery of how mind can influence body is, in comparison with the mystery involved in other causal relations, greater only in degree.36  The mystery involved in mind-brain interaction, he concluded, is no reason to reject dualism. 

     There are, however, three problems in Lewis’ argument.

     The first problem is that, in comparing the mystery involved in dualism’s mind-body interaction with other mysteries, he failed to distinguish between natural and artificial mysteries. The world is full of natural mysteries, such as how our universe began, how evolution proceeded (expressed in the question as to which came first, the chicken or the egg), and how spiders know how to spin their webs. These may be permanent mysteries, to which human beings will never know the answers.

     They are different in kind, in any case, from artificial mysteries, which are created purely by human conceptions or definitions. The traditional problem of evil, for example, is created purely by the human idea that the creator of our universe is not only perfectly good but also all-powerful, in the literal sense of essentially possessing all the power. The modern mind-body problem, likewise, is created by the conception of the physical world, including our physical bodies, as comprised of “matter,” the ultimate units of which are devoid of experience and spontaneity. The fact that many natural mysteries may permanently exceed our capacities for understanding is no excuse for resting content with insoluble mysteries of the artificial type, which we have created by our own conceptions. 

     The second problem with Lewis’ position is that he arguably did not heed his own advice. He rightly asked, rhetorically: “would it not be better for philosophers, rather than trying to explain away or discredit extra-ordinary facts of experience, to stop and wonder at them and their possible further implications?”37 This is precisely one of the reasons for affirming panexperientialism: We realize that mind and body do interact. We realize, further, that if they were different in kind, this interaction would be impossible—at least apart from, in Whitehead’s words, “an appeal to a deus ex machina . . . capable of rising superior to the difficulties of metaphysics.”38 The “further implications” of these realizations would seem to be that the mechanistic view of matter must be untrue and that, insofar as we rightly reject the idealist view that the physical world is not really real, panexperientialism must be true. 

     Lewis, by contrast, took the “further implications” to be the truth of the Humean view that wholly unlike things, with no common nature, must be capable of causal interaction.

     This conclusion, however, brings us to a third problem: Although Lewis affirmed the Humean conclusion, that there is no good reason to stipulate a priori that only things with a common nature can causally interact, he rejected the Humean under-standing of causation upon which this conclusion was based. Hume, as mentioned earlier, defined causation as nothing but regularity of succession. He thereby denied that we have any empirical basis for thinking of efficient causation in terms of a real influence of the cause upon the effect. Lewis, however, did not accept this Humean understanding. He spoke instead of “the influence of distinct mental processes on physical ones” and of minds as having the “power of affecting physical things.”39

     Lewis was right to reject the Humean view of causation: We do experience causation as the real influence of one thing upon another—specifically, as the influence of our bodies upon our experience and of our decisions upon our bodies. In rejecting Hume’s analysis of causation, however, Lewis forfeited the right to retain its implication that cause and effect need have nothing in common. 

     Lewis’ treatment of dualism, in sum, is important in two respects. First, he illustrated the point that dualists, if they eschew the appeal to supernatural causation, must regard several aspects of the mind-body relation as wholly mysterious, especially when and how mind emerged out of purely physical processes and how, once it did emerge, it could interact with the body. Second, like Popper, Lewis provided no good reason to say that these insoluble mysteries should not count against the truth of the dualistic metaphysic. 


Geoffrey Madell

     Another dualist, Geoffrey Madell, was more willing to admit this. Assuming—as do virtually all dualists and materialists—that dualism and materialism constitute the only two real options, he began his Mind and Materialism  by saying: “Sympathy with the underlying motivation behind materialism must rest in part on an appreciation of the difficulties which any dualist position confronts.”40 Then, in speaking more concretely of these difficulties, he said that “it is admitted on all sides that the nature of the causal connection between the mental and the physical, as the Cartesian conceives of it, is utterly mysterious.” Explicitly rejecting the way of softening this problem attempted by Lewis, Madell said that even the Humean view of causation cannot dissolve “the oddity of the claim that it is in the brain and in the brain only that perfectly ordinary physical processes have the power to produce something utterly unlike themselves, namely, immaterial states.”42

     Madell, like Lewis, included the first emergence of mind as part of this mystery, saying that “the appearance of consciousness in the course of evolution must appear for the dualist to be an utterly inexplicable emergence of something entirely new, an emergence which must appear quite bizarre.” Like Lewis, furthermore, Madell said the same for the emergence of sentience in each human: “A parallel emergence occurs, the dualist claims, in the course of the development of the embryo, but it is an event of equal inexplicability.”43   

     Madell referred to his book rightly as “a limited and qualified defence of dualism.”44 Seeing the difficulties he acknowledged, however, one might well wonder why he defended it at all.

     The answer, which most of his book was devoted to supporting, is that whatever the problems of dualism, those of materialism are far worse. This current orthodoxy—materialism—he said, involves a doctrine that is “totally mysterious where it is not simply incredible.” On that basis, he concluded that “interactionist dualism looks to be by far the only plausible framework in which the facts of our experience can be fitted.”45 His argument for dualism, in other words, was primarily negative: Materialism is false, therefore dualism must be true. After his statement that he was offering only “a limited and qualified defence of dualism,” he said: “The very factors which, to my mind, make materialism impossible to accept, point strongly towards some sort of dualist position.”46  The assumption, again, is that only these two positions are live options.  

     Madell did briefly mention a third position, panpsychism, but he dismissed it in one sentence, saying that it does not have “any explanation to offer as to why or how mental properties cohere with physical”47—a charge that at best applies only to certain versions of panpsychism. Madell showed no signs of having examined the writings of any actual advocates of panpsychism, referring instead, like most other contemporary philosophers, only to the version that Thomas Nagel described, which is a Spinozistic version, according to which all things, including all aggregational things such as rocks, have a mental aspect as well as a physical aspect. One would think that, given the manifold difficulties that Madell pointed out in both dualism and materialism, this third alternative should have been examined more seriously.

     There is, in fact, a version of it that (unlike the Spinozistic version) agrees with Madell that the falsity of materialism points to the truth of “some sort of dualist position.” That is, if by “dualism” one is referring simply to the numerical distinction between mind and brain, then the Whiteheadian version of panpsychism, which is better called panexperientialism,48 is a “sort of dualist posi-tion,”49 because it involves interaction between mind and brain. It thereby avoids the problems caused by materialism’s equation of mind and brain. 

     We have seen, in sum, that there is a growing acknowledgment among dualists themselves that dualism contains insoluble problems, at least within a naturalistic framework, and that the only reason for continuing to hold it is the supposition that materialism, which has even greater problems, is the only serious alternative.

     As we will see in the next section, contemporary materialists are increasingly admitting that their own position also contains insoluble problems. They continue to affirm it, however, because they believe dualism, which they see as having even greater problems, is the only alternative.   


3.  Materialism’s Mysteries

     In examining recent discussions of the mind-body problem by defenders of materialism, I will evaluate its adequacy in terms of the same three (hard-core) commonsense beliefs: the existence of conscious experience, its efficacy for bodily behavior, and its freedom, beginning with the issue of freedom.

     One of the strengths of dualism, as we saw, is that it provides a basis for taking at face value our presupposition that we exercise a significant degree of freedom. One of the problems created by materialism is that, by identifying the mind with the brain or some aspect thereof, it removes that basis. We will examine this issue in the writings of philosopher John Searle. 


Searle on the Scientific Impossibility of Freedom

     In a book entitled Minds, Brains, and Science, Searle described the mind-body (or mind-brain) problem as “the question of how we reconcile a certain traditional mentalistic conception that we have of ourselves with an apparently inconsistent conception of the universe as a purely physical system.”50 The problem, more specifically, is this: “We think of ourselves as conscious, free, mindful, rational agents in a world that science tells us consists entirely of mindless, meaningless, physical particles.”51

     Particularly important for our purposes is Searle’s claim that the problem is caused by what “science tells us.” From Searle’s perspective, in other words, the late modern worldview, with its materialistic reductionism, is not merely a philosophical interpre-tation that has been associated with science for contingent historical reasons. In spite of all the recent reflection upon the fact that theories are always “underdetermined” by the empirical evi-dence, Searle holds that this late modern worldview is dictated by scientific evidence. Because of this conviction, he believes science to be in conflict with common sense. 

     As we saw earlier, Searle is critical of the way in which some of his fellow materialists have accom-modated common sense to science. Insofar as eliminative materialism rejects the existence of conscious beliefs and the efficacy of these beliefs for bodily behavior, he rejects it as obviously absurd. Searle believes that these two (hard-core) commonsense beliefs can be reconciled with the scientific worldview, as he understands it. Many fellow materialists do not think that Searle’s efforts in this regard are successful, as we will see below.

     For now, however, we will focus on freedom, the third of our hard-core commonsense beliefs, which even Searle does not find reconcilable with materialism—the doctrine he believes to be entailed by “the scientific worldview” or simply “science.”  Searle has stated this conflict forthrightly: 

Our conception of ourselves as free agents is fundamental to our overall self-conception.  Now, ideally, I would like to be able to keep both my commonsense conceptions and my scientific beliefs. . . . [W]hen it comes to the question of freedom and determinism, I am . . . unable to reconcile the two.52  

     In calling our conception of ourselves as free agents a “commonsense conception,” Searle meant exactly what I mean by a “hard-core commonsense belief.” He said, for example, that no matter how many arguments against free will may be marshaled by philosophers, including himself, we cannot really give up this idea—it is “impossible for us to abandon the belief in the freedom of the will.”53 Using the ideas of “a flat Earth” and “sunsets” as examples, he pointed out that it is possible to give up either of these commonsense convictions, “because the hypothesis that replaces it both accounts for the experiences that led to that conviction in the first place as well as explaining a whole lot of other facts that the commonsense view is unable to account for.” Searle here referred to what, in my terminology, are soft-core commonsense convictions.

     But then Searle pointed to a different type of commonsense belief, saying that “we can’t similarly give up the conviction of freedom because that conviction is built into every normal, conscious, intentional action.”54 Spelling out this point, he wrote:  

Reflect very carefully on the character of the experiences you have as you engage in normal, everyday ordinary human actions. You will sense the possibility of alternative courses of action built into these experiences. Raise your arm or walk across the room or take a drink of water, and you will see that at any point in the experience you have a sense of alternative courses of action open to you.55   

     Searle pointed out, thereby, that the kind of common sense involved in our belief in freedom is different in kind from the kind of common sense involved in the belief that the Earth is flat: 

We don’t navigate the earth on the assumption of a flat earth, even though the earth looks flat, but we do act on the assumption of freedom. In fact we can’t act otherwise than on the assumption of freedom, no matter how much we learn about how the world works as a determined physical system.56  

     To understand Searle’s position, it is important to see that he is speaking of freedom in the real, or libertarian, sense of the word, not in the Pickwickian sense accepted by many philosophers, according to which freedom is said to be compatible with physical determinism. The distinction can be clarified in terms of Searle’s statement, quoted above, that “you have a sense of alternative courses of action open to you.”  According to the compatibilist rendering of freedom, you may have a sense that you have alternative courses, but you do not, really:  Although you may think that you made a genuine “decision,” cutting off alternative possibilities, in fact the antecedent conditions dictated exactly the course of events that ensued.

