Panentheism.  Revisionism.  Anarchocapitalism.


David Ray Griffin

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Essays by Me

Essays by Others

From The Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research 87/3 (July 1993), 217-288.

ABSTRACT: The main reasons for the marginality of parapsychology are its challenge to the modern worldview and its association with the occult. These are two sides of the same coin, because the modern worldview, with its mechanistic doctrine of nature and its sensationist doctrine of perception, was adopted in large part to rule out influence at a distance, especially to and from minds, which should be regarded as essential to the definition of psi relations. Parapsychology, which studies ostensible psi relations, is inevitably, therefore, a potentially revolutionary science. It need not pose an ultra-revolutionary threat, however, because it need not affirm true precognition; and the modern principles it challenges can still be regarded as expressing important, if limited, truths.

Philosophers of parapsychology should not concede that the modern worldview works quite well for everything except psi. It cannot handle various “hard-core commonsense notions,” which we all presuppose in practice, such as freedom, efficient causation, a real world, time, and the reality of values.

The bulk of the essay explicates the postmodern philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead, which affirms panexperientialism, the priority of nonsensory perception, and influence at a distance. The same revisions of the modern worldview to account for the hard-core commonsense notions turn out also to allow for the various types of psi.



Parapsychology and Philosophy: A Whiteheadian Postmodern Perspective1

David Ray Griffin2


Parapsychology, Psi, and the Modern Worldview


The Marginality of Parapsychology in the Modern World

Modern science in general has had a tremendous impact upon philosophical thought in recent centuries, and this fact has remained true in the 20th century. Although some philosophical circles in an earlier portion of this century were dominated by movements that sought to insulate themselves from the sciences, such as phenomenology, existential-ism, and analytic philosophy, philosophical thought overall has been greatly transformed by the effects of scientific discoveries and theories. This is true not only of the so-called natural sciences—the effects of the second law of thermodynamics, quantum physics, evolutionary theory, molecular biology, and ecology spring to mind—but also of the so-called social sciences—here one thinks immediately of the impact of Marxism, Freudian-ism, and the theory of paradigm-shifts, which arose in the sociohistorical study of science.

However, although the science of parapsycho-logy, at least under the older name “psychical research” (I use the two terms synonymously, except when indicating otherwise), has existed for over a century, it has yet to have much impact upon philosophical thought. Indeed, although the Parapsychological Association has been an affiliate of the American Association for the Advancement of Science since 1969, most scientists and philosophers still do not think of it as a science, whether through explicit rejection or simply by not thinking about it at all.

The reasons mat have been given most often for this continued marginality of parapsychology by its detractors are these: (1) The alleged interactions of parapsychology violate certain fundamental assump-tions (often called, following C. D. Broad’s [1969] analysis, “basic limiting principles”) of the worldview that is presupposed throughout the philosophical and scientific communities—a worldview that works perfectly well for almost everything except the alleged data of parapsychology (Campbell, 1984, pp. 33, 91-96; Feigl, 1960, pp. 28-29). (2) Parapsycho-logy is suspect because of association with the “occult” (Allison, 1978, p. 281). (3) Parapsychology has been unable to produce experiments that are repeatable in the strong sense. Even if some replicability has been achieved, it is not sufficient given the fact that the implications of the alleged results do not cohere with many basic principles accepted throughout the rest of the scientific community: extraordinary claims require extraordi-nary evidence (Kurtz, 1981, pp. 13-14). (4) The parapsychology community has not produced a widely accepted, testable theory of how and why the effects appear when they occasionally do, if they do.


Parapsychology as a Revolutionary Science

This marginality of parapsychology has evoked contrasting proposals from the parapsychological community. Although mere is a large spectrum of attitudes, I will speak in terms of two main tendencies, the conservative and the revolutionary.

The conservative stance involves, in the first place, minimizing the appearance of contradiction between the worldview of the scientific community in general and that of the parapsychological commu-nity. Fellow parapsychologists are urged not to speak of their science as revolutionary. The seemingly paranormal types of causal interaction studied by parapsychologists are called “anomalies,” which implies that they may eventually be explained in terms of conventional causal theories (some have suggested that they may already be thus explainable, with quantum physics being the favorite “conventional” theory). It has even been urged that causal hypotheses be given up, at least temporarily. Some parapsychologists advocate the use of terms that imply no hypotheses about the types of causality involved in the various phenomena studied; rather, they say these terms should be defined negatively or phenomenalistically. The term “psi” has been proposed as such a term to refer to all the phenomena (I will use the term, but not with the phenomenalist meaning). A second conservative tendency has been to distinguish “parapsychology,” understood as a laboratory science, from “psychical research,” which investigates spontaneous cases as well, and to exclude from parapsychology the study of evidence for life after death and the more bizarre-seeming physical phenomena, such as materializa-tions, thereby breaking the association between parapsychology and the occult. A third conservative tendency, closely related to the second, is to try to find an experiment that will be sufficiently repeatable to convince other scientists of the reality of the phenomenon studied. A fourth conservative tendency, closely related to the third, is to do process-oriented studies to try to understand the dynamics behind the production of psi effects.

At the opposite end of the spectrum is a revolutionary stance. This stance says that if the types of interaction studied by parapsychologists are genuine, so that telepathy, psychokinesis, and precognition really occur, this shows that the conventional worldview of modern science and philosophy is completely inadequate. Precognition, with its implication that the future exerts backward causation upon the present—which would mean that an effect can exist before its cause—is often offered as the clearest case in point. Conventional ideas of causality and time (as well as space), it is said, must be given up. Regarding the second and third points in the general critique of parapsychology, those with a more revolutionary approach, being less concerned with acceptance by conventional science and less worried about charges of association with “the occult,” tend to be impatient with the methods and generally meager results of the strictly experimental approach, and want to devote more attention to large-scale spontaneous phenomena and to consider seriously the question of survival. Regarding the fourth point, although these thinkers are not necessarily uninterested in discovering the underlying dynamics, they suspect that the dynamics operating when normal subjects intentionally produce (small-scale) manifestations of psi are quite different from those operating in extraordinary individuals who have spontaneously manifested large-scale effects (Taylor, 1987, p. 327). The laboratory, experimental approach, they believe, is therefore not going to help us understand the natural phenomenena, which understanding was the motive for establishing the science in the first place. Furthermore, there may be something about psi that will always prevent successful experiments that are repeatable in a very strong sense (Eisenbud, 1983, pp. 149-168).

My own reading in the area, with eyes conditioned by the philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead (1861-1947),3 has led me to a position somewhere in the middle of the spectrum between the conservative and revolutionary stances. The focus of my discussion will be on the question of worldview, especially on what C. D. Broad (1969) called the “basic limiting principles.” I agree with those who see this issue as primary and the rest, such as the issue of repeatability, as secondary. For example, sociologist of science Marcello Truzzi (1980), one of the fairest of parapsychology’s critics, makes these two points about repeatability and parapsychology:

(a) absence of replicability is present for significant claims in many other accepted sciences (especially in psychology and sociology but also in such fields as astronomy); and (b) replicability is also a matter of degree, and many experiments in parapsychology have been replicated with some consistency by different experimenters (to say nothing about replications with the same experimental set or replications with a single subject), (p. 43)

On this basis he endorses the following statement by Paul Allison (1978):

While the discovery of an easily repeatable experiment might ultimately save parapsy-chology, the lack thereof surely does little to explain the intensity of those who oppose the field. It certainly hasn’t stopped other fields (e.g., psychology) from being accepted as scientifically legitimate. No, the opposition seems to stem most from two closely related features of parapsychology: its threat to basic scientific assumptions and its origins hi and continued association with the occult, (p. 281)

I would say that these two reasons—threat to basic assumptions and association with the occult—are so “closely related” that they, in fact, are two sides of the same coin: The principles of the “modern scientific worldview” that the evidence from para-psychology challenges were originally adopted precisely, in large part, to rule out “occult” pheno-mena. Challenging these principles therefore inevi-tably looks to defenders of the modern worldview like support for “the occult.”

At the center of the new philosophy of nature that emerged victorious in the 17th century was a mechanistic doctrine of nature. This position was, in fact, often referred to as the “new mechanical philosophy.” This view of nature had two fundamental dimensions, both of which exemplified the demand that all “occult” qualities and powers be banished from nature.

One dimension was the elimination of all sponta-neity, self-motion, or self-determination—especially any self-determination in terms of an ideal end (final causation)—from nature, which resulted in determinism. The second meaning of mechanism was that there can be no action at a distance: All causal influence must be by contact. A statement by Richard Westfall (1980a) nicely summarizes these two points:

All [mechanical philosophers] agreed on some form of dualism which excluded from nature the possibility of what they called pejoratively “occult agents” and which presented natural phenomena as the necessary products of inexorable physical processes. . . . All agreed that the program of natural philosophy lay in demonstrating that the phenomena of nature are produced by the mutual interplay of material particles which act on each other by direct contact alone. (pp. 15-16)

One of the factors making action at a distance such an important issue at the time was the “witch-craze” of the 16th and 17th centuries, which some historians consider the major social problem of the time (Kors & Peters, 1972). The accusations of witchcraft presupposed the idea that the human mind could directly cause harm to other people and their possessions. The mechanistic philosophy of Descartes and Mersenne, by denying that any action at a distance can occur and, more particularly, by denying that the mind can exercise influence upon remote objects (Descartes’ philosophy made it difficult to understand how the mind could even influence its own body), undermined the world of thought in which the witch-craze flourished and helped bring about its demise (Easlea, 1980; Lenoble, 1943, pp. 18, 89-96; Trevor-Roper, 1969).

A second theological-social problem, probably equally important, involved the interpretation of “miracles.” Competing with both Aristotelianism and the mechanistic philosophy was a wild assortment of Neoplatonic, Hermetic, Cabalistic, and naturalistic philosophies that had spread northward from the Platonic Renaissance that began in Italy in the 15th century. Some of these were “magical” philosophies, which allowed action at a distance. They specifically allowed the human mind to exert and receive influence at a distance—for example, through “sympathy.” These philosophies implied, and some of their proponents explicitly argued, that the miracles of the New Testament (and, for Catholics, the ongoing Christian tradition) were purely natural effects, not different in kind from extraordinary events that have occurred in other traditions and not requiring any supernatural intervention. Defenders of Christianity saw these philosophies as posing a profound threat, because the appeal to miracles as the sign of God’s establishment of Christianity as the one true religion was the central element in Christian apologetics. Many believed, furthermore, given the close relation between the Christian Church and the state, that the stability of the whole social fabric rested on this point (Easlea, 1980, pp. 94-95, 108-115, 132, 135, 138, 158, 210; Jacob, 1978, pp. 162-176).

The mechanistic philosophy was seen by many as the best defense of this traditional Christian position against the naturalistic interpretation of miracles. For example, Father Marin Mersenne, who was—along with Descartes, and in ways more important than Descartes—the central figure in the establishment of the mechanistic philosophy in scientific, philoso-phical, and theological circles in France, advocated the mechanistic philosophy on these grounds. Because it showed that no influence at a distance could occur naturally, the miracles that occurred in the New Testament and later Christian history were really miracles—that is, they required the supernatural intervention of God (Lenoble, 1943, pp. 133, 157-158, 210, 375, 381). (Those similar events that occurred in other traditions were said to be produced by Satan. Although Satan’s powers were said to be not truly supernatural, but only preternatural, they included the power to simulate miraculous effects.)

Part and parcel of this denial of influence at a distance was the sensationist doctrine of perception, according to which we can perceive actualities beyond ourselves only by means of the bodily senses. Such perception involves a chain of contiguous influences, whereas nonsensory percep-tion would involve a direct contact between the mind and a remote object or mind. This sensationism helped undermine the world of thought that allowed both for witchcraft and for naturalistic interpretations of certain miracles (such as Jesus’ knowledge of what was in other people’s minds).

Some of the theological-sociological reasons for preferring the mechanistic doctrine of nature, however, involved the other meaning of this doctrine—the denial to matter of the capacity for self-motion. One of these4 had to do with belief in life after death. Some of the Renaissance philosophies, referred to above, regarded matter as self-moving and perhaps self-organizing. Some of the proponents of the idea that matter is self-moving explicitly propounded the heresy of “mortalism,” which says that when the body dies, so does the soul. They argued for this on the grounds that the body is composed of self-moving things and yet it clearly decays at death; there is no reason, accordingly, to assume that the fate of the soul will be any different. This heresy was also profoundly threatening in the eyes of the defenders of the church’s authority and thereby of social stability. Most people, friends and opponents alike, agreed that the church’s authority lay primarily in its having “the keys to the kingdom,” meaning the power to determine whether people at death would go to heaven or hell. If belief in life after death crumbled, so would the authority of the church.

Again, the mechanistic view of nature was seen as a godsend. It portrayed matter as having no self-moving power. This view of nature made it obvious that because we are obviously self-moving beings, there must be something in us that is different in kind from matter—an immaterial, self-moving soul. Accordingly, it was argued—by Mersenne, Gassendi, Descartes, Boyle, and the Royal Society—the fact that the body decays at death is no reason to suppose that the soul decays, too (Easlea, 1980, pp. 108-115, 138, 158, 210; Jacob, 1978, pp. 161-176; Lenoble, 1943, pp. 133, 157-158, 210, 375, 381).

I mention this third example, about how the mechanistic philosophy of nature was used to support belief in life after death, for two reasons. First, it shows that in its first phase the “modern worldview” was not intended to rule out belief in life after death, but to support it. The soul was different from the brain and separable from it. I will make use of this point below in delimiting psi and the paranormal. Second, this example illustrates the fact that the idea that nature’s basic units are devoid of the power of self-motion was as central to the modern worldview as the denial of action at a distance. My proposal in this essay will be that we need a postmodern philosophy in which both of these features of the modern worldview are rejected. That is, besides allowing for action at a distance, the Whiteheadian philosophy I commend is a nondualis-tic, neoanimistic, panexperientialist philosophy, in which experience and spontaneity are fully natural features of the world, characteristic of nature at every level.

For now, however, the issue is the relation between the modern world-view, action at a dis-tance, and the controversial and therefore potentially revolutionary nature of parapsychology. My proposal is that, if we say that parapsychology studies ostensible psi relations, then however “psi relations” are exactly to be defined to differentiate them from other phenomena, the feature of action at a distance should be central. That this is the most distinctive feature of the kinds of events studied by para-psychologists is suggested by many of the terms used: telepathy, telekinesis (a variant of psycho-kinesis), teleportation, remote viewing, retrocog-nition, and precognition. (Sometimes the distance is temporal, sometimes spatial, and sometimes both.) The idea of influence at a distance is, furthermore, at least arguably implicit in the other phenomena considered to be appropriate for parapsychologists or psychical researchers.5

By proposing that psi relations be defined in terms of causal influence at a distance, I am rejecting the conservative tendency to define psi and thereby the subject of parapsychology in a merely negative or phenomenalistic way. For example, some people propose that parapsychology is the study of all paranormal phenomena, taking “paranormal” broadly to mean anything that does not fit into the current worldview, that is, the late modern worldview of materialism. Freedom, however, does not fit within this worldview, and yet no one would think ostensible instances of free action belong to the subject matter of parapsychology; and many other examples could be listed (see the discussion of the inadequacies of materialism in the section beginning on p. 233). Another negative definition states that parapsycho-logy’s subject matter consists of types of effects for which there is now no known cause. We do not, however, understand the causal basis for many phenomena, such as how a spider knows how to spin a web, or how the universe came into existence (if one says, “through a big bang,” we can ask where the wherewithal for the big bang came from); and many people say we have no idea of how the mind affects the brain and vice versa. Such a negative, temporally-based definition, furthermore, would have the result that if we came to understand how psi relations are caused, they would no longer be psi relations! The phenomenalistic definition of psi relations as “anomalous correlations” also, like the negative definitions, shies away from that which makes parapsychology a potentially revolutionary science—the fact that it may confirm just the kind of causal influence that the modern worldview not only rules out, but was intentionally designed to rule out: causal influence at a distance.

Many philosophers, such as James Wheatley (1977), have expressed the hope that we can express our “intuitive notion of what psi occurrences are” in a “positive characterization” (p. 162). My suggestion is that this positive characterization of the nature of psi must involve the notion of influence at a distance.

This type of positive characterization of psi has been resisted by many parapsychologists. One of the most important reasons for this resistance is that if psi is thus characterized, and parapsychology is defined as the study of psi events, then it is easy for critics to claim that parapsychology is not a legitimate science because its very subject matter is in doubt. The proper way to solve this problem, how-ever, is not to define psi negatively or phenomena-listically, but simply to define parapsychology, as John Palmer (1986) has suggested, as the study of ostensible psi events. (Palmer himself said “ostensible psychic events,” but I prefer psi.) Parapsychology then clearly has a subject matter. Palmer’s suggestion, furthermore, provides a definition that is acceptable for both those who do and those who do not believe that psi really occurs, thereby removing the suggestion that a parapsycho-logist is necessarily a “believer” in psi. Parapsycho-logy, then, is the scientific study of ostensible psi events, meaning events that, however more precisely they be specified, seem to involve a form of causal influence at a distance.

My claim that parapsychology is inevitably potentially revolutionary makes my analysis close to that of Brian and Lynne Mackenzie (1980). They rightly say that the “paranormal” events studied by parapsychology are not simply “anomalous” in the sense of being a “specifiable class of events which just happen to conflict with the scientific conception of the world.” Rather, “they were established as paranormal by the genesis of that scientific conception, and are not definable separately from it. . . . The ‘paranormal’ was established as such by being ruled out of nature altogether” (pp. 143, 153). Accordingly, they say,

the incompatibility of parapsychology with modern science is neither accidental nor recent, but is built into the assumptive base of modern science itself. It is because the aims and claims of parapsychology clash so strongly with this assumptive base that the field attracts such hostility. It is for the same reason that, if accepted, parapsychology would have the revolutionary implications on which Rhine and some other parapsychologists frequently insist, (p. 135)

Aside from the fact that the Mackenzies define parapsychology as the study not of ostensible paranormal relations, but simply of paranormal relations (which puts parapsychology itself rather than its possible results in tension with the worldview of modern science), their analysis seems correct. They are correct, furthermore, in their identification of the nature of this tension. They introduce this topic by quoting the famous statement of George Price (1978), made prior to his change of mind: “The essence of science is mechanism. The essence of magic is animism” (p. 153). According to the modern worldview, in other words, “scientific” explanations are mechanistic explanations, whereas parapsycho-logy points to phenomena for which mechanistic explanations do not seem possible. Beyond this point, however, the analysis of the Mackenzies needs revision.

In their account of the establishment of modern science in the 17th century, the Mackenzies (1980) focus on the “reification of mathematics” and the resulting schema of primary and secondary qualities, according to which only physical entities wholly describable in mathematical terms were said to be causally efficacious in nature. This move was clearly central, and they rightly see that this view of nature implied a dualism between mind and nature. Mind became the repository of all features of the world not describable mathematically. “Mental and other nonmathematico-physical entities and forces were tolerable in the scientific scheme . . . only if they were confined within the nonphysical minds of individual organisms, where they could not interfere with the orderly course of nature” (p. 142).

While this is all true, at least as a tendency, the Mackenzies wrongly take this feature of the “mechanistic” worldview to be the primary feature violated by “paranormal” phenomena. For the Mackenzies, the defining characteristic of all movements belonging to what they broadly call “the parapsychological tradition” is that “they all involve attempts to demonstrate more or less publicly the existence and causal efficacy of some kind of irreducible nonmathematico-physical elements in the world” (p. 148). Parapsychology insists on “the irreducible efficacy of some kind of . . . agency available to persons but not to physical systems” (p. 133). If this were all that were involved, however, then Descartes, the arch-mechanist, would belong to the “parapsychological tradition” insofar as he believed that the mind influences the brain, which in turn influences the arm, which in turn produces effects in the world beyond the person’s body. Our experience of deciding to move a spoon with our hand and then doing so would evoke as much wonder in us as witnessing someone bend a spoon by simply thinking about it.