     For Searle, by contrast, the freedom that we all presuppose in practice implies an affirmative answer to the question, “Could we have done otherwise, all other conditions remaining the same?”57 This point is important, Searle stressed, because “the belief that we could have done things differently from the way we did in fact do them. . . connects with beliefs about moral responsibility and our own nature as persons.”58

     However, although Searle’s position on freedom as a (hard-core) commonsense belief is the same as mine, he does not take commonsense beliefs in this sense to be the ultimate criteria for a philosophical theory. He gives that role, instead, to the contemporary scientific conception of the world, which he simply calls “science.” He therefore concludes that our belief in freedom must be an illusion, in spite of its being ineradicable.59 To see why he is led to this paradoxical conclusion, we must see what it is, in his view, that “science tells us” about the world.

     We got a glimpse of Searle’s view about this in statements quoted at the outset of this section, in which he referred to “the universe as a purely physical system” and “a world that science tells us consists entirely of mindless, meaningless, physical particles.”60

     These statements reflect the standard modern conception, shared with dualists, according to which the ultimate units of the world are “purely physical” in the sense of being devoid of experience or sentience (“mindless”). The dualist’s position is rejected, however, by the insistence that the world consists “entirely” of such particles. Indeed, Searle endorsed what he called “naive physicalism,” defined as “the view that all that exists in the world are physical particles with their properties and relations.”61 Pointedly rejecting the dualist’s distinction between the brain and the mind, Searle said of the human head that “the brain is the only thing in there.”62 Indeed, Searle wrote of this as an item of “knowledge”—one of those things that, thanks to science, “we know for sure.”63 Far from being a property of a distinct mind, “consciousness is just an ordinary biological, that is, physical, feature of the brain.”64

     Given this conception of the world, it follows that, if we are to consider freedom to be real, we must be able to attribute it to the brain. That, however, is impossible: “Science,” Searle wrote, “allows no place for freedom of the will.” That assertion leads to the next question: “Why exactly is there no room for the freedom of the will on the contemporary scientific view?”65

     The first part of Searle’s answer is the claim that the world consists entirely of physical particles. From this it follows that everything that happens must be caused by these particles, which implies that there is nothing that really acts freely: 

Since nature consists of particles and their relations with each other, and since everything can be accounted for in terms of those particles and their relations, there is simply no room for freedom of the will.66  

     Searle’s argument, more exactly, is that according to science, all explanation is in terms of bottom-up causation: “Our basic explanatory mechanisms in physics work from the bottom up.”67 The scientific worldview, Searle insisted, entails that this mode of explanation is to be used not only for the objects of physics in the narrow sense, but for all phenomena, and this point rules out freedom: 

As long as we accept the bottom-up conception of physical explanation, and it is a conception on which the past three hundred years of science are based, the psychological facts about ourselves, like any other higher level facts, are entirely causally explicable in terms of . . . elements at the fundamental micro-physical level. Our conception of physical reality simply does not allow for radical freedom [by which Searle means freedom in the libertarian, noncompatibilist sense].68  

     Searle was factually in error in saying that this has been the conception “on which the past three hundred years of science are based.” As we have seen, this totally reductionistic view came to be associated with science only in the latter half of the nineteenth century (except in France, where this transition occurred a century earlier). Prior to that, science was associated with the dualistic view, which emphatically did not accept a reductionist view of human beings, according to which their behavior was to be explained wholly in bottom-up terms. Searle’s point would be largely correct, however, if it were modified to speak of “the past one hundred and fifty years of science.” 

     One might argue, in any case, that Searle seemed to be presupposing an outmoded view of physics, according to which it reveals absolute determinism at the micro-level, whereas quantum physics now speaks of indeterminacy, which arguably betokens an element of spontaneity at the lowest level of nature. It is possible, one could suggest, that this indeter-minacy at the quantum level becomes magnified in the human brain, with its extreme complexity, accounting for the freedom that we all presuppose in practice.

     Searle’s retort to this suggestion constitutes a second point in his argument.  Quantum indeter-minacy is irrelevant, he asserted, because “the statistical indeterminacy at the level of particles does not show any indeterminacy at the level of the objects that matter to us—human  bodies, for example.”69 Searle here referred to what is often called “the law of large numbers,” according to which indeterminacy at the level of the elementary units gets canceled out in objects comprised of large numbers of these units. For example, although there may be some indeterminacy in the electrons, protons, and neutrons of which a billiard ball is composed, these indeterminacies cancel each other out, so that the billiard ball itself operates in a completely deterministic, predictable manner. A human body should operate in equally deterministic manner. 

     At this point, however, Searle’s critic might argue that Searle is presupposing a false analogy, as if a human being were organized in the same way as a billiard ball. The critic could begin by pointing out that Searle begs the question by speaking of “a human body.” There is no doubt but what a human body, in the sense of a corpse, is analogous to a billiard ball. The question at issue, however, should be whether a living, conscious human being is also analogous to a billiard ball, and here the answer is clearly No: The human being, by virtue of its conscious experience, is able to be a self-determining organism, thereby different in principle from a billiard ball or a corpse.

     Moreover, Searle’s critic could continue, the human being’s mind or conscious experience makes indeterminacy at the quantum level relevant to the question of freedom. We are not to suppose that the indeterminacies of the trillions of particles in the brain somehow magically combine on their own to produce the high-level freedom that we know ourselves to have. Rather, the relevance of quantum indeterminacy is that, because the elementary particles comprising the brain are not rigidly determined, the mind can influence them. In this way, we can understand how we are responsible, as we presuppose, not only for our decisions, but also for our bodily behavior. 

     Part of Searle’s response to this objection has already been anticipated by citing his denial that there is anything in the head except the brain: By rejecting the existence of a mind distinct from the brain, he implied that a conscious human being is structurally no different from those aggregational objects in which the macro-properties are fully determined by the behavior of particles at the micro-level.  He, in fact, said this explicitly: Directly after the above-quoted comment that “our basic explanatory mechanisms in physics work from the bottom up,” he continued: 

That is to say, we explain the behaviour of surface features of a phenomenon, such as the transparency of glass or the liquidity of water, in terms of the behaviour of microparticles such as molecules. And the relation of the mind to the brain is an example of such a relation.70    

Conscious experience, in other words, is an “emergent property” of the brain in the same way that liquidity, solidity, and transparency are emergent properties of water, ice, and glass, respectively. In each case, the emergent properties “have to be explained in terms of the causal interactions among the elements.”71 

     Accordingly, everything about the mind, including each of its seemingly free decisions, is fully determined by the behavior of the molecules in the brain. Searle, in discussing the mind as emergent from the brain, specifically denies that the mind, once it emerges, has any degree of freedom to determine its own states, such as its decisions, with which it could then influence its body: 

A feature F is emergent2 iff [meaning “if and only if”] F is emergent1 and F has causal powers that cannot be explained by the causal interactions of a, b, c. . . .  If consciousness were emergent2, then consciousness could cause things that could not be explained by the causal behavior of the neurons. The naive idea here is that consciousness gets squirted out by the behavior of the neurons in the brain, but once it has been squirted out, it then has a life of its own. . . .  [O]n my view, consciousness is emergent1, but not emergent2.72  

     It might seem that this denial that consciousness contains an element of spontaneity, which then guides the body, contradicts Searle’s affirmation that “one’s desires, as mental phenomena, conscious or unconscious, are real causal phenomena,” and also his statement, quoted above, that it is “crazy to say” our beliefs play no role in our behavior.73

     But Searle’s position is that, although there really is top-down causation from the mind to the brain, everything in the mind, in terms of which it exercises this downward causation, had been previously determined by bottom-up causation from the body. His position, therefore, is not explicitly self-contradictory, because his affirmation of top-down causation does not mean an affirmation of freedom: 

[T]he top-down causation works only because the mental events are grounded in the neurophysio-logy to start with. So, corresponding to the description of the causal relations that go from the top to the bottom, there is another description of the same series of events where the causal relations bounce entirely along the bottom, that is, they are entirely a matter of neurons and neuron firings at synapses, etc. As long as we accept this conception of how nature works, then it doesn’t seem that there is any scope for the freedom of the will because on this conception the mind can only affect nature in so far as it is a part of nature. But if so, then like the rest of nature, its features are determined at the basic microlevels of physics.74  

     In saying that the mind is “a part of nature,” Searle meant that it is a physical state of the brain. This allowed him to make two points at once: that the mind is totally determined by the particles in the brain, and that the mind is part of the chain of physical causes and effects.75

     If one were, by contrast, to try to allow some freedom to the mind by saying that it is not simply a physical state of the brain but an emergent mental entity that is distinct from the brain, Searle would bring out his provocative version of the standard argument against dualistic causation: 

[I]f our thoughts and feelings are truly mental, how can they affect anything physical? How could something mental make a physical difference? Are we supposed to think that our thoughts and feelings can somehow produce chemical effects on our brains and the rest of our nervous system? How could such a thing occur? Are we supposed to think that thoughts can wrap themselves around the axons or shake the dendrites or sneak inside the cell wall and attack the cell nucleus?76  

     Searle also rejected the suggestion that quantum indeterminacy would somehow allow a mind distinct from the brain to influence it: 

[I]t doesn’t follow from the fact that particles are only statistically determined that the human mind can force the statistically-determined particles to swerve from their paths. Indeterminism is no evidence that there is or could be some mental energy of human freedom that can move molecules.77   

     Searle, accordingly, closed every possible opening for conceiving our felt freedom as genuine. He was thereby left with an irreconcilable contradiction between science (as he conceives it), on the one hand, and our ineradicable commonsense conviction of freedom, on the other hand. Faced with this choice, he assumed that “the contemporary scientific view” was more to be trusted, so that our feeling of freedom must be an illusion—a view he shares with other materialists.78 

     Searle realized, however, that this solution is unsatisfactory, because our conviction of freedom is so strong that “neither this discussion nor any other will ever convince us that our behavior is unfree.” This is so, as Searle said (in previously quoted remarks), because “the conviction of freedom . . . is built into every normal, conscious, intentional action,” so “we can’t act otherwise than on the assumption of freedom.”79 In verbally denying freedom, therefore, Searle is at the same time implicitly affirming its reality, meaning that his denial of freedom is self-refuting. As the previous quotation from John Passmore explained: “The proposition p is absolutely self-refuting, if to assert p is equivalent to asserting both p and not-p.”

     The self-contradictory position into which Searle felt forced led him to express his confidence that “in our entire philosophical tradition we are making some fundamental mistake, or a set of fundamental mistakes in the whole discussion of the free will problem.”80 I believe, of course, that Searle is absolutely right about this. Before exploring the nature of these mistakes, however, we need to look further at the mysteries to which materialism leads. 


Kim and Searle on the Efficacy of Mentality for Bodily Behavior

     We have been asking whether materialism can do justice to three of our hard-core commonsense beliefs: the reality of conscious experience, the efficacy of this experience for bodily behavior, and the freedom of this experience and thereby of the resulting bodily behavior. Searle’s analysis has shown that materialism cannot do justice to our commonsense belief in freedom. With regard to the second belief, involving the efficacy of conscious intentions for bodily behavior, Searle and virtually everyone else agree that a position, to be adequate, must do justice to this belief.

     However, after years of effort devoted to this issue, Jaegwon Kim in Supervenience and Mind concluded that materialism, in regarding the micro-level studied by physics as causally sufficient for all phenomena, cannot really avoid epiphenomenalism, even though this means a reductio ad absurdum of the position.81 Because the form of materialism that Kim was seeking to defend, which insisted that all vertical causation must be upward,82 is the same as that articulated by Searle, Kim’s analysis suggests that Searle’s position does not really allow efficacy to be ascribed to mental causation, so that it is at least implicitly self-contradictory on this point.


The Emergence of Consciousness: Searle’s Position

     Although materialism cannot do justice to freedom and the efficacy of consciousness, most materialists have believed that it can at least do justice to the most obvious of our three commonsense beliefs, the fact that conscious experience itself exists. As Searle said, “if your theory results in the view that consciousness does not exist, you have already simply produced a reductio ad absurdum of the theory.”83

     Searle argued that, given the view that the world consists entirely of insentient physical particles, he could explain how consciousness has emerged. His answer, as we saw earlier in passing, was that conscious experience emerges out of certain states of the brain in the same way that liquidity emerges out certain states of H20 molecules, solidity out of different states, and so on. However, other philosophers, including some fellow materialists, have rightly argued that Searle’s argument does not work.

     One problem is that his analogies are not valid. To see this, it will help to have one of Searle’s concise statements of these analogies before us: 

Consciousness is a higher-level or emergent property of the brain in the utterly harmless sense of ‘higher-level’ or ‘emergent’ in which solidity is a higher-level emergent property of H20 molecules when they are in a lattice structure (ice), and liquidity is similarly a higher-level emergent property of H20 molecules when they are, roughly speaking, rolling around on each other (water). Consciousness is a mental, and therefore physical, property of the brain in the sense in which liquidity is a property of systems of molecules.84  

     Searle sometimes used the fashionable term “supervenience” in place of “emergence” to express this analogy, saying that consciousness is super-venient on certain neurophysiological states just as liquidity is supervenient on certain molecular states.

      William Seager, who held a similar form of materialism,85 pointed out that these two relations do not have the similarity that Searle had claimed. Having distinguished between constitutive superven-ience and merely correlative supervenience, Seager explained the difference thus: 

Roughly speaking, in cases of constitutive super-venience the dual evidence provided by a knowledge of a system’s basic components and their link to its behavior is decisive for ascription of the supervenient property. . . .  [I]t makes credible the idea that the joint activity of the various components, through their own causality, could reasonably be claimed to produce the system’s overall behavior.86  

For example, given our scientific knowledge of H20 molecules, we can understand why they would produce liquidity at one temperature and solidity at another temperature. We can understand, in other words, how liquidity and solidity can be constituted out of these molecules. The supervenience is hence constitutive. By contrast, nothing about the scientific knowledge of neurons gives the slightest clue as to why they, when combined together in a brain, should produce consciousness. This is merely correlative supervenience.

     In response, Searle agreed that, whereas the supervenience involved in all the analogies he employed is constitutive, all we have in the mind-brain relation is correlative (or what he called causal) supervenience, in which we say that the brain causes conscious experience to arise. Searle apparently did not realize that in agreeing with Seager’s critique, he had in effect admitted that his analogies, through which he hoped to show the emergence of conscious experience to be simply one more example of a familiar phenomenon, provide not even the slightest intuitive understanding of how conscious experience could have emerged out of a brain comprised of insentient particles. 


The Emergence of Consciousness: Nagel’s Position

     Searle’s position illustrates Nagel’s complaint that “much obscurity has been shed on the [mind-body] problem by faulty analogies.”88 In a more complete statement of his point, Nagel wrote: 

Every reductionist has his favorite analogy from modern science. It is most unlikely that any of these unrelated examples of successful reduction will shed light on the relation of mind to brain. But philosophers share the general human weakness for explanations of what is incomprehensible in terms suited for what is familiar and well understood, though entirely different.89  

     It has been Nagel who has especially driven home to fellow materialists the difficulty of making sense of the emergence of conscious experience. The difficulty arises not simply because of the fact, mentioned above, that the scientific knowledge of neurons provides no basis for understanding how a brain comprised of them could produce conscious experience. The most serious difficulty arises because of the philosophical assumption, widely assumed to be vouchsafed by science, that these neurons are devoid of all sentience or experience whatsoever. Using the French term pour soi for that which, having experience, is something “for itself,” and the term en soi for that which, having no experience, is merely something “in itself,” Nagel famously wrote:   

One cannot derive a pour soi from an en soi. . . .  This gap is logically unbridgeable.  If a bodiless god wanted to create a conscious being, he could not expect to do it by combining together in organic form a lot of particles with none but physical properties.90  

     Although I do not know why Nagel used the term “bodiless god,” we can take it as relevant to this essay’s question whether we can make sense of the mind-body relation within a naturalistic context. Assuming that by “bodiless god” Nagel meant a creator without “hands” in the sense of the capacity to manipulate the world, we can take the expression to refer to a creator without supernatural powers. Such a creator could not form a conscious being out of insentient particles. Such a feat could be performed only by a deus ex machina who, in Whitehead’s words quoted earlier, is “capable of rising superior to the difficulties of metaphysics.”91 Apart from an appeal to supernaturalism in this sense, the mind-body problem is insoluble insofar as philosophers and scientists assume that the brain is composed of insentient bits of matter.   


McGinn on Mind-Matter Mystery

     Whether or not this point about supernaturalism was in Nagel’s mind, it has become a central point in the thought of materialist Colin McGinn. Although his reflections upon “the problem of consciousness” were initially given their direction by Nagel,92 he has used Nagel’s point about the “logically unbridgeable gap” to argue much more forcibly that the mind-body problem is insoluble in principle. Indeed, drawing upon Noam Chomsky’s distinction between “prob-lems,” which human minds are in principle able to solve, and “mysteries,” which in principle elude our understanding, McGinn wrote: “The mind-body problem is a ‘mystery’ and not merely a ‘problem.’”93  

     As I have stressed, it is not merely scientific ignorance of the brain’s workings, which may be overcome in time, but a philosophical conception of the brain, according to which it is comprised of insentient neurons, that makes the mind-body relation unintelligible in principle. The fact that McGinn’s pessimism is based upon this philosophical conception is made clear in a formulation of the issue on the first page of his book, on which he asked: “How is it possible for conscious states to depend upon brain states?” McGinn assumed this question to be identical with the quite different query: “How could the aggregation of millions of individually insentient neurons generate subjective awareness?”94

     That McGinn simply assumed matter to be insentient is further shown in a passage in which he discussed the problem of the rise of consciousness in an individual human being: 

[T]he human sperm and ovum are not capable of consciousness, and it takes a few months before the human foetus is. So when consciousness finally dawns in a developing organism it does not stem from an immediately prior consciousness: it stems from oblivion, from insensate (though living) matter.95  

     The assumption that the elementary units of matter are insentient (or insensate), in the sense of being devoid of experience of any sort, led McGinn to conclude that the rise of conscious experience is unintelligible in principle.  Besides saying that “our understanding of how consciousness develops from the organization of matter is non-existent,” he said that a characterization of the properties of matter that lie behind the rise of consciousness is “something we do not have, even as a glint in the theoretician’s eye.”96 Also, indicating that this is not a lack that might be overcome in time, he wrote:   

The difficulty here is one of principle: we have no understanding of how consciousness could emerge from an aggregation of non-conscious elements. . . . [I]t remains a mystery . . . how mere matter could form itself into the organ of consciousness.97  

“I think the time has come,” added McGinn, “to admit candidly that we cannot resolve the mystery.”98   

     One of the virtues of McGinn’s discussion is that, besides simply pointing out that we cannot explain the emergence of experience from nonexperiencing entities, he further specified the nature of the difficulty. McGinn did this in terms of Descartes’ characterization of the difference between consciousness and matter, according to which matter is, and consciousness is not, essentially charac-terized by spatial extension. However, rather than regarding this difference as ontological in nature, descriptive of what consciousness and matter are in themselves, McGinn posed the problem in terms of our conceptions of consciousness and matter. The problem is that our conceptions are necessarily based upon our perceptions,99 and that our percep-tion of matter gives us a purely spatial conception of it—a conception that provides no clue as to how consciousness, which we necessarily conceive in nonspatial terms, could arise from it.  

[T]he senses are geared to representing a spatial world; they essentially present things in space with spatially defined properties. But it is precisely such properties that seem inherently incapable of resolving the mind-body problem. . . . No property we can ascribe to the brain on the basis of how it strikes us perceptually . . . seems capable of rendering perspicuous how it is that damp grey tissue can be the crucible from which subjective consciousness emerges fully formed.100 

     On the basis of this notion—that we necessarily regard physical things as purely spatial entities—McGinn rejected the usefulness of the kinds of analogies to which Searle had appealed. While agreeing that just as liquids have a hidden structure that accounts for their macro-properties, such as liquidity, there must be a hidden structure that accounts for consciousness, McGinn does not believe that the former type of emergence provides a helpful model for thinking of the latter. Why? 

Principally, this is because the relationship between molecules and liquids is one of spatial composition, whereas the emergence of consciousness from neural aggregates appears to be nothing of the kind.101   

     The impossibility of understanding how consciousness could arise out of entities necessarily understood in purely spatial terms is what led McGinn to the conclusion that the mind-body relation constitutes not simply a problem but a terminal mystery, a human solution to which is not possible in principle—at least within a naturalistic worldview.