What is missing from their analysis of the mecha-nism of the modern worldview is the centrality of the denial of action at a distance. One of the primary meanings of “mechanical,” as I argued above, was that all causal action is by contact. As Richard Westfall (1980a) says, “the fundamental tenet of Descartes’ mechanical philosophy of nature [was] that one body can act on another only by direct contact” (p. 381).

This claim might seem to be undermined by the fact that one of the central pillars of the modern worldview, Newton’s theory of universal gravitation, seems to involve action at a distance. A qualification is indeed needed. There were several versions of the mechanical philosophy, and Newton’s version diverged more radically from Descartes’ than did any of the others, at least on this point. In contrast with Descartes’ kinetic mechanical philosophy, Newton had a dynamic mechanical philosophy, in which the ultimate agent of nature was, in Westfall’s words, “a force acting between particles rather than a moving particle itself” (p. 390). This meant that Newton’s philosophy of nature was at least open to the idea of action at a distance, and his language of “attractions” seemed to imply it. This is precisely why his philosophy was so controversial when it was first articulated, especially on the Continent, where the Cartesian philosophy reigned. Christiaan Huygens, the leading Cartesian scientist after Descartes’ death, wrote the following about Newton to a friend: “I don’t care that he’s not a Cartesian as long as he doesn’t serve us up conjectures such as attractions” (Westfall, 1980a, p. 464).6 It was precisely in this context that Newton went positivistic saying that he was only giving mathematical formulae of the effects of the force involved, and that his word “attraction” did not entail any claims about the nature of the force (p. 464).

Furthermore, although scientists and philoso-phers continued to speak of the “Newtonian world-view,” during the 18th and 19th centuries Newton’s ideas were assimilated as much as possible to the Cartesian mechanistic philosophy, so that it is more accurate to describe the resulting worldview as Newtonian-Cartesian (Schofield, 1970, pp. 115-124). This process began with Newton himself. Besides leaving open the possibility, with his positivistic disclaimers, that mechanical causes might be found for gravity and other forms of apparent attraction and repulsion,” in his final years, a growing philosophic caution led Newton to retreat somewhat toward more conventional mechanistic views” (Westfall, 1980a, p. 644).

The claim can remain, accordingly, that for the most part the first version of the modern worldview, which was dualistic and supernaturalistic, said that events involving apparent action at a distance do occur, but that they occur only through supernatural power (or at least the preternatural, virtually supernatural, power of Satan). Of course, the dualism between mind and nature, while insisting that there can be no action at a distance within nature (that is, between two material bodies), might have allowed the mind, which was effectively placed outside of nature, to have received and exercised influences at a distance. Some thinkers, in fact, did argue for this position (Prior, 1932; Thomas, 1971, pp. 577-578; Trevor-Roper, 1969, pp. 132-133). The actual nature of the dualism adopted by most dualists, however, did not allow for this. The influence of mind on matter at a distance was ruled out, and mind was said to be able to perceive only through the material senses.

The second version of the modern world, which dropped the supernaturalism as well as the dualism of the first version, did not allow at all for events inexplicable mechanistically. The mechanistic view of nature was retained; the rejection of dualism meant that this view of “nature” now applied to the world as a whole, including human experience; and the rejection of God meant that there is no power to produce effects that cannot be explained by contiguous causes. It was this transition to the late modern worldview that brought the complete a priori denial that events inexplicable through mechanical principles, understood as ruling out action at a distance, could occur.

A slight qualification of this statement might be needed with regard to gravitation. There has, to be sure, been a continuation of the early hostility to the action-at-a-distance interpretation of gravity, and there have been attempts to find alternative interpretations, such as “curved space” and “gravitons.” Many intellectuals in the modern world, however, have accepted gravitational attraction as a form of action at a distance, while rejecting all alleged instances of psi, evidently because of several differences. (1) Gravity was associated with “the great Newton” and the establishment of the “scientific worldview” (Newton’s involvement in “occult” phenomena was not widely known until recently). (2) Gravity is very regular and is directly experienced as such all the time. (3) Gravity can be given a mathematical description. (4) Gravity involves inanimate nature, not the mind. The latter two points accord with the Mackenzies’ analysis of what modernity declared to be acceptable, and the fourth point in particular fits with the concern to rule out all “witchcraft” and “black magic” as well as the concern (among supernaturalists) to preclude naturalistic interpretations of the biblical “miracles.”

Out of this discussion, we can say that psi events, however they should be more precisely defined, are events in which minds either receive causal influence from a distance or exert causal influence at a distance. This characterization, of course, conforms to what are usually considered the two major forms of psi: extrasensory perception and psychokinesis. I prefer, however, the terms “receptive psi” and “expressive psi,” for reasons that I will explain later.

Receptive psi would occur if a mind receives influence at a distance, meaning influence that has not arrived through a chain of contiguous events (with the last links in the chain being constituted by the body’s sensory system). This category includes everything that is usually classified under extrasensory perception (except true precognition, for reasons to be clarified below).

Expressive psi would occur if a mind exerted causal influence at a distance. This category includes not only psychokinesis as narrowly defined—that is, as the direct influence of the mind on inanimate matter other than that in the brain—but also such ostensible phenomena as thought-transference, psychic healing, and psychic stimulation of plant growth.

An obvious objection to my proposal that influence at a distance be made part of the defining essence of psi relations is that it leaves out what is usually listed as the third major subject matter of parapsychology, life after death. Indeed, the founders of psychical research were first and foremost interested in this issue. This subject matter of parapsychology or psychical research, in fact, now has its own name, “theta psi.” A definition of parapsychology that leaves it out, one could claim, cannot be adequate. Life after death, however, does not obviously involve action at a distance; and the same could be said for out-of-body experiences. What is paranormal in these cases, one could say, is not receiving or exerting action at a distance but simply existing apart from the physical body.

This judgment, however, reflects the change from the first to the second version of the modern worldview. Insofar as the materialistic equation of the mind, self, or soul and the brain has become the “normal” view in intellectual circles, the existence of the mind apart from the brain has come to seem “paranormal.” In the early modern worldview, however, the soul’s existence apart from the body did not go against the paradigm. The early modern worldview was intended, in fact, not to threaten this belief but to support it. What was ruled out was only communication between incarnate and discarnate souls, because such communication would have been extrasensory. From this perspective, then, only evidence for life after death, not life after death as such, would be considered paranormal.

Taking this approach would put the self-definition of parapsychology in harmony with most traditions of the world. In virtually all of these, life after death has been accepted, whereas the capacities to exert influence at a distance, clearly to perceive events at a distance, and to communicate regularly with departed spirits have been considered extraordinary capacities, possessed by only a few. Even in the United States today, most people believe in life after death (usually on the basis of a premodern or early modern worldview), considering it a “normal” thing, whereas for most of them telepathy, psychokinesis, and direct evidence for life after death (aside from that provided by the Bible), believed to come through thought-transference or other forms of expressive psi from departed souls, are considered very unusual, perhaps impossible.

My proposal is not that we give up the term “theta psi” and no longer regard evidence for life after death as a distinct area of parapsychology, but only that we state clearly that what is ostensibly paranormal in this area is the evidence for life after death, not life after death as such. That is, the “psi relation” in theta psi should not refer to the existence of the soul apart from the body, but to the relations that ostensibly give evidence of the capacity of the soul to exist apart from the body. This is how many already understand theta psi; but others (such as C. D. Broad, as will be seen below) have thought that the very existence of the soul apart from the brain would be paranormal, and some authors oscillate between the two meanings. In any case, besides bringing parapsychology into line with what most cultures have considered unusual, my proposal would have another advantage: It would allow all the major types of phenomena studied by parapsychologists to be defined in terms of causal influence at a distance involving minds—and it is always nice if the various phenomena placed under a field of study have something positive in common.

Having said this, let me add that I could go the other way. I said above that life after death and out-of-body experiences do not “obviously involve action at a distance.” But, it could be replied, although the action at a distance might not be as obvious as in other cases, it would still obtain. That is, a mind existing apart from a brain would, to exist, have to be perceiving something beyond itself, and probably influencing something beyond itself as well. This perception and action would, because not mediated by a brain, probably have to involve the reception and exertion of influence at a spatial distance (assuming that spatial distance would be a meaningful concept in that context). Accordingly, the very existence of the mind apart from the brain would involve influence at a distance.

This argument makes sense to me, given my Whiteheadian perspective, according to which to exist (as actual) is to perceive and to be perceived, and according to which all “minds” as well as other actualities have spatial-temporal location. Taking this position, furthermore, would fit with those whose sense of “normality” has been decisively shaped by the late modern worldview. I do not feel strongly about this issue, and could accept cither option, as long as, if out-of-body experiences (including experiences after death) be considered paranormal, they be considered such because influence at a distance is involved.

In any case, parapsychology should he understood as a potentially revolutionary science, I have argued, in that it studies ostensible psi events, events that seem to occur and that, it authentic, seem to imply that at least some minds, especially some human minds, are capable, at least at times, of exerting and/or receiving causal influences at a distance. Insofar as psi thus understood is authenticated, the modern worldview, to the extent that it implies that this kind of causal influence is impossible, would need to be modified.

My own belief is that psi has been sufficiently demonstrated, both experimentally and by documentation of spontaneous cases. I hold, therefore, that parapsychology actually does have revolutionary implications, that the modern worldview does need to be modified in order, among other reasons, to include the existence of causal influence at a distance to and from minds.


Parapsychology as not Ultra-Revolutionary

Having supported the revolutionary nature of parapsychology in this respect, I want immediately to distance myself from the ultra-revolutionaries.

Of all the ostensible psi effects, true precognition, if accepted, would be the most revolutionary. True precognition, most commentators agree, would imply backward causation that the precognized event caused the precognition of it, which would mean that the “effect” existed before its “cause” (Brier, 1974, p. 174; Pratt, 1964, p. 167). This is paradoxical at best, but “nonsensical” would be a better term.7

We are here speaking, of course, about efficient causation, meaning the causal influence of one event upon another (which is to be distinguished from final causation in the sense of self-causation, in which the cause and effect are one and the same); and it belongs to the very meaning of an efficient cause that it does not come after its effect. Although I would say, in fact, that an efficient cause necessarily comes before its effects, some people might hold that at least some efficient causes occur simultaneously with their effects. In any case, we cannot intelligibly say that an efficient cause comes after its effects. What philosophy teacher, upon confronting a student with evidence showing that she had plagiarized Aristotle in her term paper, would accept her alternative explanation that Aristotle must have plagiarized her? If the student claimed, instead, that she must have picked up Aristotle’s ideas by clairvoyance or retrocognition, the teacher, while perhaps not believing the student, could at least find the claim intelligible.

Even if the idea that an efficient cause cannot come after its effects were not considered analytic and the idea of backward causation were not rejected as unintelligible on other grounds (I give some more later, and see also Braude, 1986, pp. 261-277), it remains true that the idea would have far more drastic consequences for our worldview than would any of the other forms of psi. (As Eisenbud, 1983, says: “The radical assumptions about time that have been suggested to account for ‘precognitive’ phenomena are irreconcilable on all fronts with all other correspondences known to science” [p. 46].) These drastic implications might have to be pondered, of course, if alternative explanations for ostensible precognition were not possible. I believe, however, that they are possible, and I will offer 13 of them later.

Eliminating true precognition and therefore backward causation from the revolutionary threat posed by parapsychology would go a long way toward allowing people to examine the evidence for psi rationally.

Another conservative move that should also help in this regard would be to show that the acceptance of expressive and receptive psi would not destroy the value of all the scientific work that has been conducted on the assumption that they do not occur. As Marcello Truzzi (1980) has put it: “[Proof of psi] would merely limit the domain of the accepted principles to their previous area of generalization: they would not be falsified for that limited domain” (p. 44).

This mention of “accepted principles” brings us to C. D. Broad’s (1969) list of “basic limiting principles” mentioned earlier. According to Broad, these principles, “apart from the (alleged] findings of psychical research, are commonly accepted either as self-evident or as established by overwhelming and uniformly favorable empirical evidence” (p. 9). I will use this list to summarize the ways in which parapsychology should be seen as a revolutionary, but not ultra-revolutionary, science.

Rather than repeating Broad’s list of nine such principles, I will summarize the most important of them in terms of four basic principles, pointing out the types of things that are thereby ruled out.

1. There can be no causation and (therefore) no perception at a distance—either at a temporal distance, which rules out precognition and retrocognition, or at a spatial distance, which rules out telepathy and clairvoyance. (Broad’s Principles 1.2 and 1.3)

2. There can be no (a) influence of a mind on the world, or (b) influence of the world on a mind, that is not mediated by the brain. This principle is already implicit in the first, because both ruled-out types of influence would be instances of causation at a distance. But stating it as a distinct principle rules out even more explicitly both receptive psi (extrasensory perception of every type) and expressive psi (psychokinesis of every type). (Broad’s Principles 2 and 3)

3. Minds cannot experience apart from brains, which rules out survival of death apart from a supernatural act. (Broad’s Principle 3)

4. An efficient cause cannot come after its effect(s), which means that there can be no retrocausation and (therefore) no precognition. (Broad’s Principle 1.1)

Although Broad’s limiting principles are often cited by those who reject psi interactions as virtually sufficient reason for rejecting claims for their existence, Broad’s own view was that the evidence for some kinds of psi is sufficiently strong to “call for very radical changes in a number of our basic limiting principles” (p. 22). He was more convinced of receptive psi and precognition than of expressive psi and life after death. Of the four principles in my list, that is, he was uncertain about 2a and 3 but thought we should definitely reject 1, 2b, and 4. With regard to 4, he said that “the establishment of paranormal precognition requires a radical change in our conception of time, and probably a correlated change in our conception of causation” (p. 20). With regard to paranormal knowledge in general, he suggested that we should not “tinker with the orthodox notion of events in the brain and nervous system generating sense data” (p. 23), but that we should extend or modify the kind of theory Bergson had suggested, according to which the main function of the brain, nervous system, and sensory organs is to filter out information, not to generate it.

I agree with Broad that, rather than tinkering with the orthodox theory of reality, we need a fundamentally different theory. By contrast, however, I believe, on the one hand, that this theory needs to allow for expressive psi no less than for receptive psi, which means that 2a must be rejected. I also believe there is enough evidence for survival that the theory should allow for its possibility, which means that principle 3 should be, if not rejected as definitely as 1 and 2, at least considered doubtful. (Even if life after death as such should not be classified as paranormal and hence as a type of psi, a discussion of the possibility of life after death belongs in a philosophical basis for parapsychology insofar as parapsychology examines data suggestive of life after death, because, for one thing, how we regard the possibility for survival will affect how we interpret these data.) I do not believe, on the other hand (as I indicated earlier), that we need to reject Principle 4. I accept the contention that it is self-evident. We do not, therefore, need to revise the normal conception of causality with respect to time (although it needs revision in other respects).

Besides not rejecting Principle 4, a second step toward overcoming the widespread assumption that one must choose between psi and science as we have known it is to show, as I suggested above, that the acceptance of psi, including genuine evidence for life after death, implies not the complete rejection of the remaining three principles but merely the relativisation of them. In particular, one could formulate these principles in the following alternative terms (the “A” is for “alternative”):

1A. Most, if not all, forms of causation that are both strong and regular occur between contiguous events, and, in particular, most and perhaps all causation by the human mind that is strong and regular (i.e., it is repeatable at will by a given individual, and it can be exercised by most if not all normal adult human beings) employs the brain and the motor system of the human body. And all conscious perception of extrasomatic things that occurs in a regular, reliable manner for most human beings most of the time involves chains of contiguous events and therefore the bodily sensory organs and the brain.

2A. All influence of the world on the mind and of the mind on the world that is both strong and regular (in the relevant senses specified in 1A) is mediated by the brain. (“Strong” with regard to the influence of the world on the mind means strong enough to become conscious on a regular basis; “strong” with regard to the influence of the mind on the world means strong enough to be readily noticeable.)

3A. Animal minds cannot originally come into existence apart from brains, and most such minds cannot exist apart from brains.

This revision of the principles would, while saying that Principles 1 and 2 and perhaps 3 are false in their unqualified form, show why most of the facts of ordinary experience and science are generally taken to confirm them. This is the kind of “reconciliation” that is needed, I believe, between evidence for psi, on the one hand, and the principles that are presupposed in most scientific work and most daily experience, on the other hand. That is the kind of postmodern reconciliation that Whitehead’s philosophy can provide. It is postmodern, rather than modern, in that it rejects most of modernity’s “basic limiting principles” that were accepted in order to rule out psi interactions. It is postmodern, rather than premodern, in that it accepts the fact that these principles express important truths about reality, and therefore accepts the heuristic value of these principles for many purposes, especially for a “democratic” civilization with a scientific-technological mentality, which is interested primarily in that range of human powers that can be exercised by most people, most of the time, on a regular, reliable basis.

This position has implications for the other two features of the tension between the conservative and the revolutionary stances in parapsychology: the value of continuing to search for a strongly repeatable experiment, and the value of process-oriented studies to try to understand the dynamics involved in the manifestation of conscious receptive psi and deliberate expressive psi. In the section beginning on page 255 I give support for both efforts.


The Alleged Adequacy of the Modern Worldview for Everything Except Psi

Before moving to Whitehead’s postmodern philosophy, one more feature of the accepted wisdom about parapsychology needs to be challenged. This is the widespread assumption, accepted even by many believers in psi,8 that the modern worldview, with its basic limiting principles, “works perfectly well for almost everything except the alleged data of parapsychology” (quoting paragraph 3, above). This idea is not even close to true.

If by “the modern worldview” we mean the late modern, materialistic worldview with its sensationist doctrine of perception, which is dominant in scientific circles today, it cannot account for a wide range of ideas that are presupposed in practice—both ordinary and scientific practice—by scientists as well as everyone else.

Because of its materialism, which leads to the view that the “mind” is really somehow identical with the brain, which is held to be composed of insentient matter/energy, this worldview cannot account for our own conscious experience. Although materialists hold that this experience “emerged” in the course of evolution, they cannot explain how insentient stuff gave rise to experience. They cannot explain how this experience exercises freedom, although everyone in practice assumes that he or she and other people are partly free. They cannot explain how the partly free decisions of their experience affect their body and thereby the world beyond themselves, as when they manipulate a microscope—how can experience affect nonexperiencing matter? So, although materialists often reject psychokinesis for a priori reasons, because the influence of the mind on extrasomatic objects is unintelligible, the influence of the mind on its own body is no less unintelligible on their premises. (“Mind” is used here to refer to the person’s stream of experience, which clearly exists even if it is thought “really” to be somehow “identical” with the brain.)

The sensationist doctrine of perception that is inherent in this materialistic ontology causes no fewer problems.

For example, scientists seek truth, and those who reject belief in the existence of psi do so because it seems to be untrue; but if all of our perception of things beyond ourselves is sensory perception (which is what the sensationist doctrine of perception claims), we have no perceptual basis for knowing that “truth” is important. The same is true for all other values, which as ideal rather than material or physical things cannot be contacted through our physical senses. There is said to be no basis, accordingly, for the universal assumption that some things are “better than” others, such as the belief that science is better than occultism.