     McGinn was aware of the approach “that says that nothing merely natural could do the job, and suggests instead that we invoke supernatural entities.”102 This solution, however, was not one that McGinn himself could adopt, saying that it is “a condition of adequacy upon any account of the mind-body relation that it avoid assuming theism”—by which he obviously meant supernaturalistic theism (naturalistic versions of theism do exist). 103 

     McGinn did, however, praise supernaturalist solutions by saying that they “at least recognize that something pretty remarkable is needed if the mind-body relation is to be made sense of.”104 He fully admitted, furthermore, that he could not, by producing a naturalistic account of the emergence of consciousness, show supernaturalistic accounts to be unnecessary. For example, having said that the theory of evolution, by showing how our world could have come about naturalistically, undermines the claim of creationists that a supernatural creator is necessary to explain the existence of our world, McGinn added: 

In the case of consciousness the appearance of miracle might also tempt us in the ‘creationist’ direction, with God required to perform the alchemy necessary to transform matter into experience. . . .   We cannot, I think, refute this argument in the way we can the original creationist argument, namely by actually producing a non-miraculous explanatory theory.105  

     McGinn returned repeatedly to this point, that the only possible constructive solution to the mind-body problem would be a supernaturalistic solution. For example, in a passage in which he speculated that consciousness must have arisen “when some of the fancier models of mollusc took up residence in the oceans, or when fish began to roam the depths,” he wrote:   

[W]e do not know how consciousness might have arisen by natural processes from antecedently existing material things. Somehow or other sentience sprang from pulpy matter, giving matter an inner aspect, but we have no idea how this leap was propelled. . . . One is tempted, however reluctantly, to turn to divine assistance: for only a kind of miracle could produce this from that. It would take a supernatural magician to extract consciousness from matter, even living matter. Consciousness appears to introduce a sharp break in the natural order—a point at which scientific naturalism runs out of steam.106    

This thought—based on the equation of “scientific naturalism” with materialism—led McGinn to wonder if any theists had taken advantage of the mind-body problem. 

I do not know if anyone has ever tried to exploit consciousness to prove the existence of God, along the lines of the traditional Argument from Design, but in this post-Darwinian era it is an argument with more force than the usual one, through lack of an alternative theory. It is indeed difficult to see how consciousness could have arisen spontaneously from insentient matter; it seems to need an injection from outside the physical realm.107


Swinburne’s Supernaturalism

     The answer to McGinn’s question is Yes, the mind-body problem has been exploited in this way, most notably by Richard Swinburne, who has provided an “argument from consciousness,” which he introduces with these words: 

I do not know of any classical philosopher who has developed the argument from consciousness with any rigour. But one sometimes hears theologians and ordinary men saying that conscious men could not have evolved from unconscious matter by natural processes. I believe that those who have said this have been hinting at a powerful argument to which philosophers have not given nearly enough attention.108    

This “powerful argument” is the one about which McGinn inquired. Believing, like McGinn, that most events in the world, including “brain-events,” are purely physical in the sense of being devoid of experience, Swinburne argued that there is “no natural connection between brain-events and correlated mental events,” with the result that this correlation is inexplicable apart from appeal to the will of an omnipotent deity.109 Swinburne summar-ized the argument thus:  

[S]cience cannot explain the evolution of a mental life. That is to say, .  . . there is nothing in the nature of certain physical events . . . to give rise to connections [to mental events]. . . . God, an omnipotent, omniscient, perfectly free and perfectly good source of all, would need to be postulated as an explanation of many diverse phenomena in order to make his existence probable. But the ability of God’s actions to explain the otherwise mysterious mind-body connection is just one more reason for postulating his existence. . . . God, being omnipotent, would have the power to produce a soul thus interacting, to produce intentionally those connections which, we have seen, have no natural connections.110

     McGinn, of course, could not accept this solution. “Naturalism about consciousness,” he wrote, “is not merely an option. It is a condition of understand-ing.”111 Although I would not argue for it in those terms, I agree with McGinn about the need for a naturalistic account of the mind-body relation. This is one of the main reasons for rejecting the assumption, shared by dualists (like Swinburne) and materialists (like McGinn), that the ultimate units of nature are devoid of experience and spontaneity. 


McGinn’s Fideism

     McGinn suggested that he could avoid this option—that he could provide a solution of sorts to the mind-body problem while retaining the modern notion of matter. While insisting on the impossibility of a solution that is both naturalistic and constructive, he argued that he provided a naturalistic but noncon-structive solution. It is not a constructive solution, because it does not “specify what it is about the brain that is responsible for consciousness.” It is naturalistic, however, because it insists that “whatever it is it is not inherently miraculous.”112

     McGinn’s nonconstructive solution, in other words, consists of the assertion that, although it is hidden from us in principle, some fully natural property of the brain must account for consciousness: 

In reality, there is no metaphysical mind-body problem; there is no ontological anomaly, only an epistemic hiatus. The psychophysical nexus is no more intrinsically mysterious than any other causal nexus in the body, though it will always strike us as mysterious. This is what we can call a ‘nonconstructive’ solution to the problem of how consciousness is possible.113  

We can well ask, however, whether this is a solution of any sort.

     The goal of traditional materialists was to show how consciousness could be reduced to material states of the brain. Realizing that this program failed, some materialists decided simply to deny the existence of consciousness. For example, one eliminativist, Paul Churchland, wrote: “If we do give up hope of reduction, then elimination emerges as the only coherent alternative.”114 McGinn, however, argued for the existence of another alternative, which involves a combination of agnosticism and gnosticism. Although he agreed with eliminativists that no reduction of consciousness to matter could be given, this agreement did not prevent him, he argued, from “knowing that a reduction exists.”115 

     But how is such knowledge possible? McGinn repeated this claim to knowledge in distinguishing existential from effective naturalism. An effective naturalism, in which we are “able actually to specify naturalistic necessary and sufficient conditions for the phenomenon in question,” now exists, McGinn wrote, with regard to reproduction, the weather, and the movements of the planets, adding: “No hint of the divine need now be recognized in these areas; the miraculous has given way to the mechanistic.” Defining existential naturalism as “the thesis, metaphysical in character, that nothing that happens in nature is inherently anomalous, God-driven, an abrogation of basic laws—whether or not we can come to comprehend the processes at work,” McGinn argued that “we can be in position to know that existential naturalism is true of consciousness without being in a position to convert this into effective naturalism.”116 

     This metaphysical thesis, however, is really faith, not knowledge. In places, McGinn even admitted this, saying that existential naturalism, when it cannot be turned into effective naturalism, is “an article of metaphysical faith.”117 In fact, calling his position “agnostic realism,” McGinn compared himself to an “agnostic theist.” Although McGinn continued to speak in terms of knowledge—saying that we “can know that something exists without knowing its nature. We can assert that a gap is filled without being able to say how it is filled”118—he certainly did not believe that the agnostic theist, who claims to know that God exists without being able to answer various objections, such as the problem of evil, knows theism to be true. Likewise, Geoffrey Madell, while admitting that he did not know how dualism is true, nevertheless seemed to think that he knew that it is true. McGinn would not agree with this claim to knowledge. Because he as an agnostic materialist is parallel to agnostic theists and agnostic dualists, McGinn cannot plausibly claim to know that material-ism is true.


The Neglected Alternative: Panexperientialism

     McGinn thought he knew this because he thought he knew all the alternatives to materialism to be false. I share McGinn’s belief that we can be confident of the falsity of the idealistic view that what we call the physical world does not actually exist. Given the assumption that some form of realism must be true, we are left with three alternatives: Some version of dualism, some version of materialism, and some form of panpsychism or panexperientialism. I share McGinn’s confidence, as I have already indicated, that dualism is too problematic to be considered true. We agree, accordingly, that the choice must be between the two forms of pluralistic monism:  materialism and panexperientialism. We also agree, however, that materialism is extremely problematic. This would seem to imply that we should look carefully at the various kinds of panexperientialism, to see if one of them is less problematic than all the versions of dualism and materialism. McGinn, however, did not do this. 

     McGinn’s treatment of this third type of realism was superficial in the extreme. This is surprising, given his recognition that panexperientialism, unlike dualism, would meet his criterion that any acceptable solution be naturalistic. Regarding the elementary units of the world as having experience, he conceded, “is not supernatural in the way postulating immaterial substances or divine interventions is.” He dismissed it, however, as “extravagant.” But this is a superficial, question-begging criticism. It is also stated on the same page as McGinn’s remark that “something pretty remarkable is needed if the mind-body relation is to be made sense of.”119 Could a solution be “remarkable” without seeming “extrava-gant”?

     McGinn’s casual dismissal of this third alternative is all the more surprising in the light of his recognition that, if we credit neurons with proto-conscious states, “it seems easy enough to see how neurons could generate consciousness.”120 In light of his realization that it is impossible to understand how neurons could do this if we continue to regard them as wholly devoid of experience, one would think McGinn would have recommended that we examine all the available versions of panexperientialism, to see if one of them could help us finally solve this centuries-old problem. Instead, however, he simply said that he would “here be assuming that panpsych-ism, like all other extant constructive solutions, is inadequate as an answer to the mind-body problem.”121

     Although McGinn failed to mention it, the “here” in this statement reflected the fact that he had examined panpsychism in a previous book.  This examination, however, was limited to a couple of pages.122 That brief treatment, moreover, dealt with only one version of panpsychism—a version that may have never been articulated by any actual philoso-pher (McGinn provided no quotations from any philosophers defending such a version). This version, in any case, holds that “bits of rocks and elementary particles enjoy an inner conscious life” and that “rocks actually have thoughts.” With that under-standing of panpsychism in mind, McGinn concluded that panpsychism is “metaphysically and scientifical-ly outrageous.” More recently he has called it “utter balderdash.”123

     Given panpsychism as McGinn has described it, I would certainly agree that it is outrageous, even absurd. But panpsychism as McGinn characterizes it has virtually nothing in common with Whiteheadian-Hartshornean panexperientialism, which I defend.

     One difference is that this panexperientialism distinguishes between experience as such, which is attributed to even the lowest-level individuals (such as electrons), and conscious experience, which occurs only in very high-level individuals, who could have emerged only after billions of years of evolution. It does not affirm the ludicrous doctrine that “elementary particles enjoy an inner conscious life.”

     A second difference is that this doctrine makes a distinction between two ways in which low-level individuals can be organized. One organization gives rise to “compound individuals,” in which a higher-level experience emerges (as when cells are organized into a brain in a living animal, or when ordinary molecules, macromolecules, and organelles are organized into a living eukaryotic cell). The other organization results in merely “aggregational socie-ties,” such as rocks and telephones, in which no higher-level experience emerges. A rock as such, accordingly, has no experience whatsoever (let alone those very high-level experiences we call “thoughts”). The highest experiences in the rock are those of its billions of molecules. The distinction between these two types of organization is so important that I sometimes refer to the Whitehead-ian-Hartshornean position as not simply “panexperi-entialism” but “panexperientialism with organiza-tional duality.”124

     McGinn’s charge that panpsychism is absurd depends on his refusal to acknowledge the reality and importance of these distinctions. He insists that unless a creature has conscious experience, complete with thoughts, it cannot have any kind of feeling or experience whatsoever—as if a worm being put an a hook could not feel pain unless it could think, “Damn you, fisherman!” He also fails to recognize that the all to which the “pan” in panpsychism (or panexperientialism) refers need not refer to all actual beings whatsoever, but could refer only to all genuine individuals—as distinct from aggregational clusters of such individuals. For example, all the people in the audience at a rock concert have experience, but the audience as a whole does not have its own experience, over and above that of its individual members. Likewise, to hold that the atoms and molecules in a rock have (very low-level) experien-ces does not force us to say that the rock itself has experience (over and above that of its individual molecules). 