Sensory perception also gives us no experiential basis, as Hume pointed out, for speaking of causation as the real influence of one thing or event on another. Sensationist scientists and philosophers who reject psi because they cannot understand how causality can act at a distance are therefore in the uncomfortable position of not being able to say how we know anything about causation at all. (Of course, they, with Hume, may redefine causation phenomenalistically to mean nothing but “constant conjunction” between two types of events, plus the convention that the event that comes first will be called the “cause.” Besides the fact that this convention leads to several unconventional consequences, such as that the rooster’s crowing causes the sunrise, this phenomenalistic definition of causation does not fit at all with the materialist’s usual complaint that psi causation is unintelligible because there is no “mechanism” for it.)

Furthermore, as Hume also showed, besides not being able to say that no part of the world exerts causal efficacy upon another, a sensationist cannot even speak of a real world, but only of the ideas and impressions in one’s mind: sensationism implies solipsism (the doctrine that, for all I know, I may be the only actual existent). Even more, as Santayana (1955) showed, it implies “solipsism of the present moment,” because sensory perception as such gives us no knowledge of the past or the future (pp. 14—15). Finally, because of this, it also gives us no knowledge of time.

Materialism with its sensationist doctrine of perception, in sum, can provide no basis in its theory for all sorts of ideas that we all presuppose in practice. I call these ideas “hard-core commonsense ideas.” They are “common” because they are universal, belonging to the sense of the entire human community. I add the adjective “hard-core” to stress their difference from ideas that may be called commonsense but that are not, in fact, presupposed in practice by all people, and that can be denied without contradiction. Examples of such “soft-core commonsense ideas” are the ideas that the earth is flat, that it was created only a few thousand years ago, that all perception is sensory perception, and that molecules have no feelings. In any case, it can be argued that the hard-core commonsense ideas should be taken by thinkers (philosophers and scientists alike) as the ultimate criteria for judging any theory. The reason for this claim is that if we presuppose these ideas in the very act of stating a theory that denies them, we thereby contradict ourselves, and the principle of noncontradiction is the first principle of rational thought. These ideas are the really “basic limiting principles” to which all theory must bow, as Whitehead (1978) suggests (pp. 13, 151).9

The moral of this discussion is that believers in psi should not accept the basic premise of most a priori dismissals of claims for psi, which is the claim that the materialistic worldview of late modernity works perfectly well for almost everything we know about reality as long as psi is not brought into the picture. The truth is that this worldview does not work at all well for all sorts of things, including most of the ideas we all presuppose in practice, including scientific practice. Would it not be interesting, and in fact significant, if the modifications that are needed to account for these hard-core commonsense ideas are the same modifications that are needed to account for psi? This is, I will suggest in explicating Whitehead’s philosophy, exactly the case.

Before moving to this philosophy, I need briefly to consider another alternative, more common in parapsychological circles, which is to return to the early modern worldview, with its ontological dualism between mind and nature. This dualistic worldview says that, besides the insentient matter-energy of the physical world, which operates according to mechanistic principles, the world contains minds, which are different in kind from material things. On this basis, we can account for freedom and, if we add the supposition that minds can have nonsensory perceptions, we can account for our knowledge of values (such as truth), for a real world, for causation as real influence, and for the distinction between the perceiver’s past and the anticipated future and therefore for time. Contra Descartes, furthermore (a contemporary dualist could hold), minds need not be limited to human beings, but can be posited to exist to varying degrees throughout the animal kingdom.

In spite of its obvious strengths, however, this dualistic solution has severe problems. It can provide no nonarbitrary point to draw the line between insentient and sentient things; for example, some dualists say that the cells in our bodies are insentient, but that amoebae, which are single-cell organisms, are sentient. Also, having drawn the line, dualism cannot explain how causal influence transverses it—how mind “emerged” from matter in the evolutionary process and continues to be influenced by it (whether this matter be contiguous or at a distance, as in clairvoyance), and how mind in turn influences matter (whether this matter be contiguous or at a distance, as in psychokinesis). This problem of interaction has been, in fact, the main reason for the widespread rejection of ontological dualism.10 The only possible solution to this problem (other than frank admission that it cannot be answered) seems to be to return to the other element of the early modern worldview, its supernaturalism, and say that God, being omnipotent, can cause unlikes to interact, or at least to appear to interact.11 Besides the other problems that this move would create, such as an insoluble problem of evil (Griffin, 1976, 1991), it would be a strange move for an advocate of psi to make, because belief in psi, undermining the belief that “miracles” are supernatural acts of God, removes one of the two main reasons—knowledge of the evolutionary origin of the world removes the other—for belief in an omnipotent deity undeterred by mere metaphysical impossibilities.

Because both forms of the modern worldview are so problematic, it would seem worthwhile to explore a postmodern philosophy that is neither materialistic nor dualistic. This is what Whitehead provides.


Whitehead’s Postmodern Philosophy


Creative Experience as the Universal Stuff

At the root of Whitehead’s postmodern philosophy is a conception of the basic “stuff” of reality that rejects the modern conception of it. By the basic stuff, I mean what Aristotle meant formally by the notion of the material cause of the universe: that fundamental stuff of which all things in the world are instances. The different species of things differ in that they in-form this stuff with different forms. For Aristotle this stuff was “prime matter.” For early modern thought there were two radically different stuffs: for the physical world it was inert, insentient matter, whereas for the human mind it was self-determining consciousness. How these two kinds of stuff could interact, or at least appear to, was, as mentioned earlier, a mystery resolvable only by appeal to supernatural causation.

This dualism with its supernaturalism is rejected in the late modern worldview, so that inert matter is said to be the stuff of which all things are composed, even human experience. A completely reductionistic, deterministic worldview follows. To be sure, this matter is no longer said to be inert, because it and energy have been discovered to be convertible. Matter-energy, or energetic matter, is therefore said to be the material cause of all things. In spite of this rejection of inertness, however, matter is still said not to be self-determining. Each thing or event is said to be fully determined by previous events. This determinism is said perhaps not to hold at the quantum level. Even when the idea of ontological indeterminacy in subatomic particles is entertained, however, this indeterminacy is not interpreted as self-determinacy, and whatever indeterminacy obtains at the micro-level is said to be canceled out at the macro-level by the “law of large numbers,” so that causal determinism holds for all objects of sensory experience, including human beings. This notion reflects the ontological reductionism of the late modern worldview, according to which all apparent wholes are in principle reducible to (explainable in terms of) their least parts. The behavior of a cat or a human being is, therefore, as fully determined as that of a rock or a computer. Although mind, experience, or consciousness is said somehow to “emerge” in the evolutionary process, it is not a self-determining reality that mitigates determinism, and therefore the world’s predictability, in principle. Whether what we call the mind is said to be “epiphenomenal,” “identical” with the brain, or something else, it has no autonomous power, and certainly no autonomous power to exert causal influence back upon the brain, but is simply a strange cog in the deterministic system of nature. What we call conscious experience obviously exists, in some sense, but it does not play a self-determining causal role in the world.

From this late modern conception of the basic stuff of the world follows a threefold doctrine of causation. (a) All causation is physical and hence efficient and deterministic—there is no mental or final causation, in the sense of self-determination in terms of an ideal. (b) All causation is either upward or horizontal—there is no downward causation from wholes to their parts, or in general from higher to lower things. (c) All causation is local, between things or events that are spatially and temporally contiguous—there is no causal influence at a distance, whether over a temporal or a spatial distance.12

Whitehead’s postmodern starting point is to conceive of the basic stuff of the world, its “material” cause, not as “material” at all, but as creative experience.13 Each actual thing, from subatomic particles to human minds, is an embodiment of creative experience. This means that both experience and creativity, which includes the power of self-determination, are fully natural, rather than illusions, epiphenomena, or emergent properties. This idea puts Whitehead’s philosophy in the class often called “panpsychist,” but the term “panexperientialist” is better. (“Panpsychism” suggests that the ultimate units are enduring psyches, whereas they are [by hypothesis] momentary experiences; also the term “psyche” suggests a higher level of experience than is appropriate for, say, electrons or even cells.)


Actual Entities as Occasions of Experience

Except for anticipations of this point by William James and Henri Bergson, Whitehead’s philosophy is unique among such philosophies (at least in the West—some forms of Buddhism come close to Whitehead’s view here) in saying that the fully actual entities are momentary events that occur, not things that endure through time. His term for these events is “actual occasions.” Because they are drops of experience, they are also called “occasions of experience.” Actual occasions can take—or, really, constitute—variable amounts of time, with subatomic events at one end of the spectrum constituting perhaps about a billionth of a second and occasions of human experience at the other end constituting perhaps about a tenth of a second.14

Enduring individuals, such as photons, protons, atoms, molecules, macromolecules, living cells, and animal psyches, therefore, are not numerically self-identical substances that simply endure through time, but are each constituted by a more-or-less rapidly repeating series of occasions of experience. Each occasion receives influences from the previous occasions, repeating to a large degree the forms embodied in them, and then passes these forms on to future occasions. Endurance, therefore, is not simply undifferentiated but is the result of repetition. An enduring individual, then, is a (purely temporal) “society,” with each momentary member having social, causal relations with previous and later members.

Each occasion exists in two modes. It exists first as a subject of experience, during which it enjoys experience. In its mode as a subject it is dipolar. It begins by receiving influences from past occasions, which means that it receives experiences from them, and it concludes by exercising self-determination. The reception and repetition of prior experiences is the occasion’s “physical pole,” whereas its self-determination is its “mental pole.” This mentality, or self-determination, can be extremely insignificant, as it must be in low-grade individuals such as photons, protons, and atoms. All that is insisted upon is that it is never entirely absent, because this absence would imply an essential dualism between dipolar and purely physical (and therefore fully determined) occasions.

After an occasion has enjoyed its experience, which is more or less self-determined or self-created, it then exists in a second mode, as an object of experience. It is no longer a subject enjoying experience; it is an object for the experiences of subsequent subjects. As an object, it no longer exercises receptivity and self-determination; instead it exercises efficient causation upon other (subsequent) occasions. In losing subjectivity and final causation, an event acquires objectivity and efficient causation (Whitehead, 1929/1978, p. 29; 1938, 1968, p. 237).

One of the most important implications of this move from a materialistic to a panexperientialist notion of nature is for the image of what is going on in efficient causation. The materialistic view implies that efficient causation is somewhat analogous to the impact of one billiard ball on another. The panexperientialist view suggests that efficient causation involves a transfer of experiences. Whitehead’s proposal is that the physical pole, or initial phase, of an occasion of experience is a “conformal phase,” in which the experiences of the effect are conformed to those of its causes. Causation therefore involves a relation of “sympathy,” because the later event begins by feeling the experiences of the previous event with it.


Efficient Causation as Exclusively Forward Causation

Efficient causation, defined as the causal efficacy of one actual occasion upon another, occurs only from past to present occasions.

Future occasions do not yet exist and, therefore, cannot exert causation (Whitehead, 1933/1967, p. 195). An occasion can exert efficient causation only after its self-causation (final causation) has been completed, and the self-causation of a future occasion has not only not been completed, it has not even begun. We can, to be sure, speak of “future occasions,” in that some occasions or other are bound to occur. It is even true that the nature of those occasions is already more or less determined by the past and the present, so that in this sense the future is implicit in the present. Because every occasion, however, has at least some iota of mentality, and therefore exercises at least some iota of self-creativity, future occasions are not yet fully determinate. Their details are fleshed out only by them, in their moment of self-determination. What are to us still future occasions do not somehow exist “tenselessly” and hence do not exist as objects for an omniscient mind. Even God does not know the details of the future. As Bergson (1911) said, “Time is invention or it is nothing at all” (p. 340). And it is not nothing. We must not “spatialize” time, as Bergson (1965) said, by thinking of it as a fourth dimension analogous to space (pp. 137, 146n). Because future occasions are not yet actual, they cannot act back upon the past.

Furthermore, the past is not the sort of thing that could be acted back upon. The past is fully determinate. The becoming of an occasion of experience is its becoming fully determinate. It is partially determined by the occasions in its past. In its moment of reception and self-creation it passes from partial to complete determination. Once it has become fully determinate, and thereby an object for subsequent experiences, it can suffer no additions. Its meaning, of course, can change. The meaning of Newton is different for us than it was for people of the 18th century. By reevaluating the import of Newton, however, we do not change what he thought and how he felt about things. The future can affect the meaning but not the being of the past.

This position provides clear distinctions between the meanings of “past,” “present,” and “future.” The past is that which is fully determinate; the future is that which is still partially indeterminate; and the present is that which is becoming determinate (Hartshorne, 1970, pp. 133-134).

These definitions imply that besides there being no efficient causation from the future to the present, there is also no efficient causation between contemporaries. This does not mean that two contemporary enduring individuals do not interact; contemporary people obviously interact, as do contemporary subatomic particles, mutually exerting efficient causation upon each other. What is meant is only that two contemporary occasions of experience do not interact. The reason for this has nothing to do with the finite speed of radiation (so that some form of instantaneous transmission or perception would allow contemporary experiences to interact). The reason is that an occasion can exert efficient causation only after it has become fully determinate, and contemporary occasions are by definition only becoming determinate.

This limitation does not place severe restrictions upon the interconnectedness of the universe: If about a billion photonic occasions occur in a second of a photon’s existence, then two photons could have about a half-billion interactions during that second; if about a dozen human occasions occur in a second, human beings could have about a half-dozen interchanges in a second. All that is excluded is the self-contradictory notion that something could be an object for others before it has decided for itself precisely what it is to be.

This point, which excludes causation from both future and contemporary experiences, entails that all efficient causation runs from the past to the present, and from the present to the future. In this sense of the term “linear causation,” all causation is linear. There are, however, at least three meanings of the phrase “linear causation” in which all causation is not linear in Whitehead’s philosophy. Explaining this point requires a discussion of the notion of a “compound individual,” which is important in its own right.


Compound Individuals

There are two fundamental ways in which enduring individuals—which are purely temporal societies of occasions of experience because only one member exists at a time—can come together to form spatiotemporal societies, in which there are many contemporary members (taking the “members” here to be the enduring individuals, such as electrons, atoms, and cells). One way is to form a nonindividualized society, in which there is no dominant member to give the society as a whole a unity of response and action in relation to its environment. A rock is an inorganic example of such a society, as is a computer. It would seem that plants are organic examples, in that there seems to be no need to posit a soul of the plant as a higher level of experience and self-expression over and above that of its cells. The behavior of the plant seems explainable in terms of cooperation among the various cells and the societies, such as roots and leaves, that they form. Whitehead (1938/1968), accordingly, says that a plant is a “democracy” or a “republic” (pp. 24, 157), because it has no monarch to coordinate its various parts.

The other way for enduring individuals to form spatiotemporal societies results in compound individuals. A higher enduring individual arises from the way in which the lower individuals are interrelated. In the atom, for instance, out of the interrelation of the electrons, neutrons, and protons there emerges a series of atomic occasions of experience. This higher-level individual, having supervening power to influence (although not totally to control) its subatomic parts, could account for the wholistic properties of the atom, such as the Pauli exclusion principle. In a molecule comprised of a number of atoms, we can likewise think of a series of molecular occasions. Thinking analogously of macromolecules can provide a basis for understanding the power of the DNA molecule actively to transpose its parts. Procaryotic cells would have, above and beyond their macromolecules, a series of living occasions of experience. Eucaryotic cells would be even more complex individuals, being compounded out of a number of organelles (which are perhaps incorporated procaryotic cells). Multicelled animals, and especially those with central nervous systems, are, in this way of thinking, still more complex compound individuals: Out of the more-or-less complex organization of the cells arises the animal soul, which is a temporal society of higher occasions of experience.15 These occasions of experience constituting the animal soul are not different in kind from those constituting the cells of the animal body, but they are, especially in the higher animals, greatly different in degree.

Those occasions of experience comprising the mind, psyche, or soul—these terms are here used interchangeably—are called dominant occasions by Whitehead (1929/1978, p. 119). In this he follows Leibniz, who referred to the mind as the “dominant monad.” The similarity to Leibniz, however, stops there. Leibniz’s monads were enduring substances, being numerically self-identical through time, and were accordingly “window-less,” not being open to causal influence from each other. Whitehead’s enduring individuals, by contrast, are temporal societies of momentary events, each of which begins as an open window, as it were, to the whole past universe.

In any case, the term “dominant” does not mean “omnipotent.” The soul does have disproportionate power in the total psychophysical organism, making it a “monarch” of sorts. The bodily cells, however, do not, in being parts of a larger whole, lose their own power. They are also centers of creative experience, each with some autonomous capacity to exercise self-determination and then to exert creative influence on the rest of the body and back upon the mind. These cells, furthermore, are organized into giant colonies of partly autonomous organs, tissues, and fluids. Whitehead (1938/1968) suggests, accordingly, that the image of a feudal society might be more apt (p. 25).

Whatever image is used, the main point is that a compound individual has a higher-level series of experiences that gives the total individual a unity of experience and action not possessed by nonindividuated societies, such as rocks, computers, and probably plants. By virtue of its dominant occasions of experience, which unify into themselves the various experiences of its bodily parts and then exert a supervening power throughout the next moment of the bodily life, the compound individual can respond as a whole to its environment.

On this basis, we can see why we, unlike rocks, have freedom, and why this freedom is not reducible to quantum indeterminacy. It is commonly thought that quantum indeterminacy, even if it betoken some ontic (not merely epistemic) indeterminacy at the microlevel, and even if this be interpreted as self-determinacy, would not undermine determinism at the macrolevel of objects of ordinary experience, including human beings. The argument is based on the law of large numbers: Although individual electrons and nucleons might not be totally determined by their environments, in things such as rocks, in which there are billions of them, their respective indeterminacies get canceled out, so that the behavior of the rock as such is completely predictable (or at least virtually so for all practical purposes). Cats and human beings are likewise composed of billions and billions of subatomic particles—the argument runs—so they must likewise be fully determined and thus in principle fully predictable (or at least virtually so), even if they are too complex for their behavior to be predictable in fact.

That argument presupposes that all spatiotemporal societies of enduring individuals are of the same type, so that a cat or a human being is analogous to a rock or a computer; this analogy is precisely what the doctrine of compound individuals denies. A human being is not simply a very complex aggregate of subatomic particles, so that its behavior would be understandable in principle in terms of the interactions of the four forces of physics. Above and beyond those centers of creative influence that we call subatomic particles, there are higher centers of creative influence—such as atoms, molecules, macromolecules, organelles, and living cells—which are equally actual, and which in fact have more power. At the top of the pyramid is the dominant series of experiences, the soul, which has far more mentality, and therefore far more capacity for self-determination, than even those relatively high-level creatures we call brain cells.

Because of the hierarchical organization of the human body, the freedom that is present in subatomic particles, far from being canceled out, is greatly increased throughout a whole series of steps. The freedom of the human soul, and thus of the human being as a whole, is not limited to the minuscule degree of freedom that would result solely from quantum indeterminacies in the neurons in the brain. The human soul is just as actual as an electron, and has far more power—the threefold power of receptivity, self-determination, and other-determination (or efficient causation). This great difference in degree of power is the result of several billions of years of evolution, which has been characterized (not exclusively, to be sure, but importantly) by the growth of increasingly higher centers of creative experience.


Nonlinear Causation: Self-Causation, Downward Causation, and Causation at a Distance

The basis has now been laid for stating the ways in which causation is not linear. I had stated earlier that it is linear in the sense that efficient causation goes exclusively from the past to the present and from the present to the future. Causation is not linear, however, in three other respects.

First, efficient causation, defined as the influence of one actuality upon another, is not the only form of causation exerted by actual occasions. Rather, as already explained, each occasion of experience also exerts self-determination. This is self-causation, which means causation by the occasion of experience upon itself. Unless we affirm that we exercise self-causation in this sense, we imply that our own experiences, and thereby all of our actions, are totally determined by the past.

It is difficult to understand how we humans can have this power of self-determination unless some degree of this power is posited all the way down. How, without positing a supernatural intervention, could we explain the rise of self-determining organisms in the evolutionary process out of purely mechanical entities? How, again without positing a deus ex machina, could we understand the interaction of the self-determining aspect of our selves with the purely determined dimensions (which is one way of stating the problem of Cartesian dualism)? Accordingly, this postmodern philosophy suggests that purely linear, in the sense of purely mechanistic, causation does not occur between individuals at any level of nature.

This kind of billiard-ball causation does occur, of course, between non-individualized societies of individuals—such as billiard balls! Because such societies have no unity of experience, these societies as such have no mentality, which means that they can exercise no self-determination. Their interactions with each other, accordingly, approximate the purely mechanical interactions pictured by mechanistic philosophers. It is no mistake to believe that such causation occurs. The mistake is to assume that it is the basic kind of efficient causation, so that it applies to individuals, both simple and compound, as well as to nonindividualized societies.

A second sense in which causation is not linear involves the direction of vertical causal influence. To say that all causation is linear can mean that in a human being, all vertical causation runs upward from the subatomic particles to the person as a whole. This is the doctrine behind ontological reductionism, according to which the behavior of every whole, including any experience it may have, is reducible to the behavior of its most elementary parts. Of course, a purely linear model could say instead that all causation runs from the top down—the doctrine C. J. Ducasse (1961) called hypophenomenalism—as when Christian Science holds that the health of the body depends entirely upon the state of the mind, or when traditional theism holds that all events in the world result from the will of God.

With regard to this issue, Whitehead’s philosophy is radically nonlinear. Each individual event is a center of partially autonomous creative power and influences every event in its future, at whatever level. Accordingly, efficient causation does, as modern thought says, flow upward, from subatomic particles and molecules to macromolecules, cells, and the soul, as well as horizontally, from (say) cell to cell and from molecule to molecule. But it also flows downward, from the cells to the molecules and from the soul to the cells and the lower organisms. Because downward as well as upward causation occurs, the flow of causal influence is reciprocal and circular as well as multi-leveled. For example, I am influenced in the present moment by brain cells that were influenced by my experience in a previous moment, which had in turn been influenced by events in the brain cells in a still earlier moment, and so on.

The notion that all causation is linear can mean, in the third place, that, all causation is transmitted through chains of contiguous events, so that there is no action at a distance. Whitehead’s view is, to the contrary, that each event is directly influenced, to at least some slight extent, by all past events. The standard view, reflected in Broad’s limiting principles, is that my present experience directly influenced only by events that are spatially and temporally contiguous16 with this experience, which means only by immediately past brain events. The rest of the past world does influence me (in Einstein’s relativity theory, the past for an event is defined as all those events that affect the event in question), but it is said to influence me only indirectly, via its influence upon contiguous events. In Whitehead’s philosophy, by contrast, each noncontiguous event in the past exerts a direct as well as an indirect influence upon the present event. (The “past,” therefore, is not limited to those events considered past in an Einsteinian light cone, but includes many events that would be considered “contemporaries” within Einsteinian relativity theory due to the finite speed of light.)

This point depends, at least largely, upon the distinction, introduced earlier, between the physical and the mental poles of an event. An event’s physical pole, it will be recalled, is that event’s incorporation of influences from previous events. The event is physical insofar as it simply repeats past forms of creative experience. An event’s mental pole is its self-determination. Any novelty in an event will originate in its mental pole.

An event can exert influence upon subsequent events in terms of both its physical pole and its mental pole. Either kind of influence can be said to be physical causation, because efficient causation is always exerted by an actual occasion as a whole, not simply by one of its poles (because a pole is an abstraction and as such cannot act), and every occasion has a physical pole. There is no purely mental efficient causation, in the Cartesian sense of a purely mental substance exerting causality in the physical world. We can distinguish, however, between pure physical causation and hybrid physical causation.17 It is pure physical causation insofar as the in-formed creativity transmitted from the cause to the effect(s) arose in the physical pole of the cause. It is hybrid physical causation insofar as this creativity first arose in the mental pole of the cause.

This distinction is relevant to the question at hand, because Whitehead (1929/1978) suggested that whereas pure physical causation seems to occur mainly between contiguous events, hybrid physical causation might not be thus bound (p. 308). This kind of causation, he suggested, should be exerted on more-or-less remote as well as upon contiguous events, and he pointed to telepathic influence as one reason to believe that this form of action at a distance occurs.

The reason he gave for the difference is that the physical poles of occasions are what give rise to the space-time continuum, whereas the mental poles involve the ingression of eternal forms, which are not related more to any one part of space-time than to all others. His statement is cryptic, leaving his reasoning opaque, but, especially given his genius and the amount of time he devoted to understanding the mysteries of space-time, his suggestion seems worthy of exploration by those who are familiar with contemporary discussions in physics.

In any case, the change from a materialistic to a panexperientialist doctrine of nature makes the idea of influence at a distance thinkable as a general characteristic of the world. So long as the actual entities of nature are thought to be even remotely analogous to billiard balls, efficient causation between them must be thought to be by contact. It is not as intuitively self-evident, however, that the influence of one experience on another cannot occur at a distance. Many premodern philosophies, including some of the Neoplatonic and Hermetic philosophies that flourished between the 15th and the 17th centuries, said that “sympathetic” relations can occur between noncontiguous things, and for Whitehead efficient causation involves the transfer of feeling, and thus involves sympathy (1929/ 1978, p. 162; 1938, 1968, p. 183).

To summarize this discussion of causation and linearity: Causation is linear in the sense that efficient causation, meaning the causal influence between actual occasions, runs exclusively from the past to the present; but causation is not linear in the sense that would exclude self-determination within an actual occasion, downward causation from higher to lower occasions of experience, and causal influence at a distance.


Creativity and Energy

At the heart of Whitehead’s postmodern position on these issues is an expansion of the notion of “energy” into “creativity.” From his perspective, the “energy” of current physics is simply an abstraction from, a limited aspect of, the full-blown creativity that is the true material cause embodied in all actualities (Whitehead, 1933/1967, p. 186). The energy of current physics involves only the quantitative aspect of the creativity of events, and then only the external side of this quantitative aspect—that is, the energy transfers between events. Energy thus treated leaves out the qualitative side of the creativity and what this creativity is for the events themselves, which includes an experiential realization of value and an element of self-determination. (It is to bring out this richer meaning that I sometimes translate Whitehead’s term “creativity” as “creative experience.”) Furthermore, the energy of current physics is limited to forms of creativity that are exemplified in the most elementary actualities of the world—atoms and subatomic particles. This limitation lies behind the absurd notion that everything that happens in the world, including the compassion of a Bodhisattva, must be completely reducible to, and thus explainable in terms of, the four forces of physics. Whitehead holds, by contrast, that partly autonomous powers of self-determination and efficient causation exist at higher levels, such as cells and psyches, and that some psyches, such as those of humans, have much more of these powers than others, such as those of rats. (Some humans, furthermore, may have more than others.)

This enlargement of “energy” into “creativity” is also important to the issue of action at a distance. What is above called pure physical causation is meant to describe what is occurring in those interactions that physicists consider transfers of physical energy. As mentioned previously, this kind of transfer generally seems to occur only between contiguous events. If gravitation is not taken to be an exception to this general rule, and if psychokinesis is rejected, it would be natural to assume that the transfer of physical energy can occur only between contiguous occasions. So if the creativity of events were exhausted by their physical energy, thus understood, then the only form of efficient causation they could exert would be pure physical causation, and influence at a distance would be impossible. If an event embodies mental as well as physical energy, however, so that hybrid as well as pure physical causation can occur, then one could allow for influence at a distance without challenging the idea that the transfer of “physical energy” occurs only between contiguous occasions. Furthermore, once one form of action at a distance is allowed, then it becomes easier to countenance the suggestion that even pure physical causation might at least occasionally occur at a distance, if the evidence for psychokinesis seems to demand it. In these ways acceptance of a worldview in which the “energy” of the contemporary physics community is enlarged to Whiteheadian “creativity” would make people more open to looking at evidence that seems interpretable only in terms of some kind of influence at a distance.

The reference to “mental energy” suggests another way of reading Whitehead’s proposal in relation to energy and creativity. The distinction between the two terms could be understood as a temporary expedient, with the long-term goal being another expansion of the concept of energy. This concept has had to be expanded several times previously to save the law of the conservation of energy. Nowadays the notion of the influence of the mind on the brain is angrily denounced on the grounds that such influence would violate this law. Even if this “law” should be taken as sacrosanct, however, no violation would be involved if we enlarged the notion of energy to include the notion of psychic energy (as well as intermediate forms, such as cellular energy and macromolecular energy). But whether we adopt the term creativity for that power which is embodied in all events or enlarge the concept of energy so that it now refers to what Whitehead meant by creativity, the effect will be the same: Causation will no longer be understood as linear in ways that rule out self-determination, downward causation, and action at a distance.

The nature of Whitehead’s suggestion as to how to overcome the materialistic, reductionistic philosophy of late modernity can be better understood if his doctrine of eternal forms, which was mentioned earlier in passing, is explored.


Eternal Forms

Whitehead’s position on this topic is one of the ways in which his philosophy is clearly postmodern. One aspect of modern thought has been a tendency to deny the reality of eternal, ideal forms that transcend the realm of actuality. If disposed to accept their reality at all, the modern mind reduces them, with Kepler, to mathematical forms. Whitehead (1929/1978) not only explicitly affirms the existence of eternal forms under the name “eternal objects,” but he also distinguishes between the “objective species” of eternal objects, by which he means the mathematical forms, and the “subjective species,” which includes forms such as red, desire, anger, and consciousness (pp. 291-293). The objective species can characterize only an object of perception; the subjective species can also characterize how an object is perceived.

Together these two types of forms in-form the creative experience of each actual entity, determining the species to which it belongs and largely characterizing its uniqueness within its species. The qualifier largely is essential, because each occasion of experience also includes within itself the past actual world out of which it arose; an actuality cannot be adequately described in terms of a combination of creativity and abstract forms. Once this caveat (which is one of the main features of Whitehead’s philosophy) is made, however, it remains true that actual occasions of various types differ largely because of the different eternal forms they embody. With regard to the objects studied by physics, for example, we differentiate between the various subatomic particles by indicating their mass, charge, spin, angular momentum, and so on. Each of these features is an eternal form. Different forms are embodied in the various atoms, molecules, organelles, cells, and psyches. The forms embodied in the higher actualities are no less real in the nature of things than those in the lower. Contra most materialists, something does not have to embody the forms appropriate to the lowest level of actuality, such as mass and charge, to be actual. (Likewise, contra most idealists, something need not embody forms appropriate to the highest types of actualities, such as consciousness, to be actual.)

Modern materialistic thought has rejected this democratic attitude toward the forms because of its externalism or objectivism, meaning the tendency to limit scientific thought to categories characterizing the external, objective side of things, and to take the internal, subjective side as less real, as epiphenomenal. In Whitehead’s thought, by contrast, the internal side of things and the external, the subjective and the objective, are equally actual, equally primordial, and therefore the subjective species of eternal objects is as real as the objective. Emotion is as real as mass, intensity of experience as real as charge. This democracy in the house of forms, along with the panexperientialism it presupposes, reinforces the Whiteheadian antireductionistic conviction that animal psyches are as actual as protons.

A pair of questions that must be faced by those who affirm the reality of forms is where they exist and how they become effective in the world. In and of themselves, they do not have actual, but merely ideal, existence; that is, they are not themselves actualities but merely possibilities to be actualized by actual things. It is a widespread intuition that merely ideal, possible existents cannot exist on their own, but can only “subsist” in something actual; equally widespread is the intuition that they cannot be efficacious on their own but only through the agency of something actual.

Whitehead (1929/1978) reaffirms both of these intuitions under the rubric of the “ontological principle,” defining it both as the principle that everything must be somewhere, with “somewhere” taken to mean in something actual, and as the principle that only actualities can act (pp. 40, 46).

This train of thought led him to speak of the “primordial nature of God” as that aspect of an everlasting nonlocalized actuality in which eternal forms not yet actualized in the world could subsist (pp. 46, 257). This aspect of God he thought of as a primordial appetite to have these forms actualized in the world. The influence of this appetitive envisagement of the forms explains how previously unactualized forms, although nonactual in themselves, can exert pressure on the actualities of the world to get themselves actualized. The divine appetite whets the appetites of the creatures for novel possibilities.

This idea is fundamental to Whitehead’s suggestion as to how our world was created through an evolutionary process. Our world was created not out of absolute nothingness, as if once upon a time only God existed with no finite actualities, but out of relative nothingness, or a chaos of actualities (Whitehead, 1929/1978, p. 95). For Whitehead, the universe is a plenum of actual occasions. What we call “empty space” is empty not of actual occasions but of stationary enduring objects, such as electrons and protons. This is relative chaos (pp. 92, 95). At one time, chaos may have prevailed everywhere, perhaps as an interlude between a previous cosmic epoch and our own. Getting our world started, with its photons, neutrons, electrons, protons, neutrinos, mesons, and so on, and with its basic laws, such as Planck’s constant and the gravitational constant, would have required getting the appropriate sets of eternal objects embodied in sets of actualities.

Creation, in other words, involved not calling finite actualities as such into existence, but luring the realm of finitude to embody new forms of order (p. 96). This creative process has continued throughout the evolutionary process for several billion years, with ever new forms of order being elicited into actual existence. In language familiar to parapsychologists, creation involves materialization. Just how the divine lure gets new forms embodied in the world, and how this provides an analogy for materialization in the more customary sense, will be more easily explainable after a discussion of Whitehead’s view of perception, to which I now turn.


Perception and Prehension

Because Whitehead has a panexperientialist ontology, his doctrine of perception is in some respects simply the reverse side of his ontology. One can, therefore, introduce a discussion of his doctrine of perception by simply explicating some points implicit in his ontology.

If all actual entities are occasions of experience that perceive previous occasions of experience, two points are already implied. First, not all experience is conscious experience, which seems overwhelmingly likely, at least if we, with Whitehead, think of conscious experience as that which contrasts what is the case with what might have been (1929/1978, p. 267). If amoebae, viruses, DNA molecules, and even atoms and electrons have experience, there is no good reason to suppose that it is conscious experience, thus understood. The second point is that not all perception is sensory perception, which is obvious if things such as cells, molecules, and protons, which have no sensory organs, nevertheless enjoy a form of perception. These two points, as we will see, are closely related, because sensory perception is much more likely than nonsensory perception to become conscious.

Recognizing that the term “perception” tends to connote conscious sensory perception, Whitehead suggested the term “prehension” as a more neutral term for perceptions that may or may not be conscious or sensory (1933/1967, p. 234). I will, in fact, use “prehension” to refer to nonsensory perception. I will also, unless I indicate otherwise, use “prehension” to mean a physical prehension, which means a prehension the object of which is another actual occasion or a set of occasions. (A “conceptual prehension,” by contrast, has for its object an eternal object and thus a possibility, not an actuality.)

Whitehead’s view is that an actual entity, being an occasion of experience, involves a creative synthesis of a multiplicity of prehensions. Each occasion of experience, then, whether or not it becomes conscious, and whether or not it includes sensory perceptions, begins with a multitude of nonsensory perceptions of past occasions.

These prehensions, in some sense and to some degree, respond to the entire past world, both the contiguous past and the more remote past. This statement, unqualified, would, besides being incredible, seem to imply that all occasions of experience, from American Christian to Asian Buddhist, and from human to electronic, would be virtually identical. But qualifications are given. First, one’s spatiotemporal standpoint is important, because we are in general directly affected more strongly by contiguous than by more remote events. Second, a distinction is made between positive and negative prehensions. A positive prehension, also called a “feeling,” includes some aspect of the prehended object into the present experience. A negative prehension excludes the entire object from incorporation; it eliminates the object from the prehending subject’s feeling (Whitehead, 1929/1978, p. 23). The different grades or species of actual occasions differ mainly in this respect: the lower the grade, the less complex the experience can be, and consequently the more of the past that must simply be excluded. Third, occasions of experience are partially self-created. They decide just how to synthesize the given data; for example, in occasions of experience that rise to consciousness, one thing to be decided is just which features of the experience are focused on consciously. Through these three qualifications of the principle that each occasion prehends the entire past, the specific and historical differences between occasions of experience can be accounted for.

Consciousness, ft should be clear by now, is a very optional element in experience. By far most of the occasions of experience in the universe have no conscious experience; and, even in those that do have conscious experience, of the elements included within the experience are not lit up by consciousness. What needs further discussion is what consciousness is and how it arises.

Consciousness is defined by Whitehead (1929/1978) as the subjective form of an intellectual prehension (pp. 277, 344). This is a prehension whose object is the contrast between a fact and a proposition—which is another way of saying what was said earlier, mat consciousness arises only if one contrasts what is with what might have been.

This kind of contrast can arise only in a very complex, sophisticated occasion of experience, which can synthesize various types of prehensions. The first phase of an occasion of experience is constituted by physical prehensions, through which past actualities are prehended. Out of each physical prehension arises a conceptual prehension, through which the eternal objects incarnate in the prehended actualities, or other possibilities closely related to them, are prehended. This prehension is not neutral, but involves a subjective form, the most elementary of which is a positive or negative valuation of that possibility. This is an elementary stage of mentality, because it introduces an element of self-determination into the experience. Low-grade occasions of experience close out their subjective existence with a simple final phase constituted by physical purposes, in which the possibilities received from the past world are blindly reaffirmed or attenuated in intensity (Whitehead, 1929/1978, pp. 248-249, 266). It takes a more complex level of experience, probably that of an animal psyche or at least a living organism, to turn the contrasts in that third stage into propositions, in which the note of possibility is really entertained. It takes a still more complex experience to contrast that proposition, which involves a possible fact about the world, with the actual world, so as to get an intellectual prehension. Only when this is done does consciousness arise as the subjective form of the prehension.

Of the vast number of objects prehended in a moment of human experience, and of the smaller number of propositions entertained, only a minuscule number become clothed in consciousness. Consciousness is a very poor guide to what is in fact experienced.


Complexity, Hierarchy, Habits, and Regularity

One set of implications of this philosophy concerns the related topics of the “laws of nature” and the “hierarchy of the sciences.”

The early modern worldview thought of the laws of nature as absolute, prescriptive laws imposed by a supernatural deity; exponents of the late modern worldview have generally kept this view of laws even after having given up the imposing lawgiver. The reductionism of this worldview has implied, furthermore, that the most complex beings should behave in as law-like a manner as the simplest things: Human beings should be as law-abiding as rats, which should in turn be as law-abiding as atoms and billiard balls. It is only the complexity of the more complex things that prevents their behavior from being in fact as predictable as that of the simpler things, and therefore prevents scientific experiments involving them from being as repeatable.

Whitehead’s postmodern philosophy has radically different implications. All laws descriptive of the behavior of electrons, atoms, and molecules are sociological laws no less than are the laws descriptive of the behavior of human beings belonging to a particular society. Whitehead agreed with William James and Charles Peirce that these so-called laws of nature are really the most widespread habits of nature (Whitehead, 1938/ 1968, pp. 154-155; 1933/1967, p. 41) and are, accordingly, statistical laws. A member of a society acting in an abnormal way is not violating some imposed law but simply failing to conform to some more-or-less pervasive habit of its species.