     By insisting that all panpsychists must hold the panpsychism of his own imagination, McGinn can easily portray them as holding absurd ideas. What is absurd, however, is the suggestion that someone as brilliant as Alfred North Whitehead—who was the senior author (with his former pupil Bertrand Russell) of Principia Mathematica and who later worked out an alternative to Einstein’s theory of relativity—believed that electrons are conscious and rocks have thoughts. Indeed, Whitehead reportedly avoided the term “panpsychism” precisely because he believed that it suggested that the ultimate units of the world have conscious experiences125 (which he defined as experiences that involve negation as well as affirma-tion or, put otherwise, awareness of the contrast between what is and what might have been).

     In any case, not having really explored the version of panexperientialism developed by Whitehead,126 McGinn is hardly in position to claim that he knows, by having eliminated all the alternatives, materialism to be true.

     We have ample reason, furthermore, to conclude that materialism must be false, because it cannot do justice to our hard-core commonsense assumptions about the reality, the efficacy, and the freedom of our conscious experience. This threefold failure, it must be stressed, means that materialism is inadequate not only for morality and religion but also for science, because scientists, precisely in their scientific activities, presuppose all of these beliefs. No worldview can be adequate for “science” that has no room for the activities of scientists!  

     The thesis of this essay is that, of the three forms of realism—dualism, materialism, and panexperien-tialism—only panexperientialism can avoid an insoluble mind-body problem within a naturalistic framework. Having argued the negative part of this thesis—that dualism and materialism cannot solve the mind-body problem—I turn now to the positive presentation of a panexperientialist solution based on the process philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead.  


4. Temporality and Panexperientialism 

     A central tenet of Whiteheadian process philosophy is that the traditional problems of philosophy cannot be overcome without giving the fundamental nature of temporality its due. I will here show how this tenet applies to the mind-body problem.

     One of the merits of McGinn’s discussion is the fact that it shows the difficulties of dualism and materialism to be rooted in the impossibility of understanding how the physical world, if it be conceived as wholly spatial, could give birth to, and otherwise interact with, conscious experience. To see why McGinn spoke of impossibility, we need to bring out some premises. First, in saying that we necessarily conceive of matter as wholly spatial, McGinn implied that we do not think of it as also essentially temporal. This means that we necessarily conceive of matter as wholly different from conscious experience, which we conceive to be nonspatial but temporal. A second, closely related presupposition behind the mind-body problem, for dualists and materialists alike, is that we cannot attribute experience to that which is conceived to be purely spatial, because experience is necessarily conceived as essentially temporal. 

     With regard to matter, McGinn makes a twofold claim: (1) Our conception of it, to be meaningful, must be based upon our perception of it, and (2) this perception is sensory perception, which presents matter as essentially and purely spatial. McGinn’s first claim—that conceptions, to be meaningful, must be based upon perceptions—is certainly correct, as is his claim that sensory perception (especially vision) presents things as purely spatial. What is dubious, however, is his claim that our conception of what we call “matter,” or the “physical world,” must be based exclusively upon sensory percepts of it. 

     Panexperientialism is based upon the contrary supposition—that we can and should think about the units comprising the physical world by analogy with our own experience, which we know from within. The supposition, in other words, is that the apparent difference in kind between our experience, or our “mind,” and the entities comprising our bodies is an illusion, resulting from the fact that we know them in two different ways: We know our minds from within, by identity and memory, whereas in sensory perception of our bodies we know them from without. Once we realize this, there is no reason to assume them really to be different in kind.

     This solution to the mind-body problem, interestingly enough, was suggested by Immanuel Kant, who in a discussion of “the communion of soul and body” said: 

The difficulty peculiar to the problem consists . . . in the assumed heterogeneity of the object of inner sense (the soul) and the objects of the outer senses, the formal condition of their intuition being, in the case of the former, time only, and in the case of the latter, also space. But if we consider that the two kinds of objects thus differ from each other, not inwardly but only in so far as one appears outwardly to another, and that what, as thing in itself, underlies the appearances of matter, perhaps after all may not be so heterogeneous in character, this difficulty vanishes.127  

Although McGinn quoted this passage, he rejected Kant’s suggested solution.

     Panexperientialism, by contrast, accepts and develops this suggestion, saying that our perception of our own conscious experience can provide data for conceiving the entities forming the body, such as the neurons comprising the brain. We can, therefore, think of these entities as having not only spatial extension but also temporal duration—which makes it possible to conceive of their having (a low-level type of) experience.

     A crucial event in the history of this solution to the mind-body problem, as Pete Gunter has stressed,128 occurred between the first and second books published by Henri Bergson. In his first book, Time and Free Will (1889), Bergson articulated an absolute dualism between physical nature, which was described as spatial but nontemporal, and the mind, which was described in terms of temporal duration. Bergson soon realized, however, that this made the interaction of mind and matter, which he presupposed, unintelligible. In his next book, Matter and Memory (1896), he overcame this dualism by attributing a primitive memory and thereby temporal duration to that which we, from without, call matter. The ultimate units of the universe, in other words, are not purely spatial bits of matter but spatial-temporal events, with temporal as well as spatial extension. With the dualism overcome, mind-body interaction could be understood as a purely natural occurrence.

     This Bergsonian solution was developed more fully by Whitehead. The fundamental units of the actual world, the fully actual entities, were said by Whitehead to be “actual occasions,” by which he meant that they were temporally as well as spatially extensive. Each ultimate unit of nature, thus conceived, is an event, “with time-duration as well as with its full spatial dimensions.”129 It takes time, in other words, to be actual. Events at the subatomic level may take less than a billionth of a second to occur, but this makes them qualitatively different from matter as traditionally conceived, according to which it can exist in an “instant,” meaning a slice of space-time with no duration whatsoever.

     According to that traditional view, in Whitehead’s words, “if material has existed during any period, it has equally been in existence during any portion of that period. In other words, dividing the time does not divide the material.”130 This means that “the lapse of time is an accident, rather than of the essence, of the material. . . . The material is equally itself at an instant of time.”131 In matter thus conceived, there is no internal becoming. The only motion is external motion, or locomotion: the motion of a bit of matter from one place to another. One side of the mind-body problem can be phrased in terms of the question, How could the locomotion of bits of matter in the brain give rise to the internal motion, or becoming, in our experience? Whitehead’s view avoids this question, saying that there is no “nature at an instant,” that even the most primitive units of nature have temporal duration, during which internal becoming, analogous to that in our own experience, occurs.

     In fact, once temporal duration with its internal becoming has been attributed to all actual entities, it is natural to attribute experience to them, because we have no way to conceive of this internal duration except by analogy with the duration we know in our own experience. Whitehead, accordingly, also referred to actual entities as “occasions of experience,” which is the basis for referring to his philosophy as panexperientialism. Once this move is made, the emergence of conscious experience out of the neurons in the brain is no longer a complete mystery, as McGinn admitted.132 The same is true for the more general interaction of mind and body. Regarding temporality as fundamental is, accordingly, central to overcoming the modern mind-body problem. 

     A possible objection, at this point, might be phrased thus: We can perhaps grant that this attribution of temporality and thereby experience to all actual entities can solve the mind-body problem, but is there any justification for this attribution?

     One justification is provided by the very fact that this move can solve the mind-body problem. We know, in other words, that our conscious experiences and our bodies interact.  The panexperientialist view of the body is justified by the very fact that it, and evidently it alone, can explain this interaction within a framework that is naturalistic as well as realistic.

     A second justification is provided by the fact that our conscious experience appears to be as much a part of “nature” as anything else. We should, therefore, use our privileged vantage point on our own experience to understand what “natural entities” are in themselves. That is, our own experiences are the only events in the world that we are able to view from within. If we take seriously the idea that our experiences are fully natural, rather than being supernatural additions to nature, we should generalize what we know about our own experiences to all other events (with less sophisticated experience being attributed, of course, to less complex types of individuals). 

     A third basis for attributing experience to individuals all the way down is provided by our direct experience of our own bodies, which provides our most direct observation of nature. At this point, Whitehead explicitly contravenes the conventional viewpoint, which McGinn exemplifies. In responding to the question, “How do we observe nature?” Whitehead wrote: “The conventional answer to this question is that we perceive nature through our senses.”133 If we accept this answer, we end up with McGinn’s view that we must think of natural entities as purely spatial, because sensory perception does indeed, Whitehead saw, “spatialize” nature.134 However, our intellectual conception of nature need not be based entirely upon this type of perception, as McGinn supposes, because we have another way to perceive nature, which is, in fact, a more direct form of perception. In opposition to the conventional approach, in which all direct observation has been identified with sensory perception, Whitehead wrote: 

All sense perception is merely one outcome of the dependence of our experience upon bodily functionings. Thus if we wish to understand the relation of our personal experience to the activities of nature, the proper procedure is to examine the dependence of our personal experiences upon our personal bodies.135   

     If we pay attention to this dimension of our experience, we are led to a quite different view of the entities comprising nature: “[A]mong our fundamental experiences,” Whitehead pointed out, is the “direct feeling of the derivation of emotion from our body.”136 This is our primal relation to our body and thereby to what we call the physical world: 

The primitive form of physical experience is emotional—blind emotion—received as felt elsewhere in another occasion and conformally appropriated in subjective passion.  In the language appropriate to the higher stages of experience, the primitive element is sympathy, that is, feeling the feeling in another and feeling conformally with another.137  

If this is the truth about the relation of our experience to our bodies, the implication is that the body is not comprised of “vacuous actualities,” meaning things that are actual and yet wholly devoid of experience.138 Rather, if we derive emotions and other feelings from our bodily members, these members must themselves have feelings of their own, even if feelings of a lowlier sort. As Hartshorne has pointed out, it is Whitehead’s panexperientialist view of matter, not the view of the dualists and materialists, that is rooted in immediate experience:  

The “ocean of feelings” that Whitehead ascribes to physical reality is not only thought; so far as our bodies are made of this reality, it is intuited. What is not intuited but only thought is nature as consisting of absolutely insentient stuff or process. No such nature is given to us.139  

     The three justifications I have already given for panexperientialism are empirical in one sense of the term: They are based upon appeals to our immediate experience. A fourth justification is empirical in the sense of appealing to science:  Natural scientists have in recent decades been finding evidence for experience lower and lower down the phylogenetic scale, down at least to bacteria, which have been shown to make decisions based on memories.140 If bacteria and other prokaryotic cells give evidence of making decisions on the basis of memories, then it is hardly far-fetched to suppose that the much more complex eukaryotic cells in our brains have experience. Although many people may be willing to accept the idea that neurons have experience, thereby overcoming the major source of the mind-brain problem, they might still boggle at the idea of panexperientialism, according to which even electrons and other subatomic particles have a primitive degree of experience. The mystery, they would say, is now how the jump was made from insentient particles to sentient cells. 

     Two aspects of twentieth-century physics, however, provide reason to attribute experience all the way down. I refer, first, to the indeterminacy of quantum physics. This indeterminacy, which can be interpreted realistically (as ontic, not merely epistemic, indeterminacy), is suggestive of an element of spontaneity, or self-determination, at the quantum level, and spontaneity is in turn suggestive of experience. The second aspect returns us to the theme of the fundamental nature of temporality: Physics now speaks of space-time, or time-space, which means that space and time are inseparable. It is almost universally accepted, furthermore, that time and space are not absolute containers that would exist apart from spatial and temporal actualities. Rather, time exists because temporal processes occur, and space exists because these events or processes are spatially extended. Now, if time and space are inseparable, so that we must always speak of space-time, or time-space,141 the implication is that the ultimate units of nature are spatiotemporal occurrences, which returns us to Whitehead’s point that the ultimate actual entities of the world are actual occasions, with internal duration as well as spatial extensiveness. The final step in this fifth argument is that it is impossible to conceive of internal duration except as experience.

     A sixth justification, also involving time, is the argument that we run into insuperable paradoxes if we assume that time arose at some time in the evolutionary process. The only nonparadoxical view is pantemporalism, according to which time stretches all the way back. We can make sense of pantempor-alism, however, only by assuming panexperiential-ism, as I have argued at length elsewhere.142

     There are, accordingly, many reasons to adopt panexperientialism, several of which are scientific. But one of the most important of the reasons to favor panexperientialism is simply the fact that it, and apparently it alone, can solve the mind-body problem. In the final section, I will develop this point more fully by showing how panexperientialism supports the position, nondualistic interactionism, needed to take account of our hard-core commonsense beliefs.    


5. Nondualistic Interactionism

     A confusion that runs through most discussions of the mind-body problem is the equation of “inter-actionism” with “dualism.” Cartesian dualism involves two distinct theses—a numerical thesis and an ontological thesis. The numerical thesis simply says that mind and brain are not numerically iden-tical but are two things:  The mind is one actuality, the brain is another actuality (or, really, a complexly organized society of billions of actualities). The ontological thesis adds the additional point that the mind and the brain are two ontologically different kinds of things: The mind is one kind of actuality (a mental one), the brain is another kind of actuality (a physical one). A position should be called “dualistic” only if the ontological thesis as well as the numerical thesis is affirmed. If a position affirms merely the numerical thesis, saying that the words “mind” and “brain” do not refer to the same entity, it should not be called “dualistic,” because the word “dualism” inevitably suggests the Cartesian idea that mind and brain are ontologically different types of things, which is the idea that creates the problem of dualistic interactionism. 

     Of course, although the numerical and the ontological theses are distinguishable, they were not really separable for Descartes, due to his view of matter, and thereby of the brain, as devoid of both experience and spontaneity. Given the Cartesian view of matter, the numerical thesis implies the ontological thesis.

     Because almost all scientists, philosophers, and theologians have retained that early modern view of matter, they perpetuate the assumption that any position that distinguishes (numerically) between mind and brain is ipso facto “dualistic.” For example, Daniel Dennett’s argument that materialism must be true is based on his assumption that the only alternative is dualism, according to which “conscious thoughts and experiences cannot be brain happenings, but must be . . . something in addition, made of different stuff.”143 The transition from the numerical thesis (“something in addition”) to the ontological thesis (“made of different stuff”) occurs without comment.

     Dualists no less than materialists tend to assume that the first thesis implies the second.  For example, John Hick began a chapter on “Mind and Body” in this way: 

We have the two concepts of body and mind, and various rival views of the relation between them.  According to the . . . mind/brain identity theory the two concepts refer to the same entity.  This is the monistic option; all the others are dualist, regarding body and mind as distinct entities, and indeed entities of basically different kinds.144  

As the words I italicized in this quotation show, Hick here, while making a quick transition from the numerical to the ontological thesis, at least distinguished between them. A few pages later, however, he wrote: 

In rejecting the mind/brain identity, then, we accept mind/brain dualism. We accept, that is to say, that mind is a reality of a different kind from matter.145  

Here Hick, like virtually all other writers on the topic, simply equated the two theses.

     The importance of this equation of the numerical thesis with the ontological thesis, or at least the assumption that the first implies the second, cannot overestimated. It leads to the conclusion that interaction between mind and brain is unintelligible, because it builds a Catch-22 into the discussion by imply that interaction between mind and brain is inconceivable whether one distinguishes between them or not. On the one hand, the very notion of “interaction” implies two distinct things that can causally influence each other. So, if we, with identists, do not (numerically) distinguish the mind from the brain, we cannot affirm interactionism. On the other hand, the assumption that mind and brain are (ontologically) different in kind implies that, although they are (numerically) distinct, interaction between them is inconceivable. One of the most vicious effects of the modern view of matter is that, by apparently forcing a choice between numerical identism and ontological dualism, it has made a defense of interactionism, and thereby our hard-core commonsense assumptions about the mind-body relation, impossible. 

     Panexperientialism, by allowing for interactionism without dualism, finally enables us to make sense of these assumptions. (1) Because the mind is a unified actuality, distinct from the billions of neurons comprising the brain, the unity that characterizes our experience is intelligible. (2) Because the mind is distinct from the brain, and yet not ontologically different in kind from the cells making up the brain, our twofold presupposition about their interaction—that the body influences our conscious experiences and that these experiences in turn influence our bodies—is intelligible. (3) Because the mind at any moment is a full-fledged actuality—as actual as the brain cells and their constituents—we can take at face value our assumption that our apparent decisions, rather than being fully determined by causal forces coming up from the body, are truly “decisions,” in which our minds exercise genuine self-determination. (4) Finally, our conviction that our bodily behavior is significantly guided by these decisions is made intelligible by the idea that the mind, besides being as fully actual as the individual cells comprising the brain, is far more powerful than any of these cells. This idea explains why the mind can exercise a dominating influence over the body, providing that overall coordination that so radically distinguishes the behavior of a living, conscious person from that of a corpse. 


Panexperientialist Emergence

     One distinctive feature of panexperientialism of the Whiteheadian-Hartshornean type is its view of emergence. Given the mechanistic view of the ultimate units of nature as vacuous bits of matter, it was impossible to do justice to evolutionary emergence. There was no way to think of the emergence of higher types of actualities out of the organization of lower types. A living cell, for example, could not be thought to have any ontological unity based in a higher type of actual entity in which the distinctively living properties of the cell could inhere. In the panexperientialist view, by contrast, an actual entity is an occasion of experience, which arises out of the causal influence exercised on it by prior actual occasions, especially those in its immediate environment with which it is contiguous. 

     In this framework, we can understand evolutionary emergence to involve, at least sometimes, the emergence of higher-order types of actual entities. For example, the atom need not be thought to consist only of its subatomic particles and the relations between them. It can be thought to involve, as well, distinctively atomic occasions of experience, more complex than the electronic, protonic, and neutronic occasions of experience. In this way, the holistic behavior of the atom—as manifested, for example, in the Pauli exclusion principle (as discussed by Ian Barbour146)—can be assigned to an inclusive actuality. A molecule, likewise, can be thought to involve, above and beyond atoms, distinctively molecular occasions of experience. Macromolecules (such as DNA and RNA), organelles, and eukaryotic cells can be thought to involve successively higher-level actual entities.

     This philosophy does not dictate a priori that higher-level actual occasions emerge at each of these levels: That judgment is to be made on an empirical basis, in terms of whether (say) a water molecule or an organelle shows sufficient unity of response to its environment to merit positing a “regnant” or “dominant” member to account for this unified response. The point is that the panexperien-tialist philosophy allows us to posit the emergence of such a higher-level member if the evidence warrants it. A society having such a higher-level member, which gives the society as a whole a unity of experience and response, has been called a “compound individual” by Hartshorne,147 because a higher-level individual has been compounded out of lower-level individuals. As we saw earlier, although panexperientialism by definition rules out ontological dualism, it allows, unlike materialism, for an organi-zational duality between aggregational societies and compound individuals.  

     In the context of this distinction, the existence of “minds” or “souls” in human beings and other animals is not an evolutionarily unprecedented type of emergence, as generally supposed by materialists and dualists alike.  Rather, the emergence of a mind out of that complex organization of cells that we call a brain is simply the highest-level example of a type of emergence that has been occurring throughout the evolutionary process. The human mind seems so unique to us because it is the only emergent actuality that we know from within.  However, this emergence is (by hypothesis) only different in degree, not different in kind, from the emergence of living occasions in eukaryotic cells out of macromolecules and organelles. 

     Accordingly, we need not think, contra Searle, that there is nothing in the head but atoms, nor that these atoms are entirely reducible to their subatomic parts. There is the mind. There are the billions of living occasions in the neurons. And there are organellular, macromolecular, molecular, and atomic occasions of experience. Also, we need not suppose, contra reductionistic materialists, that our conscious experience somehow emerges magically as a property of insentient atoms, or, with dualists, that our minds have only insentient atoms and subatomic particles with which to interact.    


Two Modes of Creativity

     The difference between this version of monistic pluralism and the materialistic version can be characterized in terms of different views of the universal “stuff” embodied in all actual entities. Materialism assumes this stuff to be “energy” as described by contemporary physics.  Whitehead, who had himself focused on mathematical physics before turning to philosophy, regarded the physicist’s energy as an abstraction from the full-fledged “creativity” embodied at all levels of actuality, from electrons to human beings.148 

     The embodiment of creativity in each actual occasion involves two modes. In the first mode, it is embodied in the occasion’s moment of subjectivity, during which the occasion enjoys its own experience. This mode has two poles: the “physical pole,” during which the occasion receives the causal influence from the past, and the “mental pole,” during which it exercises its own final causation or self-determination. Following this subjective mode of existence, the occasion exists in its objective mode, which means that it is an object for subsequent subjects. In this mode, its capacity to exercise final causation (self-determination) is over, but it can now exercise efficient causation upon others.

     From this perspective, the physicist’s “energy” involves a twofold abstraction: It deals entirely with an event’s objective mode of existence, during which it exercises efficient causation. It thereby abstracts entirely from the event’s subjective mode, during which it is an “occasion of experience” for itself. Even with regard to the objective mode, furthermore, the physicist’s energy involves only the quantitative aspect of the occasion’s causal efficacy, ignoring its qualitative dimensions, such as the transference of emotional tone.149


The Relation between Efficient and Final Causation

     The Whiteheadian explication of the freedom we all presuppose in practice depends, as we have seen, on the concept of a compound individual, which has a “dominant” member. It also depends on the under-standing of the mind or soul as a personally-ordered society of dominant occasions of experience, in which there is a perpetual oscillation between final and efficient causation, that is, between self-determina-tion and causal influence on others.