The habits of two kinds of beings will be regular enough to allow high degrees of prediction and control. On the other hand, the behavior of low-level enduring objects will be highly predictable, at least statistically, because the occasions of experience making up these enduring individuals are almost entirely physical: Their mental poles have little power to exercise self-determination. Each occasion largely repeats its predecessor, so that a proton or atom may last billions of years, acting in the same way all the while. Even more predictable will be the behavior of nonindividuated aggregates made up of billions of these low-grade enduring individuals, because they have no dominant individual to give the society as a whole any spontaneity of response. Whatever minuscule spontaneities the enduring individuals, such as electrons, manifest will be mutually canceling, so that the behavior of the whole will reflect the mass average behavior of the billions of components. The behavior of these aggregates, such as billiard balls, will be almost perfectly predictable in principle, unless some unforeseen extraordinary power intervenes. The sciences studying these low-level individuals and nonindividualized aggregates will be capable of highly replicable experiments.

As one deals with increasingly complex compound individuals, however, the habit-bound behavior will recede. The occasions of experience of the dominant member will have an increasingly significant mental pole; therefore they will have increasingly more power to deviate in the moment from the behavior of former experiences by responding to novel possibilities. Also, the physical poles will have more feelings or positive prehensions in comparison with negative prehensions, so that not so much of the environment is simply excluded from feeling. More variables will therefore be involved in determining the exact character of the occasions of experience, both in their own subjective response and then in their objective effects on others. When one comes to human beings, the number of variables involved in their experience is virtually infinite, and their capacity to respond in various ways to any particular type of stimulus is enormous. Although there is some faint analogy between a human psyche and a proton, any scientific approach to human psychology or sociology predicated on the assumption that human conscious experience, or even human outer behavior, will approach that of protons (let alone billiard balls) in lawlikeness will be doomed to perpetual frustration. Some four billion years of evolution on our planet have come in between, during which uniform habits have become increasingly less determinative in comparison with spontaneity and uniqueness.


Hard-Core Commonsense Notions

Before turning to the way in which Whitehead’s postmodern philosophy allows psi interactions to occur, I will briefly point out the way in which it allows for the hard-core commonsense notions mentioned earlier, for which any philosophy claiming to be adequate to the facts of experience must be able to account.

The doctrines of panexperientialism and compound individuals show how our own experiences, some of which have consciousness, can be considered full-fledged actualities and how their seeming freedom can be taken at face value. And our own creative experience can be regarded not as a great exception in the world but as a high-level exemplification of a principle pervasive throughout nature. The distinction between the psyche and the brain does not create an insoluble problem of how they interact, thanks to the doctrine of panexperientialism. This position is not dualism but nondualistic interactionism: The psyche, while numerically distinct from the brain (so that there are two things to interact), is not ontologically different in kind from the brain cells, but only greatly different in degree, so that the causal interaction is not between unlikes but between inferior and superior instances of the same kind of individuals. Efficient causation involves sympathy, or the sharing of feelings.

The idea that our basic way of apprehending the actual world beyond our own experience is nonsensory prehension, so that sensory perception is a secondary, derivative form of perception, shows how we can know many things that we presuppose but that cannot be known through sensory perception. Efficient causation, as the real influence of one thing on another, is known in this way. In fact, physical prehension is also called “perception in the mode of causal efficacy” (Whitehead, 1929/1978, pp. 121, 169, 173-175), because what the percipient prehends is precisely the causal efficacy of previous experiences upon itself. Included in this mode of perception is the actuality of these prior experiences, which explains why none of us are solipsists in practice. The fact that this knowledge, that there is a world beyond ourselves that is just as actual as we are, comes through a pre-intellectual prehension rather than an intellectual judgment explains also why our dogs and, in fact, all organisms manifest nonsolipsistic responses to their environments. Because this mode of perception involves a prehension of past actualities, and because an occasion of experience always anticipates the fact that it will influence future events, our knowledge of the past and the future (not the actual future, but that there will be a future [Whitehead, 1933/1967, p. 193]), and therefore of time, is also grounded. By virtue of the fact that this philosophy, with its panexperientialism, says that a low-grade enduring individual, such as an atom, is analogous to a human psyche—being likewise a society of occasions of experience, each of which prehends its past and anticipates its future, however minimally—explains why time is real for all of nature, so that we have no mystery of how temporal and nontemporal individuals can interact, or of how time somehow emerged.18 Finally, the doctrine that we have a mode of perception more basic than that which is mediated through our physical sense organs explains how we can apprehend those nonphysical realities we call values, such as truth, beauty, and goodness.

Having given a brief (or, to the weary reader, I should say: as brief as possible) exposition of some of the features of Whitehead’s philosophy and how these features help us make sense of our most basic presuppositions, I turn now to some ways in which this philosophy can help us make sense of psi interactions. I offer no evidence for the reality of the phenomena, but simply assume for the sake of this discussion that they do occur (except, of course, for true precognition), and ask, if they do, how this is possible within the context of the philosophy offered by Whitehead.


The Philosophical Intelligibility of Various Forms of Psi


Receptive Psi

Receptive psi involves the mind’s prehensive reception of influences at a distance. This reception need not become conscious.

The distinction between experience as such and conscious experience is of vital importance to parapsychology, as is the question of why some forms of experience become conscious on a regular basis, whereas other forms of experience become conscious only rarely, if at all. In particular, sensory experience regularly becomes conscious,19 while extrasensory perception (ESP)—as generally understood, to mean nonsensory perception of remote entities—rarely does. Whitehead’s philosophy provides a possible explanation for this twofold fact, an explanation that modifies Bergson’s theory (toward which Broad was favorably disposed) that the brain and central nervous system function to filter out extrasensory perceptions.

There is a reason why the sensory perception of remote objects is much more likely to rise to consciousness than nonsensory prehensions of remote (noncontiguous) objects. This reason is based on the general point that the more intensely a datum is received, the more likely it is to rise to consciousness in the creative synthesis of prehensions constituting the dominant occasions of experience.

This reason is twofold: First, in sensory perception, the data are being received by the dominant occasions of experience from contiguous occasions of experience, namely, cellular occasions in the brain. Second, the data from contiguous occasions are usually transmitted with considerable strength because they are not diluted by data deriving from intervening occasions (Whitehead, 1929/1978, p. 307) and because they can result from pure physical causation (as well as hybrid). The data received directly from noncontiguous occasions, by contrast, will generally be based on hybrid physical causation, and will, therefore, arrive with much less strength. They, accordingly, will seldom force their way up to the conscious surface of experience, generally remaining in the unconscious depths.

On this basis, we can see why sensory perception of a remote object, such as a tree 100 yards away, should be so much more reliable, in terms of becoming a “clear and distinct” object of conscious awareness, than extrasensory perception of that same object.

Sensory perception results from a chain of contiguous causal transmissions: Series of photonic events bring the data from the tree to the eye, then series of neuronic events (“firings”) bring the data, probably in somewhat transmuted form, from the surface of the eye to the brain. Then the dominant occasion receives the data (probably transmuted still further) from occasions of experience constituting the brain. Each link in the chain is constituted by nonsensory prehensions. This is true not only in the final event, in which the dominant occasion prehends the brain cells; but also each neuron in the optic nerve received its data from neighboring neurons through prehension; the cells in the eye received data from the photons by prehending them; and the data were conveyed from tree to eye through long chains of photonic events, each of which prehended a prior photonic event.

The difference between sensory perception and extrasensory perception of a remote object is, therefore, not that the latter involves nonsensory perception; sensory perception also involves nonsensory perception. The difference is that sensory perception is based upon chains of contiguous events, so that at every step there is pure physical causation, which is stronger than hybrid physical causation and which generally exhausts itself on contiguous events. The body’s sensory system (like the systems of nature to which it is attuned, such as light and sound waves) is a very reliable system for transmitting information of a certain type with sufficient intensity to make it through to the final phases of the dominant occasions of experience, where consciousness may arise. This reliability means repeatability, both between different occasions of experience in the history of one person and between different persons, due to the similarity of our sensory systems.

Extrasensory perception of a remote object, whether it be a rock, a tree, or another person, cannot, by definition (assuming that it is perception at a distance), rely upon a chain of contiguous causal transfers. It, therefore, will not generally be strong enough, relative to the data from the brain, to rise to consciousness on a regular basis. The data from the brain and central nervous system will, therefore, usually block out the extrasensory information from remote objects. The data are not blocked out from the dominant occasion of experience altogether, but only from the conscious part of this experience. The brain, with the rest of the central nervous system, does this blocking out not because that is directly its function, but simply as a side effect of one of its main positive functions, which is to bring precise information of certain types with sufficient intensity to rise to consciousness in a regular, reliable fashion.

When extrasensory prehensions of remote objects do occasionally rise to consciousness, accordingly, this is neither a violation of some law of nature, nor a failure of one of the functions of the brain. It is simply an exception to the way things, in fact, normally happen for intelligible reasons.

Why it is that data from these prehensions do rise to consciousness in a few cases probably differs from case to case. Even if we can figure out the most common factors, it is unlikely that we would learn how to produce them at will (apart, at least, from long-term spiritual discipline with other ends in view). In any case, the most likely approach to finding fairly repeatable experiments involving ESP, if the above analysis has merit, would be to concentrate upon evidence for unconscious extrasensory perception. A few such experiments have been conducted. By far the majority of experiments, however, have tested for evidence of conscious ESP. The reason for this, I suspect, lies in the desire of many parapsychologists to find ways to make ESP useful in daily life. In any case, this concern should be clearly distinguished from the concern to find repeatable experiments. Trying to do both things at once will most likely result in nothing but continued frustration.

In a paper a decade ago, Erlendur Haraldsson (1980) stated that studies of the physiological correlates of psi had recently decreased in number, evidently because of the conclusion of many researchers, expressed in a survey of the literature by Brian Millar (1979), that “results so far do not . . . indicate such experiments yield any easier access to ESP performance than procedures using conscious ESP responses” (p. 106). However, given both the philosophical and empirical reasons for believing that psi reception occurs primarily at the unconscious level and the relative paucity of experiments designed to test for such reception, it would be premature to conclude that this approach will not yield more repeatable results than that involving conscious ESP.


Panexperientialism and Some Forms of Receptive Psi

In this discussion, I have dealt with receptive psi in general, not differentiating between (conscious) telepathy and clairvoyance (taking this latter term broadly to include clairaudience and all other forms of experience in which information about external features of remote objects is received without use of the senses).

This similar treatment of telepathy and clairvoyance is possible within the framework of Whitehead’s philosophy, thanks to its panexperientialism. Because all actualities are occasions of experience or groups of such, the direct, extrasensory causal relation between a rock and a human psyche is not different in kind from that between two human psyches. In each case, feelings originally experienced by the object when it was still a subject (or, in the case of the rock, a cluster of subjects) are then felt by the prehending psyche. It is telepathy, or feeling at a distance, in both cases. The difference is that, in the case of clairvoyance, one receives information about the outer (generally called the physical) characteristics of things (usually aggregates), information that may result in the construction of sensory-like images. In telepathy, by contrast, one receives information about the inner experience of an individual.

Clairvoyance is thus analogous to our direct prehensions of our brain insofar as sensory images may arise from them; how these sensory images arise from the data is no more and no less mysterious in the one case than in the other. Robert Thouless (1972) was thus right to say that the relation between a remote object and the mind is the same as the relation between the brain and the mind, except that the former perceptual relation occurs over a distance. Contrary to his position, however, the relation between the brain and the mind should not be called a psi relation precisely because the element of influence at a distance is not involved.

Psychometry, or object reading, is another form of receptive psi. In one sense, it may not involve perception at a distance, because the person may handle the object in question. In another sense, it does, insofar as the object elicits perceptions of events remote temporally and perhaps also spatially.

The panexperientialist philosophy also makes this kind of phenomenon more intelligible. If, for example, the molecules in a rock have experiences, then it is possible that they could incorporate memories of events that occurred in their proximity. This idea should not seem outrageous to materialist philosophers, incidentally, in that their view that the mind is really identical with the brain implies that conscious memories are present in the molecules of the brain—in fact in the subatomic particles, if they are rigorous with their reductionism. In any case, the molecules would not need to have memories of the events in question in their full concreteness but only enough memories to elicit the perception of the events in the psychometrist’s mind.

Yet another form of receptive psi is retrocognition (which, besides being an independent form of psi, is also involved in psychometry, at least as I have interpreted it). It involves the perception of an event in the remote past that is not based upon a chain of contiguous events connecting the event in question and the percipient occasion. Retroprehension would be a better term, because in many, in fact in most, instances, no conscious knowledge would be involved. In any case, if prehension is always the reverse side of causal influence, as with Whitehead I maintain, then retroprehension would mean that the remote past is still exerting some form of causal influence upon the present.

Whitehead’s philosophy again helps us understand how this can be so. According to Whitehead’s description of creativity, “the many become one, and are increased by one” (1929/1978, p. 21). This is what occurs in each occasion of experience. The “many,” as clarified earlier, are solely in the past; contemporary and future occasions cannot apply for entrance. The “past” includes the entire past, however, not simply the contiguous past. Once an occasion of experience becomes an object, it is an object forever. It does not just exist as an object for a split second and then pass into complete nonexistence. The past is still actual—which is nice, because it gives historians something to talk about. (In other words, the fact that the past still exists in some sense is one of those notions that we all presuppose in practice, insofar as we believe that propositions about the past are either true or false—which would not be the case if there were no objects to which the propositions could either correspond or fail to correspond.)

The remote past does not exist in the same way, of course, because it does not exert the same kind of causal influence as the immediate (contiguous) past. That immediate past exerts a kind of compulsive influence upon us that the more remote past does not. Here again the distinction between pure and hybrid physical causation is relevant. Pure physical causation exhausts itself immediately in its effects upon the (usually contiguous) future events; the event does exist as an object of this sort for merely a split second. A form of hybrid physical causation, however, can continue to exert influence, albeit of an extremely weak form, forever. This analysis can explain why retrocognition can occur (retroprehension is occurring all the time), and also why it is such a rare phenomenon (retro-prehension is the reception of causal influences that are too weak, apart from extraordinary circumstances, to elicit the kind of conscious response required to have retrocognition).

One more alleged phenomenon that is usually classed as a distinct form of receptive psi is precognition. As I indicated earlier, however, there is no possibility of true precognition from a Whiteheadian perspective: There is no possibility of retrocausation and therefore preprehension; nor is time ultimately unreal, so that all events—conventionally distinguished as past, present, and future—would exist eternally. The types of experiences often classified as precognition must, accordingly, be at most called apparent precognition and must be explained in other ways. I suspect that these other ways involve a combination of prehensive and expressive psi. Before dealing with apparent precognition, then, I must treat expressive psi.


Expressive Psi

“Psychokinesis” (PK) is very unsatisfactory as a synonym for the various forms of expressive psi. It most immediately suggests causing locomotion in some remote object, as in moving a matchstick on a table, by the power of thought. In most forms of expressive psi, such as materialization, psychic photography, and psychic healing, however, locomotion is not the central result. In some forms of expressive psi, such as thought-transference (which is distinct from telepathy insofar as the reason for the unusual nature of the event lies more in the agent than in the recipient), locomotion may not be a direct effect at all. Nevertheless, I will sometimes use “psychokinesis” as a synonym for expressive psi, mainly because the adjectival and adverbial forms of the word are useful.

For most purposes, expressive psi can be understood as efficient causation exerted by a psyche on entities beyond its own body that is not mediated through that body. However, the psyche could also exert expressive psi on its own body. Phenomena such as stigmata and ectoplasm might be examples. They would be expressive psi if they were cases of action at a distance, which means that the psyche’s effects would not be mediated through a chain of contiguous causation, beginning with the brain. Also, for a person to cause his or her own body to levitate would apparently involve direct action of the mind on the various components of the body.

Part of the way in which Whitehead’s philosophy allows for the reality of expressive psi has already been explained. If every occasion of experience produces, to at least some slight degree, direct effects upon every remote as well as every contiguous event in its future (which is simply the reverse side of every event’s directly prehending every occasion of experience in its remote as well as its contiguous past), then the psyche in an animal with a central nervous system is at all times producing direct effects upon its extrasomatic environment as well as indirect effects via the brain. Of course, insofar as this direct influence is pervasive, steady, and extremely weak, it would probably not be humanly detectable by even the most subtle procedures, especially if its intensity is not increased by spatial proximity.

Detectable expressive psi evidently results from intentional acts on the part of a psyche, whether those acts be consciously intended, as in psychic healing (or injury), intentional thought-transference, and laboratory PK experiments, or more unconsciously intended, as in the “side-effects” of PK experiments and in the effects produced by “poltergeist children.” The question is how to understand how intentions, whether conscious or unconscious, can result in the more intense degrees of causal influence at a distance. How is it that the capacity to produce extrasomatic effects that go beyond the kind of pervasive influence exerted (by hypothesis) on all events is possessed by the psyche?

A related question is why the human psyche, evidently, can have so much more of this psychokinetic power than can the psyches of other animals. There is experimental evidence, to be sure, that other animals do have psychokinetic powers. Indeed, a nondualistic, evolutionary philosophy would lead one to expect that the human psyche would not in any of its powers be absolutely discontinuous with the rest of nature. The power to exert expressive psi seems, nevertheless, to be far greater in human psyches than in the psyches of any other animals. The ability to materialize or teleport things, to move heavy objects, and to bring about the various bizarre phenomena often associated with “poltergeist” cases seems to be limited to human psyches. Why should the human psyche be so distinctive in this respect?

The first step in understanding the unique capacity of the human psyche in this respect has been provided by the previous discussion of compound individuals. The relevant points were that the evolutionary process has produced increasingly higher forms of occasions of experience, and that the higher forms have more power than the lower ones (rather than less or no power, as late modern thought has assumed).

To give an estimation of how much more power, let us assume that the causal interaction between the brain and the psyche is a fair exchange, with each side exerting about the same amount of power on the other (which would seem to be true if there is a “law of the conservation of creativity”). Now, the psyche in each moment consists of a single occasion of experience (this might be true even in cases of multiple personality), whereas the brain consists of at least ten billion cells. It would seem to follow, then, that the dominant occasion of experience would be at least ten billion times as powerful as a single brain cell. The brain cell is in turn comprised of billions of molecules, which would seem to imply that the living occasions of experience in the cell are billions of times more powerful than a molecular occasion (assuming the interaction between the living and the molecular occasions to be a fair exchange). The molecules are in turn comprised of many subatomic particles. The human psyche would therefore be billions of billions times stronger than any subatomic particle.

We can see here the radical distinction between this view and that of the reductionism of modern materialism. Subatomic particles do indeed possess impressive forms of power, as made obvious by nuclear explosions. It must be remembered, however, that the power exerted in these explosions is not the power of a single subatomic particle, but of billions of billions of them. Also, their effects are so noticeable because our atmosphere, buildings, and bodies are comprised of the same kinds of entities and are thereby radically affected by a nuclear chain reaction. We should not be misled, therefore, by the impressive nature of such effects into supposing that subatomic particles have more power than the human psyche. Otherwise we will be unable to account for the dominance within the body that is indeed exercised by the dominant occasions, and for other facts about the world, such as that the face of the earth has been changed more radically by human beings in an extremely brief period of time than it has by any other species over aeons.

The other salient point of the previous discussion to apply to the present issue is the distinction between energy as understood by contemporary physics and the more general notion of creativity. Creativity can be informed by many different sets of eternal objects. The features described by physicists as mass, charge, spin, and so on constitute only a few of many possible sets of eternal objects that can inform creativity. The fact that the living occasions of a cell and the dominant occasions of an animal do not have their creativity informed by those eternal objects does not mean that they have no or even less creative power, meaning the powers of receptivity, self-determination, and efficient causation. All the evidence, reductionistic blinders aside, suggests that the living cells have more power than their constituents and that the dominant occasions in the animal have still more. This is the hypothesis implied by Whitehead’s philosophy.