     This doctrine explains one of the most difficult of all philosophical problems: that of freedom and determinism, or, more precisely, how final and efficient causation are related. The traditional view of the mind, according to which it is simply an enduring mental substance, made it seem as if it must either be totally determined from without, by the efficient causation from the body, or else totally self-determined from within, by its own final causation.

     Some philosophers who accepted the second view developed the doctrine of parallelism, according to which mind, while not really interacting with the body, ran along in parallel with it. In the thought of some advocates of parallelism, such as Leibniz, the synchronization between our perceptions and decisions, on the one hand, and the events inside and outside of our bodies, on the other, was given a supernatural explanation, in terms of a harmony preordained by God. For other advocates of paral-lelism, this synchronization was left an unexplained mystery. Either way, however, parallelism was too incredible to attract much of a following. Most philosophers and scientists, accordingly, gravitated toward determinism.

     However, if the mind is constituted by a series of momentary experiences, which first exist subjectively and then objectively, there is a constant oscillation between final and efficient causation. Each occasion of experience begins by receiving causal influence from prior occasions; it then exercises its own final causation (self-determination in terms of a goal); and then it becomes one of the many efficient causes upon subsequent occasions. In this way, we can do justice to our hard-core commonsense presuppositions that (1) we are heavily influenced by the causal power of the past, (2) we do, nevertheless, exercise a degree of freedom in each moment, and (3) this free decision influences our bodily actions.

     Panexperientialism’s view of the body then explains how the third of these three presuppositions can be true, namely, that our mental decisions influence our bodily behavior. 

     Materialists and dualists, as we have seen, have had great difficulty in explaining this influence. This is partly because they think of the bodily cells as vacuous actualities, which could not conceivably be affected by thoughts, feelings, and decisions. But it is also partly because they think of these cells, along with their constituents, as operating in terms of inflexible “laws of nature.”

     From the point of view of panexperientialism, by contrast, these so-called laws are abstractions, being simply the widespread habits of nature. They are, more especially, the habits of (say) atoms and molecules in inorganic environments, such as rocks or test-tubes. Each occasion of experience is internally constituted by its appropriation of influences from its environment, especially its contiguous environment. A molecule in a living cell in the brain of a conscious human being, accordingly, will be subject to influences very different from those that influenced it when it was in the soil, before it was (say) absorbed by a carrot that was then eaten by the human being. From this perspective, there is, contrary to the opinion of John Searle and most other materialists, nothing “unscientific” about supposing that the free decisions of the mind cause the molecules in the body to act otherwise than they would if they were in a different environment.   



     Because dualism regarded mind and body not only as numerically distinct but also as different in kind, its numerical distinction between mind and body could not be sustained. As a result, science became associated with materialistic identism, which, besides having most of dualism’s problems, also found it impossible to make sense of the freedom, the efficacy, and even the reality of conscious experience—ideas that are inevitably presupposed in practice.

    These consequences of materialism’s identification of mind and brain, especially the denial of freedom, have created an apparent conflict between the presuppositions of science and the presuppositions of religion and morality. But this appearance is doubly superficial. On the one hand, it is not “science” that denies freedom, but only the materialistic form of naturalism with which science has recently been identified. On the other hand, this materialistic worldview, with its deterministic implications, is as contrary to the presuppositions of scientific practice as it is to moral and religious practice.

     Panexperientialism, by providing the basis for the type of solution to the mind-body relation that is required by science as well as by religion (with its moral concerns), shows that the conflict between science and religion with regard to this relation, trumpeted (for example) by Francis Crick, is merely apparent.150 



1. David Ray Griffin, Unsnarling the World-Knot: Consciousness, Freedom, and the Mind-Body Problem (1998; Eugene: Wipf & Stock, 2007), 15-21.

2. John R. Searle, “Minds and Brains Without Programs,” in Colin Blakemore and Susan Greenfield, ed., Mindwaves: Thoughts on Intelligence, Identity, and Consciousness (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1987), 209-33, at 215.

3. Francis Crick, The Astonishing Hypothesis: The Scientific Search for the Soul (London & New York:  Simon & Schuster, 1994), 3, 7.

4. Ibid., 7, 261.

5. Martin Jay, Force Fields: Between Intellectual History and Cultural Critique (New York & London: Routledge, 1993), in a chapter titled “The Debate over Performative Contradiction: Habermas versus the Poststructuralists,” 25-37, at 29; John Passmore, Philosophical Reasoning (1961; New York: Basic Books, 1969), 60.

6. John R. Searle, The Rediscovery of the Mind (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1992), 48.

7. Although the term “functionalism” was coined by Hilary Putnam, he in later writings rejected this view as grossly inadequate (see Hilary Putnam Words and Life, edited by James Conant (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1994).

8. John Hick, Death and Eternal Life (San Francisco: Harper, 1976), 126.    

9. Gordon Baker and Katherine J. Morris, Descartes’ Dualism (London & New York: Routledge, 1996), 167-70.

10. Ibid., 153-54.

11. William James, Some Problems of Philosophy (London: Longman & Green, 1911), 195.

12. Quoted in David Lorimer, Survival? Body, Mind, and Death in the Light of Psychic Experience (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1984), 105.

13. Thomas Nagel, The View from Nowhere (New York: Oxford University Press, 1986), 50.

14. Daniel E. Dennett, Consciousness Explained (Boston: Little, Brown & Co., 1991), 458, 459.

15. John R. Searle, The Rediscovery of the Mind (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1992), 130.

16. John C. Eccles, How the Self Controls Its Brain (Berlin, Heidelberg, & New York: Springer-Verlag, 1994), 22.

17. William Seager, Metaphysics of Consciousness (London & New York: Routledge, 1991), 188.

18. Searle, The Rediscovery of the Mind, 54, 48.

19. Karl R. Popper Of Clocks and Clouds (St. Louis: Washington University Press, 1966), 15.

20. Karl R. Popper and John C. Eccles, The Self and Its Brain: An Argument for Interactionism (Heidelberg: Springer-Verlag, 1977), 105.

21. Ibid., 494-95.

22. Ibid., 16-17, 494-95.

23. Eccles, How the Self Controls Its Brain, 23, 72, 140, 168.

24. Ibid., 167.

25. H. D. Lewis, The Elusive Self (London: Macmillan, 1982), 1.

26. Ibid., 34.

27. Ibid., 4.

28. Ibid.

29. Ibid.

28. H. D. Lewis, The Elusive Mind (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1969), 26.

29. Ibid., 26-27.

30. Ibid., 27.

31. Lewis, The Elusive Self, 33.

32. Ibid.

33. Lewis, The Elusive Mind, 28-29.

34. Lewis, The Elusive Self, 38-39.

35. Ibid., 33.

36. Ibid. 

37. Ibid., 38-39.

38. Alfred North Whitehead, Science and the Modern World (1925; New York: Free Press, 1967), 156.

39. Lewis, The Elusive Mind, 26, 124.

40. Geoffrey Madell, Mind and Materialism (Edinburgh: The University Press, 1988), Preface.

41. Ibid., 2.

42. Ibid., 140.

43. Ibid., 140-41.

44. Ibid., 9.

45. Ibid., 135.

46. Ibid., 9.

47. Ibid., 3.

48. The term “panpsychism,” by suggesting that the ultimate units of the world are analogous to human psyches, suggests that the ultimate units are enduring things, whereas the Whiteheadian view is that the ultimate units are momentary events, which Whitehead called “occasions of experience.” Also, the term panpsychism tends to suggest that all individuals have conscious experience, which is a very high-level form of experience that, in Whitehead’s view, is enjoyed by relatively few occasions of experiences. For both of these reasons, the term “panexperientialism” provides a better characterization of his position.

49. I will argue below, however, that this position should not be called “dualistic,” because this term inevitably suggests the Cartesian position, with its ontological dualism.

50. John R. Searle, Minds, Brains, and Science: The 1984 Reith Lectures (London: British Broadcasting Corporation, 1984), 8.

51. Ibid., 13.

52. Ibid., 86.

53. Ibid., 94.

54. Ibid., 97.

55. Ibid., 95.

56. Ibid., 97.

57. Ibid., 89.

58. Ibid., 92.

59. Ibid., 5, 94, 98.

60. Ibid., 8, 13.

61. Searle, The Rediscovery of the Mind, 27.

62. Ibid., 248.

63. Ibid., 248, 247.

64. Ibid., 13.

65. Searle, Minds, Brains, and Science, 92, 93.

66. Ibid., 86.

67. Ibid., 93.

68. Ibid., 98.

69. Ibid., 87.

70. Ibid., 93.

71. Searle, The Rediscovery of the Mind, 111.

72. Ibid., 63.

73. Ibid., 65, 48.

74. Searle, Minds, Brains, and Science, 93.

75. Searle, “Minds and Brains Without Programs,” 227.

76. Searle, Minds, Brains, and Science, 117.

77. Ibid., 87.

78. Thomas Nagel provided the same analysis: Although we necessarily presuppose freedom in practice, no coherent account of freedom seems possible (The View from Nowhere [New York: Oxford University Press, 1986], 110-17, 123). According to Colin McGinn, “it is much more reasonable to be an eliminativist about free will than about conscious-ness” (The Problem of Consciousness: Essays Toward a Resolution [Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1991], 17n). There has been, in fact, a virtual consensus among advocates of materialism that it cannot be reconciled with our belief in freedom. The only materialists who think otherwise seem to be those, like William G. Lycan, who define freedom so as to make it compatible with causal determinism (Consciousness [Cambridge: MIT Press, 1987], 113-18)—a move that amounts, as Nagel and Searle point out, to defining it away.

79. Searle, Minds, Brains, and Science, 98, 97.

80. John R. Searle, “The Mind-Body Problem,”  in Ernest Lepore and Robert van Gulick, eds., John Searle and His Critics (Cambridge, Mass., & Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1991), 141-46, at 145.

81. Jaegwon Kim, Supervenience and Mind: Selected Philosophical Essays (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), 102-07, 348-60, 367.

82. Ibid., x-xv, 76-77, 353-54.

83. Searle, The Rediscovery of the Mind, 8.

84. Ibid. 14.

85. At the time Seager gave his critique, he still held a conventional version of materialism, while being frank about its problems (see the 1991 book mentioned in the next note). Later, however, after becoming aware of the Whiteheadian version of panexperientialism, Seager sketched what he called a panpsychist version of materialism (“Conscious-ness, Information, and Panpsychism,” Journal of Consciousness Studies 2/3 [1995]: 272-88), which is particularly helpful in bringing out the connection between panexperientialism and the notion of “information,” a connection only implicit in my own discussion. 