The prior two paragraphs have provided explanations as to why the psyche of animals should have more power to exert on other things, both contiguous and at a distance, than do lower actualities. The reason why the psyches of the higher animals should have more of this power than the lower is not hard to understand. But why should there be such a difference between the human psyche and that of other primates when genetically we are so similar? To give a possible answer to this question, we should ask what constitutes the main difference between humans and other primates.

John Cobb (1967), a Whiteheadian thinker, has suggested that the threshold dividing humans from other animals was crossed when “the surplus psychic energy became sufficient in quantity to enable the psychic life to become its own end rather than primarily a means to the survival and health of the body” (p. 39). By “surplus psychic energy” is meant energy beyond that needed for the well-being of the body. This surplus energy can be used for the psyche’s autonomous development, in which it pursues ends that are intrinsically rewarding, independently of consequences for the body. This point about autonomous development will be relevant later, when discussing the possibility of the psyche’s survival of bodily death. For now the relevant point is that this great increase in surplus psychic energy could be used also for exerting expressive psi.

Given the fact that both empirical evidence and Whiteheadian theory suggest that the human psyche is in general more powerful than other enduring individuals, the next question is how to understand the nature of the power that is occasionally manifested in expressive psi. Why is this power so seldom under the conscious control of the person, at least in great quantities? Most people seem incapable of intentionally producing any noticeable psychokinetic effects, at least apart from extensive spiritual disciplines (see below). Most of the people who do seem capable of producing PK effects deliberately generally produce such weak effects that they are discernible only through very subtle measurements and/or statistical analyses. In most cases of more conspicuous effects, often called macro-PK, the effects seem to be produced more unconsciously than consciously (as with so-called poltergeist children). It is a rare person who can produce macro-effects, such as psychic photography, spoon-bending, or even moving a matchstick across a tabletop, through conscious effort; and even with such persons the power generally comes and goes. Only in a few rare souls does it seem to be a power that is under conscious control regularly over a long period of time.

These facts suggest the dual hypothesis that the power to exert expressive psi is a variable power, so that some people have more of it than others, and also that it is a power that, at least for the most part, resides in a portion of the psyche on which the conscious portion of the psyche cannot directly draw.

This latter point is somewhat intelligible in terms of the earlier discussion of consciousness. Consciousness arises, if at all, only in a late integrative phase of an occasion of experience. Most of the creative power of the occasion of experience would thereby occur below the threshold of consciousness. The direct effects that conscious intentions can have upon the world are therefore quite weak, except for those effects that are mediated through those channels that have been fine-tuned over billions of years of evolution to respond to the subtlest changes in consciousness. I mean, of course, the body’s motor system. Also, we are now learning that other systems, such as the immune system, are more responsive to consciousness than we had previously thought, but even here the most decisive effects seem to be, analogous to psi effects, produced by unconscious feelings. There seems to be more power in the depths of the psyche than at its surface.

This fact fits with a further aspect of Cobb’s suggestion: The much greater supply of “surplus psychic energy,” which distinguishes humans from the rest of the animals, exists primarily in what we call the unconscious portion of the psyche. Cobb’s suggestion, influenced by the Jungian historian of consciousness Erich Neumann, differs in this respect from most evolutionary accounts of the rise of human existence. Both accounts make the rise of symbolism central. The standard accounts, however, focus on the practical advantages for survival given by the development of symbolic language. Cobb (1967) says, by contrast, that it was not practical advantages that constituted humanity’s true distinctiveness, “but rather the greatly increased unconscious psychic activity organizing the whole of experience for its own sake” (p. 39). This unconscious psychic activity of symbolization did, to be sure, result in “a new and incomparably richer mode of consciousness” (p. 41). The great increase in surplus psychic power occurred, however, primarily in the unconscious, and has continued to reside there even after giving rise to the new mode of consciousness. Most of the surplus energy of the psyche to this day is unconscious energy, employed for symbolizing activity that is largely autonomous from the symbolizing activity of the conscious portion of the psyche. This hypothesis would explain why the power to exert expressive psi, and especially to exercise strong amounts of it, would be beyond the conscious control of most people.

If this is so, how is it possible that occasionally—either now and then in a particular person or on a somewhat regular basis in an occasional person—conscious effort is able to produce rather large-scale expressive psi effects? A possible explanation is that the conscious mentality of one occasion of experience, although quite weak in itself, can sometimes activate the unconscious portion of the succeeding occasion of experience, inducing it to exert its generally unmanifest power to bring about extraordinary extrasomatic effects. How exactly this occurs, if it does, is a mystery, and perhaps will always remain such; but then how exactly the psyche induces the appropriate part of the brain to move into action to raise an arm is also a mystery, and perhaps will always remain such. In any case, in this way we can explain how conscious willing, while normally quite weak, can occasionally produce conspicuous PK effects. These exceptional events would depend upon a special attunement between the conscious and unconscious portions of the psyche.

This suggestion fits well with the fact that people with some capacity to produce expressive psi effects through conscious intention generally have a correlative capacity for becoming conscious of receptive psi influences. Each side of this dual capacity would depend upon a greater-than-average attunement between the conscious and unconscious levels of experience. This idea coheres with the fact that both types of psi effects, called in Indian thought the “siddhis,” are often side-effects of spiritual disciplines that serve (whether or not their purpose is thus described) to bring one’s conscious experience into harmony with one’s unconscious experience. Here the effects are not intentionally produced in one sense, of course, insofar as the person does not consciously intend to produce those effects; but they are the products of conscious intention in another sense, insofar as it is the spiritual discipline, consciously exerted, that results in the greater attunement with the unconscious and thereby in the unintended effects. (At a still higher stage of spiritual development, these psi effects, at least as consciously unintended, uncontrollable side-effects, generally disappear.)

Another question about expressive psi involves what is thought to be going on in the thing on which it is exerted. Many treatments have assumed that the causal relation is not unlike that of pushing a rock with one’s hand. This analogy can lead to the expectation that PK experiments should be quite repeatable. This assumed analogy has also created a question of whether certain types of psi effects should be classified as PK or not. For example, John Beloff (1975) has responded negatively to the idea that plants could have telepathic feelings because, as a dualist, he does not believe that plants or their cells are sentient (pp. 364-365). If plants show signs of responding at a distance to influences from humans or other animals, then the psi effects must be classified as PK on the part of the animal psyches, he insists, not as ESP on the part of the plants.

From the nondualistic perspective of panexperientialism, however, no such antithesis exists. All actual things are either subjects or clusters of subjects. A plant is a society of cells, each of which prehends its contiguous and more remote environments directly; a rock is a society of molecules, each of which is a prehender. The psi influence of a human psyche upon a plant or a rock can, therefore, be called either an instance of expressive psi, if considered from the standpoint of the human being, or an instance of receptive psi, if considered from the standpoint of the individuals constituting the rock or the plant.

In some cases, to be sure, it is more meaningful to speak of the causal-prehensive relation in one way than in the other, if we have reason to believe that either the agent or the recipient is more responsible for the extraordinary effects. In some cases of psi relations between two human beings, for example, the first may deliberately seek to transmit a thought to the second at a time when the second has no conscious knowledge of the attempt. If the attempt is successful, we would speak more of thought-transference than of telepathic reception. If the second, however, seeks to “read the mind” of the first at a time when the first is making no attempt to transmit thoughts to the second, then we would speak more of telepathic reception than of thought-transference. Likewise, if a rock is moved through a psi relation, we would speak of expressive psi (whether conscious or unconscious) rather than telepathy, insofar as we do not suppose that the rock molecules did anything unusual to initiate the special psi relation. We would, likewise, assign most of the responsibility in a human-plant psi relation to the human being. Nevertheless, it would not be absurd to speak of a telepathic response of the plants to the moods of their caretaker.

Much more important than the question of how to classify various ambiguous instances of psi, however, is the implication of thinking of all psi relations as relational, rather than unilateral, products. A psi occurrence is relational between two individuals or clusters of individuals, in which each of the individuals exercises some modicum of self-determination. Extraordinary psi occurrences, such as conscious ESP or conspicuous PK, depend upon both the “agent” and the “percipient.” The situation is even much more complex, insofar as both the “agent” and the “percipient” are not self-enclosed substances but are constituted out of their total environments. I will come to this complication later; for now it is enough to consider the implications of the fact that the psi relation depends upon partially self-determining entities on both sides of the relation.

Parapsychologists have been aware of this mutuality with regard to telepathy, and somewhat so with regard to clairvoyance—having learned, for example, that cards with images that are emotionally laden for the subject are more likely to elicit a correct response. They have seemingly been less aware of this mutuality with regard to PK, probably because of the dualistic assumption that actualities below a certain level are lacking all capacity for experience and self-determination. If this dualism is replaced by a panexperientialist philosophy, efforts to produce PK effects in plants, bacteria, or even in matchsticks will be understood as attempts less at coercion than at persuasion. (I am here using “persuasion” for any efficient causation in which the entity upon which the causation is exerted can and must make a partially self-determining response. “Coercion,” in the metaphysical sense used here, refers to causation where this is not the case. The absolute difference between coercion and persuasion when the terms are used in this metaphysical sense is different from the mere difference in degree between the terms when they are used in the more common, psychological sense. For elaboration, see Griffin, 1991.) The effort to move a matchstick on a table without physical means would be less like moving it with one’s hand than like trying to raise the temperature in one’s hand or to heal one’s ulcers by psychological processes.

This view would explain why it often takes some time to produce PK effects: A “sympathetic” relation must be established between the agent and the recipient. What is being transmitted from the agent is less a physical force than a suggestion, to which the prehending subjects constituting the object in question may or may not respond in a detectable manner. They may or may not be persuaded. Expressive psi, thus interpreted, would be the result of hybrid physical causation on the part of the agent, and of hybrid physical prehensions on the part of the recipients (for example, the molecules in a matchstick).

Many variables would be involved in determining success. The first question is whether the hybrid physical prehensions are positive or negative—that is, whether the causal influences coming from the agent are positively felt and therefore incorporated, or whether they are excluded from feeling. It might take some time to overcome this obstacle. If it is overcome, the next question is whether the subjects respond favorably to the suggestion—whether their appetites are whetted for this new possibility. That might take more time. If that occurs, the next question is whether this appetition or mentality, which occurs in a series of molecular occasions of experience, becomes incorporated into the physical pole of some subsequent occasion within that same molecule. Yet another question is whether a majority of the molecules in the matchstick respond in these ways. Only if all of this occurs will the matchstick move.

If “success” in this sense depends on this type of process, in which self-determination based upon sympathy and appetition are involved, it is understandable why one person might be successful and a thousand others not. It is even understandable that the same person might be successful only sometimes. Although we speak of the “same person” through time, the enduring person is somewhat abstract: The concrete causal agents are the momentary occasions of experience, and each of them differs at least slightly, and they may differ radically—in intensity of experience, in emotional tone, in purpose, and in the content of thoughts and feelings, both conscious and unconscious, making up the experience. Any of innumerable variables could make a decisive difference.

This type of explanation, however, seems to fit only some of the reported instances of expressive psi. Other instances seem to require another explanation. In these, the effects are dramatic and virtually instantaneous. Things bend or break, weighing scales drop as if a 70-pound weight had been put on them, objects fly through the air, telephones ring, lights go off and on, and so on. In such instances, the language of “persuasion” seems less appropriate. The effects seem to indicate the exertion of what we ordinarily call “physical force.” In Whiteheadian terms, we seem to have pure, not simply hybrid, physical causation. This brings us back to the question of whether pure physical causation at a distance is possible.

Whitehead himself did not rule out the possibility. He said:

provided that physical science maintains its denial of “action at a distance,” the safer guess is that [pure physical prehension] is practically negligible except for contiguous occasions; but that this practical negligibility is a characteristic of the present cosmic epoch, without any metaphysical generality. (1929/1978, p. 308)

Accordingly, he did not assert that, if pure physical prehension and hence pure physical causation occurs only between contiguous occasions, this feature of our world would be a metaphysical feature of reality, but suggested that it would be a contingent characteristic of our cosmic epoch (which we now believe to have begun 12-20 billion years ago). Also, if it is such a characteristic, this would not mean that pure physical causation at a distance would be strictly impossible, but that it would be “practically negligible.” Finally, he did not even assert with any confidence that it is a general characteristic of our cosmic epoch, but only that this is “the safer guess” if physical science finds no examples of action at a distance.

Whitehead did not comment here on whether in his own view gravitation constituted such an example (he knew full well Einstein’s alternative interpretation in terms of curved space, having written a contrary interpretation; see Whitehead, 1922). Also, although he did mention telepathy as an example of hybrid physical action at a distance, he did not mention psychokinesis, and thus did not reflect upon whether it would imply pure physical action at a distance. (Whitehead probably learned what he knew about psychical research in turn-of-the-century Cambridge, England, and quite likely shared the then dominant view there that although telepathy is credible, psychokinesis is not.)

In any case, even though Whitehead intended his theory to be adequate to ESP but not necessarily to PK, his theory does allow for it, even if PK be thought to require pure physical causation, hence the transmission of what in the human psyche is analogous to physical energy in a subatomic particle, at a distance. To assert that this does occur would not be to affirm a metaphysical impossibility, or even an exception to a cosmological law, but only an exception to a very widespread habit. If this causal influence is exerted, at least by an exceptionally powerful psyche, then the resulting PK event would be brought about almost unilaterally by the agent, with very little cooperation required on the part of the recipient of the causal influence.

I now look briefly at a few types of expressive psi beyond the simple forms of PK already discussed.


Some Types of Expressive Psi

Levitation is a form of psychokinesis that tends to evoke either awe or incredulity. Because our experience of gravitation is so fundamental, lev-itation seems miraculous.

If we accept the idea of compound individuals, however, the possibility of levitation need not seem so remote. If the atom as a whole is a compound individual, then it has power to influence its subatomic parts (in which all the gravitational mass is embodied). The force of gravitational attraction is extremely weak, being 1043 times weaker than the electromagnetic force. Each atom in a body would, accordingly, have to exert only a miniscule counter-force upon its subatomic parts in order to neutralize the force of gravity and allow the body to levitate. The levitation of, say, a ball could accordingly be caused psychokinetically if a human psyche could induce the appropriate effect in the atoms making up the ball. One form of action at a distance would thereby overcome another (if gravitation is to be thus interpreted).

Another type of reported psi phenomenon that seems a priori impossible to most modern minds is materialization and dematerialization, in which a psyche causes a material object, such as a lamp, to spring either into or out of existence. Teleportation, in which an object disappears from one place and appears at another place, can be regarded as an example of both dematerialization and materialization. This phenomenon of dematerialization and materialization has been regarded as very unlikely because it has seemed to bear no analogy to any other processes. Thouless and Wiesner (1947) even gave it its own name, psi epsilon, because it seemed sufficiently different from ordinary psychokinesis, which they called psi kappa.

Whitehead’s philosophy can decrease the anomalous nature of this phenomenon somewhat. According to this philosophy, an enduring object, such as an atom, is really a series of occasions of experience. One occasion “perishes,” in the sense that it loses its subjectivity and hence its character of presentness,20 and is replaced by a new occasion, which repeats the same set of forms. The atom is, accordingly, popping in and out of existence all the time. It becomes less thinkable, therefore, that it might pop out of existence at one place and pop back in at another place.

This is what in fact occurs (by hypothesis) on a smaller scale in ordinary locomotion. An occasion of experience does not move from one spatiotemporal standpoint to another, but simply occurs when and where it begins. The concept of locomotion does not apply to an actual occasion but only to an enduring individual. The locomotion of the atom involves the differences among the spatiotemporal standpoints of its successive occasions relative to the standpoints of the successive occasions of other enduring individuals (Whitehead, 1929/1978, pp. 73, 80). Accordingly, an atom does sometimes pop out of existence at one place and pop back in at another. What happens is that the pattern of forms embodied in the one occasion is transmitted to the next occasion, which occurs at a more-or-less different location. The difference between this commonplace occurrence and what is usually meant by teleportation, or dematerialization and re-materialization, is only a difference in degree. Once it is granted that the human psyche exercises action at a distance on atoms, and that the way it does this is by getting one atomic occasion to exert a type of efficient causation upon a successive occasion that it would not have otherwise exerted, we cannot exclude the possibility that it can induce a set of atomic occasions (constituting, say, the lamp-at-the-moment) to get their successors to occur at a different place than they otherwise would have.

The notion of materialization not based upon a prior dematerialization is more difficult because it seems to involve the creation of something out of nothing, but even here Whitehead’s scheme can be helpful. For Whitehead, as explained earlier, the world is a plenum of actual occasions. The difference between what we call “empty” and “filled” space is that in the latter the actual occasions incarnate particular sorts of eternal objects, such as those we call mass and charge, which they pass along from occasion to occasion so as to form enduring individuals. The origin of our universe would have involved not the creation of finite things, such as electrons, out of a total absence of finite actualities, but getting certain eternal forms incarnated in series of actual occasions.

Whitehead’s suggestion is that God, who works solely by persuasion, did this by envisaging the desired sets of forms with appetition—with the appetite that they become incarnate in finite actual occasions. A set of finite occasions, feeling the divine aim with conformity, incarnates these forms, first in their mental poles, as appetitions, and then, by means of hybrid physical prehensions, in the physical poles of later occasions. In this fashion photons, electrons, protons, neutrons, neutrinos, mesons, and so on could have been formed as a first step in cosmic evolution. In later stages of the evolutionary process, more complex forms were incarnated, so that molecules, macromolecules, procaryotic cells, eucaryotic cells, and then still more complex individuals were formed. Each stage involved a new level of materialization, in which forms not previously realized in the world became incarnate, creating a new species of actual existence. Each new incarnation involves a response to the psyche of the universe, which, as the “eros of the universe,” lures creatures to embody novel forms.

The psyches of human beings and other animals are analogous to the divine psyche in being embodiments of creative power. Human beings embody more creative power than other animals, and are especially analogous to the divine psyche in having the capacity to imagine novel possibilities and to prehend them with strong appetition.

Because they have this trait, and also because they (unlike the divine psyche) are localized centers of creative power, an especially powerful human psyche might, by evoking a sympathetic response to its appetition, be able to induce the incarnation of desired forms in a particular spatiotemporal region quite abruptly. Something would not be created out of nothing; rather, forms that were not previously incarnate in a region would suddenly begin characterizing a set of occasions there. This might well involve a prior dematerialization from another region, filled perhaps with molecules of oxygen, carbon dioxide, and other atmospheric gases, so that energy was only transferred, not created.

Psychic photography, which has received considerable attention in recent years, thanks primarily to Jule Eisenbud (1967), is somewhat of a bridge between simple forms of PK, in which locomotion is caused, and full-blown materializations. But it is a form of materialization, insofar as a psyche induces a piece of film to incarnate a complex set of forms.

Materialization, incidentally, is more interesting than the simpler forms of expressive psi that the term “psychokinesis” suggests, because it more clearly shows the power of the psyche to induce a pattern, not simply locomotion.


Apparent Precognition

Having discussed both receptive and expressive psi, I turn now to one form of putative psi interaction that cannot be incorporated within a Whiteheadian context, namely, true precognition. It cannot be incorporated for a variety of overlapping reasons.

First, an occasion of experience cannot perceive an event in its future because that event does not yet exist and therefore cannot exert causal influence upon the present percipient.

Second, the impossibility of backward causation aside, the present experience cannot infallibly “know” exactly what is going to happen in a few years, weeks, days, hours, or even minutes: What is going to happen is not yet fully determined, because of the self-determination that will be involved in the event and in a whole series of intervening events. Propositions about future contingencies are not yet either true or false (except insofar as certain abstract features of the future events may already be settled); their truth-status is still indeterminate.

Third, Whitehead removes the basis for saying that time is unreal for the objects studied by physics and, therefore, ultimately unreal. A subatomic particle such as an electron is a series of actual occasions, each of which incorporates its predecessors into itself. An electron, accordingly, cannot “go backward in time,” because the temporal process is cumulative. Time’s arrow is not a contingent feature of our world, due perhaps to the direction of entropy. It is as real for an individual electron as it is for us with our asymmetrical relation to the past and the future. We remember the past, but only anticipate the future, and therefore we prehend the past in a way that we do not prehend the future. The same is true, at a much more elementary level of course, for an electron (Griffin, 1986).

Fourth, there is, furthermore, no perspective from which all of history is laid out to be viewed in one glance. God may be said to be omniscient, but omniscience does not include knowledge of the future: omniscience is the capacity to know everything that is knowable, and the future does not yet exist to be known. A mystical prehension of the divine mind by a human mind would not, accordingly, provide a basis for prophecy in the sense of precognition taken literally.

How, then, if genuine precognition cannot (by hypothesis) occur, can instances of apparent precognition be explained? There are at least thirteen ways, any one of which might be the correct explanation for a given event. Sometimes it seems to be supposed that all instances of apparent precognition have to be explained (away) by some one alternate explanation, so that if this explanation will handle only some of the cases, then genuine precognition must be presumed in the remaining cases.21 The question, however, is not whether some one alternative, such as expressive psi, can explain all the instances, but only whether explanations employing exclusively forward causation, and therefore exclusively backward prehension, can handle all the cases. If several such possible explanations exist, then one of them may seem the most probable in one case, another in a second case, and still another in a third case. Insofar as one or the other of the explanations seems plausible for each of the well-attested cases of apparent precognition, the resort to true precognition, with its extremely problematic implications, is obviated.

In the list of alternate explanations to be given, some of them—the first four—are not paranormal. But I do not believe that all well-attested instances of apparent precognition can be handled through “normal” explanations. Also, some of the alternate paranormal explanations do not seem very plausible to me, but I mention them because they seem at least possible, whereas backward causation does not. If it came down to this with regard to some case, I would choose one of these (to me) wildly implausible explanations rather than agree that backward causation might have occurred.22 Here, then, is a list of at least some of the possible explanations for apparent precognition:

1. Coincidence. Although it would strain statistics, and therefore credulity, to suggest that all instances could be explained away as mere coincidences, meaning that there was no causal explanation to be sought, it is probable that some instances should be so categorized.

2. Unconscious knowledge of one’s own state or unconscious intentions leading to unconscious inference plus dramatization. For example, one might have a dream of one’s own death, a dream that “comes true” in three years. The dream could have been created by the unconscious (used here as shorthand for the unconscious portion of experience) on the basis of unconscious knowledge of, say, the precancerous state of one’s body or of an unconscious death-wish that effects its goal.

3. Subliminal sensory perception leading to unconscious inference plus dramatization. For example, a welder has a dream in which a ship on which he had worked many months ago sinks, and then it does. The explanation could be that he subliminally noticed a flaw in the hull while he was working on it, then made the unconscious inference that the ship would develop a leak in a few months that would cause it to sink, and finally produced a dream that brought this unconscious inference to the attention of his conscious experience.

4.  Hallucinated fulfillment. For example, a woman has a dream in which a man wearing a topcoat and a derby is feeding a strawberry icecream cone to a St. Bernard in a department store; when she goes to the department store in a few days, she “sees” this same scene, thanks to a hallucination. Such an event would not, of course, be on any list of well-attested events, because even if she had previously told someone about her dream, no one else would (by hypothesis) have “seen” its fulfillment. The event, however, would probably be quite convincing to the woman herself.

5.  Fulfillment with multiple hallucination. As a first example of explanations with a verified paranormal element, we can simply assume that the woman in the previous case had told some of her friends about the dream, that these friends accompanied her to the department store, and then that she induced the hallucinated vision in her friends through thought-transference.

6.  Clairvoyance of virtually present conditions plus unconscious inference and dramatization. This explanation is the same as Number 3, except here the unconscious knowledge is acquired paranormally. A person could acquire through clairvoyance the knowledge that the ship has a structural defect that will eventually cause the ship to sink if it is not repaired. The resulting vision of the ship sinking might occur several days, weeks, or even months before the ship actually sinks. The causal influence runs not from the future to the present, but from immediately past (which I have called the virtually present) conditions to the present.

7.   Unconscious telepathic knowledge of other human souls, plus unconscious inference and dramatization. At least three variations on this possibility could occur, (a) Telepathy could produce unconscious knowledge of another’s knowledge. For example, a person on shore could pick up telepathically the knowledge, conscious or unconscious, of a crew member on a ship that the ship has a structural problem, and out of this produce a dream of the ship’s sinking. Or one could learn telepathically of another person’s unconscious knowledge of his or her precancerous condition, (b) Telepathy could produce knowledge of the intentions of other human beings, conscious or unconscious. A woman could learn telepathically, for example, that her brother, who was in a remote, isolated place, had a death wish sometime before he became consciously aware of this fact and committed suicide. Accordingly, she might have a dream of his death and record it in her diary long before his death, even before the date at which thoughts of suicide began to appear in his own diary, (c) The telepathy could produce unconscious knowledge of another person’s feelings. For example, such knowledge of a man’s strong hatred for another person could lead to an apparently precognitive dream in which the man murdered someone.

8.   Unconscious telepathic knowledge from a discarnate spirit leading to unconscious inference plus dramatization. Again, the knowledge could be about facts, or, assuming that discarnate spirits can act psychokinetically, about things the spirit intends to do. This explanation will seem more fanciful to those who do not believe in discarnate spirits or who are at least doubtful of their capacity to communicate with us and otherwise to act in our world. Be that as it may, this explanation is not, unlike that employing the notion of backward causation, strictly nonsensical.

9.   Unconscious prehensive knowledge of the knowledge or intentions of a soul of the planet (a sentient Gaia) leading to unconscious inference plus dramatization. A caveat similar to that added to the previous point would be in order.

10.   Unconscious prehensive knowledge of God’s knowledge and/or intention plus the same dynamics. Regarding divine knowledge: As already indicated, God does not (by hypothesis) literally know the future in its concrete details, because it does not exist to be known. But certain more-or-less abstract features of the future are already determined (the more remote the future in question, the more abstract the details that are already determined), and God, being omniscient, would know these. Even with regard to abstract features of the future that are not yet completely settled, probabilities exist, and God would know these. The idea of prophecy about the future that has a high degree of probability and that is based upon a direct experience of God is, accordingly, not ruled out. With regard to divine intentions: Because the individuals making up the world have their own twofold power of self-determination and efficient causation, which cannot be overridden by God, the fact that God intended something in a certain situation would not necessarily mean that it was going to occur. Nevertheless, insight into divine intentions might increase the likelihood that a “prophetic vision” of the future would be fulfilled.

11.  Direct unconscious knowledge of objective probabilities about the future plus the same dynamics. According to Whitehead, objective probabilities about the future do exist (1929/1978, p. 207), and they can in principle be directly intuited. Accordingly, the idea that apparent precognition might in fact be based upon knowledge about present probabilities can be used without bringing telepathic knowledge of God or discarnate souls into the discussion. In any case, the explanation of so-called precognitive intuitions in terms of probabilities seems to fit the experience of at least many people who regularly have such intuitions, because they have the sense that the announced event will happen unless action is taken to prevent it. Many “prophecies” are issued as warnings, which would make no sense if the predicted event had “already happened” in a timeless noumenal realm, or were going to occur no matter what J. R. Smythies (1967) is one of many who have said that the future precognized might be only the most probable future—which would mean that one is not perceiving future events at all, but only the tendencies and probabilities inherent in the present (or, strictly speaking, the immediate past).

12.  A discarnate spirit learns the content of a person’s dream telepathically and then brings about an event corresponding to it. The discarnate might be a misguided spirit who believes in the reality of true precognition and wants others to believe accordingly; or he or she might simply be a fun-loving spirit doing this for kicks. I mention this possible explanation because, fanciful as it is, to accept it would require less of an adjustment in the notions we ordinarily presuppose than would the idea of backward causation.

13.  The experience of having a vision of an event, whether in a dream or a waking state, itself brings about an event corresponding to the vision. For example, the woman’s dream mentioned in Example 4 causes a man who often wears a topcoat and a derby while walking his St. Bernard in the neighborhood of a department store, and whom the woman has often seen in this area (although she does not consciously recall this fact), to enter the store, buy a strawberry ice cream cone, and feed it to his St. Bernard. This explanation is, of course, the “active” or PK theory of apparent precognition, perhaps first suggested by A. Tanagras (1949, 1967) as the theory of “psychobolie,” then revived by Jule Eisenbud (1982; 1983, pp. 44-46, 87-98, 137-145) and others (Braude, 1986, pp. 256-277; Roll, 1961, pp. 115-128). This explanation seems less implausible to the degree that one knows about, and synthesizes, the following facts: the power of unconscious images and intentions to bring about extraordinary PK effects, such as in so-called poltergeist cases; the power of suggestion under hypnosis and in posthypnotic situations to cause people to act out bizarre sequences of behavior; and the capacity to induce hypnotic states telepathically. One needs to remember, furthermore, that to invoke this explanation for some cases of apparent precognition does not mean that it must be invoked for, and seem plausible in relation to, all such cases.23

My suggestion is that most cases of apparent precognition can be handled in terms of Explanations 2, 3, 4, 6, 7, 11, and 13. The few remaining cases, if any, can be handled by one of the other possible explanations, among which is that of mere coincidence. In this way, we can accept the evidence for apparent precognition without being forced to allow for the possibility that causation can run backwards, that the future is wholly determined by the past, or (which is finally the same thing) that time is ultimately unreal.

All my examples, incidentally, have been of spontaneous cases. With regard to laboratory studies, I am happy to appeal to the authority of Robert Morris, who in a survey “Assessing Experimental Support for True Precognition” has said that “alternative, on-line interpretations do exist for all studies that offer evidence for retroactive influence” (Morris, 1982, p. 334).


Out-of-Body Experiences and Life after Death

The question of the reality of life after death was central to psychical research from the outset and, after a period during which “parapsychology” largely ignored the issue, it has, sometimes under the heading of theta psi, become important for at least a portion of the parapsychological community. The question of how to interpret out-of-body (including near-death) experiences is closely related. In each case, the basic ontological question is whether the human soul is capable of existing apart from its physical-biological body. If this question is answered in the affirmative, then the basic epistemological question is whether any of the ostensible instances of theta psi or OBEs provide strong evidence for at least temporary discarnate existence.

Whiteheadian postmodern philosophy cuts both ways on this topic. On the one hand, its ontology allows discarnate existence to be thinkable. On the other hand, by supporting the various other forms of psi, even strong manifestations of them, it allows for alternative conceivable explanations (so-called super-psi explanations) for at least most instances of ostensible theta psi and OBEs. For example, by portraying past experiences as still existing, and as therefore capable of being directly prehended, it allows in principle for alternative explanations of ostensible cases of reincarnation and possession. By allowing for virtually unlimited powers of telepathy and clairvoyance, and by recognizing the power of the unconscious to create or impersonate other figures (as in dreams and hypnotic states), ostensible manifestations of discarnates through mediums can in principle be explained away. By allowing for strong expressive psi, including materialization and levitation, the extraordinary physical phenomena that prima facie suggest the intervention of discarnate spirits can be alternatively explained. And so on.

The question, of course, remains as to whether these alternative explanations sometimes strain credulity more than do explanations involving discarnate souls. Central to this question is whether discarnate existence is thought possible. I turn, accordingly, to a brief consideration of the ways in which Whiteheadian postmodern philosophy allows for the possibility of the existence of a human psyche apart from its physical-biological body.

First, panexperientialism allows for nondualistic interactionism (see the subsection on hard-core commonsense notions above) and, thereby, for an intelligible assertion that the psyche is distinct from the brain and therefore could conceivably exist apart from it. Materialistic identism, of course, does not allow for any out-of-body existence (and therefore for any life after death apart from a supernatural resurrection or re-creation of the physical body). Dualistic interactionism, by being unable to explain how psyche and brain can interact, cannot provide a defensible doctrine of the psyche’s distinctness from the brain; it therefore tends to collapse into identism. Panexperientialism can keep the distinctness without the unintelligibility. It thereby can provide one of the necessary conditions for holding that the psyche could conceivably exist apart from its body.

A second necessary condition for OBEs and life after death would be for the psyche to be able to perceive apart from the body’s sensory apparatus. Within the context of some philosophies, according to which to be actual does not necessarily involve being related to things beyond oneself, it would make sense to ask: Even if a psyche could exist apart from its biological body, could it perceive apart from it? But from a Whiteheadian point of view, a psyche is a temporally-ordered society of occasions of experience, and each occasion must begin by prehending other things, taking aspects of them into itself as the basis for its own existence. This basis constitutes its “physical pole.” Hence, if we take the notion of perception broadly to include (nonsensory) prehension, it would make no sense to suggest that the psyche might exist but be incapable of being related to others perceptually. To exist (as an actuality) is to prehend. It is also to be self-determining and to be prehended; but it is, first of all, to prehend.24

Whitehead’s postmodern philosophy allows for perception, in the sense of prehension, apart from the body, by showing that nonsensory prehension is more fundamental than (and is in fact presupposed in) sensory perception (see the subsection on receptive psi above). Being apart from the body’s sensory apparatus would not, accordingly, remove the psyche’s capacity to prehend.

At this point I need to refer to a widespread misconception about the implications of Whitehead’s philosophy for the question of survival, a misconception ensuing from differing uses of the term “physical.” Whitehead says that every actual occasion must have a physical pole; from this fact some interpreters have drawn the conclusion that the psyche would not be able to survive apart from the physical body because it would then not have a physical pole. This conclusion, however, involves accepting the ordinary, dualistic meaning of “physical,” according to which the body is physical and the mind or psyche is mental, and applying it to the Whiteheadian philosophy, which rejects this dualistic usage. For Whitehead, the psyche is comprised of a series of dominant occasions of experience, each of which has a physical as well as a mental pole. Likewise, the cells comprising the body are societies of occasions of experience, each of which has a mental as well as a physical pole. To be sure, one can say that the body is more physical than the psyche, in that the cells have much less mentality and are, therefore, more completely constituted by their physical poles. Also, the psyche is an individual, whereas the body is an aggregate of billions of individuals, thereby having those characteristics, such as mass and apparent solidity, that we normally associate with the “physical.” The word “physical,” nevertheless, does not apply exclusively to the body and the word “mental” exclusively to the psyche.

The psyche’s physical pole is, of course, constituted to a great degree by the psyche’s prehensions of its body; but—and this was the point of the above discussion—it is not exclusively constituted by these prehensions. It also prehends other psyches and, in fact, the whole past world, as well as God. These prehensions also constitute its physical pole. If a psyche is able to survive apart from its body, it would still have a physical pole, insofar as it is able to prehend other actualities. The question of the possibility of survival is whether these other prehensions can be sufficiently intense and harmonious to continue to provide sufficient nourishment to the soul when it no longer has the physical basis previously provided by the biological body.

Assuming a positive answer to this question (to which I will return later), a second question might be: Would the psyche in a discarnate state be able to have conscious perceptions on a regular basis, or would the data coming in from one’s prehensions of the environment usually remain unconscious, rising to consciousness only sporadically, as telepathic and clairvoyant perception now do?

This question arises because of the point made earlier, that consciousness primarily lights up sensory, rather than nonsensory, data. Actually, the point made there was that nonsensory perceptions of remote objects are much less likely to rise to consciousness than sensory perceptions of such objects.

There is a form of nonsensory perception, however, of which we are regularly conscious. This is that form of nonsensory perception that we call “memory.” In it, the mind’s present occasion of experience directly prehends some of its prior occasions of experience. People have not usually thought of memory as a form of (nonsensory) perception, because they have usually thought of the mind as an enduring, self-identical substance, numerically one through time; memory was regarded, therefore, not as a relation between one actuality and another but a relation of one actuality to itself.25 If, however, the fully actual entities are occasions of experience, then memory is a form of perception, because the present actual entity is prehending previous actual entities. Memory, therefore, can be regarded as a form of nonsensory perception whose contents regularly become conscious. This is not to say, of course, that most or even a majority of our memories are conscious, but only that the contents of our memories become conscious much more regularly than do the contents of extrasensory perceptions in the usual sense. (A possible explanation for this difference is that we are connected with all of our past occasions of experience through a chain of contiguous occasions of experience.)

There is, furthermore, a second form of nonsensory perception of which we are regularly conscious. This is our prehension of the various parts of our bodies. We regularly become conscious of bodily pains and pleasures; but we also, in sensory perception, are aware of our nonsensory perception of our organs of sensation. Besides being conscious of the sensory data provided by the eye, for example, we are conscious, even if less vividly, of the fact that we see by means of the eye, that we touch by means of the hand, and so on. Accordingly, through memory and prehensions of our bodies, we are already conscious on a regular basis of data of nonsensory perceptions.

Furthermore, the reason that sensory data are now generally the ones illumined most clearly and regularly by consciousness, in contrast with nonsensory perceptions of things beyond one’s own psyche and body, it was suggested earlier, is that these data are generally presented to the psyche with the greatest intensity. “Greatest intensity” is obviously a relative matter. If the psyche finds itself apart from its bodily sensory system, then much more of the (nonsensuously) prehended data may regularly rise to consciousness, no longer being blocked out by sensory data. Telepathic and clairvoyant perceptions may, accordingly, be conscious with the kind of clarity and regularity that is now associated with memories and bodily and sensory perceptions.

A third question might be: Granted that a psyche may be able to exist apart from its biological body, and that this existence would include prehensions of other things, and even that these nonsensory prehensions can result in regular conscious perceptions, would a discarnate psyche be able to act? Would it be able to communicate with others, to express its thoughts and emotions, or would it be condemned to an existence of perpetual frustration? Just as questions about the possibility of perception often presuppose sensationism—the doctrine that we can perceive only through our physical sensory organs—the present question often presupposes what can be called motorism—the doctrine that the psyche can act on the world only by means of its motor system (the nerve system connecting the brain to the body’s muscles).

The first element in the answer to this question is provided by the fact that although an occasion of experience is first of all a subject of experience, it is secondly an object or superject for the experience of others. It is first a subject, in which the experiences of others are implanted in if, it is next a superject, which implants itself in others. In its mode of existence as a subject, to be is to prehend; in its mode of existence as a superject, to be is to be prehended. To be prehended is to be an efficient cause. Accordingly, just as it would make no sense within this philosophy to say that the psyche might exist but be incapable of perceiving, it would make no sense to say that it might exist but be incapable of acting.

With regard to what it might act upon, the fact that the psyche is not now constitutionally capable of acting only upon its motor-muscular system is shown empirically by various effects labeled psychosomatic or psychogenic, from ulcers, placebo effects, and effects upon the immune system, to stigmata. The psyche seems capable of affecting any part of its body. Furthermore, the evidence for the various types of expressive psi suggests that the psyche can act directly upon other experiences at a distance—other human experiences and also lower-level types of experiences, including those clusters of experiences that we normally speak of as physical objects. These empirical data are consistent with the Whiteheadian theory that action and perception are simply two sides of a causal relation: If I am prehended by all others, including others at a distance, then I by definition can act upon all others, including others at a distance.

Discussing causation in terms of “being prehended,” however, makes it sound as if the “agency” is passive and nonselective—that a psyche simply acts willy-nilly, by being there to be prehended, and that the nature of the causation exerted is up to the percipients more than to the agent.