86. William Seager, Metaphysics of Consciousness (London & New York: Routledge, 1991), 179.

87. Searle, The Rediscovery of the Mind, 125.

88. Thomas Nagel, Mortal Questions (London: Cambridge University Press, 1979), 202.

89. Ibid., 166.

90. Ibid., 189.

91. Whitehead, Science and the Modern World, 156.

92. Colin McGinn, The Problem of Consciousness: Essays Toward a Resolution (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1991), viii.

93. Ibid., 29.

94. Ibid., 1.

95. Ibid., 46.

96. Ibid., 19, 85.

97. Ibid., 213.

98. Ibid., viii. Other materialists have made the same judgment. For example, in Brains and People, William S. Robinson, while accepting a materialist approach, wrote that there is no “imaginable story” leading from talk of neurons in the brain to “our seeing why such a collection of neurons has to be a pain,” and that this absence of understanding “is not merely a temporary limitation” (Brains and People: An Essay on Mentality and Its Causal Conditions [Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1988], 29).

99. McGinn, The Problem of Consciousness, 13, 29, 60.

100. Ibid., 11, 27.

101. Ibid., 79n.

102. Ibid., 2.

103. Ibid., 17n. I have defended a Whiteheadian version of naturalistic theism in Religion and Scientific Naturalism: Overcoming the Conflicts (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2000), Reenchantment without Supernaturalism (see note 124, below), and Two Great Truths: A New Synthesis of Scientific Naturalism and Christian Faith (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2004).   

104. McGinn, The Problem of Consciousness, 2.

105. Ibid., 17n.

106. Ibid., 45.

107. Ibid., 45n.

108. Richard Swinburne, The Existence of God (Oxford: Clarendon, 1979), 161.

109. Ibid., 172-73.

110. Richard Swinburne, The Evolution of the Soul (Oxford: Clarendon, 1986), 198-99.

111. McGinn, The Problem of Consciousness, 47.

112. Ibid., 2.

113. Ibid., 31.

114. Paul Churchland, “The Ontological Status of Intentional States: Nailing Folk Psychology to Its Perch,” Behavioral and Brain Sciences 11/3 (1988): 507-08.

115. McGinn, The Problem of Consciousness, 31n.

116. Ibid., 87, 88.

117. Ibid., 87.

118. Ibid., 119.

119. Ibid., 2.

120. Ibid., 28n.

121. Ibid., 2n.

122. Colin McGinn, The Character of Mind (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982), 31-33.

123. Ibid., 34; McGinn, “Hard Questions,” in Anthony Freeman, ed., Consciousness and Its Place in Nature: Does Physicalism Entail Panpsychism (Imprint Academic, 2006), 90-99, at 93. Although I have based my discussion of McGinn’s position primarily on The Character of Mind, which was published in 1982, and The Problem of Consciousness, which came out in 1991, his discussion of panpsychism changed little over the years, as shown in this 2006 essay and also in his book of the same year, Consciousness and Its Objects (Oxford University Press, 2006), which begins with these words: “I intend this book as a sequel to my 1991 book, The Problem of Consciousness. . . . I have not seen reason to modify or retract any of my earlier views” (1).

124. In the Introduction to Reenchantment without Supernaturalism: A Process Philosophy of Religion (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2001), I listed ten “core doctrines” of Whiteheadian-Hartshornean process philosophy, the fourth of which is stated thus: “Panexperientialism with organizational duality, according to which all true individuals—as distinct from aggregational societies—have at least some iota of experience and spontaneity (self-determination)” (6).

125. A. H. Johnson, “Whitehead as Teacher and Philo-sopher,” Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 29 (1969): 351-76, at 354.

126. McGinn does, in a footnote, refer to my development of the Whiteheadian view, saying: “The doctrine of ‘panexperientialism’, in its Whiteheadian form, is taken with deadly seriousness by David Ray Griffin in Unsnarling the World-Knot (University of California Press, 1998)” (Consciousness and Its Objects [Oxford University Press, 2006], 123, n12). McGinn has never shown any evidence, however, that he has actually read this book. He knows about it because in 1994, he attended, at my invitation, a conference I had organized on “Consciousness in Humans, Animals, and Machines.” The agreement was that he would give a critique of the first draft of my manuscript for Unsnarling the World-Knot. However, he simply repeated the critique of “panpsychism” that he had provided in his previous books, without a single reference to anything in my manuscript.

127. Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, trans. Norman Kemp Smith (New York: St. Martin’s, 1965), B 428.

128. Pete A. Y. Gunter, “Henri Bergson,” in David Ray Griffin et al., Founders of Constructive Postmodern Philosophy: Peirce, James, Bergson, Whitehead, and Hartshorne (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1993): 133-64, at 137-41.

129. Alfred North Whitehead, Process and Reality (orig. 1929), corrected edition, ed. David Ray Griffin and Donald W. Sherburne (New York: Free Press, 1978), 77; Religion in the Making (New York: Macmil-lan, 1926 [reprinted, Fordham University Press, 1996, with an introduction by Judith A. Jones]), 91.

130. Alfred North Whitehead, Science and the Modern World (1925; New York: Free Press, 1967), 49.

131. Ibid., 50.

132. I refer to McGinn’s statement, quoted earlier, that if we attribute proto-conscious states to neurons, “it seems easy enough to see how neurons could generate consciousness” (The Problem of Consciousness, 28n). Elsewhere, however, McGinn has claimed that the attribution of proto-conscious (or proto-mental) states to neurons does not help.

McGinn makes this claim in articulating a distinction between “strong” and “weak” versions of panpsychism. According to the strong version, “all matter has conscious states in the straightforward sense in which organisms have conscious states: neurons in my brain literally feel pain, see yellow, think about dinner—and so do electrons and stars” (McGinn, The Mysterious Flame: Conscious Minds in a Material World [Basic Books, 2000], 96-97). Since this idea is “ludicrous,” as McGinn says, the hope for a plausible panpsychist solution must rest on the weak version. But this version contains nothing but an empty truism. “[T]he weak version merely says that matter has some properties or other, to be labeled ‘protomental,’ that account for the emergence of consciousness from brains. . . . But we are not told anything about the nature of these properties. Of course matter must have the potential to produce consciousness, since it does it all the time. But to state that truism . . . simply restates the problem. In fact, weak panpsychism of this kind is virtually indistinguishable from the mysterianism I have been defending” (ibid., 99) McGinn’s argument, therefore, can be summarized thus:

There are only two versions of panpsych-ism, the strong and the weak;

The strong version is ludicrous;

The weak version is empty;

Therefore, panpsychism can be dismissed.

McGinn is certainly right to say that what he calls the strong version is ludicrous (although what is even more ludicrous is the idea that any actual philosophers have ever held this view, according to which “electrons . . . think about dinner”). McGinn is wrong, however, to believe that what he calls the weak version, which fails to say “anything about the nature” of neurons—beyond the truism that they can give rise to conscious experiences—is the only alternative to his strong version.

McGinn himself, in fact, pointed out a middle position in discussing Thomas Nagel’s famous essay, “What Is It Like to Be a Bat?” McGinn wrote: “his [Nagel’s] idea is that to undergo an experience is for there to be something it is like for the subject of the experience” (McGinn, The Problem of Consciousness, 164). To say that neurons have experience, in other words, is to say that it is like something to be a neuron.

As we saw earlier, Nagel stated the core of the traditional mind-body problem with his dictum: “One cannot derive a pour soi from an en soi.” When we think of something as a pour soi, we suppose that there is something it’s like to be that thing, even though we may have little or no idea what it is actually like. For example, we have virtually no idea of what it’s like to be a bat, but we suppose it is like something. We have even less insight into what it’s like to be a fly, but we can still imagine that it’s like something, so we may encourage our children not to pull a fly’s wings off. We do not, however, suppose that it is like something to be a brick or the number two. Accordingly, if we suppose that a neuron in the brain is in this respect the same as a number or a brick, so that it’s not like anything to be one, the idea that the brain could produce, or even interact with, conscious experiences seems impossible.  

Panexperientialism overcomes this seeming impossi-bility by saying that neurons have experience, so that it is like something to be a neuron (even though we cannot describe what this is). Whitehead’s version of panexperientialism says quite a bit more than this (see Chapters 7-9 of Unsnarling the World-Knot). But even forms of panpsychism that say only this would be different from McGinn’s total agnosticism, because the mere assertion that neurons have experience, so that it is thought to be like something to be a neuron, overcomes what Nagel called the “logically unbridgeable” gap. Panpsychists do not, therefore, face McGinn’s forced option between absurdity and vacuity.

133. Alfred North Whitehead, Modes of Thought (1938; New York: Free Press, 1968), 158.

134. Science and the Modern World, 50; Process and Reality, 209.

135. Modes of Thought, 159.

136. Ibid., 159-60.

137. Process and Reality, 162.

138. Science and the Modern World, 58; Process and Reality, 29, 167.

139. Charles Hartshorne, "Some Causes of My Intellectual Growth," in Lewis Edwin Hahn, ed., The Philosophy of Charles Hartshorne: The Library of Living Philosophers XX (Lasalle, Ill: Open Court, 1991): 3-45, at 13.

140. Julius Adler and Wing-Wai Tse, “Decision-making in Bacteria,” Science 184 (1974):1292-94; A. Goldbeter and Daniel E. Koshland, Jr., “Simple Molecular Model for Sensing Adaptation Based on Receptor Modification with Application to Bacterial Chemotaxis,” Journal of Molecular Biology 161/3 (1982): 395-416.

141. See Milic Capek, “Time-Space rather than Space-Time,” in Capek, The New Aspects of Time: Its Continuity and Novelties: Selected Papers in the Contemporary Philosophy of Science, ed. Robert S. Cohen (Dordrecht/Boston: Kluwer Academic Pub-lishers, 1991).

142. David Ray Griffin, Time in Process Philosophy,” KronoScope: Journal for the Study of Time 1/1-2 (2001): 75-99; “Time in Physics and the Time of Our Lives: Overcoming Misplaced Concreteness,” in Griffin, Whitehead’s Radically Different Postmodern Philosophy: An Argument for Its Contemporary Relevance (Albany: SUNY Press, 2007): 106-138.

143. Daniel E. Dennett, Consciousness Explained (Boston: Little, Brown & Co., 1991), 29.

144. John Hick, Death and Eternal Life (San Francisco: Harper, 1976), 112 (emphasis added).

145. Ibid., 120.

146. Ian Barbour, Religion in an Age of Science (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1990), 104-05.

147. Charles Hartshorne, “The Compound Individual,” in  Otis H. Lee, ed., Philosophical Essays for Alfred North Whitehead (New York: Longmans Green, 1936), 193-220; reprinted in Charles Hartshorne, Whitehead’s Philosophy: Selected Essays 1935-1970 (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1972), 41-61.

148. Alfred North Whitehead, Adventures of Ideas (1933; New York: Free Press, 1967), 186.

149. Whitehead, Science and the Modern World, 153.

150. My thanks to Tod Fletcher for editorial assistance with this essay.


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