This is, however, not Whitehead’s meaning. The present occasion of experience actively influences the future. Whitehead refers to “the throbbing emotion of the past hurling itself into a new transcendent fact” (1933/ 1967, p. 177).

This self-hurling, furthermore, is selective: the “anticipation” that characterizes all occasions of experience (pp. 192-193) rises to conscious intention in human experience. Empirically, we clearly do have the capacity for selective agency: We can move one hand while keeping the other still; we can warm up one hand psychosomatically and not the other; some people can move a matchstick psychokinetically without moving another nearby one; and people who exercise thought-transference can direct it to a particular person, rather than sending out a general broadcast that is picked up indifferently by many. So, besides the general, pervasive influence we have upon everything in our future world simply by existing, we have more focused effects upon those parts of the world to which we direct, consciously or unconsciously, particular forms of energy. We can imagine that we would, in a discarnate state, be able to exercise this type of selective agency in whatever new environment we found ourselves.

If it is conceivable that human psyches have the capacity to exist apart from their physical-biological bodies, and that this existence would involve the capacity to have conscious perceptions on a regular basis and to act selectively, a final question would be: Assuming that this capacity for survival is not possessed by the dominant member of all compound individuals, why do human psyches have it?

This question arises because of two features of the Whiteheadian position. First, in this nondualistic, evolutionary philosophy, human psyches are not different in kind from animal psyches, including the psyches of the most primitive animals, such as amoebae; and the psyche of an amoeba, in fact, is not ontologically different from that which accounts for the unity of viruses, macromolecules, ordinary molecules, and atoms. They are all temporal societies of occasions of experience. Second, this philosophy is naturalistic rather than supernaturalistic. Although it includes a form of theism, it is a naturalistic theism (or pan-en-theism), according to which God cannot occasionally interrupt the normal causal processes, and cannot, therefore, unilaterally cause something to happen that would otherwise be impossible. This rejection of supernaturalism is one reason that Cartesian dualism must be avoided: God cannot, contra Descartes, Malebranche, Reid, and other supernaturalistic dualists, simply cause unlikes to interact, or to run along parallel to each other. In the same way, God cannot simply cause the human soul to survive its separation from the body if it does not have the capacity to do so. The generally accepted dictum that the power of God does not include the power to do the logically impossible (such as to make round squares) is extended to the metaphysically impossible.

These two points, and the preceding discussion, can be taken as a commentary upon Whitehead’s statement that his philosophy is “neutral” on the question of the survival of the human soul (1926/1960, p. 107). This neutrality means, on the one hand, that his description of the human soul does not, unlike materialistic-identist descriptions, make survival impossible, and, on the other hand, that his description does not make survival necessary. The question, Whitehead suggested—with an obvious allusion to psychical research—should “be decided on more special evidence, religious or otherwise, provided that it is trustworthy” (p. 107).26 This question of the trustworthiness of the evidence lies beyond the scope of this paper; but a suggestion as to why the human soul may uniquely be capable of survival is in order.

This suggestion is that the capacity to survive apart from its body may be a capacity that emerged in the evolutionary process, in the same way that other capacities, such as the capacity for symbolic language, emerged. A difference in degree could become, in effect, a difference in kind (as Whitehead suggested was the case with the rise of the human capacity for symbolic language [1938/1968, pp. 27, 41]). One aspect of this difference is suggested by Whitehead’s statement, made in another context in which the question of survival was in view, that “the personality of an animal organism may be more or less. It is not a mere question of having a soul or of not having a soul. The question is, How much, if any?” (1933/1967, p. 208).

This is the idea that has been developed by John Cobb (1967) in the suggestion introduced in the subsection on expressive psi, above. In the lower animals, the energy of the psyche is devoted to the care of the bodily organism. Even in the higher animals, there is probably little surplus psychic energy to be used for autonomous activities of the psyche. In human beings, however, the great increase in surplus psychic energy allows for what Cobb calls “autonomous development of the psyche,” which involves two elements.

First, the aim at intensity or richness of experience on the part of individual moments of the soul’s life leads the soul to actualize itself in ways that are immediately rewarding to it, independently of their consequences for the organism as a whole. Second, successive occasions build upon the achievements of their predecessors, (p. 38)

In other animals, accordingly, the dominant occasions of experience respond primarily to the influences coming from the body, and the purposes of these dominant occasions are directed primarily toward the well-being of the body. There is a soul, to some degree, because each dominant occasion also responds to the immediately prior dominant occasions. The animal psyche, however, has few if any purposes aside from the well-being of the organism, so there is not a very strong thread of individuality through time. Each dominant occasion responds more to its body than it does to its own past.

In some of the higher animals, such as gorillas and dolphins, there is surely more soul, in the sense of enduring individuality; but it would seem to be only in human beings that the emphasis is decisively reversed, so that aims of the psyche that are relatively independent of bodily welfare, or that are even in opposition to it, can become so strong that the influence from the mental poles of one’s prior dominant occasions (received through hybrid physical prehensions) can become as important as, or even more important than, the needs of the body. These aims can become so important that we will pursue them to the point of neglecting the body, even endangering it or deliberately destroying it. The human being, in short, evidently has much more soul than other animals: Each dominant occasion of experience has much more power and the series of dominant occasions is bound together through time much more strongly.

This twofold way in which the human soul is unique (among earthlings anyway) could mean that the human soul now has the capacity to survive apart from the context, the human body, that was first necessary to bring it into existence.

The point made by that last clause is an essential ingredient in this naturalistic, evolutionary view. Rejected is gnostic dualism, by which I mean the idea that human-like souls could be directly created by God (or “emanated from” the One or Brahman) apart from a long evolutionary process. It is presumed, instead, that a step-by-step evolutionary process is the only way to create individuals with high-level powers. Living cells could not be created directly, but presupposed the existence of organelles, which in turn presupposed the existence of macromolecules, and so on. The emergence of a psyche presupposes the existence of a central nervous system composed of neurons, and could not be created directly out of iron and silicon atoms (as some who write about “artificial intelligence” suppose), let alone out of a primordial chaos of very low-grade actual occasions, or out of nothing. This philosophy agrees, accordingly, with modern thought insofar as the latter insists that a human-like mind could have first emerged only in the kind of environment that is provided by a human-like body, which could only have been produced by a gradual evolutionary process.

This postmodern philosophy differs, however, by suggesting that once the human mind was sufficiently formed, it may have developed the emergent power to survive in a new environment. This is my explication of basic limiting principle 3A, as stated in the section on parapsychology as not ultra-revolutionary.

Not being ruled out a priori, then, the reality of postmortem life and premortem out-of-body existence becomes an empirical question.



I have suggested that there are elements of truth and value in both the conservative and the revolutionary stances taken by philosophers of parapsychology who believe in the reality of receptive and expressive psi.

In line with the conservative stance, it is right, I believe, to seek repeatable experiments, to seek to understand the dynamics involved in experimental and spontaneous psi (while remaining open to the possibility that the dynamics involved in these two types of psi may be quite different, and to the possibility that there may be something about psi that will forever frustrate attempts to produce it—especially conscious receptive psi and conspicuous expressive psi—at will [at least apart from spiritual disciplines that do not have this as a goal]). The most important part of the conservative stance is the desire to overcome the appearance of a strong clash between the principles needed to understand psi or paranormal phenomena and the principles needed to understand the phenomena of “normal” science and everyday experience.

The way to fulfill this desire, however, is not, I have suggested, to seek to give up causal hypotheses, and especially the hypothesis of causal influence at a distance, or to seek to explain psi phenomena in terms of the worldview of late modern science (including that aspect of it that most points beyond itself toward a postmodern worldview, quantum physics).

Rather, recognizing that the modern worldview is not adequate even with regard to the presuppositions of daily life and, therefore, the presuppositions of normal science, we should overcome the tension in question by creating or adopting a postmodern worldview (this is the main truth in the revolutionary stance) that can do justice to them both.

I have sought to show, finally, that Whitehead’s philosophy, especially as interpreted by someone aware of parapsychological phenomena, can take us a long way in that direction, and that the same revisions of the modern worldview necessary to allow for the hard-core commonsense presuppositions of science and daily life also allow for the reality of psi.

Whitehead’s philosophy, taking temporal process as ultimate, cannot, to be sure, allow for true precognition (as involving retrocausation), but this is no weakness because that notion can be seen to be unintelligible even apart from Whitehead’s philosophy, and because alternative explanations for the phenomena in question are possible. One bonus of this position, beyond intelligibility, is that, if parapsychology is thereby seen to pose merely a revolutionary rather than an ultra-revolutionary threat, more philosophers and scientists may be able to examine it rationally.



1 An earlier version of this paper was presented at a conference on “Parapsychology, Philosophy, and Religion: Postmodern Approaches,” which was held in 1990 at La Casa de Maria retreat center in Santa Barbara, California, which cosponsored the conference with the Center for a Postmodern World and the Center for Process Studies.

2 The conference was made possible by a grant from Laurance Rockefeller, to whom heartfelt thanks are hereby publicly extended. I am grateful to Frederick Ferre, John Palmer, Stephen Braude, Hoyt Edge, Jule Eisenbud, and two anonymous reviewers for JASPR, all of whose critiques enabled me to make the present version considerably better. I wish, finally, to add that I plan eventually to expand this essay into a book, and that I publish it here in JASPR partly in hopes of receiving further helpful criticism, whether in print or privately.

3 Although this is the first extensive treatment of parapsychology or psychical research from a Whiteheadian perspective, there have been a few shorter essays; see Bagby (1957), Eslick (1983, 1987), Hooper (1944), and Quillen (1979).

4 The idea of the inertness of matter was also used to argue for the existence of God. Boyle and Newton, for example, argued that because matter is devoid of the power of self-motion, a divine First Mover must exist. This argument was employed against atheists and pantheists who proposed that no external creator was needed because matter, being self-moving, could have organized itself to form the present universe (Klaaren, 1977).

5 Certain psi phenomena, such as stigmata, self-levitation, ectoplasmic materializations, and out-of-body experiences might seem to be exceptions. But stigmata would involve causal influence by the mind at a distance unless they were thought to be caused by the mind’s acting through the brain and nervous system, in which case, if we want to keep our categories neat, we could classify stigmata as a psychosomatic, rather than a parapsychological, phenomenon. The same can be said of self-levitation, ectoplasmic materializations, and other phenomena involving the agent’s own body. Regarding the out-of-body experience (including life after death), I will suggest later that it as such, as distinct from the (extrasensory and perhaps psychokinetic) evidence for it, need not be considered paranormal.

6 Westfall writes elsewhere (1980b) that besides banishing life, color, and other qualities from nature (as the Mackenzies correctly point out), “the mechanical philosophy also banished from existence another denizen of some previous philosophies—attractions of any kind.  No scorn was too great to heap upon such notions.  From one end of the century to another, the idea of attractions, the action of one body upon another with which it is not in contact, was an anathema to the dominant school of natural philosophy. Galileo could not sufficiently express his amazement that Kepler had been willing to entertain the puerile notion, as he called it, that the moon causes the tides by action upon the waters of the sea. In the [16]90s, Huygens and Leibniz found similar ideas just as absurd for the same reasons. To speak of an attraction whenever one body was seen to approach another was to philosophize on the same plane with Moliere’s doctor who explained the power of opium to cause sleep by a dormative virtue it contained. . . . An attraction was an occult virtue, and ‘occult virtue’ was the mechanical philosophy’s ultimate term of opprobrium” (p. 147).

7 On this point I agree with the views of, among others, Jule Eisenbud (1983, pp. 44-46) and C. W. K. Mundle (1978).

8 For philosophers who reject the reality of psi on this basis, see Armstrong, 1968, p. 364; Campbell, 1984, pp. 33, 91-96; Feigel, 1960, pp. 28, 29. For writers who accept psi but see it as the only good evidence against materialism, see Beloff, 1962, pp 257 258; Lorimer, 1984, pp. 119, 304. Price. 1967, p. 38

9 I have discussed these ultimate presuppositions of practice, or “hard-core commonsense ideas,” in Griffin, 1989b, pp. 35-39, and Griffin & Smith, 1989, pp. 90-91, 190-195.

10 I have discussed the problems of dualistic interactionism at greater length in Griffin, 1988, pp. 17-21 and 1989a, pp. 17-26.

11 Two of Descartes’ followers, Arnold Geulincx and Nicolas Malebranche, said that mind and matter, being completely different in kind, cannot interact. The fact that mind and body appear to interact they explained through the doctrine of occasionalism: on the occasion of your leg being bitten by a dog, God causes pain in your mind; then, on the occasion of your feeling the pain and deciding to free your body from the dog’s grip, God causes your body to make the desired moves (Copleston, 1960, pp. 177-179, 188-190). Thomas Reid, Scottish Calvinist philosopher, simply said that if God, being omnipotent, wants mind and matter to interact, God can, in spite of their ontological heterogeneity, make them do so (Reid, 1969, pp. 96-97, 99, 110, 118, 123, 220, 240, 318).

12 Regarding gravitation as a possible exception, see the discussion in the first section, above. The other obvious exception is nonlocality in physics, which many physicists now accept. This acceptance, I would argue, is a further move, beyond indeterminacy, away from modern physics toward a postmodern physics. The strong rejection of nonlocality as self-evidently false by physicists, such as Einstein, who had strongly embodied a version of the late modern worldview, and the great interest that the notion of nonlocality has created in and beyond the physics community, are signs that a paradigm-threatening development has occurred.

13 Whitehead himself labels the ultimate simply “creativity” (1929/1978, p. 21). Because he is, however, a panexperientialist and thus denies the existence of any “vacuous actualities,” meaning actual things devoid of experience (p. 167), it is correct to refer to the ultimate as “creative experience.”

14 It may seem self-contradictory to say that actual occasions do not endure through time and then to suggest that they may last from a billionth to a tenth of a second. This issue, which involves Whitehead’s “epochal theory of time,” is too complex to discuss adequately here. The main points, however, are that time does not pre-exist an event, as if time were a pre-existent continuum through which events endured, for however brief a period. Rather, time is constituted through the relations between events. Alter an event has occurred, however, one can say that it constituted a certain period of time. This is the reason for correcting in the text the statement that an occasion “takes” a certain amount of time with the statement that it really “constitutes” this period.

15 The reader may be confused by the description of things such as molecules, cells, and human beings both as “enduring individuals,” understood as purely temporal societies in which there is only one member at a time, and also as “compound individuals,” in which there are many actual entities at once. The resolution of the apparent contradiction is indicated in the text by saying that it is the soul, not the human being as a psychophysical whole, that is the purely temporal society. The human being as a whole is a compound individual by virtue of the dominance of the soul. The same is true, analogously, of cells and molecules. The molecule, for example, has (by hypothesis) a series of molecular occasions, which are regnant in the molecule as a whole. Because the molecular occasions are regnant, giving the molecule a degree of unity of action and response, the molecule is a compound individual The fact that the molecular occasions form a temporally-ordered society, analogous to the human soul, makes the molecule also describable as an enduring individual.

16 Two occasions are contiguous, roughly, when there is no other occasion between them. For a more complete account—the concept of spatial contiguity is more difficult than that of temporal—see Whitehead, 1933/1967, pp. 202-203.

17 Whitehead himself does not speak of pure and hybrid physical causation, but of pure and hybrid physical prehension (1929/1978, pp. 245-46). Because physical prehension is just the reverse side of causation (p. 236), however, it is justifiable to speak of pure and hybrid causation.

18 I have discussed the reality of time for atoms and subatomic particles in Griffin, 1986.

19 This does not mean that all or even most sensory perception becomes conscious; most of it is surely subliminal.

20 Having stressed that past events still exist to be prehended (as in retrocognition, when they become prehended consciously), I should perhaps stress that when Whitehead says that actual occasions “perish,” this is a misleading term (which has indeed misled many interpreters). He does not mean that the occasions simply cease to exist or even to be actual. He means only that their subjective experience ceases. “But that does not mean that they are nothing. They remain ‘stubborn fact’” (Whitehead, 1933/1967, p. 237). In fact, besides losing something, they gain something: the ability to exercise efficient causation (1929/1978, p. 29). Accordingly, in “perishing” they do not lose the ability to be prehended; that ability is precisely what they acquire.

21 For example, in a book that is in most respects quite good, John Heaney (1984) examines four alternative explanations for apparently precognitive events. Of the first one, psychokinesis (my Number 13), he concludes that it “certainly does not stand as a reasonable explanation for many correct paranormal predictions” (p. 91). Of the “subliminal computer theory” (which could cover my alternatives 7-10), he says that it “fails as a universal explanation of precognition” (p. 92). Then, after mentioning two others that I would not even consider, he concludes that “these theories do not seem sufficient to explain most precognitive events” (p. 93). From this conclusion he infers that most apparently precognitive events must involve true precognition, which he takes to imply that “part of us, it seems, is outside of time, or is capable of assimilating another kind of time” (p. 107). But his conclusion would be reasonable only if (a) he had considered an exhaustive list of alternative explanations, not just a few, and (b) if he had asked not whether any one of them could handle all the cases but whether all of them together could. Heaney’s treatment of this issue, nevertheless, is less cavalier than most.

22 Here my position is similar to that of C. W. K. Mundle (1978), although I present more alternative explanations than does he.

23 The (understandable) alarm evoked when the PK interpretation of apparent precognition seems to be offered as the only and, therefore, inclusive alternative explanation for cases of apparent precognition is illustrated in G. F. Dalton’s (1961) comments on a paper by W. G. Roll (1961) on precognition: “Applied to spontaneous cases . . . [Roll’s hypothesis] gives alarming results. A rough check through a few recorded sources suggests that, on this theory, ostensible precognitionists have been responsible for at least 100 deaths, 8 railway accidents, 5 fires, 2 shipwrecks, 1 explosion, 1 stroke of lightning, 1 volcanic eruption, 2 world wars. If PK is really operating on this scale, no one is safe” (p. 183). Of course, in this world no one is safe, so the reductio ad absurdum fails. Dalton’s response, furthermore, could simply be taken as further support for Jule Eisenbud’s (1983) suggestion that the PK interpretation of apparent precognition is widely ignored or rejected more for emotional than for theoretical reasons (pp. 45-46, 143-144). In any case, it is important, in offering the PK interpretation, to make clear (as Braude, 1986, pp. 257-258, for example, does) that one is offering it not as the sole alternative to true precognition and, therefore, not as the explanation for all cases of apparent precognition.

24 Here Whitehead’s position is similar to Bishop Berkeley’s, in that both agree that to be actual is to perceive. But Berkeley said that to be perceived is to be merely ideal, whereas Whitehead allows two ways of being perceived, or prehended: (a) to be the object of a conceptual prehension is to be merely ideal—to be an “eternal object”—but (b) to be the object of a physical prehension is to be an-object-that-had-been-a-subject, and thus to be actual. The other big difference between the two thinkers is that Berkeley allowed only God and human souls to be perceivers and, therefore, to be actual, whereas Whitehead (like Berkeley’s contemporary Leibniz) allows perceivers of all grades, so that (for example) cells, molecules, atoms, and subatomic particles are all equally actual.

25 Also, the materialistic worldview teaches people to think of all memories as stored in the brain, and only in the brain, so that remembering involves a relation not to the past at all but only to the (virtually) present brain.

26 Because this statement was made in Religion in the Making (Whitehead, 192671960), in which Whitehead’s ontology of dipolar occasions of experience was not yet fully developed (he sometimes spoke of “physical occasions” and “mental occasions” [1926/1960, p. 99]), it is important to note that Whitehead (1933/1967) reaffirmed in Adventures of Ideas, one of his latest writings, his belief that his position allows for the possibility of survival, saying that “in some important sense the existence of the soul may be freed from its complete dependence upon the bodily organization” (p. 208).



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